Robert Atwan, the founder of The Best American Essays series, picks the 10 best essays of the postwar period. Links to the essays are provided when available.
So to make my list of the top ten essays since less impossible, I decided to exclude all the great examples of New Journalism--Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Michael Herr, and many others can be reserved for another list.
I also decided to include only American writers, so such outstanding English-language essayists as Chris Arthur and Tim Robinson are missing, though they have appeared in The Best American Essays series.
And I selected essays , not essayists. A list of the top ten essayists since would feature some different writers. And the best essays show that the name of the genre is also a verb, so they demonstrate a mind in process--reflecting, trying-out, essaying.
Against a violent historical background, Baldwin recalls his deeply troubled relationship with his father and explores his growing awareness of himself as a black American. However you view the racial politics, the prose is undeniably hypnotic, beautifully modulated and yet full of urgency.
An essay that packed an enormous wallop at the time may make some of us cringe today with its hyperbolic dialectics and hyperventilated metaphysics. Odd, how terms can bounce back into life with an entirely different set of connotations.
What might Mailer call the new hipsters? Read the essay here. I was familiar with it as an undergraduate, hearing it used often by a set of friends, department store window decorators in Manhattan. It produces amazement and some kind of primeval fear. After the eclipse, nothing is going to be the same again. This suicidally beautiful essay will teach you a lot about the appreciation of life.
She was American, but her culture was grounded in Mexico. In this way, she and her people were not fully respected in either of the countries. This essay is an account of her journey of becoming the ambassador of the Chicano Mexican-American culture.
In terms of style, this essay is flawless. Mary Ruefle — On Fear. Most psychologists and gurus agree that fear is the greatest enemy of success or any creative activity. Mary Ruefle takes on this basic human emotion with flair. Susan Sontag — Against Interpretation. In this highly intellectual essay, Sontag fights for art and its interpretation. I always hated when at school they asked me: Hell if I know!
I will judge it through my subjective experience! This is a heartwarming, coming of age story about a young girl who waits for her breasts to finally grow. As it happens, the size of breasts is a big deal for women. Carl Sagan was one of the greatest proponents of skepticism, and an author of numerous books, including one of my all-time favorites — The Demon-Haunted World.
He was also a renowned physicist and the host of the fantastic Cosmos: A Personal Voyage series, which inspired a whole generation to uncover the mysteries of the cosmos. He was also a dedicated weed smoker — clearly ahead of his time. Internet is flooded with a large number of articles and videos that are supposed to tell you what to do with our lives. Most of them are worthless, but this one is different. Please, read the essay and let it help you gain fulfillment from your work.
John Jeremiah Sullivan — Mister Lytle. A young, aspiring writer is about to become a nurse of a fading writer — Mister Lytle Andrew Nelson Lytle , and there will be trouble. This essay by Sullivan is probably my favorite one from the whole list. The amount of beautiful sentences it contains is just overwhelming. It also takes you to the Old South which has an incredible atmosphere. Joan Didion — On Self Respect. Normally, with that title you would expect some straightforward advice about how to improve your character and get on with your goddamn life — but not from Joan Didion.
You can learn more from this essay than from whole books about self-improvement. Susan Sontag — Notes on Camp. After reading this essay, you will know what camp is.
You will vastly increase your appreciation for art. All the listicles we usually see on the web simply cannot compare with it. Ralph Waldo Emerson — Self-Reliance. Written in , it still inspires generations of people. It will let you understand what it means to be self-made. It contains some of the most memorable quotes of all time. Emerson told me and he will tell you to do something amazing with my life.
The language it contains is a bit archaic but that just adds to the weight of the argument. You can consider it to be a meeting with a great philosopher who really shaped the ethos of modern United States. He sees right through the hypocrisy and cruelty behind killing hundreds of thousands of innocent lobsters — by boiling them alive.
This essay uncovers some of the worst traits of modern American peoples. After reading this essay, you may reconsider the whole animal-eating business.
The famous novelist and author of the most powerful commencement speech ever done is going to tell you about the joys and sorrows of writing a work of fiction.
But you love that child and you want others to love it too. If you ever plan to write a novel, you should definitely read that one. And the story about the Chinese farmer is just priceless. Margaret Atwood — Attitude. This is not an essay per se, but I included it in the list for the sake of variety.
Soon after leaving the university, most graduates have to forget about safety, parties and travel, and start a new life — one filled with a painful routine that will last until they drop. Read that one as soon as possible. To summarize the story would be to spoil it, so I recommend that you just dig in and devour this essay during one sitting.
No need for flowery adjectives here. To me, Terence McKenna was one of the most interesting thinkers of the twentieth century. McKenna consumed psychedelic drugs for most of his life and it shows in a positive way. Many people consider him a looney, and a hippie, but he was so much more than that. He had the courage to go into the abyss of his own psyche, and come back to tell the tale. He also wrote many books most famous being Food Of The Gods , built a huge botanical garden in Hawaii , lived with shamans, and was a connoisseur of all things enigmatic and obscure.
Take a look at this essay, and learn more about the explorations of the subconscious mind. Eudora Welty — The Little Store.
By reading this little known essay, you will be transported into the world of the old American South. There are all these beautiful memories that live inside of us. They lay somewhere deep in our minds, hidden from sight. The work by Eudora Welty is an attempt to uncover some of them and let you get reacquainted with some of the smells and tastes of the past. The Search for Marvin Gardens contains many layers of meaning.
It also presents a historical perspective on the rise and fall of civilizations, and on Atlantic City which once was a lively place, and then, slowly declined, the streets filled with dirt and broken windows. A dead body at the bottom of the well makes for a beautiful literary device.
Who was this woman? Why did she do it? The author should clarify the situation and provide proof of a solution. Alternatively, a question may be answered. A thesis cannot be argued for without some kind of evidence or proof. All evidence must come from reputable sources and preferably primary sources. The above mentioned elements are common to the top 40 best essays to read.
Without them, your essay will be lacking. In order to get a good grade, each of these must be incorporated as part of writing good essays. Every thesis must be arguable, which means the writer needs to analyze the proof or evidence in order to prove the thesis. It should be possible to lead the reader through the evidence so that they come to the same conclusion.
I wanted to improve my writing skills. I thought that reading forty best essays of all time would bring me closer to my goal. I didn’t have much money (buying forty collections of essays was out of question) so I’ve found them online instead.
Great Articles and Essays to Read Online - The Net's Best Nonfiction Must-read articles and essays by famous writers - the best examples of short articles and essays to read online - all-time .
40 Best Essays of All Time The best essays are not only well researched and correctly written, they also grab the interest of the reader. As you write, use good transition words or sophisticated words to convince the reader to see things from the writer’s eye, complete with reputable sources and land them a place in the 40 best essay collection. The essay, selected by Geoffrey Wolff for The Best American Essays and collected in Heart’s Desire (), is an unforgettable meditation not so much on suicide as on how we remarkably.
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