The Modern Library | 100 Best Nonfiction

This is one of the 200 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams

    "The Education of Henry Adams" is an autobiographical account that explores the changes in society and politics during the 19th and 20th century from the perspective of an individual who is both a product and critic of that era. The narrative is structured around the author's self-perceived failure to understand or adapt to these changes, despite his privileged education and social status. The book is a reflection on the author's life, his attempts to make sense of the world around him, and his struggle to reconcile his traditional upbringing with the rapid advancements of the modern world.

  • The Varieties of Religious Experience by Will James

    This book is an exploration of the diverse range of religious experiences, from the mainstream to the mystical. The author applies a psychological and philosophical approach, examining the individual, personal experiences of spirituality rather than organized religion. The book covers topics such as conversion, saintliness, and mysticism, and argues that religious experiences, rather than religious institutions, should be the primary focus of religious study.

  • Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington

    The book is an autobiographical account of a former slave who rises to become a prominent educator and speaker. It chronicles his journey from enslavement during his childhood, through his struggles for education and his founding of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The narrative emphasizes the importance of education, hard work, and self-reliance as the keys to African American advancement, and provides a firsthand perspective on post-Civil War American South.

  • A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

    This book is an extended essay that explores the topic of women in fiction, and the societal and economic hindrances that prevent them from achieving their full potential. The author uses a fictional narrator and narrative to explore the many difficulties that women writers faced throughout history, including the lack of education available to them and the societal expectations that limited their opportunities. The central argument is that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

    This influential environmental science book presents a detailed and passionate argument against the overuse of pesticides in the mid-20th century. The author meticulously describes the harmful effects of these chemicals on the environment, particularly on birds, hence the metaphor of a 'silent spring' without bird song. The book played a significant role in advancing the global environmental movement and led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides in the United States.

  • Selected Essays of T. S. Eliot by T. S. Eliot

    This book is a collection of critical and reflective essays by a renowned poet and literary critic. The author explores a variety of topics including literature, culture, society, and religion. The essays offer an insightful and thought-provoking commentary on the works of other writers, as well as the author's own views on literary theory and criticism. The collection serves as an important resource for understanding the author's intellectual development and his influence on 20th century literature and criticism.

  • The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson

    This book is a personal account of the race to discover the structure of DNA, told from the perspective of one of the co-discoverers. It provides an insider's view of scientific research, the collaboration and competition, the dedication, the doubt, the exhilaration of discovery, and the often fraught relationship between science and the rest of life. The book also explores the personalities, quirks, and conflicts of the scientists involved in the groundbreaking discovery.

  • Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov

    "Speak, Memory" is an autobiographical memoir that explores the author's life from his birth in 1899 to his emigration to the United States in 1940. The narrative details his privileged childhood in Russia, his experiences during the Russian Revolution, his time in Europe as an émigré, and his career as a writer and scholar. The book is noted for its intricate descriptions, its exploration of the nature of memory, and its intricate linguistic play.

  • The American Language by H. L. Mencken

    This book is a comprehensive study of the English language as it is spoken in the United States. It explores the unique linguistic characteristics, pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar that distinguish American English from British English. The author also delves into the influences of other languages on American English, the evolution of American slang, and the regional dialects across the United States, providing a detailed and insightful analysis of the American language.

  • The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes

    This influential economic treatise presents a groundbreaking theory that challenges classical economics, asserting that aggregate demand, driven by public and private sector spending, is the primary factor influencing economic activity and employment levels. The book also introduces the concept of fiscal and monetary policies as tools to manage economic downturns, thus shaping the foundation of modern macroeconomics. It further critiques the idea that market economies would automatically provide full employment and argues for active government intervention to prevent economic recessions and depressions.

  • The Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas

    This book is a collection of 29 essays that explore the world of science and biology, providing insights into the interconnectedness of life on Earth. The author uses metaphors and analogies to explain complex scientific concepts, such as the similarities between Earth and a single cell. The essays cover a wide range of topics, including the behavior of bacteria, the possibility of life on other planets, and the role of language in human evolution. The book emphasizes the importance of understanding and respecting the complexity and beauty of life.

  • The Frontier in American History by Frederick J. Turner

    "The Frontier in American History" examines the importance of the unsettled, western frontier in shaping the political, economic, and social identity of the United States. The book argues that the constant westward expansion and the challenges it presented played a crucial role in developing American democracy, individualism, and innovative spirit. The author further posits that the closing of this frontier at the end of the 19th century marked a significant shift in American society, which now had to find new ways of growth and innovation.

  • Black Boy by Richard Wright

    "Black Boy" is an autobiographical account of a young African-American boy growing up in the South during the early 20th century. The book explores his experiences with extreme poverty, racism, and his struggle to find his place in a society that marginalizes and devalues him. The protagonist's desire for self-expression and understanding leads him to a love of literature and writing, providing him with a means to challenge and critique the oppressive social structures around him.

  • Aspects of the Novel by E. M. Forster

    This book is a collection of lectures on literary criticism and theory, specifically focusing on the novel as a literary form. It discusses various elements of the novel such as story, characters, plot, pattern, and rhythm, and analyzes how these components contribute to the overall structure and meaning of the work. The author also explores the differences between flat and round characters, and the concept of 'prophecy' in fiction. The book serves as a guide for both readers and writers, providing insight into the art of storytelling and the techniques used in crafting a compelling narrative.

  • The Civil War by Shelby Foote

    This comprehensive three-volume series provides an in-depth and detailed narrative of the American Civil War. It encompasses the political, social, and military aspects of the war, offering a balanced view of both the Union and Confederate sides. The series also delves into the personal experiences of key figures, including generals and soldiers, as well as civilians affected by the war. This work is known for its meticulous research, vivid descriptions, and engaging storytelling style.

  • The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

    "The Guns of August" is a detailed and engaging account of the first month of World War I. The book explores the events leading up to the war, the political and military strategies of the various countries involved, and the critical decisions that shaped the course of the conflict. It presents a vivid picture of the war's early stages, highlighting the miscalculations, miscommunications, and misunderstandings that led to one of the most devastating wars in history.

  • The Proper Study of Mankind by Isaiah Berlin

    "The Proper Study of Mankind" is a collection of essays that explore the history of ideas, specifically focusing on political and philosophical thought. The book delves into the works and ideas of many notable thinkers, examining their influence on society and their relevance to contemporary issues. The author also discusses the importance of individual freedom, the conflicts between values, and the human capacity for making moral choices, offering profound insights into the nature of mankind and the challenges of the modern world.

  • Nature and Destiny of Man by Reinhold Niebuhr

    This work is a theological exploration of human nature and destiny, examining the intersection of Christian doctrine and contemporary thought. The author provides an in-depth analysis of human nature, arguing that an individual's capacity for self-transcendence and self-integration is a fundamental part of their nature. The book also tackles the concept of destiny, asserting that the ultimate human destiny is to realize the Kingdom of God. It delves into the paradoxes of human existence, touching on themes of sin, grace, love, and justice.

  • Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

    This book is a collection of essays that vividly capture the author's life in Harlem, his travels in Europe, and his views on everything from the sweet music of black church revivals to the biting prejudice of the 'then' contemporary world. It's an exploration of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in both Western societies and the American society. The author's reflections on his experiences as a black man in white America are profoundly insightful and continue to resonate today.

  • The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

    This book is an innovative and unconventional autobiography, penned from the perspective of the author's life partner, providing an intimate view into the lives of the Parisian avant-garde in the early 20th century. It offers a personal account of their life together, filled with anecdotes of their interactions with famous figures such as Picasso, Matisse, and Hemingway. The narrative also delves into the author's own thoughts and experiences, creating a unique blend of biography, autobiography, and personal memoir.

  • The Elements of Style by E. B. White, William Strunk Jr.

    This book is a definitive guide and classic manual on the principles of English language read by millions of readers. The 18 main topics are organized under headings such as Elementary Rules of Usage, Elementary Principles of Composition, A Few Matters of Form, Words and Expressions Commonly Misused, and An Approach to Style. The book's unique tone, wit and charm have conveyed the principles of English style to millions of readers, making it a beloved resource for those who want to write clear, correct and effective prose.

  • An American Dilemma by Gunnar Myrdal

    This book is a comprehensive sociological study on the issues faced by African Americans in the United States during the mid-twentieth century. The author examines the deep-rooted racial discrimination and inequality prevalent in American society, exploring its origins, implications, and potential solutions. The work is notable for its detailed analysis and its impact on subsequent civil rights movements.

  • The Principia Mathematica by Alfred North Whitehead, Bertrand Russell

    The Principia Mathematica is a three-volume work on the foundations of mathematics, written with the goal of deriving all mathematical truths from a well-defined set of axioms and inference rules in symbolic logic. The authors aim to show that mathematics is a development of logic and avoid any hidden assumptions. The work covers topics like class theory, relation theory, and quantity theory, and it is known for its rigorous and meticulous approach.

  • The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould

    The book is a critical analysis of the history of scientific racism and biological determinism, the belief that social and economic differences among human races, sexes, and classes are inheritable, inevitable, and natural. It challenges the idea that intelligence can be measured accurately and placed in a single, linear scale. The author refutes the arguments of those who support these theories, arguing that they are based on flawed methodologies, biased data, and unverifiable assumptions. Instead, he proposes that intelligence is multifaceted and cannot be quantified simplistically.

  • The Mirror and the Lamp by Meyer Howard Abrams

    "The Mirror and the Lamp" is a comprehensive analysis of the Romantic theory of literature. The book explores the shift in focus from the neoclassical concept of mimesis, or art as a mirror reflecting the real world, to the Romantic emphasis on the artist's inner world, comparing it to a lamp projecting its light outward. It delves into the four main elements of the Romantic aesthetic: the artist, the work of art, nature, and the audience, providing a detailed examination of the philosophical and psychological underpinnings of Romantic literature.

  • The Art of the Soluble: Creativity and Originality in Science by Peter B. Medawar

    The book is a collection of essays that explore the nature of scientific inquiry, the process of problem-solving, and the role of creativity and originality in scientific discoveries. It delves into the philosophical aspects of science, the relationship between science and literature, and the importance of skepticism and criticism in scientific progress. The author also discusses the characteristics of a good scientist and the interplay between theory and experiment in the scientific method.

  • The Ants by E. O. Wilson, Bert Hölldobler

    "The Ants" is a comprehensive exploration of the biology, evolution, and behavior of ants. The book covers a wide range of topics, including the ants' origin and classification, their morphology and physiology, their communication and social organization, and their ecology. It also delves into the complex societies and intricate behaviors of these creatures, providing a detailed insight into their world. The authors use a combination of narrative and scientific explanations to make the subject accessible to both general readers and specialists.

  • A Theory of Justice by John Rawls

    This book presents a seminal work in modern political philosophy, where the author proposes a model of justice that, despite being egalitarian, respects individual rights. The author's "veil of ignorance" thought experiment, which suggests designing society from an original position where no one knows their future place in society, has been particularly influential. The author argues that this would lead to a system where each individual is assured basic liberties and socio-economic inequalities are only allowed if they benefit the least advantaged members of society.

  • Art and Illusion by Ernest H. Gombrich

    "Art and Illusion" is a comprehensive study of the psychology of pictorial representation. The book explores how artists from the Renaissance to the present day have used illusions to enhance their work, and how our brains interpret these illusions. It delves into the science behind our perception of reality and how it influences art, providing a unique perspective on the intersection between psychology, philosophy, and aesthetics. The book also discusses the concept of 'schema' and 'correction' in an artist's work, and how the artist's perception of the world is constantly evolving.

  • The Making of the English Working Class by E. P. Thompson

    This book is a comprehensive historical analysis of the formation of the English working class from the late 18th century to the mid-19th century. The author meticulously examines various aspects of society including the Industrial Revolution, the rise of Methodism, and political movements, arguing that the working class was not a byproduct of economic factors alone, but was actively self-formed through struggles over issues like workers' rights and political representation. The book is widely regarded as a seminal text in social history due to its focus on the experiences and agency of ordinary people.

  • The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois

    This seminal work is a collection of essays that explores the history and condition of African Americans at the turn of the 20th century. It delves into the issues of race, class, and the socio-economic realities faced by black people post-emancipation. The author employs a combination of history, sociology, and personal narrative to present a powerful critique of American society, highlighting the struggle for civil rights, the importance of black spirituals, and the concept of "double consciousness" - the idea of viewing oneself through the lens of a society that sees you as inferior.

  • Principia Ethica by George Moore

    "Principia Ethica" is a philosophical work that argues for the objectivity of good, stating that it is a simple, indefinable and non-natural property that cannot be broken down into any other properties or concepts. The author challenges the prevailing ethical theories of his time, such as utilitarianism and hedonism, and introduces the "naturalistic fallacy," the idea that it is incorrect to define "good" in terms of natural properties. This book is known for its rigorous argumentation and its significant influence on the development of analytic philosophy and ethics.

  • Philosophy and Civilization by John Dewey

    "Philosophy and Civilization" is a collection of essays that explore the relationship between philosophy and the problems of human life. The author argues that philosophy should not be a mere abstract discipline, but should be connected to human concerns and society. He discusses various topics such as the role of philosophy in education, democracy, and ethics, and emphasizes the importance of practical wisdom in addressing societal issues. The book encourages readers to view philosophy as a tool for solving problems and improving civilization.

  • On Growth and Form by D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson

    "On Growth and Form" is a landmark work that explores the science of biology from a mathematical perspective, emphasizing the patterns and geometry found in living organisms. The book discusses how physical and mathematical laws influence the way that organisms grow and develop, and how different species exhibit similar patterns of growth. It also touches on how these principles apply to the structure of the universe and the patterns found in nature. This work is considered a foundational text in the field of mathematical biology.

  • Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein

    This book is a collection of essays, letters, and speeches from a renowned physicist, offering his thoughts on a wide range of topics. It includes his insights on science, philosophy, religion, politics, peace, education, liberty, and morality. The physicist's reflections on his own scientific discoveries and the theories of other great thinkers are also discussed. This compilation provides a comprehensive view of his intellectual development and personal beliefs.

  • The Age of Jackson by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr

    This book provides an in-depth historical analysis of the political and social changes during the era of Andrew Jackson's presidency in the United States. It explores the significant events, policies, and ideologies of the time, including the rise of the Democratic Party, the influence of the "common man" in politics, and the controversial Indian Removal Act. The book also delves into the economic shifts of the period, such as the battle over the Second Bank of the United States, providing a comprehensive overview of this transformative era in American history.

  • The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

    This comprehensive book provides an in-depth account of the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. It explores the scientific advancements that made the bomb possible, the political decisions that led to its creation, and the moral dilemmas faced by the scientists involved. The book also details the personalities of key figures in the Manhattan Project, the effects of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the impact of nuclear weapons on the world.

  • Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West

    "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon" is a comprehensive and detailed travelogue of Yugoslavia, penned by a British author during the brink of World War II. The book beautifully interweaves history, politics, culture, and personal experiences to paint a vivid picture of the Balkan region. It also serves as a profound reflection on the impending war and the author's concerns about the rise of fascism in Europe, making it not just a travel book but also an essential historical document.

  • Autobiographies by W. B. Yeats

    This book is a collection of autobiographical essays by a renowned Irish poet and playwright, reflecting on his personal and professional life. It provides a deep insight into his early life, family, influences, and the evolution of his poetic and dramatic works. The author also gives a vivid account of the Irish literary scene and the cultural and political climate of his time, including his involvement in the Irish National Theatre and the Irish Literary Society.

  • Science and Civilisation in China by Joseph Needham

    "Science and Civilisation in China" is a comprehensive and authoritative series that explores the history of Chinese science, technology, and medicine. The series delves into the significant contributions China has made in various scientific fields, including astronomy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and medical science, among others. The author also examines the cultural, philosophical, and social contexts in which these scientific advancements took place, providing a holistic view of China's scientific history and its impact on the world.

  • Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves

    This memoir provides a candid and unflinching look at the horrors of World War I, as experienced by a young British officer. The narrative explores the brutality and futility of war, the author's struggle with shell shock, his disillusionment with the military and British society, and his decision to leave England for a new life abroad. It also offers insights into the author's personal life, including his troubled marriage and his relationships with other prominent figures of the time.

  • Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

    The book is a personal account of the author's experiences during the Spanish Civil War, specifically his time with the POUM (Partit Obrer d'Unificació Marxista) militia in Catalonia. He provides an in-depth look at the social revolution that took place, the daily life of a soldier, the political infighting and betrayals among the Republican factions, and his eventual disillusionment with the cause he initially supported. The book is both a war memoir and a detailed analysis of a complex political situation.

  • The Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain

    This book is an intimate and detailed account of the life of one of America's most celebrated authors. It covers his childhood in Missouri, his travels across the United States and Europe, and his career as a writer and public speaker. The book offers a candid and often humorous look at his personal life, his family, and his views on politics, religion, and literature. It provides an insightful look into his creative process and the experiences that influenced his most famous works.

  • Children of Crisis by Robert Coles

    "Children of Crisis" is a deeply moving exploration of the lives of children in various challenging circumstances. The author, a renowned psychiatrist, documents his experiences working with children facing poverty, racial tension, and family disruption in the United States. The book provides insights into the resilience, adaptability, and strength of children, offering a profound understanding of their psychological responses to crisis and adversity.

  • A Study of History by Arnold J. Toynbee

    "A Study of History" is an extensive 12-volume universal history, exploring the development and decay of world civilizations throughout the ages. The author proposes that civilizations rise and fall based on their responses to challenges, both physical and social. The book also puts forth the idea that religions play a crucial role in the rise of civilizations and that the failure of a civilization's creative power can lead to its decline. The work is renowned for its scholarly depth and its controversial theories about the cyclical nature of history.

  • The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith

    "The Affluent Society" is a socio-economic critique that challenges the conventional wisdom of the time that economic growth leads to public wealth. The author argues that in reality, the increasing wealth of the United States has led to greater private affluence but public squalor due to inadequate investment in public goods and services. He proposes that society should strive for sustainable development rather than unlimited material advancement. The book has been influential in economic thought, particularly in the areas of public policy and consumer behavior.

  • Present at the Creation by Dean Acheson

    This memoir offers an in-depth examination of American diplomacy and foreign policy during the early Cold War era. Penned by a former Secretary of State, it provides first-hand accounts of significant historical events like the Marshall Plan, the formation of NATO, and the Korean War. It not only provides a detailed account of the author's time in office but also offers his insights and perspectives on the geopolitical shifts of the time, making it a valuable resource for understanding the complexities of international relations during a critical period in world history.

  • Great Bridge by David McCullough

    This book is a detailed account of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the most significant and iconic landmarks in New York City. It provides an in-depth look at the political, architectural, and personal challenges faced during its 14-year construction period in the late 19th century. The narrative also explores the lives of the Roebling family, who were the chief engineers and designers of the bridge, along with the societal changes and technological advancements of the era.

  • Patriotic Gore by Edmund Wilson

    "Patriotic Gore" is a comprehensive study of American literature during and after the Civil War. The author examines the works of writers such as Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, among others, to present a nuanced understanding of how the war influenced American literature and culture. The book offers a unique perspective on the Civil War, focusing on the intellectual and cultural responses to the conflict rather than the military and political aspects.

  • Samuel Johnson by Walter Jackson Bate

    This biography provides an in-depth look into the life of Samuel Johnson, an 18th-century English writer who contributed greatly to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, and lexicographer. The book explores Johnson's struggles with depression, fear of death, and various physical ailments, as well as his intellectual prowess and his impact on literature. It also delves into his relationships with other notable figures of his time, offering a comprehensive portrait of a complex and influential man.

  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley

    This book is an autobiography narrating the life of a renowned African-American activist. It delves into his transformation from a young man involved in criminal activities to becoming one of the most influential voices in the fight against racial inequality in America. The book provides a deep insight into his philosophies, his time in prison, conversion to Islam, his role in the Nation of Islam, his pilgrimage to Mecca, and his eventual split from the Nation. It also addresses his assassination, making it a powerful account of resilience, redemption, and personal growth.

  • The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

    "The Right Stuff" is a non-fiction novel that explores the lives and experiences of the first Project Mercury astronauts selected for the NASA space program in the 1960s. The book delves into the personal and professional lives of these astronauts, highlighting their courage, competitiveness, and the immense pressure they faced. It also provides a detailed account of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War era.

  • Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey

    "Eminent Victorians" is a biographical work that profiles four influential figures from the Victorian era. The book provides an in-depth look into the lives of Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Arnold, and General Gordon, exploring their respective contributions to British society during the 19th century. Through these portraits, the book offers a critical and often satirical analysis of Victorian values, institutions, and moral attitudes, challenging the idealized narrative of the era.

  • Working by Studs Terkel

    "Working" is a collection of over 100 interviews conducted with people from all walks of life about their jobs. The book provides a unique perspective on the daily grind, as it explores the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of individuals in various professions. The interviews reveal the mundane, the challenging, and the rewarding aspects of work, offering a deep understanding of the complexities of the working world. The subject matter ranges from blue-collar jobs to professional careers, giving voice to the often unheard stories of everyday workers.

  • Darkness Visible by William Styron

    "Darkness Visible" is a memoir that explores the author's personal struggle with depression. It provides an intimate account of his descent into a severe and debilitating state of depression, his contemplation of suicide, and eventual recovery. The book offers a candid and insightful perspective on the nature of depression, its impact on the individual, and the process of healing and recovery, shedding light on a topic often shrouded in stigma and misunderstanding.

  • The Liberal Imagination by Lionel Trilling

    "The Liberal Imagination" is a collection of essays that scrutinize and challenge the ideas, politics, and cultural norms of liberal society. The author argues that liberalism often simplifies complex issues and overlooks the inherent contradictions and conflicts in human life. Using literature as a tool, he delves into the nuances of these issues and encourages readers to engage in critical thinking and self-examination. The book is a profound exploration of the strengths and weaknesses of liberal thought and its impact on society.

  • The Second World War by Winston Churchill

    This book provides a comprehensive overview of the Second World War from the perspective of one of its most influential leaders. It covers the entire span of the war, from its origins in the political and economic turmoil of the 1930s, to the major battles and strategic decisions that shaped its course, to its aftermath and impact on the world. The author's unique perspective and firsthand experience, combined with his eloquent and insightful writing, make this a definitive account of one of the most important events in modern history.

  • Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

    The book is a memoir that recounts the author's experiences and observations living in Kenya, then British East Africa, from 1914 to 1931. It is a lyrical meditation on her life amongst the diverse cultures and wildlife of Africa. The author shares her trials and tribulations of running a coffee plantation, her deep respect for the people and land of Africa, and her intimate understanding of the subtle nuances of African culture and society.

  • Jefferson and His Time by Dumas Malone

    "Jefferson and His Time" is a comprehensive six-volume biography that explores the life and legacy of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. The series delves into his political philosophy, his role in the formation of America, his relationships, and his personal life. It also examines his contributions to the United States, including his work as the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, his time as president, and his founding of the University of Virginia. The biography is a detailed and insightful examination of one of the most influential figures in American history.

  • In the American Grain by William Carlos Williams

    "In the American Grain" is a collection of essays that explores the history and culture of America through the lives of significant figures, such as Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln, and Edgar Allan Poe. The author offers a unique perspective on these figures and events, challenging traditional narratives and interpretations. The book provides a deep analysis of American identity, emphasizing its complexity and diversity.

  • Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner

    "Cadillac Desert" is a detailed exploration of the water crisis in the American West. The book delves into the history, politics, and environmental impact of water development in this region, highlighting the role of government policies and engineering projects. It also discusses the unsustainable use of water resources, the impact on local ecosystems, and the potential consequences of continued mismanagement, providing a comprehensive overview of a critical environmental issue.

  • The House of Morgan by Ron Chernow

    "The House of Morgan" is a comprehensive history of the Morgan banking dynasty, tracing its origins from the 19th century to its present-day status. The book explores the family's influence on American and international finance, politics, and society, highlighting key figures and events. It provides an in-depth look at the workings of high finance and the power dynamics within the Morgan family, offering insights into the world of banking and the people who shaped it.

  • The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling

    "The Sweet Science" is a collection of essays that delves into the world of boxing during its golden age in the 1950s. The author offers a detailed analysis and vivid descriptions of famous fights and boxers of the era, such as Rocky Marciano and Sugar Ray Robinson, while also exploring the culture and mechanics of the sport. The book is not just a historical account, but also a philosophical and sociological examination of boxing, its practitioners, and its fans.

  • The Open Society by Karl Popper

    This book is a critique of totalitarianism and a defense of liberal democracy. The author argues against the concept of a perfect, immutable society, instead advocating for an "open society" that allows for constant change and improvement. He criticizes theories of historical determinism and the notion of "the collective", emphasizing the importance of individual freedom and human rights. The book also examines and challenges the philosophies of Plato, Hegel, and Marx, linking their ideas to the rise of fascism and communism in the 20th century.

  • The Art of Memory by Frances A. Yates

    "The Art of Memory" is a historical exploration of the ancient art of memory, and its influence on Western culture. The book delves into the memory training techniques used by ancient Greeks and Romans, and traces their evolution and application through the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The author also explores how these techniques influenced the development of philosophy, science, education, and religion throughout history.

  • Religion And The Rise Of Capitalism by R. H. Tawney

    "Religion and the Rise of Capitalism" is a comprehensive exploration of the historical relationship between the development of capitalism and the evolution of religious thought, particularly Protestant Christianity. The author delves into the moral and ethical dimensions of capitalism, arguing that its growth was significantly influenced by certain religious ideas. The book also discusses how religious beliefs have shaped economic systems and societal norms, and how these, in turn, have impacted religion.

  • A Preface to Morals by Walter Lippmann

    This book is a philosophical exploration of morality in a post-religious, modern world. The author argues that with the decline of religion, society has lost its moral compass. He suggests that instead of turning to religious dogma, individuals should seek morality through personal introspection and reason. The author also proposes that ethics should be based on the principles of tolerance, understanding, and respect for others. He advocates for a new moral code that is grounded in humanistic values and the pursuit of truth.

  • The Gate of Heavenly Peace by Jonathan Spence

    "The Gate of Heavenly Peace" is a comprehensive historical analysis of China from the 1890s through the 1980s, focusing on the intellectual and political movements that shaped the country. The book explores the complex interplay between tradition and modernity, and the often tumultuous relationship between the Chinese people and their leaders. It delves into the lives and thoughts of key figures in Chinese history, providing a nuanced understanding of the forces that have shaped China's trajectory.

  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

    This influential book examines the history of science, focusing on the process of scientific revolutions. The author argues that scientific progress is not a linear, continuous accumulation of knowledge, but rather a series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions. During these revolutions, known as paradigm shifts, the old scientific worldview is replaced by a new one. The book also popularized the term 'paradigm shift' and challenged the previously accepted view of science as a steadily progressive discipline.

  • The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward

    This historical analysis examines the history and development of racial segregation laws, known as "Jim Crow", in the United States. It explores the origins of these laws in the post-Civil War era, their enforcement in the South, and the eventual resistance and dismantling of them during the Civil Rights Movement. The book also challenges the perception that segregation was a natural outcome of racial tensions, instead arguing that it was a system carefully constructed by white elites to maintain economic and political control.

  • The Rise of the West by William H. McNeill

    "The Rise of the West" is a comprehensive historical narrative that explores the development of Western civilization from the early stages of human history to the 20th century. The book provides a detailed analysis of various civilizations around the world, their interactions, and the resulting cultural exchanges that have shaped the modern world. It also discusses the significant factors, such as technological advancements, religious transformations, and political changes, that have contributed to the West's ascendancy.

  • The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels

    This book explores the findings of the Nag Hammadi library, a collection of gnostic texts discovered in 1945. The author examines these texts, which were excluded from the canonical Bible, and discusses their implications for our understanding of early Christianity. The book delves into the diversity of beliefs in early Christian communities, the role of women in these groups, and the political and theological reasons behind the formation of the orthodox Christian canon.

  • James Joyce by Richard Ellmann

    This book is a comprehensive biography of a renowned Irish writer, delving into his life, work, and the intricate relationship between the two. It provides a detailed account of the writer's personal life, including his upbringing in Dublin, his self-imposed exile from Ireland, and his personal relationships. The book also offers a thorough analysis of his major works and the profound influence they have had on 20th-century literature. The biography is meticulously researched, drawing on a wealth of primary sources, and is written in an engaging and accessible style.

  • Florence Nightingale by Cecil Woodham-Smith

    This biography provides an in-depth look at the life and accomplishments of Florence Nightingale, a renowned nurse and social reformer. The author delves into Nightingale's personal life, her groundbreaking work in nursing during the Crimean War, and her relentless efforts to reform healthcare. The book also highlights the struggles she faced as a woman in a male-dominated society, her pioneering use of statistics in public health, and her lasting impact on modern nursing practices.

  • The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell

    "The Great War and Modern Memory" is a critical analysis of the impact of World War I on the English society and culture. The author explores the war's influence on literature, language, and symbolism, arguing that the horrific experiences of the war drastically altered public perception and understanding of conflict, honor, and heroism. The book combines literary criticism, history, and social commentary to provide a comprehensive examination of the war's lasting effects on the collective memory of the English-speaking world.

  • The City in History by Lewis Mumford

    "The City in History" explores the development of urban life over the course of history. The author provides a comprehensive evaluation of cities from ancient times to the modern era, examining their architectural, social, political, economic, and cultural aspects. The book also offers a critique of the urbanization process, highlighting its negative impact on human life and the environment, while advocating for a human-centered approach to urban planning.

  • Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson

    "Battle Cry of Freedom" is a comprehensive exploration of the events leading up to, during, and following the American Civil War. The book delves into the political, social, and economic factors that led to the war, and examines the strategies, battles, and key figures of this pivotal period in American history. It also provides an in-depth analysis of the consequences of the war and its impact on the United States.

  • Why We Can't Wait by Martin Luther King

    This book is a powerful exploration of the civil rights struggle in the United States in the early 1960s, as seen through the eyes of one of its most prominent figures. It provides a historical context for the push for racial equality, including the role of nonviolent protest in achieving social change. The book also includes a detailed account of the 1963 Birmingham campaign, a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, and presents a compelling argument for the urgency of addressing racial injustice.

  • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

    This biography explores the early life and career of Theodore Roosevelt, detailing his journey from a sickly child to a robust young man who embraced a range of interests from nature to politics. It chronicles his personal life, including the tragic death of his wife and mother on the same day, and his professional life, from his time as a New York assemblyman to his role in the Spanish-American war. The book concludes with Roosevelt's unexpected ascension to the presidency after the assassination of President McKinley.

  • Studies in Iconology by Erwin Panofsky

    "Studies in Iconology" is a seminal work in the field of art history that examines the use of allegory, symbol, and motif in visual art. The author uses a method known as iconology, which is the study of the content and meaning of works of art, as opposed to their form. By doing so, he provides a deeper understanding and interpretation of various artworks, particularly those from the Renaissance period. The book also delves into the cultural, historical, and psychological contexts in which these works were created, offering an in-depth exploration of the symbolism and significance of imagery in art.

  • The Face of Battle by John Keegan

    "The Face of Battle" is a military history book that examines warfare from the perspective of the common soldier. It explores three significant battles in detail - the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and the Battle of the Somme in 1916. By focusing on the experiences of the individual soldiers, the book provides readers with a unique insight into the reality of war, the strategies employed, the conditions faced by soldiers, the impact of technological advancements on warfare, and the human cost of these historic battles.

  • The Strange Death of Liberal England by George Dangerfield

    "The Strange Death of Liberal England" is a historical analysis that explores the decline of the Liberal Party and the rise of the Labour Party in early 20th century England. The book delves into the socio-political factors that led to this shift, including the suffragette movement, the Irish Nationalist movement, and the labour unrest. It provides a detailed account of the political landscape of the time, highlighting the internal conflicts and external pressures that brought about the end of the Liberal era.

  • Vermeer by Lawrence Gowing

    "Vermeer" is an in-depth study of the life and works of the renowned Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer. The book provides a comprehensive analysis of Vermeer's artistic style, techniques, and the unique qualities that distinguish his work from other artists of his time. With a focus on individual paintings, it explores the subtleties and complexities of Vermeer's art, offering readers an intimate understanding of his mastery in capturing light, color, and human emotion.

  • A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan

    "A Bright Shining Lie" is a detailed account of the Vietnam War through the eyes of a charismatic and controversial American military advisor. The book provides an in-depth examination of the war, delving into the complex political and military strategies, the culture of corruption and deceit, and the impact on both Vietnamese civilians and American soldiers. The narrative also explores the protagonist's personal life, including his troubled marriage and his eventual disillusionment with the war. The book is not just a biography, but a critical analysis of the American involvement in Vietnam.

  • West With the Night by Beryl Markham

    The book is a memoir of a British-born woman who grew up in Kenya during the early 20th century. She recounts her unconventional upbringing, her passion for horses, and her career as a bush pilot. The narrative is filled with vivid descriptions of the African landscape and wildlife, as well as her personal adventures and encounters. The book culminates with her historic solo flight across the Atlantic from east to west.

  • This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff

    This memoir explores the author's challenging childhood as he moves across the country with his divorced mother, fleeing an abusive relationship and seeking a better life. The young boy struggles with his identity, often resorting to lies and deceit to create a more favorable image of himself. As he navigates adolescence in a small town in the 1950s, he contends with a violent stepfather, school troubles, and his own rebellious nature. Despite the adversity, he maintains a sense of hope and resilience, offering a compelling portrait of a young man coming of age in post-war America.

  • A Mathematician's Apology by G. H. Hardy

    "A Mathematician's Apology" is a deeply personal reflection on the beauty and importance of pure mathematics. The author, a renowned mathematician, defends the pursuit of mathematics for its own sake, arguing it's a creative art form akin to poetry or painting. The book provides insight into the mind of a working mathematician and the aesthetic appeal of mathematics, while also discussing its practical utility and the author's own work on number theory and the theory of prime numbers.

  • The Feynman Lectures on Physics by Richard P. Feynman

    This book is a comprehensive collection of lectures on physics by a renowned physicist, covering everything from classical mechanics to quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, and statistical mechanics. These lectures, designed to be accessible to those without a deep background in the subject, offer a unique and insightful perspective on the fundamental principles of physics, combining rigorous scientific explanation with engaging anecdotes and analogies. The book is widely regarded as an essential resource for anyone interested in or studying the field of physics.

  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

    This book is a personal narrative of the author's explorations near her home at Tinker Creek in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. The narrative is filled with detailed observations on nature and philosophical musings. It reflects on themes of solitude, the presence of God in nature, and the interconnectedness of life. The author's deep reflections and contemplations about the mysteries and beauty of the world make it a profound meditation on the natural world.

  • The Golden Bough by James George Frazer

    "The Golden Bough" is a comprehensive study on mythology and religion, exploring the common themes found in different cultures around the world. The author uses a wide range of sources to argue that human belief progressed through three stages: primitive magic, replaced by religion, which in turn was replaced by science. The book delves into various rituals and customs, including the concept of the dying god in mythology and the role of fertility rites in agriculture. The author's theories have had a profound influence on both literature and anthropology.

  • Shadow and ACT by Ralph Ellison

    This book is a collection of essays that explore the complexities of racial identity and the cultural and social issues surrounding it. The author delves into his own experiences as an African American man in the mid-20th century, offering a poignant commentary on the racial divide in America. He also discusses the role of literature and music, particularly jazz, in shaping identity and understanding. The book is a thoughtful examination of the intersection of individual identity and societal expectations.

  • The Power Broker by Robert Caro

    This book is a biography of Robert Moses, a powerful figure in New York City and state politics, who wielded immense influence over the urban development of the area in the mid-20th century. Despite never holding elected office, Moses was responsible for the creation of numerous parks, highways, bridges, and public works throughout the city and state. The book delves into the methods Moses used to achieve and maintain his power, his impact on the city, and the controversial legacy he left behind.

  • The American Political Tradition by Richard Hofstadter

    "The American Political Tradition" is a critical examination of the United States' political history from the founding fathers to the New Deal era. The book presents nuanced portraits of key figures, challenging the conventional wisdom about their roles and beliefs, and explores the tensions between democracy and capitalism, the individual and the community, and idealism and power. It provides a thoughtful critique of American political culture and its contradictions, arguing that the country's ideals often mask underlying economic and power interests.

  • Contours of American History by William Appleman Williams

    "Contours of American History" is a comprehensive exploration of the historical development of the United States, focusing on its economic, political, and social evolution from colonial times to the 20th century. The book presents a critical analysis of America's expansionist ideology, its impact on indigenous peoples, and its role in shaping the nation's economic and political systems. The author challenges traditional interpretations of American history, arguing that the country's growth was not an inevitable process but was driven by specific economic and political interests.

  • The Promise of American Life by Herbert Croly

    "The Promise of American Life" is a work of political and social criticism which discusses the role and purpose of democracy in the United States. The author argues that the American democratic system has not lived up to its potential due to the influence of powerful individuals and groups. He advocates for a stronger federal government to regulate the economy and promote social welfare, proposing a mix of Hamiltonian means and Jeffersonian ends as the ideal solution. The book also examines the conflict between American ideals and reality, and the need for a balance between individual rights and societal needs.

  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

    This true crime novel tells the story of the brutal 1959 murder of a wealthy farmer, his wife and two of their children in Holcomb, Kansas. The narrative follows the investigation led by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation that ultimately leads to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers. The book explores the circumstances surrounding this horrific crime and the effects it had on the community and the people involved.

  • The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm

    The book is a gripping exploration of the uneasy relationship between journalists and their subjects. It delves into the ethical dilemmas faced by journalists when they become too involved with their subjects. The narrative centers around a lawsuit between a convicted murderer and the author who wrote about his case, revealing the blurred lines between objectivity and subjectivity in journalism. The book also raises questions about the morality and responsibility of the journalistic profession.

  • The Taming of Chance by Ian Hacking

    "The Taming of Chance" delves into the evolution of the concept of probability and its societal implications. The book takes the reader through the historical progression of probability and statistics, illustrating how they have shaped and been shaped by societal norms. The author highlights the profound impact of this mathematical concept on various aspects of life, including law, science, and philosophy, and how it has fundamentally changed our perception of the world.

  • Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

    This book is a candid, humorous account of a single mother's first year with her newborn son. The author shares her journey through the highs and lows of motherhood, dealing with everything from sleep deprivation and breastfeeding struggles to profound love and joy. The narrative also explores her personal struggles with addiction, her complicated relationship with her own mother, and her quest for faith and spirituality. The book serves as a raw and honest chronicle of the author's transformation and growth during her first year of motherhood.

  • Melbourne by David Cecil

    This book provides an in-depth look at the life of William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, who served as Prime Minister in early 19th century Britain. It explores his personal life, including his scandalous marriage and the tragic death of his only legitimate child, as well as his political career. The book also delves into his relationship with Queen Victoria, whom he served as a trusted advisor and mentor during the early years of her reign.

About this list

The Modern Library, 100 Books

Added about 10 years ago.

How Good is this List?

This list has a weight of 54%. To learn more about what this means please visit the Rankings page.

Here is a list of what is decreasing the importance of this list:

  • a low number of voters (more than 2)
  • The creator of the list sells the same books that are on the list
  • seems location biased but is not specified

If you think this is incorrect please e-mail us at