Skip to comments.The Non-Fiction 100: The 100 Best Non-Fiction Books Of The (20th) Century (National Review)
Posted on 07/24/2006 8:01:24 AM PDT by Mr. Mojo
Earlier this year, Random House announced that it would release a list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the century. The publisher had enjoyed success (and controversy) with its 100 best novels; now it would do this. Here at National Review, we decided to get a jump on them by forming our own panel and offering our own list. Under the leadership of our reporter John J. Miller, we have done so. We have used a methodology that approaches the scientific. But-certainly beyond, say, the first 40 books-the fact of the books' presence on the list is far more important than their rankings. We offer a comment from a panelist after many of the books; but the panel overall, not the individual quoted, is responsible for the ranking. So, here is our list, for your enjoyment, mortification, and stimulation.
Richard Brookhiser, NR senior editor; David Brooks, senior editor of The Weekly Standard; Christopher Caldwell, senior writer at The Weekly Standard; Robert Conquest, historian; David Gelernter, writer and computer scientist; George Gilder, writer; Mary Ann Glendon, professor at Harvard Law School; Jeffrey Hart, NR senior editor; Mark Helprin, novelist; Arthur Herman, author of The Idea of Decline in Western History; John Keegan, military historian; Michael Kelly, editor of National Journal; Florence King, author of Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady; Michael Lind, journalist and novelist; John Lukacs, historian; Adam Meyerson, vice president at the Heritage Foundation; Richard John Neuhaus, editor-in-chief of First Things; John O'Sullivan, NR editor-at-large; Richard Pipes, historian; Abigail Thernstrom, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute; Stephan Thernstrom, historian; James Q. Wilson, author of The Moral Sense.
1. The Second World War, Winston S. Churchill
Brookhiser: "The big story of the century, told by its major hero."
2. The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
Neuhaus: "Marked the absolute final turning point beyond which nobody could deny the evil of the Evil Empire."
3. Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell
Herman: "Orwell's masterpiece-far superior to Animal Farm and 1984. No education in the meaning of the 20th century is complete without it."
4. The Road to Serfdom, F. A. von Hayek
Helprin: "Shatters the myth that the totalitarianisms 'of the Left' and 'of the Right' stem from differing impulses."
5. Collected Essays, George Orwell
King: "Every conservative's favorite liberal and every liberal's favorite conservative. This book has no enemies."
6. The Open Society and Its Enemies, Karl Popper
Herman: "The best work on political philosophy in the 20th century. Exposes totalitarianism's roots in Plato, Hegel, and Marx."
7. The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis
Brookhiser: "How modern philosophies drain meaning and the sacred from our lives."
8. Revolt of the Masses, Jose Ortega y Gasset
Gilder: "Prophesied the 20th century's debauchery of democracy and science, the barbarism of the specialist, and the inevitable fatuity of public opinion. Explained the genius of capitalist elites."
9. The Constitution of Liberty, F. A. von Hayek
O'Sullivan: "A great re-statement for this century of classical liberalism by its greatest modern exponent."
10. Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman
11. Modern Times, Paul Johnson
Herman: "Huge impact outside the academy, dreaded and ignored inside it."
12. Rationalism in Politics, Michael Oakeshott
Herman: "Oakeshott is the 20th century's Edmund Burke."
13. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, Joseph A. Schumpeter
Caldwell: "Locus classicus for the observation that democratic capitalism undermines itself through its very success."
14. Economy and Society, Max Weber
Lind: "Weber made permanent contributions to the understanding of society with his discussions of comparative religion, bureaucracy, charisma, and the distinctions among status, class, and party."
15. The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt
Caldwell: "Through Nazism and Stalinism, looks at almost every pernicious trend in the last century's politics with stunning subtlety."
16. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West
Kelly: "For its writing, not for its historical accuracy."
17. Sociobiology , Edward O. Wilson
Lind: "Darwin put humanity in its proper place in the animal kingdom. Wilson put human society there, too."
18. Centissimus Annus, Pope John Paul II
19. The Pursuit of the Millennium, Norman Cohn
Neuhaus: "The authoritative refutation of utopianism of the left, right, and points undetermined."
20. The Diary of a Young Girl, The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
Helprin: "An innocent's account of the greatest evil imaginable. The most powerful book of the century. Others may not agree. No matter, I cast my lot with this child." Caldwell: "If one didn't know her fate, one might read it as the reflections of any girl. That one does know her fate makes this as close to a holy book as the century produced."
21. The Great Terror, Robert Conquest
Herman: "Documented for the first time the real record of Stalinism in the Soviet Union. A genuine monument of historical research and reconstruction, a true epic of evil."
22. Chronicles of Wasted Time, Malcolm Muggeridge
Gilder: "The best autobiography, Christian confession, and historic meditation of the century."
23. Relativity, Relativity, Albert Einstein
Lind: "The most important physicist since Newton."
24. Witness, Whittaker Chambers
Caldwell: "Confession, history, potboiler-by a man who writes like the literary giant we would know him as, had not Communism got him first."
25. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn
26. Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis
Neuhaus: "The most influential book of the most influential Christian apologist of the century."
27. The Quest for Community, Robert Nisbet
28. Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed.
Helprin: "The infinite riches of the world, presented with elegance, confidence, and economy."
29. Up in the Old Hotel, Joseph Mitchell
30. The Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton
Lukacs: "A great carillonade of Christian verities."
31. Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton
O'Sullivan: "How to look at the Christian tradition with fresh eyes."
32. The Liberal Imagination, Lionel Trilling
Hart: "The popular form of liberalism tends to simplify and caricature when it attempts moral aspiration-that is, it tends to 'Stalinism.'"
33. The Double Helix, James D. Watson
Herman: "Deeply hated by feminists because Watson dares to suggest that the male-female distinction originated in nature, in the DNA code itself."
34. The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Richard Phillips Feynman
Gelernter: "Outside of art (or maybe not), physics is mankind's most beautiful achievement; these three volumes are probably the most beautiful ever written about physics."
35. Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, Tom Wolfe
O'Sullivan: "Wolfe is our Juvenal."
36. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, Albert Camus
37. The Unheavenly City, Edward C. Banfield
Neuhaus: "The volume that began the debunking of New Deal socialism and its public-policy consequences."
38. The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud
39. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs
40. The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama
41. Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker
42. The Age of Reform, Richard Hofstadter
Herman: "The single best book on American history in this century, bar none."
43. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, John Maynard Keynes
Hart: "Influential in suggesting that the business cycle can be modified by government investment and manipulation of tax rates."
44. God & Man at Yale, William F. Buckley Jr.
Gilder: "Still correct and prophetic. It defines the conservative revolt against socialism and atheism on campus and in the culture, and reconciles the alleged conflict between capitalist and religious conservatives."
45. Selected Essays, T. S. Eliot
Hart: "Shaped the literary taste of the mid-century."
46. Ideas Have Consequences, Richard M. Weaver
47. The Economy of Cities, Jane Jacobs
48. The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom
49. Ethnic America, Thomas Sowell
50. An American Dilemma, Gunnar Myrdal
51. Three Case Histories, Sigmund Freud
Gelernter: "Beyond question Freud is history's most important philosopher of the mind, and he ranks alongside Eliot as the century's greatest literary critic. Modern intellectual life (left, right, and in-between) would be unthinkable without him."
52. The Struggle for Europe, Chester Wilmot
53. Main Currents in American Thought, Vernon Louis Parrington
King: "An immensely readable history of ideas and men. (Skip the fragmentary third volume-he died before finishing it.)"
54. The Waning of the Middle Ages, Johann Huzinga
Lukacs: "Probably the finest historian who lived in this century. "
55. Systematic Theology, Wolfhart Pannenberg
Neuhaus: "The best summary and reflection on Christianity's encounter with the Enlightenment project."
56. The Campaign of the Marne, Sewell Tyng
Keegan: "A forgotten American's masterly account of the First World War in the West."
57. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Ludwig Wittgenstein
Hart: "A terse summation of the analytic method of the analytic school in philosophy, and a heroic leap beyond it."
58. Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, Bernard Lonergan
Glendon: "The Thomas Aquinas of the 20th century."
59. Being and Time, Martin Heidegger
Hart: "A seminal thinker, notwithstanding his disgraceful error of equating National Socialism with the experience of 'Being.'"
60. Disraeli, Robert Blake
Keegan: "Political biography as it should be written."
61. Democracy and Leadership, Irving Babbitt
King: "A conservative literary critic describes what happens when humanitarianism over takes humanism."
62. The Elements of Style, William Strunk & E. B. White
A. Thernstrom: "If only every writer would remember just one of Strunk & White's wonderful injunctions: 'Omit needless words.' Omit needless words."
63. The Machiavellians, James Burnham
O'Sullivan: "Burnham is the greatest political analyst of our century and this is his best book."
64. Reflections of a Russian Statesman, Konstantin P. Pobedonostsev
King: "The 'culture war' as seen by the tutor to the last two czars. A Russian Pat Buchanan."
65. The Hedgehog and the Fox, Isaiah Berlin
66. Roll, Jordan, Roll, Eugene D. Genovese
Neuhaus: "The best account of American slavery and the moral and cultural forces that undid it."
67. The ABC of Reading, Ezra Pound
Brookhiser: "An epitome of the aging aesthetic movement that will be forever known as modernism."
68. The Second World War, John Keegan
Hart: "A masterly history in a single volume."
69. The Making of Homeric Verse, Milman Parry
Lind: "Genuine discoveries in literary study are rare. Parry's discovery of the oral formulaic basis of the Homeric epics, the founding texts of Western literature, was one of them."
70. The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling, Angus Wilson
Keegan: "A life of a great author told through the transmutation of his experience into fictional form."
71. Scrutiny , F. R. Leavis
Hart: "Enormously important in education, especially in England. Leavis understood what one kind of 'living English' is."
72. The Edge of the Sword, Charles de Gaulle
Brookhiser: "A lesser figure than Churchill, but more philosophical (and hence, more problematic)."
73. R. E. Lee, Douglas Southall Freeman
Conquest: "The finest work on the Civil War."
74. Bureaucracy, Ludwig von Mises
75. The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton
Neuhaus: "A classic conversion story of a modern urban sophisticate."
76. Balzac, Stefan Zweig
King: "On the joys of working one's self to death. The chapter 'Black Coffee' is a masterpiece of imaginative reconstruction."
77. The Good Society, Walter Lippmann
Gilder: "Written during the Great Depression. A corruscating defense of the morality of capitalism."
78. Silent Spring, Rachel Carson
Lind: "For all the excesses of the environmental movement, the realization that human technology can permanently damage the earth's environment marked a great advance in civilization. Carson's book, more than any other, publicized this message."
79. The Christian Tradition, Jaroslav Pelikan
Neuhaus: "The century's most comprehensive account of Christian teaching from the second century on."
80. Strange Defeat, Marc Bloch
Herman: "A great historian's personal account of the fall of France in 1940."
81. Looking Back, Norman Douglas
Conquest: "Fascinating memoirs of a remarkable writer."
82. Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, Henry Adams
83. Poetry and the Age, Randall Jarrell
Caldwell: "The book for showing how 20th- century poets think, what their poetry does, and why it matters."
84. Love in the Western World
Brookhiser: "What has become of eros over the last seven centuries."
85. The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk
86. Wealth and Poverty, George Gilder
87. Battle Cry of Freedom, James M. McPherson
88. Henry James , Leon Edel
King: "All the James you want without having to read him."
89. Essays of E. B. White , E. B. White
Gelernter: "White is the apotheosis of the American liberal now spurned and detested by the Left (and the cultural mainstream). His mesmerized devotion to the objects of his affection-his family, the female sex, his farm, the English language, Manhattan, the sea, America, Maine, and freedom, in descending order-is movingly absolute."
90. Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov
91. The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe
92. Darwin's Black Box, Michael J. Behe
Gilder: "Overthrows Darwin at the end of the 20th century in the same way that quantum theory overthrew Newton at the beginning."
93. The Civil War, Shelby Foote
94. The Way the World Works, Jude Wanniski
Gilder: "The best book on economics. Shows fatuity of still-dominant demand-side model, with its silly preoccupation with accounting trivia, like the federal budget and trade balance and savings rates, in an economy with $40 trillion or so in assets that rise and fall weekly by trillions."
95. To the Finland Station, Edmund Wilson
Herman: "The best single book on Karl Marx and Marx's place in modern history."
96. Civilisation, Kenneth Clark
97. The Russian Revolution, Richard Pipes
98. The Idea of History, R. G. Collingwood
99. The Last Lion, William Manchester
100. The Starr Report, Kenneth W. Starr
Hart: "A study in human depravity."
I didn't see Unlimited Access by Gary Aldrich in the top 10?
I have a feeling it's not on the list at all. Bad list.
They left out "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" by Richard Rhodes.
Where is Winston Churchill's "A History of the English Speaking Peoples"? I agree with the first choice, however.
Gilder: "Overthrows Darwin at the end of the 20th century in the same way that quantum theory overthrew Newton at the beginning."
What an embarrassment. I'd replace this with The Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas.
Just a quick perusal of the top of the List: I 've read 1, 2 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 17, 18, 20, 23, 24, 25, 26 and a fair smattering of the rest.
Never heard of it. I'd better check the library. I hated "Animal Farm" and "1984."
Thanks for the heads-up!
You probably will enjoy "Homage to Catalonia". It is much better then his fiction.
Thanks for the advice! I enjoy travel writing.
Ah, I'll have to look for a biography, as well.
"Silent Spring" and "Darwin's Black Box" made this list? Just damn. :-(
They also left out "Gravitation" by Misner, Wheeler and Thorne.
LOL! I should read the whole thread prior to posting.
I have that book. :-)
I have not read that. Just jumped to a top spot on my reading list. :-)
Oh, geesh. My reading list just got even longer.
Thanks a lot.
I'm afraid I have all the Peterson field guides, leatherbound. One of those book clubs my wife joined years ago. The thinnest one is European mammals. A vision of things to come.
King: "All the James you want without having to read him."
James' writing is a different kind of art. (And--if memory serves--he hated America.)
I actually found that book in the Andersen collection (along with a whole bunch of other books with "bibliomania" and "biblophile" in the titles).
I have this feeling none of us were on the selection committee. LOL!
Some of the greatest essays I've ever read. "The MYth of Sisyphus" is wonderful.
He was also quite the xenophobe, who deplored the mass influx of immigrants (codename for "Jews" in those days) into his native New England. Ironically, James would later be celebrated by a later generation of American writers and critics, who were predominantly descended from the Jewish and working-class Catholic immigrants he viewed as culturally backwards, while he was largely forgotten by the European literary establishment. There's a lesson to be learned there...
Also, the list is missing The Black Book of Communism and Total Baseball.
James was hugely influential on F.R. Leavis, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot and their idea of 'tradition'. A concept that Saul Bellow understood was meant to keep people like him out.
Written before Dover over?
I love reading a good critic who I disagree with. It's why I keep going back to David Thomson's Biographical Encyclopedia of Film.
That's a great book. I hope he updates it one more time but he probably won't. He just published a History of Hollywood a year or two back.
Ditto on that. Didn't see your post before I made mine.
Bump for "Parliament of Whores." That's a terrific book, and survives being dated much better than most political humor. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wandering around the American consulate in Pakistan in his bathrobe is *still* funny! Zot, I can see him now ...
Actually, if you're going for simply the most influential books, Morris & Whitcomb's The Genesis Flood did for young-earth creationism what Silent Spring did for envirowhakoism. Darwin's Black Box is a sideshow by comparison.
This list is for non-fiction books.
We agree about Darwin's Black Box.
I am pleased to see Witness that high in the list. It is one of the most stunning books I've ever read. I am even more pleased to see Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus there but it doesn't really belong - it is very, very difficult and indecipherable in a bad translation. But if all you take away is the first line - "The world consists not of things, but of facts," you will blow away most of the Marxian crap that so infested the 20th century and all of the ridiculous postmodern puppet show that has pretended to replace philosophy with nihilism.
Very, very pleased to see Paul Johnson included. Orwell's Homage to Catalonia was the break of a brilliant mind from obscurantist garbage by way of a real war. Eggs aren't broken to make Lenin's omelet, people are. What else? Wolfe gets a double portion and it's deserved. Keegan is there. Churchill, of course.
A couple of modest suggestions - Human Action by Ludwig von Mises and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. And maybe History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell.
I didn't see Naughty Nurses In Bondage but dang it, that's a classic too...
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