Best Contemporary Essays

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Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole- a portrait of a man, a sketch of an age, a theory of the art of writing”), are as illuminating and engrossing as they were when they were written.

, Annie Dillard This is Dillard’s only book of essays, but boy is it a blazingly good one.

It’s not the only who’s who you need, but it’s a who’s who you need. Again, we could have picked any of her collections here — candid, hilarious, and willing to give it to you straight, she’s like a best friend and mentor in one, only much more interesting than any of either you’ve ever had.

, Christopher Hitchens No matter what you think of his politics (or his rhetorical strategies), there’s no denying that Christopher Hitchens was one of the most brilliant minds — and one of the most brilliant debaters — of the century.

This one, however, includes her stunner “A Drugstore in Winter,” which was chosen by Joyce Carol Oates for , and a rollicking anti-authoritarian, feminist, all-around bad-ass woman who had a hell of a way with words.

This collection examines the women’s movement, the plight of the aging radical, race relations, cultural politics, drugs, and Picasso. , Martin Amis As you know if you’ve ever heard him talk, Martin Amis is not only a notorious grouch but a sharp critical mind, particularly when it comes to literature.

, which we loved, and which we’re convinced deserves a place in the literary canon.

To that end, we were inspired to put together our list of the greatest essay collections of all time, from the classic to the contemporary, from the personal to the critical.

, Jo Ann Beard Another memoir-in-essays, or perhaps just a collection of personal narratives, Jo Ann Beard’s award-winning volume is a masterpiece.

Not only does it include the luminous, emotionally destructive “The Fourth State of the Matter,” which we’ve already implored you to read, but also the incredible “Bulldozing the Baby,” which takes on a smaller tragedy: a three-year-old Beard’s separation from her doll Hal.


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