Essayists and Essays

A few suggested readings for my L&R students. These are essay writers I admire for one reason or another. They are not necessarily models for expository prose as it is taught in "Logic and Rhetoric" classes at Columbia University, but they are accomplished prose stylists who write clearly and convincingly about whatever topic they take up. I have listed a single essay or collection that I can recommend for each author. There are, of course, many other titles. These are only meant as suggestions of where to start.

All of these writers, with one clear exception, wrote, or write, in English. There are many foreign writers whose prose, translated into English, can be useful to the writing student, but none are as important as the masters of a writer’s own language. Montaigne, however, defies every rule I can suggest about writers, or, for that matter, about men.

To the "Modern" authors I have assigned general areas of interest in order to guide those who don’t know their work. Many of them could also be comfortably classified as "Personal" essayists. Few confine their writings to any single, easily defined, "field." Explore topics with which you are not familiar. In the hands of a masterful prose writer they can take on an astonishing fascination.


Addison and Steele The Tatler and The Spectator
Arnold, Matthew "Sweetness and Light"
Bacon, Francis Essays
Butler, Samuel "A Degenerate Noble"
Chesterfield, Lord "On Recollections"
Coleridge, Samuel T. Biographia Literaria
de Quincey, Thomas "On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth"
Emerson, Ralph Waldo "Self Reliance"
Fuller, Margaret At Home and Abroad
Godwin, William "Of Government, Violence, and Authority"
Hazlett, William "The Fight"
Jefferson, Thomas "An Essay on the Anglo-Saxon Language"
Johnson, Samuel "Preface" to The Plays of William Shakespeare
Lamb, Charles The Essays of Elia
Lincoln, Abraham "Second Inaugural Address"
Madison, et al The Federalist Papers
Montaigne, Michel de Essaies
Paine, Thomas "Common Sense"
Ruskin, John The Stones of Venice
Smith, Sidney Selected Writings, edited by W. H. Auden
Swift, Jonathan "A Modest Proposal"
Thoreau, Henry "Civil Disobedience"



Achebe, Chinua Hopes and Impediments Society
Agee, James Let Us Now Praise Famous Men Culture
Algren, Nelson The Neon Wilderness Culture
Alvarez, A. Beyond All This Fiddle Poetry
Angel, Roger The Summer Game Baseball
Baker, Russell So This is Depravity Humor
Baldwin, James "Notes of a Native Son" Society
Ballard, J. G. "Time, Memory, and Inner Space" Personal
Barker, Howard Arguments for a Theatre Theatre
Barry, Dave Greatest Hits Humor
Gregory Bateson Toward an Ecology of Mind Psychology
Beerbohm, Max About Theatres Theatre
Bell, Clive Art Art
Benchley, Robert "The Treasurer’s Report" Humor
Bentley, Eric In Search of Theatre Theatre
Berger, John Permanent Red Art
Berlin, Isaiah "The Hedgehog and the Fox" Literature
Berry, Wendell The Gift of Good Land Personal
Berryman, John The Freedom of the Poet Literature
Bierce, Ambrose A Satanic Reader Culture
Bookchin, Rudy "Listen, Marxist" Politics
Bourne, Randolf The Radical Will Politics
Briffault, Robert Reasons for Anger Culture
Broun, Heywood Pieces of Hate Politics
Bruce, Lenny "What is Obscene?" Culture
Brustein, Robert The Theatre of Revolt Drama
Burgess, Anthony Urgent Copy Literature
Burke, Kenneth Language as Symbolic Action Literature
Chapman, John Jay "William James" Personal
Chesterton, G. K. "On Running after One’s Hat" Personal
Chomsky, Noam The New Mandarins Politics
Churchill, Winston "On the Munich Agreement" Politics
Clurman, Harold Lies Like Truth Drama
Cockburn, Alexander Corruptions of Empire Culture
Cockburn, Claud Cockburn Sums Up History
Coles, Robert The Mind’s Fate Psychology
Connolly, Cyril The Haunted Bookshop Literature
Cunningham, J. V. Selected Essays Literature
Davenport, Guy The Geography of the Imagination Literature
Davies, Robertson A Voice from the Attic Literature
DeMott, Benjamin Supergrow Psychology
Didion, Joan "Goodbye to All That" Memoir
Doris, Michael Paper Trail Culture
Ehrlich, Louise Blue Jay Days Personal
Eisley, Loren The Immense Journey Science
Eliot, T. S. "Tradition and the Individual Talent" Literature
Ellison, Harlan Sleepless Nights on the Procrustean Bed Culture
Empson, William The Uses of Biography Literature
Enright, D. J. Fields of Vision Culture
Farber, Jerry The Student as Nigger Culture
Fariña, Richard Long Time Comin’ and a Long Time Gone Culture
Fenton, James You Were Marvelous! Theatre
Fiedler, Leslie No!, in Thunder Literature
Fisher, M. F. K. "How to Cook a Wolf" Cooking
Fitzgerald, F. Scott "The Crack-Up" Personal
Ford, Ford Maddox Critical Writings Literature
Forster, E. M. Two Cheers for Democracy Culture
Franken, Al Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot Politics
Frazer, Ian Coyote v. Acme Humor
Fry, Roger Last Lectures Art
Fry, Stephen Paperweight Humor
Fuller, Buckminster Critical Path Society
Fuller, Peter The Naked Truth Art
Galbraith, John Kenneth Essays from the Poor to the Rich Economics
Gass, William The Habitations of the Word Literature
Geertz, Clifford The Interpretation of Cultures Anthropology
Gibson, William "Disneyland with the Death Penalty" Travel
Goldman, Emma "Anarchism" Politics
Gould, Stephen J. Hens’ Teeth and Horses’ Toes Science
Greenblatt, Stephen Shakespearean Negotiations Literature
Greene, Graham Collected Essays Culture
Greer, Germaine The Madwoman’s Underpants Society
Haldane, J. B. S. "On Being the Right Size" Science
Hamill, Pete Piecework Journalism
Harrington, Michael The Vast Majority Politics
Hawkes, Terence That Shakespearean Rag Literature
Hawkings, Stephen Black Holes and Baby Universes Science
Heimel, Cynthia But Enough About You Humor
Hentoff, Nat Listen to the Stories Music
Hersch, Seymour "My Lai 4" Politics
Hightower, Jim There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos Politics
Hill, Christopher Collected Essays History
Hoagland, Edward "The Courage of Turtles" Nature
Hobsbawn, Eric Bandits History
Hofstadter, Douglas Godel, Escher, Bach Mathematics
Howard, Jean E. The Stage and Social Structure Drama
Howard, Richard Alone with America Poetry
Hulme, T. E. Speculations Literature
Huxley, Aldous "The Gates of Perception" Drugs
Huxley, Thomas "Darwin on the Origin of Species" Nature
Huxtable, Anna Louise Architecture, Anyone? Architecture
Huyssen, Andreas After the Great Divide Culture
Ingersoll "What is Religion?" Religion
Ivins, Molly Nothing but Good Times Ahead Politics
James, William "The Will to Believe" Religion
Jameson, Fredric Cultural Turn Literature
Jarrell, Randall Poetry and the Age Poetry
Kael, Pauline I Lost It at the Movies Film
Kenner, Hugh Mazes Literature
Kermode, Frank The Uses of Error Literature
Kerr, Walter Pieces at Eight Theatre
King, Martin Luther "Letter from Birmingham Jail" Ploitics
Knights, L. C. "How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth?" Literature
Krim, Seymour "What’s This Cat’s Story?" Culture
Lahr, John Astonish Me! Theatre
Lawrence, D. H. "Pornography and Obscenity" Literature
Leacock, Stephen Sunshine Sketches Humor
Leavis, F. R. The Common Pursuit Literature
Leibling, A. J. The Wayward Pressman Journalism
Leibowitz, Fran Metropolitan Life Humor
Levin, Bernard Taking Sides Theatre
Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters Religion
Lopate, Phillip "Against Joie de Vivre" Personal
Mailer, Norman "Superman at the Supermarket" Politics
Marcus, Greil The Dustbin of History Culture
McCarthy, Mary On the Contrary Culture
McLuhan, Marshal The Essential McLuhan Culture
Mencken, H. L. Prejudices Society
Metcalf, Paul Where Do You Put the Horse? Literature
Mill, John Stuart "The Subjection of Women" Society
Miller, Henry "Astrological Fricassee" Culture
Mitchel, Joseph Up in the Old Hotel Journalism
Moore, Michael Downsize This! Politics
Morris, William On Art and Socialism Art
Mumford, Louis Sticks and Stones Cities
Muste, A. J. Selected Essays, edited by Nat Hentoff Politics
Nabokov, Vladimir "On a Book Entitled Lolita" Literature
O’Neill, Don Moving Through Here Culture
Oppenheimer, J. R. "The Open Mind" Science
Orwell, George "Shooting an Elephant" Personal
Parker, Dorothy Constant Reader Literature
Perelman, S. J. Eastward Ha! Humor
Poe, Edgar Alan "Maezel’s Chess Player" Culture
Postman, Neil Conscientious Objections Culture
Pound, Ezra "What the Small Town Can Do" Culture
Read, Herbert Anarchy and Order Culture
Rogoff, Gordon Theatre is Not Safe Theatre
Rossman, Michael The Wedding Within the War Culture
Rudd, Hughes My Escape from the CIA Personal
Rushdie, Salmon Impossible Homelands Culture
Russell, Bertrand Unpopular Essays Culture
Sacks, Oliver "The Last Hippie" Psychology
Said, Edward Culture and Imperialism Culture
Santayana, George "The Birth of Reason" Philosophy
Selzer, Richard "The Knife" Medicine
Shaw, George Bernard Our Theatres in the Nineties Theatre
Shearer, Harry Man Bites Town Culture
Sherrill, Robert Why They Call It Politics Politics
Sontag, Susan "Against Interpretation" Literature
Soyinka, Wole "Why Do I Fast" Politics
Stein, Gertrude Wars I Have Seen History
Steiner, George In Bluebeard’s Castle Literature
Stevens, Wallace The Necessary Angel Poetry
Stevenson, R. L. "An Apology for Idlers" Personal
Stone, I. F. In a Time of Torment Politics
Thomas, Lewis Lives of the Cell Science
Thompson, E. P. The Heavy Dancers Politics
Thurber, James "My Own Ten Rules for a Happy Marriage" Humor
Trillin, Calvin With All Disrespect Humor
Trilling, Diana We Must March, My Darlings Culture
Trilling, Lionel The Liberal Imagination Culture
Turner, Victor On the Edge of the Bush Anthropology
Twain, Mark "What Is Man?" Humor
Updike, John Hugging the Shore Literature
Van Doren, Carl "Private Depression" History
Van Doren, Mark The Happy Critic Literature
Vidal, Gore Homage to Daniel Shays Politics
Vonnegut, Kurt Wampeters, Foma, and Granfalloons Culture
Watts, Alan "This Is It" and Other Essays Philosophy
West, Rebecca A Train of Powder Politics
White, E.B. The Second Tree from the Corner Personal
Whittemore, Hugh Come to Judgement Obituaries
Wilde, Oscar "The Decay of Lying" Criticism
Williams, Jonathan The Magpie’s Bagpipe Literature
Williams, Raymond Modern Tragedy Literature
Wills, Garry Confessions of a Conservative Politics
Wilson, Edmund The Twenties, The Thirties, etc. Culture
Winterson, Jeannette Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy & Effrontery Culture
Wolff, Virginia "The Victorians" Culture
Woolcott, Alexander While Rome Burned Culture
Yeats, William Butler Mythologies Literature
Zinn, Howard A People’s History of the United States History


Kerrane and Yagoda, eds. The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism Journalism
Halberstam, David, ed. The Best American Sports Writing 
of the 20th Century
Lopate, Philip, ed. The Art of the Personal Essay Personal
Gross, John, ed. The Oxford Book of Essays