40 Best Essays of All Time (With Links)

EB White, Writing Essays

 

I wanted to improve my writing skills. I thought that reading the forty best essays of all time would bring me closer to my goal.

 

I had little money (buying forty collections of essays was out of the question) so I’ve found them online instead.

I’ve hacked through piles of them and finally, I’ve found the great ones. Now I want to share the whole list with you (with the addition of my notes about writing). Each item on the list has a direct link to the essay, so please, click away and indulge yourself. Also, next to each essay there’s an image of the book that contains the original work. Click on it and you’ll be sent to its Amazon page.

 

About the essay list

 

There’s a similarity between reading essays and eating candy. Once you open the package, eat the whole goddamn thing. It’s addictive. I tried to find ones that were well-written and awe-inspiring at the same time. I wanted them to have the power to change my thinking and change my life. And they delivered.

Now, you may have a different motivation to peruse these amazing essays. Perhaps, you like to polish your skills to write that required essay for your college application to go along with a great ACT or SAT score. Or, maybe you are preparing to take the GRE to pursue a master’s degree or the GMAT to be accepted in a Graduate Management Program, and you want to score high in the writing part of the exam.

Whether you are reading for just sheer pleasure or with an aim to improve your writing skills as I do, I’m sure that these essays will have some sort of impact on your life.

 

stack of books

 

It’s interesting how we’re influenced by a piece of writing for hours and days. When a year later someone asks you “what was this essay about?” you barely remember reading it. But a part of it is still with you. It changed you the very moment you read its last line. (It’s a soothing way to think about it when you have no recollection of the contents, don’t you think?).

The essays are not listed in any particular order. Just browse through them, read the summary, writing tips, and then give them a try. And there’s also some bonus material at the end.

And if you still need more essay inspiration, you may want to grab the “Best American Essays” collection by Joyce Carol Oates or “101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think” collected by Brianna Wiest.

 

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09/25/2022 01:04 pm GMT

 

40 Best Essays Ever Written (With Links And Writing Tips)

 

George Orwell Typing

 

1. David Sedaris – Laugh, Kookaburra

A great family drama takes place against the backdrop of the Australian wilderness. And the Kookaburra laughs… This is one of the best essays of the lot. It’s a great mixture of family reminiscences, travel writing, and advice on what’s most important in life. You’ll also learn an awful lot about the curious culture of the Aussies.

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

2. Charles D’Ambrosio – Documents

Do you think your life punches you in the face all too often? After reading this essay you will change your mind. Reading about loss and hardships often makes us sad at first, but then, enables us to feel grateful for our lives. D’Ambrosio shares his personal documents (poems, letters) that had a major impact on his life, and brilliantly shows how not to let go of the past.

 

Charles D'Ambrosio - Loitering - New and Collected Essays

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

3. E.B. White – Once more to the lake

What does it mean to be a father? Can you see your younger self, reflected in your child? This beautiful essay tells the story of the author, his son, and their traditional stay at a placid lake hidden within the forests of Maine. This place of nature is filled with sunshine and childhood memories. It also provides for one of the greatest meditations on nature and the passing of time.

 

E.B. White - Essays

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

4. Zadie Smith – Fail Better

Aspiring writers feel a tremendous pressure to perform. The daily quota of words quite often turns out to be nothing more than gibberish. What then? Also, should the writer please the reader or should she be fully independent? What does it mean to be a writer, anyway? This essay is an attempt to answer these questions, but its contents are not only meant for scribblers. Within it, you’ll find some great notes about literary criticism, how we treat art, and the responsibility of the reader.

 

Zadie Smith - Changing My Mind

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

5. Virginia Woolf – Death of the Moth

In the midst of an ordinary day, sitting in a room of her own, Virginia Woolf tells about the epic struggle for survival and the evanescence of life. This short essay is a truly powerful one. In the beginning, the atmosphere is happy. Life is in full force. And then, suddenly, it starts to fade away. There’s this sense of melancholy that would mark the last years of Woolf’s life.

 

Virginia Woolf - Essays

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

6. Meghan Daum – My Misspent Youth

Many of us, at some point or another, dream about living in New York. Meghan Daum’s take on the subject is slightly different from what you might expect. There’s no glamour, no Broadway shows, and no fancy restaurants. Instead, there’s the sullen reality of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. You’ll get all the juicy details about credit cards, overdue payments and scrambling for survival. In a way, it’s a word of warning. But it’s also a great story about shattered fantasies of living in a big city. Word on the street is: “You ain’t promised mañana in the rotten manzana”.

 

Meghan Daum - My Misspent Youth - Essays

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

7. Roger Ebert – Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Probably the greatest film critic of all time, Roger Ebert, tells us not to rage against the dying of the light. This essay is full of courage, erudition, and humanism. From it, we learn about what it means to be in the process of dying (Hitchens’ “Mortality” is another great work on that theme). But there’s so much more. It’s a great celebration of life too. It’s about not giving up, and sticking to your principles until the very end. It brings to mind the famous scene from Dead Poets Society where John Keating (Robin Williams) tells his students: “Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary”.

 

Roger Ebert - The Great Movies

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

8. George Orwell – Shooting an Elephant

Even after one reading, you’ll remember this one for years. The story, set in British Burma, is about shooting an elephant (it’s definitely not for the squeamish). It’s also the most powerful denunciation of colonialism ever put to writing. Orwell, apparently a free representative of British rule, feels to be nothing more than a puppet succumbing to the whim of the mob.

 

George Orwell - A collection of Essays

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

9. George Orwell – A Hanging

It’s just another day in Burma – time to hang a man. Without much ado, Orwell recounts the grim reality of taking another person’s life. A man is taken from his cage and in a few minutes, he’s going to be hanged. The most horrible thing is the normality of it. It’s a powerful story about human nature. Also, there’s an extraordinary incident with the dog, but I won’t get ahead of myself.

 

George Orwell - Essays

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

10. Christopher Hitchens – Assassins of The Mind

In one of the greatest essays written in defense of free speech, Christopher Hitchens shares many examples of how modern media kneel to the explicit threats of violence posed by Islamic extremists. He recounts the story of his friend, Salman Rushdie, author of Satanic Verses who, for many years had to watch over his shoulder because of the fatwa of Ayatollah Khomeini. With his usual wit, Hitchens shares various examples of people who died because of their opinions and of editors who refuse to publish anything related to Islam because of fear (and it was written long before the Charlie Hebdo massacre). After reading the essay, you will realize that freedom of expression is one of the most precious things we have and that we have to fight for it.

 

Christopher Hitchens - Arguably - Essays

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

11. Christopher Hitchens – The New Commandments

It’s high time to shatter the tablets and amend the biblical rules of conduct. Watch, as Christopher Hitchens slays one commandment after the other on moral, as well as historical grounds. For example, did you know that there are actually many versions of the divine law dictated by God to Moses which you can find in the Bible? Aren’t we thus empowered to write our own version of a proper moral code? If you approach it with an open mind, this essay may change the way you think about the Bible and religion in general.

 

Christopher Hitchens - Essays

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

12. Phillip Lopate – Against Joie de Vivre

While reading this fantastic essay, this quote from Slavoj Žižek kept coming back to me: “I think that the only life of deep satisfaction is a life of eternal struggle, especially struggle with oneself. If you want to remain happy, just remain stupid. Authentic masters are never happy; happiness is a category of slaves”. Personally, I can bear the onus of happiness or joie de vivre for some time. But there’s also this force that enables me to get free and wallow in the sweet feelings of melancholy and nostalgia. By reading this work of Lopate, you’ll enter into a world of an intelligent man who finds most social rituals a drag. It’s worth exploring.

 

Philip Lopate - The Art Of Personal Essay

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

13. Philip Larkin – The Pleasure Principle

This piece comes from the Required Writing collection of essays. Larkin argues that reading in verse should be a source of intimate pleasure – not a medley of unintelligible thoughts that only the author can (or can’t?) decipher. It’s a sobering take on modern poetry and a great call to action for all those involved in it. Well worth a read.

 

Philip Larkin - Jazz Writings, and other essays

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

14. Sigmund Freud – Thoughts for the Times on War and Death

This essay clearly shows Freud’s disillusionment with the whole project of Western civilization. How the peaceful, European countries could engage in a war that would eventually cost more than 17 million lives? What stirs people to kill each other? Is it their nature, or are they puppets of imperial forces with agendas of their own? From the perspective of time, this work by Freud doesn’t seem to be fully accurate, but still, it’s well worth your time.

 

Sigmund Freud - On Murder, Mourning and Melancholia

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

15. Zadie Smith – Some Notes on Attunement

“You are privy to a great becoming, but you recognize nothing” – Francis Dolarhyde. This one is about the elusiveness of change occurring within you. For Zadie, it was hard to attune to the vibes of Joni Mitchell – especially her Blue album. But eventually, she grew up to appreciate her genius, and all the other things changed as well. This top essay is all about the relationship between human, and art. We shouldn’t like art because we’re supposed to. We should like it because it has an instantaneous, emotional effect on us. Although, according to Stansfield (Gary Oldman) in Léon, liking Beethoven is rather mandatory.

 

Zadie Smith - Changing My Mind

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

16. Annie Dillard – Total Eclipse

My imagination was always stirred by the scene of the solar eclipse in Pharaoh, by Boleslaw Prus. I wondered about the shock of the disoriented crowd when they saw how their ruler was apparently able to switch off the light. Getting immersed in this essay by Annie Dillard has a similar effect. It produces amazement and some kind of primeval fear. It’s not only the environment that changes; it’s your mind and the perception of the world. After the eclipse, nothing is going to be the same again.

 

Annie Dillard - Teaching A stone to talk

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

17. Édouard Levé – When I Look at a Strawberry, I Think of a Tongue

This suicidally beautiful essay will teach you a lot about the appreciation of life. It’s a collection of personal, apparently unrelated thoughts that show us the rich interior of the author. You look at the real-time thoughts of another person, and then start to recognize the same patterns within yourself… It sounds like a confession of a person who’s about to take their life, and it’s striking in its originality.

 

Édouard Levé - Suicide

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

18. Gloria E. Anzaldúa – How to Tame a Wild Tongue

Anzaldúa, who was born in south Texas, had to struggle to find her true identity. 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. It’s full of anecdotes, interesting references and different shades of Spanish. It’s a window into a new cultural dimension that you’ve never experienced before.

 

Gloria Anzaldúa - Reader

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

19. Kurt Vonnegut – Dispatch From A Man Without a Country

In terms of style, this essay is flawless. It’s simple, conversational, humorous, and yet, full of wisdom. And when Vonnegut becomes a teacher and draws an axis of “beginning – end”, and, “good fortune – bad fortune” to explain literature, it becomes outright hilarious. It’s hard to find an author with such a down-to-earth approach. He doesn’t need to get intellectual to prove a point. And the point could be summed up by the quote from Great Expectations – “On the Rampage, Pip, and off the Rampage, Pip – such is Life!”

 

Kurt Vonnegut - A man without a country

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

20. Mary Ruefle – On Fear

Most psychologists and gurus agree that fear is the greatest enemy of success or any creative activity. It’s programmed into our minds to keep us away from imaginary harm. Mary Ruefle takes on this basic human emotion with flair. She explores fear from so many different angles (especially in the world of poetry-writing) that at the end of the essay you will be able to look at it, dissect it, untangle it, and hopefully be able to say “fuck you” the next time your brain is trying to stop you.

 

Mary Ruefle - Madness, rack and honey

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

21. Susan Sontag – Against Interpretation

In this highly intellectual essay, Sontag fights for art and its interpretation. It’s a great lesson especially for critics and interpreters who endlessly chew on works that simply defy interpretation. Why don’t we just leave the art alone? I always hated when at school they asked me: “what the author had in mind when he did X or Y?” Iēsous Pantocrator! Hell if I know! I will judge it through my subjective experience!

 

Susan Sontag - Against Interpretation

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

22. Nora Ephron – A Few Words About Breasts

This is a heartwarming, coming-of-age story about a young girl who waits for her breasts to finally grow. It’s simply a humorous and pleasurable read. As it happens, the size of breasts is a big deal for women. If you’re a man, you may peek into the mind of a woman and learn many interesting things. If you’re a woman, maybe you’ll be able to relate and at last, be at peace with your bosom.

 

Nora Ephron - The most of Nora Ephron

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

23. Carl Sagan – Does Truth Matter – Science, Pseudoscience, and Civilization

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. The essay that you’re about to read is a crystallization of his views about true science, and why you should check the evidence before believing in UFOs or similar sort of crap.

 

Carl Sagan - The Demon Haunted World

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

24. Paul Graham – How To Do What You Love

How To Do What You Love should be read by every college student and young adult. The Internet is flooded with a large number of articles and videos that are supposed to tell you what to do with your lives. Most of them are worthless, but this one is different. It’s sincere, and there’s no hidden agenda behind it. There’s so much we take for granted – what we study, where we work, what we do in our free time… Surely we have another two hundred years to figure it out, right? Life’s too short to be so naïve. Please, read the essay and let it help you gain fulfillment from your work.

 

Paul Graham - Hackers and Painters

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

25. 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. But that’s just a part of its charm. It also takes you to the Old South which has an incredible atmosphere. It’s grim and tawny but you want to stay there for a while.

 

John Jeremiah Sullivan - Pulphead

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

26. 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. From the very beginning, you can feel the depth of her thinking, and the unmistakable style of a true woman who’s been hurt. You can learn more from this essay than from whole books about self-improvement. It reminds me of the scene from True Detective, where Frank Semyon tells Ray Velcoro to “own it” after he realized that he killed the wrong man all these years ago. I guess we all have to “own it”, recognize our mistakes, and move forward sometimes.

 

Joan Didion - The white album

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

27. Susan Sontag – Notes on Camp

I’ve never read anything so thorough, and lucid about an artistic current. After reading this essay, you will know what camp is. But not only that – you will learn about so many artists you’ve never heard about. You will follow their traces and go to places where you’ve never been before. You will vastly increase your appreciation for art. It’s interesting, how something written in the form of a list could be so amazing. All the listicles we usually see on the web simply cannot compare with it.

 

Susan Sontag - Essays of the 1960 and 1970

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

28. Ralph Waldo Emerson – Self-Reliance

That’s the oldest one from the lot. Written in 1841, 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. I don’t know why, but this one especially touched me: “Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design, and posterity seems to follow his steps as a train of clients”. Now isn’t it purely individualistic, American thought? 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 the modern United States.

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson - Self Reliance and other essays

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

29. David Foster Wallace – Consider The Lobster

When you want simple field notes about a food festival, you needn’t send there the formidable David Foster Wallace. 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. There are no apologies or hedging one’s bets. There’s just plain truth that stabs you in the eye like a lobster claw. After reading this essay, you may reconsider the whole animal-eating business.

 

David Foster Wallece - Consider the lobster and other essays

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

30. David Foster Wallace – The Nature of the Fun

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. It’s like taking care of a mutant child that constantly oozes smelly liquids. But you love that child and you want others to love it too. It’s a very humorous account of what does it mean to be an author. If you ever plan to write a novel, you should definitely read that one. And the story about the Chinese farmer is just priceless.

 

David Foster Wallece - a supposedly fun thing I'll never do again

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

31. Margaret Atwood – Attitude

This is not an essay per se, but I included it on the list for the sake of variety. It was delivered as a commencement speech at The University of Toronto, and it’s about keeping the right attitude. Soon after leaving 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. Atwood says that you don’t have to accept that. You can choose how you react to everything that happens to you (and you don’t have to stay in that dead-end job until the rest of your days).

 

Margaret Atwood - Writing with Intent - Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose 1983-2005

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

32. Jo Ann Beard – The Fourth State of Matter

Read that one as soon as possible. It’s one of the most masterful, and impactful essays you’ll ever read. In a way, it’s like a good horror – a slow build-up, and then your jaw drops to the ground. To summarize the story would be to spoil it, so I recommend that you just dig in and devour this essay during one sitting. It’s a perfect example of “show, don’t tell” writing, where actions of characters are enough to create the right effect. No need for flowery adjectives here.

 

Jo Ann Beard - The boys of my youth

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

33. Terence McKenna – Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness

To me, Terence McKenna was one of the most interesting thinkers of the twentieth century. He’s numerous lectures (now available on YouTube) attracted millions of people who suspect that consciousness holds secrets yet to be unveiled. 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.

 

Terrence McKenna - Food of gods

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

34. Eudora Welty – The Little Store

By reading this little-known essay, you will be transported into the world of the old American South. It’s a remembrance of trips to the little store in a little town. It’s warm, straightforward, and when you read it, you feel like a child once more. 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.

 

Eudora Welty - The eye of the story

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

35. John McPhee – The Search for Marvin Gardens

The Search for Marvin Gardens contains many layers of meaning. It’s a story about a Monopoly championship, but also, it’s the author’s search for the lost streets visible on the board of the famous board game. 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.

 

John Mc Phee - The John Mc Phee reader

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

36. Maxine Hong Kingston – No Name Woman

A dead body at the bottom of the well makes for a beautiful literary device. The first line of Orhan Pamuk’s novel My Name Is Red delivers it perfectly: “I am nothing but a corpse now, a body at the bottom of a well”. In fact, there’s something creepy about the idea of the well. Just think about the “It puts the lotion in the basket” scene from The Silence of The Lambs.  In the first paragraph of Kingston’s essay, we learn about a suicide committed by uncommon means of jumping into the well. But this time it’s a real story. Who was this woman? Why did she do it? Read the essay.

 

Maxine Hong Kingston - Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

37. Joan Didion – On Keeping A Notebook

Slouching Towards Bethlehem is one of the most famous collections of essays of all time. In it, you will find a curious piece called On Keeping A Notebook. It’s not only a meditation about keeping a journal. It’s also Didion’s reconciliation with her past self. After reading it, you will seriously reconsider your life’s choices and look at your life from a wider perspective.

 

Joan Didion - We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

38. Joan Didion – Goodbye To All That

This one touched me because I also lived in New York City for a while. I don’t know why, but stories about life in NYC are so often full of charm and this eerie-melancholy-jazz feeling. They are powerful. They go like this: “There was a hard blizzard in NYC. As the sound of sirens faded, Tony descended into the dark world of hustlers and pimps.” That’s pulp literature but in the context of NYC, it always sounds cool. Anyway, this essay is amazing in too many ways. You just have to read it.

 

Joan Didion - Slouching Towards Bethlehem

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

39. George Orwell – Reflections on Gandhi

George Orwell could see things as they were. No exaggeration, no romanticism – just facts. He recognized totalitarianism and communism for what they were and shared his worries through books like 1984 and Animal Farm. He took the same sober approach when dealing with saints and sages. Today, we regard Gandhi as one of the greatest political leaders of the twentieth century – and rightfully so. But did you know that when asked about the Jews during World War II, Gandhi said that they should commit collective suicide and that it: “would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler’s violence.” He also recommended utter pacifism in 1942, during the Japanese invasion even though he knew it would cost millions of lives. But overall he was a good guy. Read the essay and broaden your perspective on the Bapu of the Indian Nation.

 

George Orwell - Essays

 

Writing tips from the essay:

 

40. George Orwell – Politics and the English Language

Let Mr. Orwell give you some writing tips. Written in 1946, this essay is still one of the most helpful documents on writing in English. Orwell was probably the first person who exposed the deliberate vagueness of political language. He was very serious about it and I admire his efforts to slay all unclear sentences (including ones written by distinguished professors). But it’s good to make it humorous too from time to time. My favorite examples of that would be the immortal Soft Language sketch by George Carlin or the “Romans Go Home” scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Overall, it’s a great essay filled with examples from all sorts of written materials. It’s a must-read for any writer.

 

George Orwell - A collection of Essays

 

Writing tips from the essay:

Other Essays You May Find Interesting

 

The thinker

 

The list that I’ve prepared is by no means complete. The literary world is full of exciting essays and you’ll never know which one is going to change your life. I’ve found reading essays very rewarding because sometimes, a single one means more than reading a whole book. It’s almost like wandering around and peeking into the minds of the greatest writers and thinkers that ever lived. To make this list more comprehensive, below I included twelve more essays you may find interesting.

 

Oliver Sacks – On Libraries

One of the greatest contributors to the knowledge about the human mind, Oliver Sacks meditates on the value of libraries and his love of books.

Noam Chomsky – The Responsibility of Intellectuals

Chomsky did probably more than anyone else to define the role of the intelligentsia in the modern world. There is a war of ideas over there – good and bad – intellectuals are going to be those who ought to be fighting for the former.

Sam Harris – The Riddle of The Gun

Sam Harris, now a famous philosopher and neuroscientist, takes on the problem of gun control in the United States. His thoughts are clear and free of prejudice. After reading this, you’ll appreciate the value of logical discourse overheated, irrational debate that more often than not has real implications on policy.

Tim Ferriss – Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide

This piece was written in the form of a blog post, but it’s definitely worth your time. Author of the NYT bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek shares an emotional story about how he almost killed himself, and what can you do to save yourself or your friends from suicide.

Edward Said – Reflections on Exile

The life of Edward Said was a truly fascinating one. Born in Jerusalem, he lived between Palestine and Egypt and finally settled down in the United States where he completed his most famous work – Orientalism. In this essay, he shares his thoughts about what it means to be in exile.

Richard Feynman – It’s as Simple as One, Two, Three…

Richard Feynman is clearly one of the most interesting minds of the twentieth century. He was a brilliant physicist, but also an undeniably great communicator of science, an artist, and a traveler. By reading this essay, you can observe his thought process when he tries to figure out what affects our perception of time. It’s a truly fascinating read.

Rabindranath Tagore – The Religion of The Forest

I like to think about Tagore as my spiritual Friend. His poems are just marvelous. In many ways, they are similar to some of the Persian verses that praise love, nature, and the unity of all things. By reading this short essay you will learn a lot about Indian philosophy and its relation to its Western counterpart.

Richard Dawkins – Letter To His 10-Year-Old Daughter

Every father should be able to articulate his philosophy of life to his children. With this letter, the famed atheist and defender of reason, Richard Dawkins, does exactly that. It’s beautifully written and stresses the importance of looking at evidence when we’re tryi3ng to make sense of the world.

Albert Camus – The Minotaur (or, The Stop In Oran)

Each person requires a period of solitude – a period when one’s able to gather thoughts and make sense of life. There are many places where you may attempt to find quietude. Albert Camus tells about his favorite one.

Koty Neelis – 21 Incredible Life Lessons From Anthony Bourdain

I included it as the last one because it’s not really an essay, but I just had to put it somewhere. In this listicle, you’ll find 21 most original thoughts of the high-profile cook, writer, and TV host, Anthony Bourdain. Some of them are shocking, others are funny but they’re all worth checking out.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca – On the Shortness of Life

It’s similar to the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam because it praises life. Seneca shares some of his stoic philosophy and tells you not to waste your time on stupidities. Drink! – for once dead you shall never return.

Bertrand Russel – In Praise of Idleness

This old essay is a must-read for modern humans. We are so preoccupied with our work, our phones, and all the media input, that we tend to drown in our business. Bertrand Russel tells you to chill out a bit – maybe it will do you some good.

 

Bonus – More writing tips from two great books

 

The mission to improve my writing skills took me further than just going through the essays. I’ve come across some great books on writing too. I highly recommend you read them in their entirety. They’re written really beautifully and contain lots of useful knowledge. Below you’ll find random (but useful) notes that I took from The Sense of Style and On Writing.

 

The Sense of Style – By Steven Pinker

 

Sense of Style

 

On Writing Well – By William Zinsser

 

On Writing Well

 

Now immerse yourself in the world of essays

 

By reading the essays from the list above you’ll become a better writer, a better reader, but also a better person. An essay is a special form of writing. In fact, it is the only literary form that I know of that is an absolute requirement for career or educational advancement. I mean, you wouldn’t be asked to pen a poem when you take the LSAT to get into law school or compose an “ode to molar” in your DAT to be accepted in a dental college or write a play in your MCAT to qualify for med school. Instead, there are essay questions, right?

But for me as a writer, the effect of these authors’ masterpieces is often deeply personal.  You won’t be able to find the beautiful thoughts they contain in any other literary form. I hope you enjoy the read and that it will inspire you to do your own writing.

 

stack of books

 

As I said before, this list is only an attempt to share some of the best essays available online. Do you know any other pieces that could be included in that list? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Rafal Reyzer

Hey there, welcome to my blog! I'm a full-time blogger, educator, digital marketer, freelancer, editor and content manager. I started RafalReyzer.com to provide you with great tools and strategies you can use to achieve freedom from 9-5 through online creativity. My site is a one-stop-shop for writers, bloggers, publishers, content enthusiasts and freelancers who want to be independent, earn more money and create beautiful things. Feel free to check my archive containing over 500 articles and reach out if you need anything. Ah yes, and stay awesome!