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Best Nonfiction Books: The 50 Best Books To Inform And Enlighten You (2020)

Best Nonfiction Books
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Best Nonfiction Books

Whatever problem you’re facing, whatever you’re struggling with, whatever mentorship you feel you’re missing – your answers are out there, somewhere, in a nonfiction book.

Someone has been through this already. They’ve found the solution. They’ve learned the answers. They’ve spent years of their life researching and recording and sharing their discoveries in this list of best nonfiction books.

If you’re looking for something specific – you’ll find breakdowns of the nonfiction book recommendations by topic on the book recommendations page.

If you’re curious which books which books have most changed my life – go read some of my book summaries.

But if you’re just curious what the best nonfiction books of all time are; if you’re looking for a list of nonfiction book recommendations; if you want something inspiring to read next then you’re in the right place.

Check out the list of nonfiction book recommendations below.

Leave a comment if you think something’s missing. (I LOVE book recommendations. 🤓)

Fill out the form at the top of this page if you’d like to know when it’s updated.

And whatever you choose, I hope that you find what you’re looking for.

I hope this list helps you read wisely and widely and well.

The 50 Best Nonfiction Books Of All Time

NOTE: I’ve ranked these best nonfiction books by their Goodreads rating, number of Goodreads reviews and first publication date. The goal is to balance what’s well loved, what’s widely read and what has stayed timelessly relevant.

For a list with more modern nonfiction books in it, check out the bonus section.

  1. Meditations (180), Marcus Aurelius (Summary)
    A deeply humbling and thought-provoking insight into the stoic mindset of one of history’s greatest leaders and thinkers – by Roman emperor, philosopher and example to us all, Marcus Aurelius.
    303 pages. Rated 4.2 over 102,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  2. Mere Christianity (1952), C.S. Lewis
    191 pages. Rated 4.3 over 255,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  3. Letters from a Stoic (-49), Seneca
    256 pages. Rated 4.3 over 18,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  4. As a Man Thinketh (1902), James Allen
    80 pages. Rated 4.3 over 53,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  5. Letters to a Young Poet (1929), Rainer Maria Rilke
    80 pages. Rated 4.3 over 45,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  6. Cosmos (1980), Carl Sagan
    384 pages. Rated 4.4 over 107,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  7. How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), Dale Carnegie (Summary)
    The classic guide to greatly improving effectiveness and efficiency by mastering the ability to work with and through the people around you – by self-improvement guru, Dale Carnegie.
    288 pages. Rated 4.2 over 531,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  8. The Intelligent Investor (1949), Benjamin Graham
    623 pages. Rated 4.2 over 66,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  9. Apology (-380), Plato
    127 pages. Rated 4.2 over 31,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  10. On the Shortness of Life (-49), Seneca
    106 pages. Rated 4.2 over 15,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  11. The Magic of Thinking Big (1959), David J. Schwartz (Summary)
    A powerful, practical and uplifting book to help get you out of a rut, invigorate your goals and empower you towards success – by life-long motivational writer and coach, David J. Schwartz.
    320 pages. Rated 4.2 over 63,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  12. The Elements of Style (1918), William Strunk Jr. (Summary)
    A short, prescriptive classic filled with good advice on writing great (American) English while omitting needless words – by professor and author William Strunk Jr.
    105 pages. Rated 4.2 over 69,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  13. Think and Grow Rich (1937), Napoleon Hill (Summary)
    A best-selling book of all time and a cornerstone guide to the Law of Attraction and the role of the subconscious in transforming your life – by a titan of the self-help genre, Napoleon Hill.
    233 pages. Rated 4.2 over 187,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  14. The Imitation of Christ (1418), Thomas à Kempis
    288 pages. Rated 4.2 over 18,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  15. The Complete Essays (1572), Michel de Montaigne
    1,344 pages. Rated 4.2 over 15,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  16. The Art of Living (125), Epictetus
    The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness and Effectiveness
    128 pages. Rated 4.2 over 12,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  17. Law of Success (1925), Napoleon Hill
    1,035 pages. Rated 4.4 over 8,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  18. Gödel, Escher, Bach (1979), Douglas R. Hofstadter
    An Eternal Golden Braid
    777 pages. Rated 4.3 over 40,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  19. Be Here Now (1971), Ram Dass
    416 pages. Rated 4.3 over 23,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  20. Alcoholics Anonymous (1939), Alcoholics Anonymous
    576 pages. Rated 4.5 over 7,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  21. The 5 Love Languages (1990), Gary Chapman
    The Secret to Love that Lasts
    209 pages. Rated 4.3 over 270,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  22. The Science of Getting Rich (1910), Wallace D. Wattles
    146 pages. Rated 4.2 over 29,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  23. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (1970), Shunryu Suzuki
    Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice
    138 pages. Rated 4.2 over 33,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  24. The Right Stuff (1979), Tom Wolfe
    352 pages. Rated 4.2 over 41,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  25. The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949), Joseph Campbell
    416 pages. Rated 4.2 over 29,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  26. On Food and Cooking (1984), Harold McGee
    The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
    896 pages. Rated 4.5 over 13,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  27. The Power of Myth (1988), Joseph Campbell
    320 pages. Rated 4.3 over 41,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  28. The Guns of August (1962), Barbara W. Tuchman
    658 pages. Rated 4.2 over 53,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  29. The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1964), Richard P. Feynman
    1,552 pages. Rated 4.6 over 6,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  30. The Power of Positive Thinking (1952), Norman Vincent Peale
    128 pages. Rated 4.1 over 76,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  31. On Writing Well (1976), William Zinsser (Summary)
    The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
    A book so brimming with literary wisdom that it feels like you’re clutching a living brain. Writing, about writing, for writers – by writer, editor, critic, teacher and general captain of the craft, William Zinsser.
    336 pages. Rated 4.3 over 20,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  32. The Miracle of Mindfulness (1975), Thich Nhat Hanh
    An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation
    140 pages. Rated 4.3 over 21,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  33. How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (1944), Dale Carnegie
    358 pages. Rated 4.1 over 71,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  34. Relativity (1916), Albert Einstein
    The Special and the General Theory
    130 pages. Rated 4.2 over 17,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  35. The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986), Richard Rhodes
    886 pages. Rated 4.4 over 16,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  36. Peace Is Every Step (1990), Thich Nhat Hanh
    The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
    160 pages. Rated 4.3 over 26,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  37. How to Have Confidence and Power in Dealing with People (1956), Les Giblin
    192 pages. Rated 4.3 over 10,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  38. The Wisdom of Insecurity (1951), Alan W. Watts
    A Message for an Age of Anxiety
    152 pages. Rated 4.2 over 12,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  39. Influence (1984), Robert B. Cialdini
    The Psychology of Persuasion
    320 pages. Rated 4.2 over 88,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  40. Psycho-Cybernetics (1960), Maxwell Maltz
    A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life
    288 pages. Rated 4.2 over 14,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  41. Economics in One Lesson (1946), Henry Hazlitt
    The Shortest & Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics
    218 pages. Rated 4.2 over 13,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  42. The Selfish Gene (1976), Richard Dawkins
    360 pages. Rated 4.1 over 129,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  43. Philosophical Investigations (1953), Ludwig Wittgenstein
    464 pages. Rated 4.2 over 12,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  44. The Four Loves (1960), C.S. Lewis
    192 pages. Rated 4.1 over 40,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  45. Escape from Freedom (1941), Erich Fromm
    301 pages. Rated 4.2 over 9,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  46. Infinite Jest (1996), David Foster Wallace
    1,088 pages. Rated 4.3 over 70,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  47. Fragments (-500), Heraclitus
    97 pages. Rated 4.2 over 5,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  48. A Brief History of Time (1988), Stephen Hawking
    212 pages. Rated 4.2 over 272,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  49. The Symposium (-385), Plato
    131 pages. Rated 4.0 over 38,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  50. Security Analysis (1962), Benjamin Graham
    Principles and Technique
    770 pages. Rated 4.3 over 6,700 reviews on Goodreads.

The 25 Best Nonfiction Books (Ignoring Publication Date)

I love using publication date in my ranking algorithm. There’s something special about books that have endured tens, hundreds or even thousands of years. But for some people, that’s just not that important. And I get that. So here’s a bonus list of the 25 best nonfiction books from my database without penalising more recent books.

  1. Sapiens (2011), Yuval Noah Harari
    A Brief History of Humankind
    443 pages. Rated 4.5 over 217,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  2. Being Mortal (2014), Atul Gawande
    Medicine and What Matters in the End
    282 pages. Rated 4.5 over 117,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  3. Between the World and Me (2015), Ta-Nehisi Coates
    152 pages. Rated 4.4 over 150,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  4. Just Mercy (2014), Bryan Stevenson
    A Story of Justice and Redemption
    336 pages. Rated 4.6 over 60,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  5. Cosmos (1980), Carl Sagan
    384 pages. Rated 4.4 over 107,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  6. Evicted (2016), Matthew Desmond
    Poverty and Profit in the American City
    418 pages. Rated 4.5 over 44,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  7. Why We Sleep (2017), Matthew Walker
    Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
    368 pages. Rated 4.4 over 43,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  8. Mere Christianity (1952), C.S. Lewis
    191 pages. Rated 4.3 over 255,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  9. Born to Run (2009), Christopher McDougall
    A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
    287 pages. Rated 4.3 over 156,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  10. The Body Keeps the Score (2014), Bessel A. van der Kolk
    Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
    443 pages. Rated 4.6 over 24,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  11. The Emperor of All Maladies (2010), Siddhartha Mukherjee
    A Biography of Cancer
    571 pages. Rated 4.3 over 73,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  12. The 5 Love Languages (1990), Gary Chapman
    The Secret to Love that Lasts
    209 pages. Rated 4.3 over 270,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  13. The Big Short (2009), Michael Lewis
    Inside the Doomsday Machine
    320 pages. Rated 4.3 over 116,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  14. Atomic Habits (2018), James Clear (Summary)
    An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
    A powerful and practical guide to transforming your habits, making change stick and achieving remarkable results – by author and habit-guru, James Clear.
    319 pages. Rated 4.3 over 46,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  15. Factfulness (2018), Hans Rosling
    Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
    342 pages. Rated 4.4 over 34,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  16. Infinite Jest (1996), David Foster Wallace
    1,088 pages. Rated 4.3 over 70,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  17. Homo Deus (2015), Yuval Noah Harari
    A Brief History of Tomorrow
    450 pages. Rated 4.3 over 69,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  18. Letters to a Young Poet (1929), Rainer Maria Rilke
    80 pages. Rated 4.3 over 45,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  19. This Is Water (2009), David Foster Wallace
    Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life
    138 pages. Rated 4.5 over 18,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  20. Tiny Beautiful Things (2012), Cheryl Strayed (Summary)
    Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
    A heart thumpingly raw, vulnerable and powerful collection of letters and advice on the power of love, of forgiveness and of finding growth in the darkest of places – by award-winning writer, Cheryl Strayed.
    304 pages. Rated 4.3 over 50,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  21. As a Man Thinketh (1902), James Allen
    80 pages. Rated 4.3 over 53,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  22. How Not to Die (2015), Michael Greger
    Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease
    576 pages. Rated 4.5 over 17,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  23. Daring Greatly (2012), Brené Brown
    How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
    287 pages. Rated 4.3 over 80,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  24. The Total Money Makeover (2003), Dave Ramsey
    A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness
    223 pages. Rated 4.3 over 64,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  25. The Power of Myth (1988), Joseph Campbell
    320 pages. Rated 4.3 over 41,400 reviews on Goodreads.

II. Best Books Of All Time

These are the overall best books to read (by type).

III. Best Nonfiction Books (A-Z)

These are the best nonfiction books to read (by topic).

IV. Best Fiction Books (A-Z)

These are the best fiction books to read (by genre).

Or, you can read all my book recommendations.
Arthur Worsley
Arthur Worsley
Arthur is a productivity coach and writer who helps top young execs and entrepreneurs be more productive, find more balance and live more meaningfully. Want to know more? Take this 2-minute quiz to discover your Productivity Quotient (PQ) and learn how to get BIG things done. Take the Quiz →

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  1. Darryl says:

    Billions and Billions, by Carl Sagan, written when he knew he was terminally ill.

    • Arthur says:

      Amazing, Darryl – I didn’t have this one in my reading list.

      Have added it in now and it will definitely make the next update.

      Thank you for the recommendation! Arthur