Best Non-Fiction Books Of The 20th Century

Best Non-Fiction Books Of All Time

Non-Fiction books are prolific, and it can be a daunting task to find one that is any good. This list aims to make that task a little less daunting and offers a little direction for your next shopping trip. It also contains some books from Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s “50 Best Books of the 20th Century” (Non-fiction) list.
Here is our best non-fiction books of the 20th century:


Tractatus Logico Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein

Perhaps it will be understood only by someone who has himself already had the thoughts that are expressed in it, or at least similar thoughts. The book deals with the problems of philosophy and shows that the reason these problems are posed is that the logic of human language is misinterpreted. The whole sense of the book might be summed up with the following words: What can be said can be said clearly, and if we cannot talk about something, we must pass over in silence. The aim of the book is to describe the limit to the expression of views.


The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer (1960)

Another book along the same lines as Churchill’s is Shirer’s Rise and Fall. It is another first-hand account of Germany in WWII and also serves as a biography of the Nazi leaders. Shirer was a reported for CBS stationed in Germany and was one of the last journalists to leave the country. He offers another first-hand account of the events of WWII from a slightly different perspective. It can be a little dry at times, but if you have the interest in this topic, it is a must.


The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1973)

This book is a first-hand account of the forced labor camps in Soviet Russia throughout the period of the World Wars and up until the 1950s. Since official publication in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, Gulag Archipelago has become mandatory reading in Russian public schools.


Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (1938)

George Orwell may be one of the most well-known names in literature, but he was also a soldier. This book is his first-hand account and observations of the events in the Spanish Civil War. His unique writing style brings the war into life in a way very few others could have.


Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy by Joseph Schumpeter (1942)

This book was published as WWII was beginning to heat up and its relevance to different types of economies and political structures couldn’t have been more relevant. If you have any interest in economics and the pros and cons of various types of economies, check this one out.


Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Dame Rebecca West (1941)

Dame Rebecca West wrote this travel book to compare past Yugoslavia to the present in 1941. The country had been dealing with Nazi Germany, and they bravely stood against them.


Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (2000)

Famed TV host Anthony Bourdain published this book as a biography of himself as a cook, and also as a behind the curtain look at professional kitchens. Bourdain has a unique voice, and it translates well to the page. Chefs either love or hate this book but if you enjoy his shows, I think you will like it.


The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)

This book has become mandatory reading for many high schools and to be fair most kids hate reading, but I love personal accounts, and Anne Frank may have the most well known of them all. It is tragic and sad but serves as an excellent window into the horrors of Nazi concentration camps.


Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James McPherson (1988)

The Civil War is a definite blemish on the face of American history and is one of the most written about topics. McPherson looks at the ideology of both sides of the war and analyzes how both sides claimed they were fighting for freedom. It is a great read.


The Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton (1948)

This is the autobiography of Merton, who was a famous author of the mid-1900s. Merton was a Trappist monk and was written a few years after entering the Abbey at which he served.


The New Basis of Civilization by Simon N. Patten

The professor and author of this book held the belief that a healthy society could only be achieved through the equitable distribution of wealth.


The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley

Being part of the prominent Huxley family, Aldous Huxley’s book may be deemed as one of the masterpieces of the 20th century. It is a comparative study of mysticism and theological tradition of the philosophia perennis. Huxley argues that the salvation of modern man can be provided by the continuation of the perennial philosophy.  It is one of the must-reads of the 20th century, along with his interesting book “The Doors of Perception.”


Dallas 1963 by Stephen Davis (2013)

This book serves as a biography of a city. Dallas in 1963 was the place of one of the most tragic events in American history. Davis does an excellent job chronicling events in the city and country throughout the year that led to the assassination of JFK.


The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer (1931)

The Joy of Cooking is one of the most popular and highest selling cookbooks of all time. It has sold over 18 million copies since its publication and is beloved by many people across the world.


Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver (1948)

Weaver analyzes the effects of nominalism of western culture and claims that it may eventually lead to its decline. It is an interesting psychology book, and if you have an interest in the topic, you should pick up a copy.


The Autumn of the Middle Ages by Johan Huizinga (1919)

This book is both a view of history and a psychology book. It analyzes how society has changed since the Middle Ages and attempts to connect the romanticism of old courts.


God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of Academic Freedom by William Buckley Jr. (1951)

Famed conservative author William Buckley Jr. attacks Yale and the academic culture for pushing ideology onto students rather than allowing a free discussion.


Ethnic America by Thomas Sowell (1963)

Sowell traces by the history of 9 ethnic groups in America. It is an excellent book if you know your heritage and want to find out exactly what brought your ancestors to America.


Three Case Histories by Sigmund Freud (1996)

This compilation of three of Freud’s studies takes a look at his findings. As with anything by Freud, there are people who hate it and people who love it, but if you are interested in Psychology and a fan check it out.


The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs (1961)

Jacobs attacks the early 50s ideal of urban planning and blames it for the decline of neighborhoods. It is an interesting read over 50 years later. We can now look at her reading and see just how right or wrong she was.


On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (2002)

Stephen King is one of the world’s greatest fiction novelists, and in this non-fiction book he discusses how he does his craft and offers advice to those who are interested in writing.


A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (1998)

One of the greatest minds of our time is the author of this book, and Hawking is a compelling writer. In this book, Hawking takes a look at the history of cosmology. If you love space and physics, this is a must.


The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding by Robert Hughes (1988)

This book takes a look at the infinitely compelling history of Australia. The country has a unique history and Hughes does an excellent job of putting it all together in a compelling story.


Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King Jr. (2000)

This book is the text of a letter he sent from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama. Arguably the greatest civil rights proponent of all time states his case, and now it serves as a great read. With racial turmoil still existing in the U.S, it still has some relevance.


Orientalism by Edward W. Said (1979)

Said takes a look at the Western attitude toward the East. It is a great read, especially since we live in a time of globalism, and the world is getting tinier with the invention of the internet.


The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt (1951)

Hannah Arendt describes and examines the two major totalitarian political movements of the 20th century; Nazism and Stalinism. The book describes the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in the early-to-mid 19th century; then analyzes the Neo-Imperialism from 1884 to the First World War. It then traces the rise of racism as an ideology and its modern application as an “ideological weapon for imperialism”.


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