best essays 21st century

50 Must-Read Contemporary Essay Collections

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Liberty Hardy

Liberty Hardy is an unrepentant velocireader, writer, bitey mad lady, and tattoo canvas. Turn-ons include books, books and books. Her favorite exclamation is “Holy cats!” Liberty reads more than should be legal, sleeps very little, frequently writes on her belly with Sharpie markers, and when she dies, she’s leaving her body to library science. Until then, she lives with her three cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon, in Maine. She is also right behind you. Just kidding! She’s too busy reading. Twitter: @MissLiberty

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I feel like essay collections don’t get enough credit. They’re so wonderful! They’re like short story collections, but TRUE. It’s like going to a truth buffet. You can get information about sooooo many topics, sometimes in one single book! To prove that there are a zillion amazing essay collections out there, I compiled 50 great contemporary essay collections, just from the last 18 months alone.  Ranging in topics from food, nature, politics, sex, celebrity, and more, there is something here for everyone!

I’ve included a brief description from the publisher with each title. Tell us in the comments about which of these you’ve read or other contemporary essay collections that you love. There are a LOT of them. Yay, books!

Must-Read Contemporary Essay Collections

They can’t kill us until they kill us  by hanif abdurraqib.

“In an age of confusion, fear, and loss, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib’s is a voice that matters. Whether he’s attending a Bruce Springsteen concert the day after visiting Michael Brown’s grave, or discussing public displays of affection at a Carly Rae Jepsen show, he writes with a poignancy and magnetism that resonates profoundly.”

Would Everybody Please Stop?: Reflections on Life and Other Bad Ideas  by Jenny Allen

“Jenny Allen’s musings range fluidly from the personal to the philosophical. She writes with the familiarity of someone telling a dinner party anecdote, forgoing decorum for candor and comedy. To read  Would Everybody Please Stop?  is to experience life with imaginative and incisive humor.”

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Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds  by Yemisi Aribisala

“A sumptuous menu of essays about Nigerian cuisine, lovingly presented by the nation’s top epicurean writer. As well as a mouth-watering appraisal of Nigerian food,  Longthroat Memoirs  is a series of love letters to the Nigerian palate. From the cultural history of soup, to fish as aphrodisiac and the sensual allure of snails,  Longthroat Memoirs  explores the complexities, the meticulousness, and the tactile joy of Nigerian gastronomy.”

Beyond Measure: Essays  by Rachel Z. Arndt

“ Beyond Measure  is a fascinating exploration of the rituals, routines, metrics and expectations through which we attempt to quantify and ascribe value to our lives. With mordant humor and penetrating intellect, Arndt casts her gaze beyond event-driven narratives to the machinery underlying them: judo competitions measured in weigh-ins and wait times; the significance of the elliptical’s stationary churn; the rote scripts of dating apps; the stupefying sameness of the daily commute.”

Magic Hours  by Tom Bissell

“Award-winning essayist Tom Bissell explores the highs and lows of the creative process. He takes us from the set of  The Big Bang Theory  to the first novel of Ernest Hemingway to the final work of David Foster Wallace; from the films of Werner Herzog to the film of Tommy Wiseau to the editorial meeting in which Paula Fox’s work was relaunched into the world. Originally published in magazines such as  The Believer ,  The New Yorker , and  Harper’s , these essays represent ten years of Bissell’s best writing on every aspect of creation—be it Iraq War documentaries or video-game character voices—and will provoke as much thought as they do laughter.”

Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession  by Alice Bolin

“In this poignant collection, Alice Bolin examines iconic American works from the essays of Joan Didion and James Baldwin to  Twin Peaks , Britney Spears, and  Serial , illuminating the widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster men’s stories. Smart and accessible, thoughtful and heartfelt, Bolin investigates the implications of our cultural fixations, and her own role as a consumer and creator.”

Betwixt-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life  by Jenny Boully

“Jenny Boully’s essays are ripe with romance and sensual pleasures, drawing connections between the digression, reflection, imagination, and experience that characterizes falling in love as well as the life of a writer. Literary theory, philosophy, and linguistics rub up against memory, dreamscapes, and fancy, making the practice of writing a metaphor for the illusory nature of experience.  Betwixt and Between  is, in many ways, simply a book about how to live.”

Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give by Ada Calhoun

“In  Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give , Ada Calhoun presents an unflinching but also loving portrait of her own marriage, opening a long-overdue conversation about the institution as it truly is: not the happy ending of a love story or a relic doomed by high divorce rates, but the beginning of a challenging new chapter of which ‘the first twenty years are the hardest.’”

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays  by Alexander Chee

“ How to Write an Autobiographical Novel  is the author’s manifesto on the entangling of life, literature, and politics, and how the lessons learned from a life spent reading and writing fiction have changed him. In these essays, he grows from student to teacher, reader to writer, and reckons with his identities as a son, a gay man, a Korean American, an artist, an activist, a lover, and a friend. He examines some of the most formative experiences of his life and the nation’s history, including his father’s death, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the jobs that supported his writing—Tarot-reading, bookselling, cater-waiting for William F. Buckley—the writing of his first novel,  Edinburgh , and the election of Donald Trump.”

Too Much and Not the Mood: Essays  by Durga Chew-Bose

“ Too Much and Not the Mood is a beautiful and surprising exploration of what it means to be a first-generation, creative young woman working today. On April 11, 1931, Virginia Woolf ended her entry in A Writer’s Diary with the words ‘too much and not the mood’ to describe her frustration with placating her readers, what she described as the ‘cramming in and the cutting out.’ She wondered if she had anything at all that was truly worth saying. The attitude of that sentiment inspired Durga Chew-Bose to gather own writing in this lyrical collection of poetic essays that examine personhood and artistic growth. Drawing inspiration from a diverse group of incisive and inquiring female authors, Chew-Bose captures the inner restlessness that keeps her always on the brink of creative expression.”

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy  by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“‘We were eight years in power’ was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. In this sweeping collection of new and selected essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s ‘first white president.’”

Look Alive Out There: Essays by Sloane Crosley

“In  Look Alive Out There,  whether it’s scaling active volcanoes, crashing shivas, playing herself on  Gossip Girl,  befriending swingers, or squinting down the barrel of the fertility gun, Crosley continues to rise to the occasion with unmatchable nerve and electric one-liners. And as her subjects become more serious, her essays deliver not just laughs but lasting emotional heft and insight. Crosley has taken up the gauntlets thrown by her predecessors—Dorothy Parker, Nora Ephron, David Sedaris—and crafted something rare, affecting, and true.”

Fl â neuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London  by Lauren Elkin

“Part cultural meander, part memoir,  Flâneuse  takes us on a distinctly cosmopolitan jaunt that begins in New York, where Elkin grew up, and transports us to Paris via Venice, Tokyo, and London, all cities in which she’s lived. We are shown the paths beaten by such  flâneuses  as the cross-dressing nineteenth-century novelist George Sand, the Parisian artist Sophie Calle, the wartime correspondent Martha Gellhorn, and the writer Jean Rhys. With tenacity and insight, Elkin creates a mosaic of what urban settings have meant to women, charting through literature, art, history, and film the sometimes exhilarating, sometimes fraught relationship that women have with the metropolis.”

Idiophone  by Amy Fusselman

“Leaping from ballet to quiltmaking, from the The Nutcracker to an Annie-B Parson interview,  Idiophone  is a strikingly original meditation on risk-taking and provocation in art and a unabashedly honest, funny, and intimate consideration of art-making in the context of motherhood, and motherhood in the context of addiction. Amy Fusselman’s compact, beautifully digressive essay feels both surprising and effortless, fueled by broad-ranging curiosity, and, fundamentally, joy.”

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture  by Roxane Gay

“In this valuable and revealing anthology, cultural critic and bestselling author Roxane Gay collects original and previously published pieces that address what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression they face, and where they are ‘routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, bullied’ for speaking out.”

Sunshine State: Essays  by Sarah Gerard

“With the personal insight of  The Empathy Exams , the societal exposal of  Nickel and Dimed , and the stylistic innovation and intensity of her own break-out debut novel  Binary Star , Sarah Gerard’s  Sunshine State  uses the intimately personal to unearth the deep reservoirs of humanity buried in the corners of our world often hardest to face.”

The Art of the Wasted Day  by Patricia Hampl

“ The Art of the Wasted Day  is a picaresque travelogue of leisure written from a lifelong enchantment with solitude. Patricia Hampl visits the homes of historic exemplars of ease who made repose a goal, even an art form. She begins with two celebrated eighteenth-century Irish ladies who ran off to live a life of ‘retirement’ in rural Wales. Her search then leads to Moravia to consider the monk-geneticist, Gregor Mendel, and finally to Bordeaux for Michel Montaigne—the hero of this book—who retreated from court life to sit in his chateau tower and write about whatever passed through his mind, thus inventing the personal essay.”

A Really Big Lunch: The Roving Gourmand on Food and Life  by Jim Harrison

“Jim Harrison’s legendary gourmandise is on full display in  A Really Big Lunch . From the titular  New Yorker  piece about a French lunch that went to thirty-seven courses, to pieces from  Brick ,  Playboy , Kermit Lynch Newsletter, and more on the relationship between hunter and prey, or the obscure language of wine reviews,  A Really Big Lunch  is shot through with Harrison’s pointed aperçus and keen delight in the pleasures of the senses. And between the lines the pieces give glimpses of Harrison’s life over the last three decades.  A Really Big Lunch  is a literary delight that will satisfy every appetite.”

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me  by Bill Hayes

“Bill Hayes came to New York City in 2009 with a one-way ticket and only the vaguest idea of how he would get by. But, at forty-eight years old, having spent decades in San Francisco, he craved change. Grieving over the death of his partner, he quickly discovered the profound consolations of the city’s incessant rhythms, the sight of the Empire State Building against the night sky, and New Yorkers themselves, kindred souls that Hayes, a lifelong insomniac, encountered on late-night strolls with his camera.”

Would You Rather?: A Memoir of Growing Up and Coming Out  by Katie Heaney

“Here, for the first time, Katie opens up about realizing at the age of twenty-eight that she is gay. In these poignant, funny essays, she wrestles with her shifting sexuality and identity, and describes what it was like coming out to everyone she knows (and everyone she doesn’t). As she revisits her past, looking for any ‘clues’ that might have predicted this outcome, Katie reveals that life doesn’t always move directly from point A to point B—no matter how much we would like it to.”

Tonight I’m Someone Else: Essays  by Chelsea Hodson

“From graffiti gangs and  Grand Theft Auto  to sugar daddies, Schopenhauer, and a deadly game of Russian roulette, in these essays, Chelsea Hodson probes her own desires to examine where the physical and the proprietary collide. She asks what our privacy, our intimacy, and our own bodies are worth in the increasingly digital world of liking, linking, and sharing.”

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.: Essays  by Samantha Irby

“With  We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. , ‘bitches gotta eat’ blogger and comedian Samantha Irby turns the serio-comic essay into an art form. Whether talking about how her difficult childhood has led to a problem in making ‘adult’ budgets, explaining why she should be the new Bachelorette—she’s ’35-ish, but could easily pass for 60-something’—detailing a disastrous pilgrimage-slash-romantic-vacation to Nashville to scatter her estranged father’s ashes, sharing awkward sexual encounters, or dispensing advice on how to navigate friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms—hang in there for the Costco loot—she’s as deft at poking fun at the ghosts of her past self as she is at capturing powerful emotional truths.”

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America  by Morgan Jerkins

“Doubly disenfranchised by race and gender, often deprived of a place within the mostly white mainstream feminist movement, black women are objectified, silenced, and marginalized with devastating consequences, in ways both obvious and subtle, that are rarely acknowledged in our country’s larger discussion about inequality. In  This Will Be My Undoing , Jerkins becomes both narrator and subject to expose the social, cultural, and historical story of black female oppression that influences the black community as well as the white, male-dominated world at large.”

Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays  by Fenton Johnson

“Part retrospective, part memoir, Fenton Johnson’s collection  Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays  explores sexuality, religion, geography, the AIDS crisis, and more. Johnson’s wanderings take him from the hills of Kentucky to those of San Francisco, from the streets of Paris to the sidewalks of Calcutta. Along the way, he investigates questions large and small: What’s the relationship between artists and museums, illuminated in a New Guinean display of shrunken heads? What’s the difference between empiricism and intuition?”

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays  by Scaachi Koul

“In  One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter , Scaachi Koul deploys her razor-sharp humor to share all the fears, outrages, and mortifying moments of her life. She learned from an early age what made her miserable, and for Scaachi anything can be cause for despair. Whether it’s a shopping trip gone awry; enduring awkward conversations with her bikini waxer; overcoming her fear of flying while vacationing halfway around the world; dealing with Internet trolls, or navigating the fears and anxieties of her parents. Alongside these personal stories are pointed observations about life as a woman of color: where every aspect of her appearance is open for critique, derision, or outright scorn; where strict gender rules bind in both Western and Indian cultures, leaving little room for a woman not solely focused on marriage and children to have a career (and a life) for herself.”

Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions  by Valeria Luiselli and jon lee anderson (translator)

“A damning confrontation between the American dream and the reality of undocumented children seeking a new life in the U.S. Structured around the 40 questions Luiselli translates and asks undocumented Latin American children facing deportation,  Tell Me How It Ends  (an expansion of her 2016 Freeman’s essay of the same name) humanizes these young migrants and highlights the contradiction between the idea of America as a fiction for immigrants and the reality of racism and fear—both here and back home.”

All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers  by Alana Massey

“Mixing Didion’s affected cool with moments of giddy celebrity worship, Massey examines the lives of the women who reflect our greatest aspirations and darkest fears back onto us. These essays are personal without being confessional and clever in a way that invites readers into the joke. A cultural critique and a finely wrought fan letter, interwoven with stories that are achingly personal, All the Lives I Want is also an exploration of mental illness, the sex industry, and the dangers of loving too hard.”

Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish: Essays  by Tom McCarthy

“Certain points of reference recur with dreamlike insistence—among them the artist Ed Ruscha’s  Royal Road Test , a photographic documentation of the roadside debris of a Royal typewriter hurled from the window of a traveling car; the great blooms of jellyfish that are filling the oceans and gumming up the machinery of commerce and military domination—and the question throughout is: How can art explode the restraining conventions of so-called realism, whether aesthetic or political, to engage in the active reinvention of the world?”

Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America  by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding

“When 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump and 94 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton, how can women unite in Trump’s America? Nasty Women includes inspiring essays from a diverse group of talented women writers who seek to provide a broad look at how we got here and what we need to do to move forward.”

Don’t Call Me Princess: Essays on Girls, Women, Sex, and Life  by Peggy Orenstein

“Named one of the ’40 women who changed the media business in the last 40 years’ by  Columbia Journalism Review , Peggy Orenstein is one of the most prominent, unflinching feminist voices of our time. Her writing has broken ground and broken silences on topics as wide-ranging as miscarriage, motherhood, breast cancer, princess culture and the importance of girls’ sexual pleasure. Her unique blend of investigative reporting, personal revelation and unexpected humor has made her books bestselling classics.”

When You Find Out the World Is Against You: And Other Funny Memories About Awful Moments  by Kelly Oxford

“Kelly Oxford likes to blow up the internet. Whether it is with the kind of Tweets that lead  Rolling Stone  to name her one of the Funniest People on Twitter or with pictures of her hilariously adorable family (human and animal) or with something much more serious, like creating the hashtag #NotOkay, where millions of women came together to share their stories of sexual assault, Kelly has a unique, razor-sharp perspective on modern life. As a screen writer, professional sh*t disturber, wife and mother of three, Kelly is about everything but the status quo.”

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman  by Anne Helen Petersen

“You know the type: the woman who won’t shut up, who’s too brazen, too opinionated—too much. She’s the unruly woman, and she embodies one of the most provocative and powerful forms of womanhood today. In  Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud , Anne Helen Petersen uses the lens of ‘unruliness’ to explore the ascension of pop culture powerhouses like Lena Dunham, Nicki Minaj, and Kim Kardashian, exploring why the public loves to love (and hate) these controversial figures. With its brisk, incisive analysis,  Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud  will be a conversation-starting book on what makes and breaks celebrity today.”

Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist  by Franchesca Ramsey

“In her first book, Ramsey uses her own experiences as an accidental activist to explore the many ways we communicate with each other—from the highs of bridging gaps and making connections to the many pitfalls that accompany talking about race, power, sexuality, and gender in an unpredictable public space…the internet.”

Shrewed: A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Women and Girls  by Elizabeth Renzetti

“Drawing upon Renzetti’s decades of reporting on feminist issues,  Shrewed  is a book about feminism’s crossroads. From Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign to the quest for equal pay, from the lessons we can learn from old ladies to the future of feminism in a turbulent world, Renzetti takes a pointed, witty look at how far we’ve come—and how far we have to go.”

What Are We Doing Here?: Essays  by Marilynne Robinson

“In this new essay collection she trains her incisive mind on our modern political climate and the mysteries of faith. Whether she is investigating how the work of great thinkers about America like Emerson and Tocqueville inform our political consciousness or discussing the way that beauty informs and disciplines daily life, Robinson’s peerless prose and boundless humanity are on full display.”

Double Bind: Women on Ambition  by Robin Romm

“‘A work of courage and ferocious honesty’ (Diana Abu-Jaber),  Double Bind  could not come at a more urgent time. Even as major figures from Gloria Steinem to Beyoncé embrace the word ‘feminism,’ the word ‘ambition’ remains loaded with ambivalence. Many women see it as synonymous with strident or aggressive, yet most feel compelled to strive and achieve—the seeming contradiction leaving them in a perpetual double bind. Ayana Mathis, Molly Ringwald, Roxane Gay, and a constellation of ‘nimble thinkers . . . dismantle this maddening paradox’ ( O, The Oprah Magazine ) with candor, wit, and rage. Women who have made landmark achievements in fields as diverse as law, dog sledding, and butchery weigh in, breaking the last feminist taboo once and for all.”

The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life  by Richard Russo

“In these nine essays, Richard Russo provides insight into his life as a writer, teacher, friend, and reader. From a commencement speech he gave at Colby College, to the story of how an oddly placed toilet made him reevaluate the purpose of humor in art and life, to a comprehensive analysis of Mark Twain’s value, to his harrowing journey accompanying a dear friend as she pursued gender-reassignment surgery,  The Destiny Thief  reflects the broad interests and experiences of one of America’s most beloved authors. Warm, funny, wise, and poignant, the essays included here traverse Russo’s writing life, expanding our understanding of who he is and how his singular, incredibly generous mind works. An utter joy to read, they give deep insight into the creative process from the prospective of one of our greatest writers.”

Curry: Eating, Reading, and Race by Naben Ruthnum

“Curry is a dish that doesn’t quite exist, but, as this wildly funny and sharp essay points out, a dish that doesn’t properly exist can have infinite, equally authentic variations. By grappling with novels, recipes, travelogues, pop culture, and his own upbringing, Naben Ruthnum depicts how the distinctive taste of curry has often become maladroit shorthand for brown identity. With the sardonic wit of Gita Mehta’s  Karma Cola  and the refined, obsessive palette of Bill Buford’s  Heat , Ruthnum sinks his teeth into the story of how the beloved flavor calcified into an aesthetic genre that limits the imaginations of writers, readers, and eaters.”

The River of Consciousness  by Oliver Sacks

“Sacks, an Oxford-educated polymath, had a deep familiarity not only with literature and medicine but with botany, animal anatomy, chemistry, the history of science, philosophy, and psychology.  The River of Consciousness  is one of two books Sacks was working on up to his death, and it reveals his ability to make unexpected connections, his sheer joy in knowledge, and his unceasing, timeless project to understand what makes us human.”

All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World: Essays on Equality, Justice, and Freedom (Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God)  by Deborah Santana and America Ferrera

“ All the Women in My Family Sing  is an anthology documenting the experiences of women of color at the dawn of the twenty-first century. It is a vital collection of prose and poetry whose topics range from the pressures of being the vice-president of a Fortune 500 Company, to escaping the killing fields of Cambodia, to the struggles inside immigration, identity, romance, and self-worth. These brief, trenchant essays capture the aspirations and wisdom of women of color as they exercise autonomy, creativity, and dignity and build bridges to heal the brokenness in today’s turbulent world.”

We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America  by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page

“For some, ‘passing’ means opportunity, access, or safety. Others don’t willingly pass but are ‘passed’ in specific situations by someone else.  We Wear the Mask , edited by  Brando Skyhorse  and  Lisa Page , is an illuminating and timely anthology that examines the complex reality of passing in America. Skyhorse, a Mexican American, writes about how his mother passed him as an American Indian before he learned who he really is. Page shares how her white mother didn’t tell friends about her black ex-husband or that her children were, in fact, biracial.”

Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith

“Since she burst spectacularly into view with her debut novel almost two decades ago, Zadie Smith has established herself not just as one of the world’s preeminent fiction writers, but also a brilliant and singular essayist. She contributes regularly to  The New Yorker  and the  New York Review of Books  on a range of subjects, and each piece of hers is a literary event in its own right.”

The Mother of All Questions: Further Reports from the Feminist Revolutions  by Rebecca Solnit

“In a timely follow-up to her national bestseller  Men Explain Things to Me , Rebecca Solnit offers indispensable commentary on women who refuse to be silenced, misogynistic violence, the fragile masculinity of the literary canon, the gender binary, the recent history of rape jokes, and much more. In characteristic style, Solnit mixes humor, keen analysis, and powerful insight in these essays.”

The Wrong Way to Save Your Life: Essays  by Megan Stielstra

“Whether she’s imagining the implications of open-carry laws on college campuses, recounting the story of going underwater on the mortgage of her first home, or revealing the unexpected pains and joys of marriage and motherhood, Stielstra’s work informs, impels, enlightens, and embraces us all. The result is something beautiful—this story, her courage, and, potentially, our own.”

Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms  by Michelle Tea

“Delivered with her signature honesty and dark humor, this is Tea’s first-ever collection of journalistic writing. As she blurs the line between telling other people’s stories and her own, she turns an investigative eye to the genre that’s nurtured her entire career—memoir—and considers the price that art demands be paid from life.”

A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause  by Shawn Wen

“In precise, jewel-like scenes and vignettes,  A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause  pays homage to the singular genius of a mostly-forgotten art form. Drawing on interviews, archival research, and meticulously observed performances, Wen translates the gestural language of mime into a lyric written portrait by turns whimsical, melancholic, and haunting.”

Acid West: Essays  by Joshua Wheeler

“The radical evolution of American identity, from cowboys to drone warriors to space explorers, is a story rooted in southern New Mexico.  Acid West  illuminates this history, clawing at the bounds of genre to reveal a place that is, for better or worse, home. By turns intimate, absurd, and frightening,  Acid West  is an enlightening deep-dive into a prophetic desert at the bottom of America.”

Sexographies  by Gabriela Wiener and Lucy Greaves And jennifer adcock (Translators)

“In fierce and sumptuous first-person accounts, renowned Peruvian journalist Gabriela Wiener records infiltrating the most dangerous Peruvian prison, participating in sexual exchanges in swingers clubs, traveling the dark paths of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris in the company of transvestites and prostitutes, undergoing a complicated process of egg donation, and participating in a ritual of ayahuasca ingestion in the Amazon jungle—all while taking us on inward journeys that explore immigration, maternity, fear of death, ugliness, and threesomes. Fortunately, our eagle-eyed voyeur emerges from her narrative forays unscathed and ready to take on the kinks, obsessions, and messiness of our lives.  Sexographies  is an eye-opening, kamikaze journey across the contours of the human body and mind.”

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative  by Florence Williams

“From forest trails in Korea, to islands in Finland, to eucalyptus groves in California, Florence Williams investigates the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain. Delving into brand-new research, she uncovers the powers of the natural world to improve health, promote reflection and innovation, and strengthen our relationships. As our modern lives shift dramatically indoors, these ideas—and the answers they yield—are more urgent than ever.”

Can You Tolerate This?: Essays  by Ashleigh Young

“ Can You Tolerate This?  presents a vivid self-portrait of an introspective yet widely curious young woman, the colorful, isolated community in which she comes of age, and the uneasy tensions—between safety and risk, love and solitude, the catharsis of grief and the ecstasy of creation—that define our lives.”

What are your favorite contemporary essay collections?

best essays 21st century

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10 Contemporary American Essayists You Should Be Reading Right Now

Today marks the release of celebrated novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson’s newest collection of essays, When I Was a Child I Read Books . We’ve been excited about this book for a while now, so if you’ve been reading our books coverage with any regularity you probably already know we think it’s something worth picking up. Great as it is, Robinson’s collection only whet our appetites for more essays by contemporary writers, so in case it does the same for you, we’ve put together a list of contemporary essayists we think everyone should be reading right now (or, you know, whenever you finish watching Downton Abbey ). We’ve tried to stick to authors who are still alive — so David Foster Wallace and Christopher Hitchens are off the table, though they both would have made this list with flying colors were they still with us — and limited ourselves to American writers, but even with those caveats, there is enough in these writers’ oeuvres to keep you up and thinking for weeks on end. Click through to read our list, and please do add your own suggestions for top-notch essayists we should all be reading in the comments.

best essays 21st century

Marilynne Robinson

Though Robinson is much lauded for her fiction (she won the Pulitzer Prize for her second novel, Gilead ), she is equally adored for her incisive essays, which often take hard looks at Americanism and the social political system writ both large and very small. Dorris Lessing called her 1998 collection, The Death of Adam , “a useful antidote to the increasingly crude and slogan-loving culture we inhabit,” and we’re comfortable expanding that statement to Robinson’s work at large — always challenging, always thought provoking, always making us want to be better.

best essays 21st century

John Jeremiah Sullivan

Sullivan’s recent collection, Pulphead , has had everyone raving since it hit shelves in October — and with good reason. With exacting, witty prose, Sullivan tackles pop culture and history with equal ability, writing about everything from Real World alumni to Christian rock festivals in the Ozarks to Constantine Rafinesque, a nineteenth-century genius struggling for a foothold. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wonder about modern existence — and what else are essays for?

best essays 21st century

Cynthia Ozick

Though David Foster Wallace was disqualified from this list, he lives on in Ozick, whom he listed (alongside Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo) as one of the country’s best living fiction writers. From the king of the contemporary essay, that’s a ringing endorsement. Not that she really needs it, however — Ozick has no less than seven essay collections to her name, alongside a host of novels and short fiction, and writes on almost every subject, though she tends to favor the Jewish American lens. Her prose is perfectly self-conscious, sharp and crystal clear, she is witty and definitely smarter than you. Which is really never bad.

best essays 21st century

John D’Agata

D’Agata, already a celebrated essayist, has been in the news recently due to the release of The Lifespan of a Fact , a years-long conversation between D’Agata and his fact checker about the very nature of essay-writing. The book must itself, of course, be a semi-fiction, proving its own point, in a way — but that just makes the whole thing all the more interesting. But if for no other reason, you should read D’Agata because he’s tackling questions that have long stumped both readers and writers, and will probably continue to for some time. Better get acquainted.

best essays 21st century

An important social equality activist and scholar, bell hooks’ writings are must-reads for anyone. Incredibly prolific both in the academic and essay format (and in many other types of media as well), hooks writes about race, gender, feminism, class, art, and the world at large, often through a postmodern lens. She is fiery and unabashed about her beliefs, as every intelligent woman should be, and though this has of course caused some to criticize her, it has caused many more to love her. Obviously, we’re in the latter camp.

best essays 21st century

Sarah Vowell

The author of six nonfiction books on American history and culture as well as many essays, Vowell is practiced at cultural criticism. A frequent contributor to This American Life , where many of her essays get their starts, she comes at the contemporary social world with a supreme understanding of our country’s past. After all, she does write a lot about assassinated presidents. Fun fact: she’s also a voice actor, best known for her portrayal as Violet Parr in The Incredibles . Though she doesn’t really need it, we admit that makes us like her more.

best essays 21st century

Elif Batuman

Elif Batuman’s first collection of essays, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them , published last year, reveals her to be a complete nerd — in the best of ways, of course. Unpretentiously in love with literature and blessed with a relentlessly charming voice, almost everything we read by Batuman sends us scrambling back to our bookshelves for that novel she’s reminded us we’re dying to dive into. And that, friends, is always a good thing.

best essays 21st century

Touré sort of has a hand in everything — he writes essays and short stories, has a novel under his belt, is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and hosts hip-hop shows on Fuse. Constant through all his mediums, however, are his insightful, intimate — and often hilarious — observations about race, class, and the wild and crazy world of pop culture. In his most recent book, Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?: What It Means to Be Black Now , he explores race as “a completely liquid shape-shifter that can take any form” and aims “to attack and destroy the idea that there is a correct or legitimate way of doing blackness.” Provocative and brilliant, we think this is a guy who’ll keep changing the cultural landscape for years to come.

best essays 21st century

David Shields

Like D’Agata, Shields is concerned with probing the edges of what makes an essay an essay — or if we should even have terms like “essay” at all. In his 2010 book Reality Hunger , Shields argues that the “lyric essay” is contemporary culture’s premier literary form — but that such terms don’t really matter, as all of culture is in the midst of getting mixed up in a huge intellectual blender. While we had our issues with the book, he makes some fascinating points, all worth reading in this age of mash-ups and DIY and shifting intellectual property rights.

best essays 21st century

Sloane Crosley

Crosley’s hilarious personal essays are smart and observant and relentlessly sly. Like a lady Sedaris, she wins you over with self-deprecating humor and indignant reactions to the weirdness of the everyday world. Though her essays are no intellectual slog, they will make you smile, commiserate, and perhaps enjoy your day just a little bit more.

best essays 21st century

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A Mother's Tale (21st Century Essays)

In 1984, Phillip Lopate sat down with his mother, Frances, to listen to her life story. A strong, resilient, indomitable woman who lived through the major events of the twentieth century, she was orphaned in childhood, ran away and married young, and then reinvented herself as a mother, war factory worker, candy store owner, community organizer, clerk, actress, and singer. But paired with exciting anecdotes are the criticisms of the husband who couldn’t satisfy her, the details of numerous affairs and sexual encounters, and, though she succeeded at many of her roles, accounts of how she always felt mistreated, taken advantage of. After the interviews, at a loss for what to do with the tapes, Lopate put them away. But thirty years later, after his mother had passed away, Lopate found himself drawn back to the recordings of this conversation. Thus begins a three-way conversation between a mother, his younger self, and the person he is today.

Trying to break open the family myths, rationalizations, and self-deceptions,  A Mother’s Tale  is about family members who love each other but who can’t seem to overcome their mutual mistrust. Though Phillip is sympathizing to a point, he cannot join her in her operatic displays of self-pity and how she blames his father for everything that went wrong. His detached, ironic character has been formed partly in response to her melodramatic one. The climax is an argument in which he tries to persuade her—using logic, of all things—that he really does love her, but is only partially successful, of course.

A Mother’s Tale  is about something primal and universal: the relationship between a mother and her child, the parent disappointed with the payback, the child, now fully grown, judgmental. The humor is in the details.

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Curiouser and Curiouser: Essays (21st Century Essays)

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Through a Long Absence: Words from My Father's Wars (21st Century Essays)

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You, Me, and the Violence (21st Century Essays)

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The Real Life of the Parthenon (21st Century Essays)

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Love’s Long Line (21st Century Essays)

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Hummingbirds Between the Pages (21st Century Essays)

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Sustainability: A Love Story (21st Century Essays)

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Fear Icons: Essays (21st Century Essays)

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The Trouble with Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power (21st Century Essays)

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This One Will Hurt You (21st Century Essays)

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Echo's Fugue (21st Century Essays)

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On Our Way Home from the Revolution: Reflections on Ukraine (21st Century Essays)

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My Private Lennon: Explorations from a Fan Who Never Screamed (21st Century Essays)

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Just an Ordinary Woman Breathing (21st Century Essays)

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Don't Look Now: Things We Wish We Hadn't Seen (21st Century Essays)

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How to Make a Slave and Other Essays (21st Century Essays)

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best essays 21st century

Nicholas Delbanco is the Robert Frost Distinguished University Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan and Chair of the Hopwood Committee. He has published twenty-five books of fiction and non-fiction. His most recent novels are The Count of Concord and Spring and Fall; his most recent works of non-fiction are The Countess of Stanlein Restored and The Lost Suitcase: Reflections on the Literary Life. As editor he has compiled the work of, among others, John Gardner and Bernard Malamud. The long-term Director of the MFA Program as well as the Hopwood Awards Program at the University of Michigan, he has served as Chair of the Fiction Panel for the National Book Awards, received a Guggenheim Fellowship and, twice, a National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellowship.

best essays 21st century

Catherine Taylor is the author of Image, Text, Music, essays in visual culture; You, Me, and the Violence on puppets, drones, and power, and of Apart, a mixed-genre memoir and political history that combines prose, poetry, cultural theory, and found texts from South African archives. Her first book, Giving Birth: A Journey Into the World of Mothers and Midwives (Penguin Putnam), won the Lamaze International Birth Advocate Award. Taylor was a co-founder and producer of The Human Rights Watch Film Festival and is a founding editor of Essay Press, an independent press dedicated to publishing innovative essays in book form and of Image Text Ithaca MFA and Press, supporting work at the intersection of writing and photography. Taylor received her Ph.D. from Duke University and is a Full Professor at Ithaca College.

best essays 21st century


Long before Greece was an easy tourist destination, I spent my college summers in Athens unimpressed by the dusty ruins on the Acropolis and indifferent to the fierce international quarrel over the heritage of the Parthenon and its beautiful purloined marbles. Many years later, however, observing the removal of a magnificent Greek goddess from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles to a small town in central Sicily, I saw how fraught and personal that international quarrel actually is. For the curators of our great museums, for the citizens of that little town, and also for me, claims to own such ancient objects arise from our deepest feelings about the passage of time and the timelessness of beauty. This book and my journey into the emotional life of antiquity began in an American present, but my quest sent me far from home, to seek the broken temples and amphorae, the mysterious smiles of archaic sculpture, the finely hammered gold of a funeral wreath, among the jumbled streets of modern Athens, the fertile fields of Sicily, the mozzarella buffalo of Paestum. Controversial claims on the past—claims of empire, of betrayal, of theft—sent me into its living landscapes and cities. There, beneath the headline-grabbing acrimony, I found an ongoing tale of loss and delight. This time I allowed myself to be scarred and transformed by the living struggle between beauty and time. At the new Acropolis Museum in Athens I saw in the spaces left for the missing pieces on the Parthenon’s marble frieze a changed and changing legacy of art that does not die.

POSSIBILITY: ESSAYS AGAINST DESPAIR isn't actually about despair at all--it's more about laughter and grace, about the pleasures of art and nature and friendship. I put the book together in a moment of despair--I'd broken my wrist, and couldn't write. So I turned to what I'd already written, and gradually the shape of my preoccupations emerged, and I began to cheer up. Here's an interview that appeared in Bookslut that talks about that process, and also about how art endures and changes as you take it into your own daily life.


The beginning of course was the museum itself, a strange and beautiful place that I found very appealing and also frustrating. Isabella Gardner’s will required that nothing could be altered, no object moved or painting re-hung, so it can seem frozen in time, as if she had no flexibility in imagining the future.

Then when I began reading different biographies of her I noticed how much they too were products of their own time--the style and approach of the 1925 biography was very different from the one written in the 1960s and even more so the one from the 1990s. So I began looking for things from her time, to lead me back into her world, to women’s place in it, and then to the art and civic development in post-Civil War Boston.

I would say that the book is personal in that it is my voice that carries the research. It’s not about me, but I wanted very much to share my pleasure with readers--my pleasure not just in the art (trying to describe an artwork is always dicey--it just has to be seen), but in creating my own nineteenth-century world, my own relationship with the historical characters I was discovering.

I realized early on that what I had was a quest narrative: I was looking for Isabella. But in coming at her from many angles I was also creating an Isabella who suited my own purposes. In a way, I was trying to find a biographical form that felt honest rather than authoritative. So, it has what are clearly my own reflections about art and history and women and Buddhism and cultural power--all that, and it’s still a hunt!

best essays 21st century

Sophfronia Scott grew up in Lorain, Ohio, a hometown she shares with author Toni Morrison. Her father was a Mississippi-born steelworker who never learned how to read and her mother was a stay-at-home mom who always made sure there were books in the house. She holds a BA in English from Harvard and an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Sophfronia spent a big chunk of her career as a writer and editor for Time and People magazines where she developed the uncanny ability to create order out of chaos by whittling massive amounts of facts and ideas into a single cohesive form.

When Sophfronia's first novel, "All I Need to Get By," was published by St. Martin's Press in 2004 Sophfronia was nominated for best new author at the African American Literary Awards and hailed by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. as “potentially one of the best writers of her generation.” Her essays, short stories, and articles have appeared in Killens Review of Arts & Letters, Saranac Review, Numéro Cinq, Ruminate, Barnstorm Literary Journal, Sleet Magazine,, More, and O, The Oprah Magazine. She’s completed her second novel and a collection of essays.

Sophfronia lives in Sandy Hook, Connecticut with her husband and son and where she continues to fight a losing battle against the weeds in her flowerbeds. She enjoys teaching on the faculty of Regis University’s Mile-High MFA in Denver, Colorado and the Fairfield County Writer’s Studio in Westport, Connecticut. She blogs at

best essays 21st century

Chris Arthur was born in Belfast and grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. He’s author of seven essay collections, most recently Hummingbirds Between the Pages (2018) and Reading Life (2017). A selected essays volume, Words of the Grey Wind appeared in 2009. His writing prizes include: the Akegarasu Haya International Essay Prize, a Theodore Christian Hoepfner Award, the Monroe K. Spears Essay Prize, Times Higher/Palgrave Macmillan Writing Prize in the Humanities, and the Gandhi Foundation's Aitchtey Memorial Essay Prize. In 2014 he became a Fellow with the Royal Literary Fund. Chris lives in Fife with his family. Further information about all his books can be found at

best essays 21st century

KISHA LEWELLYN SCHLEGEL won the inaugural Gournay Prize for her first book of essays, Fear Icons. Her essays have appeared in The Iowa Review, Gulf Coast and online at Tin House and the Kenyon Review. She lives in Walla Walla with the poet Rob Schlegel and their two kids.

Fear Icons will be published in October 2018.

best essays 21st century

David Shields is the internationally bestselling author of more than twenty books, including Reality Hunger (recently named one of the 100 most important books of the last decade by LitHub), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead (New York Times bestseller), Black Planet (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Other People: Takes & Mistakes (NYTBR Editors’ Choice). The Very Last Interview was published by New York Review Books in 2022.

Shields has published fiction and nonfiction in the New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Yale Review, Salon, A Public Space, Believer, and Best American Essays. His work has been translated into two dozen languages.

James Franco’s film adaptation of I Think You're Totally Wrong: A Quarrel, which Shields co-wrote and co-stars in, was released in 2017. Shields wrote, produced, and directed Lynch: A History, a 2019 documentary about Marshawn Lynch’s use of silence, echo, and mimicry as key tools of resistance.

best essays 21st century

Sonya Bilocerkowycz is a 2022 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow and the author of On Our Way Home from the Revolution: Reflections on Ukraine (2019), winner of the Gournay Prize for a debut essay collection.

Her work has appeared in Guernica, Ninth Letter, New York Review of Books, Lit Hub, Los Angeles Review of Books, Colorado Review, The Normal School, and elsewhere. Bilocerkowycz grew up in South Dakota and later served as a Fulbright scholar in Belarus, an educational recruiter in the Republic of Georgia, and an instructor at Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine.

best essays 21st century

Julie Marie Wade is the author of Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures (Bywater Books, 2014; Colgate University Press, 2010), winner of the Colgate University Press Nonfiction Book Award and the Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Memoir; Without: Poems (Finishing Line Press, 2010), selected for the New Women’s Voices Chapbook Series; Small Fires: Essays (Sarabande Books, 2011), selected for the Linda Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature; Postage Due: Poems & Prose Poems (White Pine Press, 2013), winner of the Marie Alexander Poetry Series; Tremolo: An Essay (Bloom Books, 2013), selected by Bernard Cooper as the winner of the Bloom Nonfiction Chapbook Prize; When I Was Straight: Poems (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2014), selected for the American Library Association’s Over the Rainbow List; Catechism: A Love Story (Noctuary Press, 2016); SIX: Poems, selected by C.D. Wright as the winner of the AROHO/To the Lighthouse Prize in Poetry; Same-Sexy Marriage: A Novella in Poems (A Midsummer Night's Press, 2018); and The Unrhymables: Collaborations in Prose (Noctuary Press, 2019), co-authored with Denise Duhamel. Recent book publications include the book-length lyric essay, Just an Ordinary Woman Breathing (The Ohio State University Press, 2020), the limited-edition, hybrid-forms chapbook, P*R*I*D*E (Vermont College of Fine Arts, 2020), winner of the inaugural Hunger Mountain Chapbook Prize, Just an Ordinary Woman BReathing (The Ohio State University Press, 2020), finalist for the Publishing Triangle's Judy Grahn Prize for Lesbian Nonfiction and the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year in Creative Nonfiction; Skirted: Poems (The Word Works, 2021), Telephone: Essays in Two Voices (Cleveland State University Press, 2021), co-authored with Brenda Miller and selected by Hanif Abdurraqib as the winner of the 2019 Cleveland State University Press Nonfiction Book Award; Fugue: An Aural History (Diagram/New Michigan Press, 2023); Otherwise: Essays (Autumn House Press, 2023), selected by Lia Purpura as the winner of the 2022 Autumn House Nonfiction Book Prize; and The Mary Years, selected by Michael Martone as the winner of the 2023 Clay Reynolds Novella Prize and forthcoming in 2024 from Texas Review Press.

Julie has received the Chicago Literary Award in Poetry, the Gulf Coast Nonfiction Prize, the Oscar Wilde Poetry Prize, the Literal Latte Nonfiction Award, two Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prizes, an Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council, the American Literary Review Nonfiction Prize, the Arts & Letters Nonfiction Prize, the Thomas J. Hruska Nonfiction Prize, a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund for feminist literature, the Spoon River Poetry Prize, the Glenna Luschei Prize (with Denise Duhamel) from Prairie Schooner, and 38 Pushcart Prize nominations.

Her poems and creative nonfiction have appeared in the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day Series, Alaska Quarterly Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Arts & Letters, Barrow Street, The Bellingham Review, Blackbird, Bloom, Brevity, The Cincinnati Review, The Common, Creative Nonfiction, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Diode, Dislocate, Fifth Wednesday, Fourth Genre, The Georgia Review, Green Mountains Review, Gulf Coast, Harpur Palate, Hunger Mountain, The Iowa Review, Juked, Juxtaprose, The Kenyon Review, Literal Latte, The Los Angeles Review, The Louisville Review, The MacGuffin, The New England Review, Nimrod, Open 24 Hours, Pank, Passages North, Phoebe, PoemMemoirStory, Poet Lore, Quarter After Eight, Redivider, The Rumpus, The Saint Ann’s Review, The Seattle Review, Seneca Review, So to Speak, StoryQuarterly, Southern Indiana Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Verse Daily, Water-Stone Review, Weave Magazine, and Zone 3.

Born in 1979 in Seattle, Washington, Julie completed a Master of Arts in English at Western Washington University in 2003, a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry at the University of Pittsburgh in 2006, and a PhD in Interdisciplinary Humanities at the University of Louisville in 2012. She is a Professor of English in the creative writing program at Florida International University in Miami, where she teaches poetry, memoir, lyric essay, and hybrid forms to graduate and undergraduate students.

best essays 21st century

Jerald Walker is the author of THE WORLD IN FLAMES: A BLACK BOYHOOD IN A WHITE SUPREMACIST DOOMSDAY CULT and STREET SHADOWS: A MEMOIR OF RACE, REBELLION AND REDEMPTION, recipient of the 2011 PEN New England Award for Nonfiction and named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews. He has published in magazines such as Creative Nonfiction, The Harvard Review, The Missouri Review, River Teeth, Mother Jones, The Iowa Review, and The Oxford American, and he has been widely anthologized, including five times in The Best American Essays anthology. His latest book, HOW TO MAKE A SLAVE AND OTHER ESSAYS (Nov. 2020), was a Finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Nonfiction, and winner of the 2021 Massachusetts Book Award for Nonfiction. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment of the Arts, and the James A. Michener Foundation. Walker is a Professor of Creative Writing at Emerson College.

Author photo: Brenda Molife

best essays 21st century

M.I. Devine's "playful, plosive prose rich with cultural allusion" (Chicago Review of Books) has earned the writer recognition in the field of Creative Nonfiction (Gournay Prize, 2019) and support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Warhol's Mother's Pantry, his book of experimental essays spanning the long twentieth-century, was published by Mad Creek/Ohio State in 2020.

An essayist, lyricist, and composer, he's co-founder of the pop music project Famous Letter Writer, with songs featured on NPR's Songs of the Week and in American Songwriter. FLW's debut record, WARHOLA, is a companion to his book of essays.

best essays 21st century

Whitney Otto is the bestselling author of "How To Make an American Quilt" (also made into a feature film starring Winona Ryder), "Now You See Her," "The Passion Dream Book," "A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity," and her newest novel, "Eight Girls Taking Pictures." "Eight Girls Taking Pictures" was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award.

Please visit her at her website:, and on Facebook and tumblr.

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10 Contemporary American Essayists to Read Right Now

  • Link Copied

A look at some of today's most talented writers

best essays 21st century

Farrar, Straus and Giroux


This week marks the release of celebrated novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson's newest collection of essays, When I Was a Child I Read Books . We've been excited about this book for a while now.

Great as it is, Robinson's collection only whet our appetites for more essays by contemporary writers, so in case it does the same for you, we've put together a list of contemporary essayists we think everyone should be reading right now (or, you know, whenever you finish watching Downton Abbey ). We've tried to stick to authors who are still alive—so David Foster Wallace and Christopher Hitchens are off the table, though they both would have made this list with flying colors were they still with us—and limited ourselves to American writers, but even with those caveats, there is enough in these writers' oeuvres to keep you up and thinking for weeks on end.

This post also appears on Flavorpill , an Atlantic partner site.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to [email protected].

The Ohio State University Press

21st Century Essays Edited by David Lazar and Patrick Madden

New & forthcoming 21st century essays titles:.

Secrets of the Sun: A Memoir book cover

Secrets of the Sun: A Memoir

Mako Yoshikawa

Front cover of Night Mother: A Personal and Cultural History of The Exorcist, featuring a photo of a family home's carpeted stairway, lit in a green light.

Night Mother: A Personal and Cultural History of The Exorcist

Marlena Williams

Front cover of The Hunger Book: A Memoir from Communist Poland, featuring a moody illustration of a woman's hand holding in her dirt-stained fingertips a fly agaric mushroom.

The Hunger Book: A Memoir from Communist Poland

Agata Izabela Brewer

Twenty Square Feet of Skin cover

Twenty Square Feet of Skin

Megan Baxter

Mistaken for an Empire: A Memoir in Tongues cover

Mistaken for an Empire: A Memoir in Tongues

Christine Imperial

Winner of the Gournay Prize

Everything I Never Wanted to Know cover

Everything I Never Wanted to Know

Christine Hume

book cover

Engine Running: Essays

book cover

Ripe: Essays

Negesti Kaudo

book cover

Dark Tourist: Essays

Hasanthika Sirisena

book cover

Supremely Tiny Acts: A Memoir of a Day

Sonya Huber

Don't Look Now book cover

Art for the Ladylike: An Autobiography through Other Lives

Whitney Otto

The Terrible Unlikelihood of Our Being Here book cover

The Terrible Unlikelihood of Our Being Here

Susanne Paola Antonetta

Don't Look Now book cover

Don’t Look Now: Things We Wish We Hadn’t Seen

Edited by Kristen Iversen and David Lazar

How to Make a Slave and Other Essays book cover

How to Make a Slave and Other Essays


book cover

My Private Lennon Explorations from a Fan Who Never Screamed

Sibbie O’Sullivan

book cover

Just an Ordinary Woman Breathing

Julie Marie Wade

Warhol's Mother's Pantry book cover

Warhol’s Mother’s Pantry: Art, America, and the Mom in Pop

M. I. Devine

book cover

The Trouble with Men Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power

David Shields

book cover

This One Will Hurt You

Paul Crenshaw

book cover

On Our Way Home from the Revolution: Reflections on Ukraine

Sonya Bilocerkowycz

book cover

Echo's Fugue

Desirae Matherly

book cover

Fear Icons Essays

Kisha Lewellyn Schlegel

book cover

Hummingbirds Between the Pages

Chris Arthur

book cover

Sustainability A Love Story

Nicole Walker

book cover

Love’s Long Line

Sophfronia Scott

book cover

The Real Life of the Parthenon

Patricia Vigderman

book cover

Curiouser and Curiouser Essays

Nicholas Delbanco

book cover

You, Me, and the Violence

Catherine Taylor

book cover

A Mother's Tale

Phillip Lopate

book cover

Don't Come Back

Lina María Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas

This series from Mad Creek Books is a vehicle to discover, publish, and promote some of the most daring, ingenious, and artistic nonfiction. This is the first and only major series that announces its focus on the essay—a genre whose plasticity, timelessness, popularity, and centrality to nonfiction writing make it especially important in the field of nonfiction literature. In addition to publishing the most interesting and innovative books of essays by American writers, the series publishes extraordinary international essayists and reprint works by neglected or forgotten essayists, voices that deserve to be heard, revived, and reprised. The series is a major addition to the possibilities of contemporary literary nonfiction, focusing on that central, frequently chimerical, and invariably supple form: The Essay.

All submissions should come through Submittable, but for other queries about the series, please email [email protected] . Submissions to the series will be accepted annually from March 1st-April 30th, when we also read for the Gournay Prize .


About the Series Editors

photograh of David Lazar

DavidLazar ’sbooks include Celeste Holm Syndrome, Don’t Look Now: Things We Wish We Hadn’t Seen (co-edited with Kristen Iversen), I’ll Be Your Mirror: Essays and Aphorisms, Occasional Desire: Essays, Who’s Afraid of Helen of Troy, The Body of Brooklyn, Truth in Nonfiction, Essaying the Essay, Powder Town, AfterMontaigne (co-edited with Patrick Madden), and many more. A frequent Best American Essays honoree, he is Professor of Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago, where he created the MFA program in nonfiction, having previously created the PhD, MA and undergraduate programs in nonfiction at Ohio University, where he taught from 1990–2006. Lazar is founding editor of the literary magazine Hotel Amerika and was a Guggenheim Fellow in Nonfiction for 2015-16.

Patrick Madden Photograph

Patrick Madden is the author of three books of essays:  Disparates, Sublime Physick, and Quotidiana . He is coeditor (with David Lazar) of After Montaigne: Contemporary Essayists Cover the Essays and cotranslator (with John Oliver Simon and Steven Stewart) of the Selected Poems of Eduardo Milán. His essays have appeared in Fourth Genre , Hotel Amerika , the Iowa Review , the Normal School , River Teeth , and other journals, as well as in the Best Creative Nonfiction and Best American Spiritual Writing . His books have won Independent Publisher, Foreword Indies, and Association of Mormon Letters awards, among others. A two-time Fulbright fellow to Uruguay, he teaches at Brigham Young University and Vermont College of Fine Arts. He currently serves as vice president of the NonfictionNOW conference and coeditor of Fourth Genre, and he curates the online anthology and essay resource Quotidiana .

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Editorial Advisory Board

Robert Atwan

Mary Cappello

John D’Agata

Wayne Koestenbaum

Maggie Nelson

Lia Purpura

Claudia Rankine

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best essays 21st century

The 20 Best Works of Nonfiction of the Decade

In which we cheated..

Friends, it’s true: the end of the decade approaches. It’s been a difficult, anxiety-provoking, morally compromised decade, but at least it’s been populated by some damn fine literature. We’ll take our silver linings where we can.

So, as is our hallowed duty as a literary and culture website—though with full awareness of the potentially fruitless and endlessly contestable nature of the task—in the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a look at the best and most important (these being not always the same) books of the decade that was. We will do this, of course, by means of a variety of lists. We began with the best debut novels , the best short story collections , the best poetry collections , the best memoirs of the decade , and the best essay collections of the decade. But our sixth list was a little harder—we were looking at what we (perhaps foolishly) deemed “general” nonfiction: all the nonfiction excepting memoirs and essays (these being covered in their own lists) published in English between 2010 and 2019.

Reader, we cheated. We picked a top 20. It only made sense, with such a large field. And 20 isn’t even enough, really. But so it goes, in the world of lists.

The following books were finally chosen after much debate (and multiple meetings) by the Literary Hub staff. Tears were spilled, feelings were hurt, books were re-read. And as you’ll shortly see, we had a hard time choosing just ten—so we’ve also included a list of dissenting opinions, and an even longer list of also-rans. As ever, free to add any of your own favorites that we’ve missed in the comments below.

The Top Twenty

Michelle alexander, the new jim crow (2010).

I read Michelle Alexander’s  The New Jim Crow  when it first came out, and I remember its colossal impact so clearly—not just on the academic world (it is, technically, an academic book, and Alexander is an academic) but everywhere. It was published during the Obama Administration, an interval which many (white people) thought signaled a new dawn of race relations in America—of a kind of fantastic post-racialism. Though it’s hard to look back on this particular zeitgeist now (when, and I still can’t believe I’m writing this, Donald Trump is president of the United States) without decrying the ignorance and naiveté of this mindset, Alexander’s book called out this the insistence on a phenomenon of “colorblindness” in 2012, as a veneer, as a sham, or as, simply, another form of ignorance. “We have not ended racial caste in America,” she declares, “we have merely redesigned it.” Alexander’s meticulous research concerns the mass incarceration of black men principally through the War on Drugs, Alexander explains how the United States government itself (the justice system) carries out a significant racist pattern of injustice—which not only literally subordinates black men by jailing them, but also then removes them of their rights and turns them into second class citizens after the fact. Former convicts, she learns through working with the ACLU, will face discrimination (discrimination that is supported and justified by society) which includes restrictions from voting rights, juries, food stamps, public housing, student loans—and job opportunities. “Unlike in Jim Crow days, there were no ‘Whites Only’ signs.” Alexander explains. “This system is out of sight, out of mind.” Her book, which exposes this subtler but still horrible new mode of social control, is an essential, groundbreaking achievement which does more than call out the hypocrisy of our infrastructure, but provide it with obvious steps to change.  –Olivia Rutigliano, CrimeReads Editorial Fellow

Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies (2010)

In this riveting (despite its near 600 pages) and highly influential book, Mukherjee traces the known history of our most feared ailment, from its earliest appearances over five thousand years ago to the wars still being waged by contemporary doctors, and all the confusion, success stories, and failures in between—hence the subtitle “a biography of cancer,” though of course it is also a biography of humanity and of human ingenuity (and lack thereof).

Mukherjee began to write the book after a striking interaction with a patient who had stomach cancer, he told The New York Times . “She said, ‘I’m willing to go on fighting, but I need to know what it is that I’m battling.’ It was an embarrassing moment. I couldn’t answer her, and I couldn’t point her to a book that would. Answering her question—that was the urgency that drove me, really. The book was written because it wasn’t there.”

His work was certainly appreciated. The Emperor of All Maladies won the 2011 Pulitzer in General Nonfiction (the jury called it “An elegant inquiry, at once clinical and personal, into the long history of an insidious disease that, despite treatment breakthroughs, still bedevils medical science.”), the Guardian first book award, and the inaugural PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award; it was a New York Times bestseller. But most importantly, it was the first book many laypeople (read: not scientists, doctors, or those whose lives had already been acutely affected by cancer) had read about the most dreaded of all diseases, and though the science marches on, it is still widely read and referenced today.  –Emily Temple, Senior Editor

Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010)

As a strongly humanities-focused person, it’s difficult for me to connect with books about science. What can I say besides that public education and I failed each other. When I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks , I found myself thinking that if all scientific knowledge were part of this kind of incredibly compelling and human narrative, I would probably be a doctor by now. (I mean, it’s possible .) Rebecca Skloot tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951, and her cells (dubbed HeLa cells) which were cultured without her permission, and which were the first human cells to reproduce in a lab—making them immensely valuable to scientists in research labs all over the world. HeLa cells have been used for the development of vaccines and treatments as well as in drug treatments, gene mapping, and many, many other scientific pursuits. They were even sent to space so scientists could study the effects of zero gravity on human cells.

Skloot set a wildly ambitious project for herself with this book. Not only does she write about the (immortal) life of the cells as well as the lives of Lacks and her (human, not just cellular) descendants, she also writes about the racism in the medical field and medical ethics as a whole. That the book feels cohesive as well as compelling is a great testament to Skloot’s skills as a writer. “ Immortal Life  reads like a novel,” writes Eric Roston in his Washington Post review . “The prose is unadorned, crisp and transparent.” For a book that encompasses so much, it never feels baggy. Nearly ten years later, it remains an urgent text, and one that is taught in high schools, universities, and medical schools across the country. It is both an incredible achievement and, simply, a really good read.  –Jessie Gaynor, Social Media Editor

Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands (2010)

Timothy Snyder’s brilliant Bloodlands has changed World War II scholarship more, perhaps, than any work since Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, an apt comparison given that Bloodlands includes within it a response to Arendt’s theory of the banality of evil (Snyder doesn’t buy it, and provides convincing proof that Eichmann was more of a run-of-the-mill hateful Nazi and less a colorless bureaucrat simply doing his job). Snyder reads in 10 languages, which is key to his ability to synthesize international scholarship and present new theories in an accessible way. But before I continue praising this book, I should probably let y’all know what it’s about— Bloodlands is a history of mass killings in the Double-Occupied Zone of Eastern Europe, where the Soviets showed up, killed everyone they wanted to, and then the Nazis showed up and killed everyone else. By focusing on mass killings, rather than genocide, Snyder is able to draw connections between totalitarian regimes and examine the mechanisms by which small nations can suddenly and horrifyingly become much smaller.  –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Associate Editor

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (2010)

Wilkerson’s history of the Great Migration is a revelation. When we talk about migration in the context of American history, we tend to focus on triumphalist stories of immigrants coming to America, but what about the vast migrations that have happened internally? Between 1920 and 1970, millions of African-Americans migrated North from the prejudice-ridden South, lured by relatively high-paying jobs and relatively less racism. It takes a whole lot to make someone leave their home, and Wilkerson does an excellent job at reminding us how awful life in the South was for Black people (and still is, in many ways). The Warmth of Other Suns is not only fascinating—it’s also thrilling, taking us into the lives of hard-scrabble folk who were equal parts refugees and adventurers, and truly epic, telling a great story on a grand scale. Don’t think that means there aren’t small moments of humanity seeded throughout the book—for every sentence about the conduct of millions, there’s a detail that reminds us that we’re reading about individuals, with their own hopes, wishes, dreams, and struggles.  –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Associate Editor

Robert A. Caro, The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (2012)

While Robert Caro first came to prominence for The Powerbroker, his 1974 biography of divisive urban planner Robert Moses, it’s Caro’s ongoing multi-volume biography of LBJ, America’s most unjustly maligned president (fight me, Kennedy-heads!), that has cemented his legacy. It’s hard to pick one in particular to recommend, but The Passage of Power, which covers the years 1958-1964, captures the most tumultuous period of LBJ’s life in politics, as he went from feared senator, to side-lined VP, to suddenly becoming the post powerful figure in the world. There’s something profoundly moving about the vastness of these works—Caro is 83 now, and has dedicated an enormous part of his life to this singular project. His wife is his only approved research assistant, and together, they’ve upended half a century of LBJ criticism to reveal the complex, problematic, but always striving core of a sensitive soul.

I had a teacher in high school who spent 20 years working on her dissertation on LBJ. She’d spend each weekend at the LBJ Library at UT Austin, while working full time as a public school teacher, and kicked ass at both. There’s something about LBJ that inspires people to dedicate their entire lives to trying to figure him out, and in the process, trying to understand the world that made him, and that he made. Thanks to Caro, we can all understand LBJ a little bit better.  –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Associate Editor

Tom Reiss, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (2012)

Tom Reiss opens his biography of Thomas Alexandre-Dumas, father of author Alexandre Dumas, with a scene that seems right out of an academic heist film. At a library in rural France, Reiss convinces a town official to blow open a safe whose combination was held only by the late librarian. What Reiss discovers are the rudiments of a grand and, until then, largely unknown story of the man who inspired some of his son’s most beloved tales.  The Black Count  is also a case study of complex racial politics during the age of revolutionary France. Dumas was born in 1762 in Saint-Domingue, the French Caribbean colony that would become Haiti. As the son of a French marquis and a freed black slave, Dumas was subject both to the privileges of the former and the kind of indignities suffered by the latter. His father, for instance, sells him into slavery when he is 12 only to purchase his freedom later and bring him to France, where the young man receives an aristocratic education. A final rift from his father prompts Dumas to join the military. Reiss creates a dynamic, if somewhat speculative portrait of Dumas based on letters, reports from battlefields, Dumas’ own writings, and more. By the time he is 30, Dumas has vaulted in the ranks from corporal to general and commands a division of more than 50,000 soldiers. It’s no accident that the thrilling militaristic feats Reiss describes sound like events out of  The Count of Monte Cristo  or  The Three Musketeers . Though the general becomes a cavalry commander under Napoleon Bonaparte, Reiss suggests that it was Napoleon himself who ruined Dumas not only from a personal standpoint, but civilizational as well. Napoleon reintroduced slavery in Haiti, after all, in contradiction to the republican dreams of Dumas’ contemporary, Toussaint Louverture, another rare and successful 18th-century general of African descent. Reiss unearths the ultimately tragic story of a man who was infamous in his own time for enjoying social and professional advantages that would’ve been unheard of for a mixed-race man in the US, a nation which of course went through its own revolution one generation earlier.  –Aaron Robertson, Assistant Editor

Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction (2014)

The premise of Elizabeth Kolbert’s Pulitzer-prize-winning book is a simple scientific fact: there have been five mass extinctions in the history of the planet, and soon there will be six. The difference, Kolbert explains, is that this one is caused by humans, who have drastically altered the earth in a short time. She points out on the first page that humans (which is to say,  homo sapiens , humans like us) have only been around for two hundred thousand or so years—an incredibly short amount of time to do damage enough to destroy most of earthly life. Kolbert’s book is so unique, though, because she combines research from across disciplines (scientific and social-scientific) to prepare an extremely comprehensive, sweeping argument about how our oceans, air, animal populations, bacterial ecosystems, and other natural elements are dangerously adapting to (or dying from) human impact, while also tracing the history of both the approaches to these things (theories of evolution, extinction, and other principles). It’s a depressing and horrifying argument on the face of it, but it’s made so delicately, even poetically—Kolbert’s concerned, occasional first-person narration, and her many interviews with professionals capable of the pithiest, most perfect quotes (not to mention that she interviews these experts, sometimes, over pizza) make this book a conversation, more than a treatise. Kolbert talks us through the headiest, most complicated science, breaking down this mass disaster morsel by morsel. This might be  The Sixth Extinction’ s greatest achievement—it is so smart while also being so quotidian, so urgent while also being so present. And this fits the tone of her argument: our current mass extinction doesn’t feel like an asteroid hitting the planet. It’s amassed by the small ways in which we live our lives. We are crawling, she illuminates, towards the end of the world.  –Olivia Rutigliano, CrimeReads Editorial Fellow

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (2015)

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me 1) won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2015, 2) was a #1 New York Times bestseller, and 3) was deemed “required reading” by Toni Morrison. What else is there to say? To call it “timely” or “urgent” or even “a prime example of how the personal is, in fact, political” (as I am tempted to do) does not quite capture the unique, grounding, heartbreaking experience of reading this book. Framed as a letter to his teenage son, Between the World and Me is both a biting interrogation of American history and today’s society and an intimate look at the concerns and hopes a father passes down to his son. In just 152 pages, this book touches on the creation of race (“But race is the child of racism, not the father”), the countless acts of violence enacted on black bodies, gun control, and anecdotes from the writer’s own life. Ta-Nehisi Coates, a correspondent for The Atlantic , exercises a journalist’s concision and clarity and fuses it with the flourish of a novelist and the caring instinct of a father. It is a wonderful hybrid. The way the topics, the tones, bleed into one another reads so naturally: “I write you in your fifteenth year. I am writing you because this was the year you saw Eric Garner choked to death for selling cigarettes; because you know now that Renisha McBride was shot for seeking help, and that John Crawford was shot down for browsing in a department store…” The list, of course, goes on. Between the World and Me brilliantly forces us to confront these tragedies again—to remember our own experiences watching the news coverage, to see them in the context of history filtered through Ta-Nehisi Coates’ unsurprised perspective, and to see them anew through the eyes of his disillusioned young son. There is an amazing generosity to these personal glimpses, the moments when the writer turns to his son (says “you”). They catch you off guard. (There are even photographs throughout, like a scrapbook you aren’t sure if you’re allowed to look through.) There have been many books about race, about violence and institutionalized injustice and identity, and there will be more, but none quite so beautifully shattering as this. –Katie Yee, Book Marks Assistant Editor

Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature (2015)

Andrea Wulf’s 2015 biography of 18th-century German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt—one of the most famous men of his time, for whom literally hundreds of towns, rivers, currents, glaciers, and more are named—is so much more than the story of a single life. Aside from chronicling a remarkably fertile moment in the history of European ideas (Von Humboldt was good buddies with his neighbor in Weimar, Goethe) Wulf reveals in Humboldt a true forebear of present-day ecology, a jack-of-all-trades scientist less concerned with the reduction of the natural world into its constituent specimens than with our place in a broader ecosystem.

And while it doesn’t seem particularly radical now, Humboldt’s proto-environmentalist ideas about the wider world, much of which he mapped and explored, stood in stark contrast to prevailing notions of Christian dominion, that dubious theological position conjured up in aid of empire. Insofar as Humboldt was among the first to understand and articulate the complex systems of a living forest, he was also the first to sound the alarm about the impacts of deforestation (much of which he encountered on his epic journey across the northern reaches of South America). Part adventure yarn, part intellectual history, part ecological meditation, The Invention of Nature restores to prominence an exemplary life, and reminds us of the tectonic force of ideas paired to action.  –Jonny Diamond, Editor in Chief

Stacy Schiff, The Witches (2015)

It’s surprising that with a topic as popular and recurring in American culture as the Salem witch trials there have not been more books of this kind. Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the bestselling Cleopatra, Stacy Schiff takes to the Salem witch trials with curiosity and a historian’s magnifying glass, setting out to uncover the mystery that has baffled, awed, and terrified generations since. She pokes at the spectacle that Salem has become in mainstream and artistic depictions—how it has blended with folklore and fiction and has hitherto become a sensationalized event in American history which nonetheless has never been fully understood. Schiff writes that despite the imagination surrounding the Salem witch trials, in reality, there is still a gap in their history of—to be exact—nine months; so the impetus of the book and the intent of Schiff is to penetrate the mass hysteria and panic that ripped through Salem at the time and led to the execution of fourteen women and five men. In her opening chapter, Schiff chillingly sets up the atmosphere of the book and asks key questions that will drive its ensuing narrative: “Who was conspiring against you? Might you be a witch and not know it? Can an innocent person be guilty? Could anyone, wondered a group of men late in the summer, consider themselves safe?” At the heart of Schiff’s historical investigation is the Puritan culture of New England—but part of her masterful synthesis is that she picks apart at each thread of Salem’s culture and evaluates the witch trials from every perspective. Praised for her research as well as her prose and narrative capabilities, Schiff’s The Witches has been described by The Times (London) as “An oppressive, forensic, psychological thriller”; Schiff herself, by the New York Review of Books as having “mastered the entire history of early New England.” A phrase that still haunts me for its resonance throughout human history, is: “Even at the time, it was clear to some that Salem was a story of one thing behind which was a story about something else altogether.” –Eleni Theodoropoulos, Editorial Fellow

Svetlana Alexievich, tr. Bela Shayevich, Secondhand Time (2016)

A landmark work of oral history, Svetlana Alexievich’s Second-hand Time chronicles the decline and fall of Soviet communism and the rise of oligarchic capitalism. Through a multitude of interviews conducted between 1991 and 2012 with ordinary citizens—doctors, soldiers, waitresses, Communist party secretaries, and writers—Alexievich’s account is as important to understanding the Soviet world as Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago . Second-hand Time first appeared in Russia in 2013 and was translated into English in 2016 by Bella Shayevich. As David Remnick wrote in The New Yorker , “There are many worthwhile books on the post-Soviet period and Putin’s ascent…But the nonfiction volume that has done the most to deepen the emotional understanding of Russia during and after the collapse of the Soviet Union of late is Svetlana Alexievich’s oral history…” It is shockingly intimate, Alexievich’s interviewees sharing their darkest traumas and deepest regrets. In their kitchens, at gravesites, each character tells the story of a nation abandoned by the Kremlin. Like much of Alexievich’s work, it is radical in its composition, challenging with its polyphony of distinctive, human voices the “official history” of a society that presented itself as homogeneous and monolithic—an achievement the Nobel committee recognized when it cited the Belorussian journalist for developing “a new kind of literary genre…a history of the soul.” Like her more recent The Unwomanly Face of War and Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of World War II , Alexievich’s project is one of the most important accounts being produced today.  –Emily Firetog, Deputy Editor

Jane Mayer, Dark Money (2016)

In addition to being an incredible work of reporting, Jane Mayer’s Dark Money is a historical document of what happened to America as a small group of plutocrats funded the rise of political candidates who espoused policies and beliefs that had been, until then, considered a part of the fringe right wing of the Republican Party. Mayer describes this group as “a small, rarefied group of hugely wealthy, archconservative families that for decades poured money, often with little public disclosure, into influencing how Americans thought and voted.” Mayer’s painstakingly reported work is a monumental achievement; she lays out, in as much detail as could possibly be available, the mechanisms that allowed this group to channel their wealth and power, with the help of federal law, to a set of institutions that aim to fight scientific advancement, justice-oriented movements, and climate change. In doing so, they have overhauled American politics. As Alan Ehrenhalt put it in a review of the book for The New York Times, she describes “a private political bank capable of bestowing unlimited amounts of money on favored candidates, and doing it with virtually no disclosure of its source.”

The stakes here extend beyond American politics; Mayer points out that Koch money upholds some of the institutions most vigorously fighting climate activism and defending the fossil fuel industry. In 2017, she told the Los Angeles Times , “There are many things you can fix and you can bring back, and there are sort of cycles in American history and the pendulum swings back and forth, but there are things you can damage irreparably, and that’s what I’m worried about right this moment … And that’s why this particular book—because it’s about the money that is stopping this country from doing something useful on climate change.”  –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

David France, How to Survive a Plague (2016)

To call How to Survive a Plague extensive would be an understatement; France’s account of the epidemic’s earliest days is overwhelmingly generous, letting the reader experience those days, and everything that followed, from within the community that faced it first. France recounts the ways in which scientists and doctors first responded to the virus, tracing the evolution of that understanding from within a small circle to a broad cry for awareness and resources; meanwhile, he shows how a community of people fighting for their lives mobilized alternative systems of communication, education, and support while facing an almost inconceivable wall of barriers to that work. The importance of language in this fight is at the forefront here, from the scientific question of what to call the virus, to its reputation in popular culture as “gay cancer,” to the disagreements within activist groups about how to tell their stories to an unsympathetic world.

This is an enraging history, one of various institutional failures, missed opportunities, hypocrisies, and acts of malice toward a community in crisis, motivated by hatred and horror of queer people and gay men in particular. But I felt equally enraged and in awe. This is a humbling history to read, especially if, like me, you come from a generation of queer people that has been accused of forgetting it. I’m grateful for France’s testimony; it won’t let any of us forget.  –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Andrés Reséndez, The Other Slavery (2016)

Reséndez’s The Other Slavery is nothing short of an epic recalibration of American history, one that’s long overdue and badly needed in the present moment. The story of the assault on indigenous peoples in the Americas is perhaps well-known, but what’s less known is how many of those people were enslaved by colonizers, how that enslavement led to mass death, and how complicit the American legal system was in bringing that oppression about and sustaining it for years beyond the supposed emancipation in regions in which indigenous peoples were enslaved. This was not an isolated phenomenon. It extended from Caribbean plantations to Western mining interests. It was part and parcel of the European effort to settle the “new world” and was one of the driving motivations behind the earliest expeditions and colonies. Reséndez puts the number of indigenous enslaved between Columbus’s arrival and 1900 at somewhere between 2.5 and 5 million people. The institution took many forms, but reading through the legal obfuscation and drilling down into the archival record and first-hand accounts of the eras, Reséndez shows how slavery permeated the continents. Native tribes were not simply wiped out by disease, war, and brutal segregation. They were also worked—against their will, without pay, in mass numbers—to death. It was a sustained and organized enslavement. The Other Slavery also tells the story of uprising—communities that resisted, individuals who fought. It’s a complex and tragic story that required a skilled historian to bring into the contemporary consciousness. In addition to his skills as a historian and an investigator, Resendez is a skilled storyteller with a truly remarkable subject. This is historical nonfiction at its most important and most necessary.  –Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads Managing Editor

Rebecca Traister, All the Single Ladies (2016)

One night, facing a brief gap between plans with different people, I took Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies to a bar. A few minutes after I ordered, deep in Traister’s incredible, extensive history of single women in America, a server came over to offer me another, more isolated seat at the end of the bar, “so you don’t feel embarrassed about being alone,” she said, quietly. I assured her I was okay, trying not to laugh. She was just so worried.

I turned back to my book to find Traister describing this kind of cultural distress— a woman, alone, in public?! —at a new generation of unmarried adult women, who are more autonomous and numerous today than ever before. Far from marking a crisis in the social order, Traister writes, this shift “was in fact a new order … women’s paths were increasingly marked with options, off-ramps, variations on what had historically been a very constrained theme.” She examines the history of unmarried women as a social and political force, including the activists who devoted their lives to establishing a greater range of educational, familial, and economic choices for women, with particular attention to the ways in which that history is also one of racial and economic justice in the US. Traister also highlights the networks of social support that women have created in order to survive patriarchy and establish lifestyles that did not depend on it; intimacy and communication among unmarried women, she shows, were the backbone of activist and reform movements that successfully challenged the dominant order.

The book draws on interviews from dozens of women of varying backgrounds, and their firsthand accounts are a portrait of life amid a historic shift toward female autonomy. Their stories, and Traister’s analysis, make it clear that even as options for many women are expanding, those options are not equally available or beneficial to all women. This is a stunning reckoning with the state of women’s independence and the policies that still seek to curtail it.  –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Caroline Fraser, Prairie Fires (2017)

Prairie Fires , Caroline Fraser’s Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder is not just a painstakingly researched and lyrically realized account of how the Little House on the Prairie author decanted the poverty and precarity of her homesteader family’s existence into narratives of self-reliance and perseverance—although it is that—it is also a meditation on the human need “to transform the raw materials of the past into art.” Full disclosure, I did not read the Little House on the Prairie books as a child and have no sentimental attachment to Laura, Pa or Ma. But in looking at the life behind the books, Wilder emerges as a tenacious, sometimes fragile figure, and as a literary operator of uncommon nous and self-awareness. Drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial records, Prairie Fires has all the essentials of a great history book. Most importantly, Fraser’s great skill is in pulling back the veils of mythology that have enshrouded her subject and the era her works helped to define, enabling us to see both the real people and the myths themselves with fresh, critical eyes. There is no romanticizing of the Frontier, and a very real understanding of the sentimentality and bias of an overtly racist understanding of “westward expansion.” It is a remarkable book.   –Emily Firetog, Deputy Editor

David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom  (2018)

In 2017, monuments commemorating heroes of the Confederacy were being debated, defaced and toppled throughout the United States. That same year, months before President Trump signed a law creating a commission to plan for the bicentennial of Frederick Douglass’ birth, he infamously seemed to suggest that Douglass was still around, doing an “amazing job” and “getting recognized more and more.” The irony was hard to miss: it was easy to eulogize a past that was not comprehensively, nor even fundamentally understood. One achievement of historian David Blight’s monumental study of the former slave turned abolitionist is the thoroughness with which it examines the man’s development across three autobiographies he produced in the span of ten years. The popular image of Douglass has long been that of a bushy-haired man affixed to Abraham Lincoln’s side, delivering rousing speeches on abolition and the sins of slavery. And while there is basic truth to that, Blight sets out to fill the gaps in public understanding, guiding readers from the Maryland slave plantation where Douglass was born to the many stops along his European speech circuit, when he established himself as one of the world’s most recognizable opponents of slavery. The vague circumstances of Douglass’ birth (he was born to an enslaved woman and a white man who may also have been his owner) later compelled him to create his own life narratives, a task that he accomplished both in writing and oratory. Blight’s engagement with Douglass’ writing also marks the biography as a triumph of public-facing textual criticism. For decades before  Prophet of Freedom  astonished critics and general readers, Blight had been making his name as one of the leading Douglass scholars in the US. Blight’s work was not historical revisionism, but rather a considered analysis of a man who relied on actions as much as words. Many may be surprised to learn, for example, what a vocal supporter Douglass was of the Civil War and violence as a necessary means to dismantle the system that had nearly destroyed him. Prophet of Freedom  feels as definitive as a Robert Fagles translation of Homer—we hope it’s not the final word, though it will take quite the successor to produce a worthwhile follow-up.  –Aaron Robertson, Assistant Editor

Robert Macfarlane, Underland (2019)

One hesitates to label any book by a living writer his “magnum opus” but Macfarlane’s Underland —a deeply ambitious work that somehow exceeds the boundaries it sets for itself—reads as offertory and elegy both, finding wonder in the world even as we mourn its destruction by our own hand. If you’re unfamiliar with its project, as the name would suggest, Underland is an exploration of the world beneath our feet, from the legendary catacombs of Paris to the ancient caveways of Somerset, from the hyperborean coasts of far Norway to the mephitic karst of the Slovenian-Italian borderlands.

Macfarlane has always been a generous guide in his wanderings, the glint of his erudition softened as if through the welcoming haze of a fireside yarn down the pub. Even as he considers all we have wrought upon the earth, squeezing himself into the darker chambers of human creation—our mass graves, our toxic tombs—Macfarlane never succumbs to pessimism, finding instead in the contemplation of deep time a path to humility. This is an epochal work, as deep and resonant as its subject matter, and would represent for any writer the achievement of a lifetime.  –Jonny Diamond, Editor in Chief

Patrick Radden Keefe, Say Nothing: A True History of Memory and Murder in Northern Ireland (2019)

Attempting, in a single volume, to cover the scale and complexity of the Northern Ireland Troubles—a bloody and protracted political and ethno-nationalist conflict that came to dominate Anglo-Irish relations for over three decades—while also conveying a sense of the tortured humanity and mercurial motivations of some of its most influential and emblematic individual players  and  investigating one of the most notorious unsolved atrocities of the period, is, well, a herculean task that most writers would never consider attempting. Thankfully, investigative journalist Patrick Radden Keefe (whose 2015  New Yorker  article on Gerry Adams,  “Where the Bodies Are Buried”,  is a searing precursor to  Say Nothing ) is not most writers. His mesmerizing account, both panoramically sweeping and achingly intimate, uses the disappearance and murder of widowed mother of ten Jean McConville in Belfast in 1972 as a fulcrum, around which the labyrinthine wider narrative of the Troubles can turn. The book, while meticulously researched and reported (Radden Keefe interviewed over one hundred different sources, painstakingly sorting through conflicting and corroborating accounts), also employs a novelistic structure and flair that in less skilled hands could feel exploitative, but here serves only to deepen our understanding of both the historical events and the complex personalities of ultimately tragic figures like Dolours Price, Brendan Hughes, and McConville herself—players in an attritional drama who have all too often been reduced to the status of monster or martyr. Once you’ve caught your breath, what you’ll be left with by the close of this revelatory hybrid work is a deep and abiding feeling of sorrow, which is exactly as it should be.   –Dan Sheehan, BookMarks Editor

Dissenting Opinions

The following books were just barely nudged out of the top ten, but we (or at least one of us) couldn’t let them pass without comment.

Maggie Nelson, The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning (2011)

Maggie Nelson, if evaluated from a first glance at her authored works, may appear to be a paradox. That the author of Bluets, a moving lyric essay exploring personal suffering through the color blue, also wrote The Red Parts , an autobiographical account of the trial of her aunt’s murderer, may seem surprising. Not that any person cannot and does not contain multitudes but the two aesthetics may seem diametrically opposed until one looks at The Art of Cruelty and understands Nelson’s fascination with art on the one hand, and violence on the other. Nelson hashes out the intersection of the two across multiple essays. “One of this book’s charges,” she writes, “is to figure out how one might differentiate between works of art whose employment of cruelty seems to me worthwhile (for lack of a better word), and those that strike me as redundant, in bad faith, or simply despicable.” The Art of Cruelty is a self-proclaimed diagram of recent art and culture and does not promise to take sides, to deliver ethical or aesthetic claims masquerading as some declarative truth on the matter. So cruelty is very much approached from Nelson’s poetic sensibility, with a degree of nuance, and an attitude of reflection and curiosity but also one of a certain distance so that all the emotions—anger, disgust, discomfort, thrill etc.—can be viewed as part of a whole rather than in isolation. Cruelty, counterbalanced with compassion—especially with reference to Buddhism—is certainly not hailed by Nelson as a cause for celebration but worthy of rumination and analysis so that it is not employed tacitly and without recourse. No book could ever, I think, provide an exhaustive evaluation of this topic, nor is Nelson’s approach that of a philosopher or art-historian looking to propose a theory. Nevertheless, she dexterously, and creatively, manages to hold a mirror to our culture’s fascination with cruelty and invites us to reflect on our personal reasons for indulging it.  –Eleni Theodoropoulos, Editorial Fellow

Óscar Martinez, The Beast (2013)

For over a decade, Martinez has been a witness and a chronicler of the ground-level effects of the war on drugs, reporting from across Latin America with a special focus on Central America and his home country of El Salvador, where more recently he’s been writing about the bloody culture of MS-13 and other narco-cliques that have expanded their power. Before that, he was charting the plight of migrants running the terrible gauntlet across borders and through narco-controlled territories. Martinez rode the dreaded train known as “The Beast” and collected the stories of those traveling north on this perilous journey. While crime isn’t strictly the focus of the book, Martinez looks at the direct effects of mass crime at a regional/global level, as well as the outlaw communities springing up to prey on the vulnerable. The subject matter is dark, but Martinez writes with the terrible, piercing clarity of a Cormac McCarthy. The Beast is a dispatch from a nearly lawless land, where families struggle and suffer, narcos get richer, violence spreads, the drugs head north, the guns head south, and so it goes on. Forget the rhetoric, the politics, and the propaganda. The Beast is the real story of the drug war. “Where can you steer clear of bandits?” Martinez asks. “Where do the drugs go over? Where can you avoid getting kidnapped by the narcos? Where is there a spot left with no wall, no robbers, and no narcos? Nobody has been able to answer this last question.” To call this book prescient disregards how long our problems have persisted, and how long we’ve managed to ignore the chaos our country’s policies have created.  –Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads Managing Editor

Matthew Desmond, Evicted (2016)

There are more evictions happening now, per capita, in the United States, than there were during the Great Depression. As it turns out, there’s a lot of money to be made from poverty—not, course, for those who need it, but for the landlords who orchestrate the kind of housing turnover that traps people in deeper and longer cycles of debt. Poverty in America has long been conflated with moral failure, but as Matthew Desmond’s Evicted illustrates in great detail, if there’s any moral failing happening, it’s with those who would take advantage of such systemic and generational iniquities.

Desmond, a Princeton-trained sociologist and MacArthur fellow, went to see for himself in 2008, at the height (depths?) of the housing crisis, undertaking a year-long study of eight Milwaukee-area families, spending six months in a mobile home and another six months in a rooming house, creating much more than a journalist’s snapshot of life as an American renter. With Evicted , Desmond has widened our perspective on cyclical hardship and its disproportionate impact on people of color, illustrating (with neither the leering nor the condescension of so much reporting on the poor) that eviction is more often a cause of poverty than a symptom.  –Jonny Diamond, Editor in Chief

Yuri Slezkine, The House of Government (2017)

I recommend this book to those who wish to demonstrate their physical strength in public and show off that they can read a giant Russian history book one-handed, but also I recommend this book to everyone, ever, in the world, because it’s so fantastic. At first glance, this is a lengthy tome inspired by a Tolstoyan approach to lyrical history, ostensibly concerned with the history of an apartment complex that was home to much of the early Soviet elite—and was subsequently depopulated by Stalinist purges. Within this apartment building, however, lay the central irony of the revolution—those who believed deeply enough in an idealistic system to embrace violent, repressive means of revolution, were soon enough subjected to those same mechanisms of repression. From this central irony, Slezkine, always concerned with how the micro fits into the macro, zooms out to look at the Soviets as just another bunch of millenarians (and to understand what an insult that is, you’ll have to pick up the book).  –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Associate Editor

Richard Lloyd Parry, Ghosts of the Tsunami (2017)

Richard Lloyd Parry, Tokyo bureau chief for The Times of London, begins his book by describing the way his office building in Tokyo shook in March 2011 when an earthquake hit the city. He called his family and checked that they were OK and then walked through the streets to see the damage. Used to quakes, this one seemed bad, but not the worst he had lived through. Less than an hour after the earthquake, though, a tsunami killed an estimated 18,500 Japanese men, women and children. In Ghosts , Parry focuses his story on Okawa, a tiny costal village where an entire school and 74 children washed away. In somewhat fragmentary threads, Parry explores the families that survived, the ghosts that follow them, and the landscape of a place that will never be the same. In localizing the story in one community, Parry is able to clearly define the painfully individual fallout of a national tragedy. It is emotionally draining to read, which is a warning I give everyone when I recommend the book (which I do constantly). But it is one of my favorite books and I would be remiss not to include in our list for best nonfiction of the decade.  –Emily Firetog, Deputy Editor

Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing (2019)

I grew up in a town named after a body of water—Rye Brook—and went to a high school also named after that body of water—Blind Brook—but growing up, no one seemed to actually know where the brook was, at least none of the kids. We didn’t talk about it, except to note its hiddenness— it’s behind the school, someone once told me, while another person said it was behind that hotel, behind the park, behind the airport . Recently, I decided to find it on a map and noticed, for the first time, that the brook, far from being a hidden thing, defines the majority of Rye Brook’s borders. Recognizing this foundational feature of my hometown for the first time, more than a decade after I left it, was disorienting, completely re-rendering my perception of the place I thought I knew best.

My search that day came after I read Jenny Odell’s account of her similar awakening to the ecology of her hometown, Cupertino, and all the features in or around it: Calabazas Creek, nearby mountains, and the San Francisco Bay. “How could I have not noticed the shape of the place I lived?” she writes, and, later, describing her own disorientation in a way that resonates with my own, added, “Nothing is so simultaneously familiar and alien as that which has been present all along.”

One way of describing the premise of this book is to say “that which has been present all along” is reality itself: each of us, from day to day, living our physical lives in a physical place. But in 2019, life doesn’t usually feel like that; it feels like an onslaught of forces that aim to turn our attention away from this reality and monetize it in a shapeless virtual space. In that environment, Odell writes, doing “nothing,” or finding any way to disrupt the capitalistic drive to monetize, is an act of political resistance, even as she recognizes that not everyone has the economic security or social capital to opt out. “Just because this right is denied to many people doesn’t make it any less of a right or any less important,” she writes. This book also draws on philosophy, utopian movements, and labor organizing to describe how various people have attempted to “do nothing” in their own way throughout history, with an outlook that is grounded in ecology. (And bird watching!) Ultimately, Odell writes, the act of doing nothing creates space for the kind of contemplation and reflection that is essential to activism and to sustaining life. I experienced this book as a space of sanity and as a beginning; I hope you do, too.  –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Honorable Mentions

A selection of other books that we seriously considered for both lists—just to be extra about it (and because decisions are hard).

Peter Hessler, Country Driving (2010)  · Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life (2010)  ·  Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy (2010)  · Marina Warner, Stranger Magic (2012)  · Jon Meacham, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power (2012)  · Oscar Martinez, The Beast (2013) · Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2013)  · Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey (2013)  · David Epstein, The Sports Gene (2013)  · Sheri Fink, Five Days at Memorial (2013)  · David Finkel, Thank You for Your Service  (2013) ·  George Packer, The Unwinding  (2013)  · Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything (2013) ·  Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States (2014) · Sarah Ruhl, 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write (2014) ·  Olivia Laing, The Trip to Echo Spring (2014)  · Hermione Lee, Penelope Fitzgerald (2014) ·  Mary Beard, SPQR (2015) ·  Sam Quinones, Dreamland  (2015) ·  Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning (2016)  · Ruth Franklin, Shirley Jackson (2016) · Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers In Their Own Land (2016) ·  Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures (2016)  ·  Laura Dassow Walls, Henry David Thoreau: A Life (2017)  ·  David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon (2017)  · Elizabeth McGuire, Red at Heart (2017) · Frances FitzGerald, The Evangelicals (2017) · Jeff Guinn, The Road to Jonestown  (2017) · Michael Tisserand, Krazy (2017) · Lawrence Jackson, Chester Himes (2017)   ·  Zora Neale Hurston, Barracoon (2018) · Beth Macy, Dopesick  (2018) · Shane Bauer, American Prison  (2018) · Eliza Griswold, Amity and Prosperity  (2018) · David Quammen, The Tangled Tree  (2018).

Emily Temple

Emily Temple

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best essays 21st century

The Top 10 Essays Since 1950

Robert Atwan, the founder of The Best American Essays series, picks the 10 best essays of the postwar period. Links to the essays are provided when available.

Fortunately, when I worked with Joyce Carol Oates on The Best American Essays of the Century (that’s the last century, by the way), we weren’t restricted to ten selections. So to make my list of the top ten essays since 1950 less impossible, I decided to exclude all the great examples of New Journalism--Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Michael Herr, and many others can be reserved for another list. I also decided to include only American writers, so such outstanding English-language essayists as Chris Arthur and Tim Robinson are missing, though they have appeared in The Best American Essays series. And I selected essays , not essayists . A list of the top ten essayists since 1950 would feature some different writers.

To my mind, the best essays are deeply personal (that doesn’t necessarily mean autobiographical) and deeply engaged with issues and ideas. And the best essays show that the name of the genre is also a verb, so they demonstrate a mind in process--reflecting, trying-out, essaying.

James Baldwin, "Notes of a Native Son" (originally appeared in Harper’s , 1955)

“I had never thought of myself as an essayist,” wrote James Baldwin, who was finishing his novel Giovanni’s Room while he worked on what would become one of the great American essays. Against a violent historical background, Baldwin recalls his deeply troubled relationship with his father and explores his growing awareness of himself as a black American. Some today may question the relevance of the essay in our brave new “post-racial” world, though Baldwin considered the essay still relevant in 1984 and, had he lived to see it, the election of Barak Obama may not have changed his mind. However you view the racial politics, the prose is undeniably hypnotic, beautifully modulated and yet full of urgency. Langston Hughes nailed it when he described Baldwin’s “illuminating intensity.” The essay was collected in Notes of a Native Son courageously (at the time) published by Beacon Press in 1955.

Norman Mailer, "The White Negro" (originally appeared in Dissent , 1957)

An essay that packed an enormous wallop at the time may make some of us cringe today with its hyperbolic dialectics and hyperventilated metaphysics. But Mailer’s attempt to define the “hipster”–in what reads in part like a prose version of Ginsberg’s “Howl”–is suddenly relevant again, as new essays keep appearing with a similar definitional purpose, though no one would mistake Mailer’s hipster (“a philosophical psychopath”) for the ones we now find in Mailer’s old Brooklyn neighborhoods. Odd, how terms can bounce back into life with an entirely different set of connotations. What might Mailer call the new hipsters? Squares?

Read the essay here .

Susan Sontag, "Notes on 'Camp'" (originally appeared in Partisan Review , 1964)

Like Mailer’s “White Negro,” Sontag’s groundbreaking essay was an ambitious attempt to define a modern sensibility, in this case “camp,” a word that was then almost exclusively associated with the gay world. I was familiar with it as an undergraduate, hearing it used often by a set of friends, department store window decorators in Manhattan. Before I heard Sontag—thirty-one, glamorous, dressed entirely in black-- read the essay on publication at a Partisan Review gathering, I had simply interpreted “campy” as an exaggerated style or over-the-top behavior. But after Sontag unpacked the concept, with the help of Oscar Wilde, I began to see the cultural world in a different light. “The whole point of camp,” she writes, “is to dethrone the serious.” Her essay, collected in Against Interpretation (1966), is not in itself an example of camp.

John McPhee, "The Search for Marvin Gardens" (originally appeared in The New Yorker , 1972)

“Go. I roll the dice—a six and a two. Through the air I move my token, the flatiron, to Vermont Avenue, where dog packs range.” And so we move, in this brilliantly conceived essay, from a series of Monopoly games to a decaying Atlantic City, the once renowned resort town that inspired America’s most popular board game. As the games progress and as properties are rapidly snapped up, McPhee juxtaposes the well-known sites on the board—Atlantic Avenue, Park Place—with actual visits to their crumbling locations. He goes to jail, not just in the game but in fact, portraying what life has now become in a city that in better days was a Boardwalk Empire. At essay’s end, he finds the elusive Marvin Gardens. The essay was collected in Pieces of the Frame (1975).

Read the essay here (subscription required).

Joan Didion, "The White Album" (originally appeared in New West , 1979)

Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and the Black Panthers, a recording session with Jim Morrison and the Doors, the San Francisco State riots, the Manson murders—all of these, and much more, figure prominently in Didion’s brilliant mosaic distillation (or phantasmagoric album) of California life in the late 1960s. Yet despite a cast of characters larger than most Hollywood epics, “The White Album” is a highly personal essay, right down to Didion’s report of her psychiatric tests as an outpatient in a Santa Monica hospital in the summer of 1968. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” the essay famously begins, and as it progresses nervously through cuts and flashes of reportage, with transcripts, interviews, and testimonies, we realize that all of our stories are questionable, “the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images.” Portions of the essay appeared in installments in 1968-69 but it wasn’t until 1979 that Didion published the complete essay in New West magazine; it then became the lead essay of her book, The White Album (1979).

Annie Dillard, "Total Eclipse" (originally appeared in Antaeus , 1982)

In her introduction to The Best American Essays 1988 , Annie Dillard claims that “The essay can do everything a poem can do, and everything a short story can do—everything but fake it.” Her essay “Total Eclipse” easily makes her case for the imaginative power of a genre that is still undervalued as a branch of imaginative literature. “Total Eclipse” has it all—the climactic intensity of short fiction, the interwoven imagery of poetry, and the meditative dynamics of the personal essay: “This was the universe about which we have read so much and never before felt: the universe as a clockwork of loose spheres flung at stupefying, unauthorized speeds.” The essay, which first appeared in Antaeus in 1982 was collected in Teaching a Stone to Talk (1982), a slim volume that ranks among the best essay collections of the past fifty years.

Phillip Lopate, "Against Joie de Vivre" (originally appeared in Ploughshares , 1986)

This is an essay that made me glad I’d started The Best American Essays the year before. I’d been looking for essays that grew out of a vibrant Montaignean spirit—personal essays that were witty, conversational, reflective, confessional, and yet always about something worth discussing. And here was exactly what I’d been looking for. I might have found such writing several decades earlier but in the 80s it was relatively rare; Lopate had found a creative way to insert the old familiar essay into the contemporary world: “Over the years,” Lopate begins, “I have developed a distaste for the spectacle of joie de vivre , the knack of knowing how to live.” He goes on to dissect in comic yet astute detail the rituals of the modern dinner party. The essay was selected by Gay Talese for The Best American Essays 1987 and collected in Against Joie de Vivre in 1989 .

Edward Hoagland, "Heaven and Nature" (originally appeared in Harper’s, 1988)

“The best essayist of my generation,” is how John Updike described Edward Hoagland, who must be one of the most prolific essayists of our time as well. “Essays,” Hoagland wrote, “are how we speak to one another in print—caroming thoughts not merely in order to convey a certain packet of information, but with a special edge or bounce of personal character in a kind of public letter.” I could easily have selected many other Hoagland essays for this list (such as “The Courage of Turtles”), but I’m especially fond of “Heaven and Nature,” which shows Hoagland at his best, balancing the public and private, the well-crafted general observation with the clinching vivid example. The essay, selected by Geoffrey Wolff for The Best American Essays 1989 and collected in Heart’s Desire (1988), is an unforgettable meditation not so much on suicide as on how we remarkably manage to stay alive.

Jo Ann Beard, "The Fourth State of Matter" (originally appeared in The New Yorker , 1996)

A question for nonfiction writing students: When writing a true story based on actual events, how does the narrator create dramatic tension when most readers can be expected to know what happens in the end? To see how skillfully this can be done turn to Jo Ann Beard’s astonishing personal story about a graduate student’s murderous rampage on the University of Iowa campus in 1991. “Plasma is the fourth state of matter,” writes Beard, who worked in the U of I’s physics department at the time of the incident, “You’ve got your solid, your liquid, your gas, and there’s your plasma. In outer space there’s the plasmasphere and the plasmapause.” Besides plasma, in this emotion-packed essay you will find entangled in all the tension a lovable, dying collie, invasive squirrels, an estranged husband, the seriously disturbed gunman, and his victims, one of them among the author’s dearest friends. Selected by Ian Frazier for The Best American Essays 1997 , the essay was collected in Beard’s award-winning volume, The Boys of My Youth (1998).

David Foster Wallace, "Consider the Lobster" (originally appeared in Gourmet , 2004)

They may at first look like magazine articles—those factually-driven, expansive pieces on the Illinois State Fair, a luxury cruise ship, the adult video awards, or John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign—but once you uncover the disguise and get inside them you are in the midst of essayistic genius. One of David Foster Wallace’s shortest and most essayistic is his “coverage” of the annual Maine Lobster Festival, “Consider the Lobster.” The Festival becomes much more than an occasion to observe “the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker” in action as Wallace poses an uncomfortable question to readers of the upscale food magazine: “Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?” Don’t gloss over the footnotes. Susan Orlean selected the essay for The Best American Essays 2004 and Wallace collected it in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (2005).

Read the essay here . (Note: the electronic version from Gourmet magazine’s archives differs from the essay that appears in The Best American Essays and in his book, Consider the Lobster. )

I wish I could include twenty more essays but these ten in themselves comprise a wonderful and wide-ranging mini-anthology, one that showcases some of the most outstanding literary voices of our time. Readers who’d like to see more of the best essays since 1950 should take a look at The Best American Essays of the Century (2000).

best essays 21st century

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Rafal Reyzer

40 Best Essays of All Time (Including Links & Writing Tips)

Author: Rafal Reyzer

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.

About this essay list:

Reading essays is like indulging in candy; once you start, it’s hard to stop. I sought out essays that were not only well-crafted but also impactful. These pieces genuinely shifted my perspective. Whether you’re diving in for enjoyment or to hone your writing, these essays promise to leave an imprint. It’s fascinating how an essay can resonate with you, and even if details fade, its essence remains. I haven’t ranked them in any way; they’re all stellar. Skim through, explore the summaries, and pick up some writing tips along the way. For more essay gems, consider “Best American Essays” by Joyce Carol Oates or “101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think” curated by Brianna Wiest.

George Orwell Typing

40 Best Essays of All Time (With Links And Writing Tips)

1. david sedaris – laugh, kookaburra.

david sedaris - the best of me essay collection

A great family drama takes place against the backdrop of the Australian wilderness. And the Kookaburra laughs… This is one of the top 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:

  • Use analogies (you can make it funny or dramatic to achieve a better effect): “Don’t be afraid,” the waiter said, and he talked to the kookaburra in a soothing, respectful voice, the way you might to a child with a switchblade in his hand”.
  • You can touch a few cognate stories in one piece of writing . Reveal the layers gradually. Intertwine them and arrange for a grand finale where everything is finally clear.
  • Be on the side of the reader. Become their friend and tell the story naturally, like around the dinner table.
  • Use short, punchy sentences. Tell only as much as is required to make your point vivid.
  • Conjure sentences that create actual feelings: “I had on a sweater and a jacket, but they weren’t quite enough, and I shivered as we walked toward the body, and saw that it was a . . . what, exactly?”
  • You may ask a few tough questions in a row to provoke interest and let the reader think.

2. Charles D’Ambrosio – Documents

Charles D'Ambrosio - Loitering - New and Collected Essays

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 documents (poems, letters) that had a major impact on his life, and brilliantly shows how not to let go of the past.

  • The most powerful stories are about your family and the childhood moments that shaped your life.
  • You don’t need to build up tension and pussyfoot around the crux of the matter. Instead, surprise the reader by telling it like it is: “The poem was an allegory about his desire to leave our family.” Or: “My father had three sons. I’m the eldest; Danny, the youngest, killed himself sixteen years ago”.
  • You can use real documents and quotes from your family and friends. It makes it so much more personal and relatable.
  • Don’t cringe before the long sentence if you know it’s a strong one.
  • At the end of the essay, you may come back to the first theme to close the circuit.
  • Using slightly poetic language is acceptable, as long as it improves the story.

3. E. B. White – Once more to the lake

E.B. White - Essays

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.

  • Use sophisticated language, but not at the expense of readability.
  • Use vivid language to trigger the mirror neurons in the reader’s brain: “I took along my son, who had never had any fresh water up his nose and who had seen lily pads only from train windows”.
  • It’s important to mention universal feelings that are rarely talked about (it helps to create a bond between two minds): “You remember one thing, and that suddenly reminds you of another thing. I guess I remembered clearest of all the early mornings when the lake was cool and motionless”.
  • Animate the inanimate: “this constant and trustworthy body of water”.
  • Mentioning tales of yore is a good way to add some mystery and timelessness to your piece.
  • Using double, or even triple “and” in one sentence is fine. It can make the sentence sing.

4. Zadie Smith – Fail Better

Zadie Smith - Changing My Mind

Aspiring writers feel tremendous pressure to perform. The daily quota of words 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.

  • A perfect novel ? There’s no such thing.
  • The novel always reflects the inner world of the writer. That’s why we’re fascinated with writers.
  • Writing is not simply about craftsmanship, but about taking your reader to the unknown lands. In the words of Christopher Hitchens: “Your ideal authors ought to pull you from the foundering of your previous existence, not smilingly guide you into a friendly and peaceable harbor.”
  • Style comes from your unique personality and the perception of the world. It takes time to develop it.
  • Never try to tell it all. “All” can never be put into language. Take a part of it and tell it the best you can.
  • Avoid being cliché. Try to infuse new life into your writing .
  • Writing is about your way of being. It’s your game. Paradoxically, if you try to please everyone, your writing will become less appealing. You’ll lose the interest of the readers. This rule doesn’t apply in the business world where you have to write for a specific person (a target audience).
  • As a reader, you have responsibilities too. According to the critics, every thirty years, there’s just a handful of great novels. Maybe it’s true. But there’s also an element of personal connection between the reader and the writer. That’s why for one person a novel is a marvel, while for the other, nothing special at all. That’s why you have to search and find the author who will touch you.

5. Virginia Woolf – Death of the Moth

Virginia Woolf - Essays

Amid 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 truly powerful. In the beginning, the atmosphere is happy. Life is in full force. And then, suddenly, it fades away. This sense of melancholy would mark the last years of Woolf’s life.

  • The melody of language… A good sentence is like music: “Moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths; they do not excite that pleasant sense of dark autumn nights and ivy-blossom which the commonest yellow- underwing asleep in the shadow of the curtain never fails to rouse in us”.
  • You can show the grandest in the mundane (for example, the moth at your window and the drama of life and death).
  • Using simple comparisons makes the style more lucid: “Being intent on other matters I watched these futile attempts for a time without thinking, unconsciously waiting for him to resume his flight, as one waits for a machine, that has stopped momentarily, to start again without considering the reason of its failure”.

6. Meghan Daum – My Misspent Youth

Meghan Daum - My Misspent Youth - Essays

Many of us, at some point or another, dream about living in New York. Meghan Daum’s take on the subject differs slightly 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. 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.”

  • You can paint a picture of your former self. What did that person believe in? What kind of world did he or she live in?
  • “The day that turned your life around” is a good theme you may use in a story. Memories of a special day are filled with emotions. Strong emotions often breed strong writing.
  • Use cultural references and relevant slang to create a context for your story.
  • You can tell all the details of the story, even if in some people’s eyes you’ll look like the dumbest motherfucker that ever lived. It adds to the originality.
  • Say it in a new way: “In this mindset, the dollars spent, like the mechanics of a machine no one bothers to understand, become an abstraction, an intangible avenue toward self-expression, a mere vehicle of style”.
  • You can mix your personal story with the zeitgeist or the ethos of the time.

7. Roger Ebert – Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Roger Ebert - The Great Movies

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 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”.

  • Start with a powerful sentence: “I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear.”
  • Use quotes to prove your point -”‘Ask someone how they feel about death’, he said, ‘and they’ll tell you everyone’s gonna die’. Ask them, ‘In the next 30 seconds?’ No, no, no, that’s not gonna happen”.
  • Admit the basic truths about reality in a childlike way (especially after pondering quantum physics) – “I believe my wristwatch exists, and even when I am unconscious, it is ticking all the same. You have to start somewhere”.
  • Let other thinkers prove your point. Use quotes and ideas from your favorite authors and friends.

8. George Orwell – Shooting an Elephant

George Orwell - A collection of Essays

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

  • The first sentence is the most important one: “In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people — the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me”.
  • You can use just the first paragraph to set the stage for the whole piece of prose.
  • Use beautiful language that stirs the imagination: “I remember that it was a cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains.” Or: “I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have.”
  • If you’ve ever been to war, you will have a story to tell: “(Never tell me, by the way, that the dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen looked devilish.)”
  • Use simple words, and admit the sad truth only you can perceive: “They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching”.
  • Share words of wisdom to add texture to the writing: “I perceived at this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his freedom that he destroys.”
  • I highly recommend reading everything written by Orwell, especially if you’re looking for the best essay collections on Amazon or Goodreads.

9. George Orwell – A Hanging

George Orwell - Essays

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.

  • Create brilliant, yet short descriptions of characters: “He was a Hindu, a puny wisp of a man, with a shaven head and vague liquid eyes. He had a thick, sprouting mustache, absurdly too big for his body, rather like the mustache of a comic man on the films”.
  • Understand and share the felt presence of a unique experience: “It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man”.
  • Make your readers hear the sound that will stay with them forever: “And then when the noose was fixed, the prisoner began crying out on his god. It was a high, reiterated cry of “Ram! Ram! Ram! Ram!”
  • Make the ending original by refusing the tendency to seek closure or summing it up.

10. Christopher Hitchens – Assassins of The Mind

Christopher Hitchens - Arguably - Essays

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 realize that freedom of expression is one of the most precious things we have and that we have to fight for it. I highly recommend all essay collections penned by Hitchens, especially the ones written for Vanity Fair.

  • Assume that the readers will know the cultural references. When they do, their self-esteem goes up – they are a part of an insider group.
  • When proving your point, give a variety of real-life examples from eclectic sources. Leave no room for ambiguity or vagueness. Research and overall knowledge are essential here.
  • Use italics to emphasize a specific word or phrase (here I use the underlining): “We live now in a climate where every publisher and editor and politician has to weigh in advance the possibility of violent Muslim reprisal. In consequence, several things have not happened.”
  • Think about how to make it sound more original: “So there is now a hidden partner in our cultural and academic and publishing and the broadcasting world: a shadowy figure that has, uninvited, drawn up a chair to the table.”

11. Christopher Hitchens – The New Commandments

Christopher Hitchens - Essays

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 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 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.

  • Take the iconoclastic approach. Have a party on the hallowed soil.
  • Use humor to undermine orthodox ideas (it seems to be the best way to deal with an established authority).
  • Use sarcasm and irony when appropriate (or not): “Nobody is opposed to a day of rest. The international Communist movement got its start by proclaiming a strike for an eight-hour day on May 1, 1886, against Christian employers who used child labor seven days a week”.
  • Defeat God on legal grounds: “Wise lawmakers know that it is a mistake to promulgate legislation that is impossible to obey”.
  • Be ruthless in the logic of your argument. Provide evidence.

12. Phillip Lopate – Against Joie de Vivre

Philip Lopate - The Art Of Personal Essay

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”. I can bear the onus of happiness or joie de vivre for some time. But this force 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 the world of an intelligent man who finds most social rituals a drag. It’s worth exploring.

  • Go against the grain. Be flamboyant and controversial (if you can handle it).
  • Treat the paragraph like a group of thoughts on one theme. Next paragraph, next theme.
  • Use references to other artists to set the context and enrich the prose: “These sunny little canvases with their talented innocence, the third-generation spirit of Montmartre, bore testimony to a love of life so unbending as to leave an impression of rigid narrow-mindedness as extreme as any Savonarola. Their rejection of sorrow was total”.
  • Capture the emotions in life that are universal, yet remain unspoken.
  • Don’t be afraid to share your intimate experiences.

13. Philip Larkin – The Pleasure Principle

Philip Larkin - Jazz Writings, and other essays

This piece comes from the Required Writing collection of personal 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.

  • Write about complicated ideas (such as poetry) simply. You can change how people look at things if you express yourself enough.
  • Go boldly. The reader wants a bold writer: “We seem to be producing a new kind of bad poetry, not the old kind that tries to move the reader and fails, but one that does not even try”.
  • Play with words and sentence length. Create music: “It is time some of you playboys realized, says the judge, that reading a poem is hard work. Fourteen days in stir. Next case”.
  • Persuade the reader to take action. Here, direct language is the most effective.

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

Sigmund Freud - On Murder, Mourning and Melancholia

This essay reveals Freud’s disillusionment with the whole project of Western civilization. How the peaceful European countries could engage in a war that would eventually cost over 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. Even so, it’s well worth your time.

  • Commence with long words derived from Latin. Get grandiloquent, make your argument incontrovertible, and leave your audience discombobulated.
  • Use unending sentences, so that the reader feels confused, yet impressed.
  • Say it well: “In this way, he enjoyed the blue sea and the grey; the beauty of snow-covered mountains and green meadowlands; the magic of northern forests and the splendor of southern vegetation; the mood evoked by landscapes that recall great historical events, and the silence of untouched nature”.
  • Human nature is a subject that never gets dry.

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 humans, 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.

  • Build an expectation of what’s coming: “The first time I heard her I didn’t hear her at all”.
  • Don’t be afraid of repetition if it feels good.
  • Psychedelic drugs let you appreciate things you never appreciated.
  • Intertwine a personal journey with philosophical musings.
  • Show rather than tell: “My friends pitied their eyes. The same look the faithful give you as you hand them back their “literature” and close the door in their faces”.
  • Let the poets speak for you: “That time is past, / And all its aching joys are now no
  • more, / And all its dizzy raptures”.
  • By voicing your anxieties, you can heal the anxieties of the reader. In that way, you say: “I’m just like you. I’m your friend in this struggle”.
  • Admit your flaws to make your persona more relatable.

16. Annie Dillard – Total Eclipse

Annie Dillard - Teaching A stone to talk

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 could 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.

  • Yet again, the power of the first sentence draws you in: “It had been like dying, that sliding down the mountain pass”.
  • Don’t miss the extraordinary scene. Then describe it: “Up in the sky, like a crater from some distant cataclysm, was a hollow ring”.
  • Use colloquial language. Write as you talk. Short sentences often win.
  • Contrast the numinous with the mundane to enthrall the reader.

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

Édouard Levé - Suicide

This suicidally beautiful essay will teach you a lot about the appreciation of life and the struggle with mental illness. 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 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.

  • Use the stream-of-consciousness technique and put random thoughts on paper. Then, polish them: “I have attempted suicide once, I’ve been tempted four times to attempt it”.
  • Place the treasure deep within the story: “When I look at a strawberry, I think of a tongue, when I lick one, of a kiss”.
  • Don’t worry about what people might think. The more you expose, the more powerful the writing. Readers also take part in the great drama. They experience universal emotions that mostly stay inside.  You can translate them into writing.

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

Gloria Anzaldúa - Reader

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.

  • If your mother tongue is not English, but you write in English, use some of your unique homeland vocabulary.
  • You come from a rich cultural heritage. You can share it with people who never heard about it, and are not even looking for it, but it is of immense value to them when they discover it.
  • Never forget about your identity. It is precious. It is a part of who you are. Even if you migrate, try to preserve it. Use it to your best advantage and become the voice of other people in the same situation.
  • Tell them what’s really on your mind: “So if you want to hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity – I am my language”.

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

Kurt Vonnegut - 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!”

  • Start with a curious question: “Do you know what a twerp is?”
  • Surprise your readers with uncanny analogies: “I am from a family of artists. Here I am, making a living in the arts. It has not been a rebellion. It’s as though I had taken over the family Esso station.”
  • Use your natural language without too many special effects. In time, the style will crystalize.
  • An amusing lesson in writing from Mr. Vonnegut: “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college”.
  • You can put actual images or vignettes between the paragraphs to illustrate something.

20. Mary Ruefle – On Fear

Mary Ruefle - Madness, rack and honey

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 angles (especially in the world of poetry-writing) that at the end of this personal essay, you will look at it, dissect it, untangle it, and hopefully be able to say “f**k you” the next time your brain is trying to stop you.

  • Research your subject thoroughly. Ask people, have interviews, get expert opinions, and gather as much information as possible. Then scavenge through the fields of data, and pull out the golden bits that will let your prose shine.
  • Use powerful quotes to add color to your story: “The poet who embarks on the creation of the poem (as I know by experience), begins with the aimless sensation of a hunter about to embark on a night hunt through the remotest of forests. Unaccountable dread stirs in his heart”. – Lorca.
  • Writing advice from the essay: “One of the fears a young writer has is not being able to write as well as he or she wants to, the fear of not being able to sound like X or Y, a favorite author. But out of fear, hopefully, is born a young writer’s voice”.

21. Susan Sontag – Against Interpretation

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 it when at school they asked me: “What did the author have in mind when he did X or Y?” Iēsous Pantocrator! Hell if I know! I will judge it through my subjective experience!

  • Leave the art alone: “Today is such a time, when the project of interpretation is reactionary, stifling. Like the fumes of the automobile and heavy industry which befoul the urban atmosphere, the effusion of interpretations of art today poisons our sensibilities”.
  • When you have something really important to say, style matters less.
  • There’s no use in creating a second meaning or inviting interpretation of our art. Just leave it be and let it speak for itself.

22. Nora Ephron – A Few Words About Breasts

Nora Ephron - The most of Nora Ephron

This is a heartwarming, coming-of-age story about a young girl who waits in vain for her breasts to grow. It’s simply a humorous and pleasurable read. 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.

  • Touch an interesting subject and establish a strong connection with the readers (in that case, women with small breasts). Let your personality shine through the written piece. If you are lighthearted, show it.
  • Use hyphens to create an impression of real talk: “My house was full of apples and peaches and milk and homemade chocolate chip cookies – which were nice, and good for you, but-not-right-before-dinner-or-you’ll-spoil-your-appetite.”
  • Use present tense when you tell a story to add more life to it.
  • Share the pronounced, memorable traits of characters: “A previous girlfriend named Solange, who was famous throughout Beverly Hills High School for having no pigment in her right eyebrow, had knitted them for him (angora dice)”.

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

Carl Sagan - The Demon Haunted World

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 sorts of crap.

  • Tell people the brutal truth they need to hear. Be the one who spells it out for them.
  • Give a multitude of examples to prove your point. Giving hard facts helps to establish trust with the readers and show the veracity of your arguments.
  • Recommend a good book that will change your reader’s minds – How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life

24. Paul Graham – How To Do What You Love

Paul Graham - Hackers and Painters

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 life. 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.

  • Ask simple, yet thought-provoking questions (especially at the beginning of the paragraph) to engage the reader: “How much are you supposed to like what you do?”
  • Let the readers question their basic assumptions: “Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like”.
  • If you’re writing for a younger audience, you can act as a mentor. It’s beneficial for younger people to read a few words of advice from a person with experience.

25. John Jeremiah Sullivan – Mister Lytle

John Jeremiah Sullivan - Pulphead

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.

  • Short, distinct sentences are often the most powerful ones: “He had a deathbed, in other words. He didn’t go suddenly”.
  • Stay consistent with the mood of the story. When reading Mister Lytle you are immersed in that southern, forsaken, gloomy world, and it’s a pleasure.
  • The spectacular language that captures it all: “His French was superb, but his accent in English was best—that extinct mid-Southern, land-grant pioneer speech, with its tinges of the abandoned Celtic urban Northeast (“boned” for burned) and its raw gentility”.
  • This essay is just too good. You have to read it.

26. Joan Didion – On Self Respect

Joan Didion - The white album

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 realizes he killed the wrong man all these years ago. I guess we all have to “own it”, recognize our mistakes, and move forward sometimes.

  • Share your moral advice: “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs”.
  • It’s worth exploring the subject further from a different angle. It doesn’t matter how many people have already written on self-respect or self-reliance – you can still write passionately about it.
  • Whatever happens, you must take responsibility for it. Brave the storms of discontent.

27. Susan Sontag – Notes on Camp

Susan Sontag - Essays of the 1960 and 1970

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 of. You will follow their traces and go to places where you’ve never been before. You will vastly increase your appreciation of art. It’s interesting how something written as a list could be so amazing. All the listicles we usually see on the web simply cannot compare with it.

  • Talking about artistic sensibilities is a tough job. When you read the essay, you will see how much research, thought and raw intellect came into it. But that’s one of the reasons why people still read it today, even though it was written in 1964.
  • You can choose an unorthodox way of expression in the medium for which you produce. For example, Notes on Camp is a listicle – one of the most popular content formats on the web. But in the olden days, it was uncommon to see it in print form.
  • Just think about what is camp: “And third among the great creative sensibilities is Camp: the sensibility of failed seriousness, of the theatricalization of experience. Camp refuses both the harmonies of traditional seriousness and the risks of fully identifying with extreme states of feeling”.

28. Ralph Waldo Emerson – Self-Reliance

Ralph Waldo Emerson - Self Reliance and other essays

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 shaped the ethos of the modern United States.

  • You can start with a powerful poem that will set the stage for your work.
  • Be free in your creative flow. Do not wait for the approval of others: “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness”.
  • Use rhetorical questions to strengthen your argument: “I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic the expediency of one of the institutions of his church. Do I not know beforehand that not possibly say a new and spontaneous word?”

29. David Foster Wallace – Consider The Lobster

David Foster Wallece - Consider the lobster and other essays

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 people. 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.

  • When it’s important, say it plainly and stagger the reader: “[Lobsters] survive right up until they’re boiled. Most of us have been in supermarkets or restaurants that feature tanks of live lobster, from which you can pick out your supper while it watches you point”.
  • In your writing, put exact quotes of the people you’ve been interviewing (including slang and grammatical errors). It makes it more vivid, and interesting.
  • You can use humor in serious situations to make your story grotesque.
  • Use captions to expound on interesting points of your essay.

30. David Foster Wallace – The Nature of the Fun

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

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 it means to be an author. If you ever plan to write a novel, you should read that one. And the story about the Chinese farmer is just priceless.

  • Base your point on a chimerical analogy. Here, the writer’s unfinished work is a “hideously damaged infant”.
  • Even in expository writing, you may share an interesting story to keep things lively.
  • Share your true emotions (even when you think they won’t interest anyone). Often, that’s exactly what will interest the reader.
  • Read the whole essay for marvelous advice on writing fiction.

31. Margaret Atwood – Attitude

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

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 for the rest of your days).

  • At times, we are all too eager to persuade, but the strongest persuasion is not forceful. It’s subtle. It speaks to the heart. It affects you gradually.
  • You may be tempted to talk about a subject by first stating what it is not, rather than what it is. Try to avoid that.
  • Simple advice for writers (and life in general): “When faced with the inevitable, you always have a choice. You may not be able to alter reality, but you can alter your attitude towards it”.

32. Jo Ann Beard – The Fourth State of Matter

Jo Ann Beard - The boys of my youth

Read that one as soon as possible. It’s one of the most masterful and impactful essays you’ll ever read. 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 in one sitting. It’s a perfect example of “show, don’t tell” writing, where the actions of characters are enough to create the right effect. No need for flowery adjectives here.

  • The best story you will tell is going to come from your personal experience.
  • Use mysteries that will nag the reader. For example, at the beginning of the essay, we learn about the “vanished husband” but there’s no explanation. We have to keep reading to get the answer.
  • Explain it in simple terms: “You’ve got your solid, your liquid, your gas, and then your plasma”. Why complicate?

33. Terence McKenna – Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness

Terrence McKenna - Food of gods

To me, Terence McKenna was one of the most interesting thinkers of the twentieth century. His many 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 dared to go into the abyss of his psyche and come back to tell the tale. He also wrote many books (the 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.

  • Become the original thinker, but remember that it may require extraordinary measures: “I call myself an explorer rather than a scientist because the area that I’m looking at contains insufficient data to support even the dream of being a science”.
  • Learn new words every day to make your thoughts lucid.
  • Come up with the most outlandish ideas to push the envelope of what’s possible. Don’t take things for granted or become intellectually lazy. Question everything.

34. Eudora Welty – The Little Store

Eudora Welty - The eye of the story

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 and straightforward, and when you read it, you feel like a child once more. All these beautiful memories 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 smells and tastes of the past.

  • When you’re from the South, flaunt it. It’s still good old English but sometimes it sounds so foreign. I can hear the Southern accent too: “There were almost tangible smells – licorice recently sucked in a child’s cheek, dill-pickle brine that had leaked through a paper sack in a fresh trail across the wooden floor, ammonia-loaded ice that had been hoisted from wet Croker sacks and slammed into the icebox with its sweet butter at the door, and perhaps the smell of still-untrapped mice”.
  • Yet again, never forget your roots.
  • Childhood stories can be the most powerful ones. You can write about how they shaped you.

35. John McPhee – The Search for Marvin Gardens

John Mc Phee - The John Mc Phee reader

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.

  • There’s nothing like irony: “A sign- ‘Slow, Children at Play’- has been bent backward by an automobile”.
  • Telling the story in apparently unrelated fragments is sometimes better than telling the whole thing in a logical order.
  • Creativity is everything. The best writing may come just from connecting two ideas and mixing them to achieve a great effect. Shush! The muse is whispering.

36. Maxine Hong Kingston – No Name Woman

Maxine Hong Kingston - Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston

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”. 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.

  • Mysterious death always gets attention. The macabre details are like daiquiris on a hot day – you savor them – you don’t let them spill.
  • One sentence can speak volumes: “But the rare urge west had fixed upon our family, and so my aunt crossed boundaries not delineated in space”.
  • It’s interesting to write about cultural differences – especially if you have the relevant experience. Something normal for us is unthinkable for others. Show this different world.
  • The subject of sex is never boring.

37. Joan Didion – On Keeping A Notebook

Joan Didion - We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live

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.

  • When you write things down in your journal, be more specific – unless you want to write a deep essay about it years later.
  • Use the beauty of the language to relate to the past: “I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be; one of them, a seventeen-year-old, presents little threat, although it would be of some interest to me to know again what it feels like to sit on a river levee drinking vodka-and-orange-juice and listening to Les Paul and Mary Ford and their echoes sing ‘How High the Moon’ on the car radio”.
  • Drop some brand names if you want to feel posh.

38. Joan Didion – Goodbye To All That

Joan Didion - Slouching Towards Bethlehem

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.

  • Talk about New York City. They will read it.
  • Talk about the human experience: “It did occur to me to call the desk and ask that the air conditioner be turned off, I never called, because I did not know how much to tip whoever might come—was anyone ever so young?”
  • Look back at your life and reexamine it. Draw lessons from it.

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.

  • Share a philosophical thought that stops the reader for a moment: “No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid”.
  • Be straightforward in your writing – no mannerisms, no attempts to create ‘style’, and no invocations of the numinous – unless you feel the mystical vibe.

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 many written materials. It’s a must-read for any writer.

  • Listen to the master: “This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose.” Do something about it.
  • This essay is all about writing better, so go to the source if you want the goodies.

The thinker

Other Essays You May Find Interesting

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 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 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 as a blog post , but it’s worth your time. The 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 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. They are like 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 that’s similar to what you find in the Paris Review essays , 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 trying 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 the 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 Russell – 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 we drown in our business. Bertrand Russell tells you to chill out a bit – maybe it will do you some good.

James Baldwin – Stranger in the Village

It’s an essay on the author’s experiences as an African-American in a Swiss village, exploring race, identity, and alienation while highlighting the complexities of racial dynamics and the quest for belonging.

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 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

  • Style manuals are full of inconsistencies. Following their advice might not be the best idea. They might make your prose boring.
  • Grammarians from all eras condemn students for not knowing grammar. But it just evolves. It cannot be rigid.
  • “Nothing worth learning can be taught” – Oscar Wilde. It’s hard to learn to write from a manual – you have to read, write, and analyze.
  • Good writing makes you imagine things and feel them for yourself – use word pictures.
  • Don’t fear using voluptuous words.
  • Phonesthetics – or how the words sound.
  • Use parallel language (consistency of tense).
  • Good writing finishes strong.
  • Write to someone. Never write for no one in mind. Try to show people your view of the world.
  • Don’t tell everything you are going to say in summary (signposting) – be logical, but be conversational.
  • Don’t be pompous.
  • Don’t use quotation marks where they don’t “belong”. Be confident about your style.
  • Don’t hedge your claims (research first, and then tell it like it is).
  • Avoid clichés and meta-concepts (concepts about concepts). Be more straightforward!
  • Not prevention – but prevents or prevented – don’t use dead nouns.
  • Be more vivid while using your mother tongue – don’t use passive where it’s not needed. Direct the reader’s gaze to something in the world.
  • The curse of knowledge – the reader doesn’t know what you know – beware of that.
  • Explain technical terms.
  • Use examples when you explain a difficult term.
  • If you ever say “I think I understand this” it probably means you don’t.
  • It’s better to underestimate the lingo of your readers than to overestimate it.
  • Functional fixedness – if we know some object (or idea) well, we tend to see it in terms of usage, not just as an object.
  • Use concrete language instead of an abstraction.
  • Show your work to people before you publish (get feedback!).
  • Wait for a few days and then revise, revise, revise. Think about clarity and the sound of sentences. Then show it to someone. Then revise one more time. Then publish (if it’s to be serious work).
  • Look at it from the perspective of other people.
  • Omit needless words.
  • Put the heaviest words at the end of the sentence.
  • It’s good to use the passive, but only when appropriate.
  • Check all text for cohesion. Make sure that the sentences flow gently.
  • In expository work, go from general to more specific. But in journalism start from the big news and then give more details.
  • Use the paragraph break to give the reader a moment to take a breath.
  • Use the verb instead of a noun (make it more active) – not “cancellation”, but “canceled”. But after you introduce the action, you can refer to it with a noun.
  • Avoid too many negations.
  • If you write about why something is so, don’t spend too much time writing about why it is not.

On Writing Well – By William Zinsser

  • Writing is a craft. You need to sit down every day and practice your craft.
  • You should re-write and polish your prose a lot.
  • Throw out all the clutter. Don’t keep it because you like it. Aim for readability.
  • Look at the best examples of English literature . There’s hardly any needless garbage there.
  • Use shorter expressions. Don’t add extra words that don’t bring any value to your work.
  • Don’t use pompous language. Use simple language and say plainly what’s going on (“because” equals “because”).
  • The media and politics are full of cluttered prose (because it helps them to cover up for their mistakes).
  • You can’t add style to your work (and especially, don’t add fancy words to create an illusion of style). That will look fake. You need to develop a style.
  • Write in the “I” mode. Write to a friend or just for yourself. Show your personality. There is a person behind the writing.
  • Choose your words carefully. Use the dictionary to learn different shades of meaning.
  • Remember about phonology. Make music with words .
  • The lead is essential. Pull the reader in. Otherwise, your article is dead.
  • You don’t have to make the final judgment on any topic. Just pick the right angle.
  • Do your research. Not just obvious research, but a deep one.
  • When it’s time to stop, stop. And finish strong. Think about the last sentence. Surprise them.
  • Use quotations. Ask people. Get them talking.
  • If you write about travel, it must be significant to the reader. Don’t bother with the obvious. Choose your words with special care. Avoid travel clichés at all costs. Don’t tell that the sand was white and there were rocks on the beach. Look for the right detail.
  • If you want to learn how to write about art, travel, science, etc. – read the best examples available. Learn from the masters.
  • Concentrate on one big idea (“Let’s not go peeing down both legs”).
  • “The reader has to feel that the writer is feeling good.”
  • One very helpful question: “What is the piece really about?” (Not just “What the piece is about?”)

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. It is the only literary form that I know of that is an absolute requirement for career or educational advancement. Nowadays, you can use an AI essay writer or an AI essay generator that will get the writing done for you, but if you have personal integrity and strong moral principles, avoid doing this at all costs. 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 writing. This list is only an attempt to share some of the best essays available online. Next up, you may want to check the list of magazines and websites that accept personal essays .

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Opinion David Brooks

The Sidney Awards

Credit... Brea Souders for The New York Times

Supported by

David Brooks

By David Brooks

Opinion Columnist

  • Dec. 28, 2023

If you want to help people, there are many fine causes you can donate to. If you want to change the world, support a small magazine. It’s hard to imagine the Progressive era or the New Deal without a small magazine, The New Republic. There probably would have been no Reagan revolution without another small magazine, National Review. The Partisan Review had a circulation of roughly 5,000 to 7,000 at its peak but set the tone for America’s postwar intellectual life.

Small magazines cohere a community of thinkers. They develop a body of ideas. They plant flags and inspire social movements. They create a persona that serves as an aspirational ideal for people, a way to live their lives. Small magazines can alter history in a way big media outlets just can’t. So with the 20th annual Sidney Awards, which I named for the philosopher, public intellectual and expert polemicist Sidney Hook and are dedicated to celebrating some of the best long-form essays, this year we’ll pay special attention to these vanguard publications.

I generally don’t agree with the arguments of those on the populist right, but I have to admit there’s a lot of intellectual energy there these days. (The Sidneys go to essays that challenge readers, as well as to those that affirm.) With that, the first Sidney goes to Christopher Caldwell for his essay “ The Fateful Nineties ” in First Things. Most people see the 1990s as a golden moment for America — we’d won the Cold War, we enjoyed solid economic growth, the federal government sometimes ran surpluses, crime rates fell, tech took off.

Caldwell, on the other hand, describes the decade as one in which sensible people fell for a series of self-destructive illusions: Globalization means nation-states don’t matter. Cyberspace means the material world is less important. Capitalism can run on its own without a countervailing system of moral values. Elite technocrats can manage the world better than regular people. The world will be a better place if we cancel people for their linguistic infractions.

As Caldwell sums it up: “America’s discovery of world dominance might turn out in the 21st century to be what Spain’s discovery of gold had been in the 16th — a source of destabilization and decline disguised as a windfall.”

Some of this year’s Sidney Award winners are kind of cerebral, but John Jeremiah Sullivan’s essay “ Man Called Fran, ” from Harper’s, is pure candy. Once you start reading it, you will not be able to stop. It starts when the author was bothered by a vague, unpleasant smell spreading through part of his house. He called plumber after plumber, but nobody could figure it out. Then one plumber said that while his firm had “good plumbers,” sometimes you need a crew with “crackhead power.” He added, “A crackhead will just throw himself at a wall, even if it’s totally pointless.” Sullivan found two plumbers with this kind of power, one named Fran, and what happened next is remarkable, touching and deep.

The New Atlantis is a fantastic magazine that helps us understand the burdens and blessings of modern science and technology — the social effects of everything from Covid to artificial intelligence and lab-grown meat. In “ Rational Magic ,” Tara Isabella Burton profiles a group of tech-adjacent thinkers who have become disillusioned with the alienating emptiness of the world Silicon Valley is creating: its dry rationalism, its emphasis on the technological over the humanistic. Many such people, she writes, are searching for some sort of spirituality. She follows them into the world of occultism, mushrooms and ecstatic dance classes. Burton is picking up on a broader trend I’ve also been noticing recently. New forms of religion and spirituality are popping up where you least expect them — among the techies, among those on the hard, progressive left.

The Hedgehog Review is another favorite magazine of mine. Each issue offers deep and substantive takes on our culture. In “ The Great Malformation ,” Talbot Brewer observes that parenthood comes with “an ironclad obligation to raise one’s children as best one can.” But these days, parents have surrendered child rearing to the platforms that dominate the attention industry — TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and so on: “The work of cultural transmission is increasingly being conducted in such a way as to maximize the earnings of those who oversee it.”

He continues: “We would be astonished to discover a human community that did not attempt to pass along to its children a form of life that had won the affirmation of its elders. We would be utterly flabbergasted to discover a community that went to great lengths to pass along a form of life that its elders regarded as seriously deficient or mistaken. Yet we have slipped unawares into precisely this bizarre arrangement.” In most societies, the economy takes place in a historically rooted cultural setting. But in our world, he argues, the corporations own and determine the culture, shaping our preferences and forming, or not forming, our conception of the good.

I confess that until this year, I was unfamiliar with Places Journal, which offers scholarly but accessible articles on architecture, the landscape and the built environment. This year Shannon Mattern contributed “ Fountain Society ,” a fascinating history of water fountains. I had not known that Aaron Burr started a water company in the 18th century, nominally to provide New Yorkers with clean water but really so he could raise money to go into banking, creating what would become Chase Bank.

Societies reveal their values by how they treat water. Mattern writes: “Clearly the drinking fountain and the water bottle are more than two different options for quenching thirst. They’re embodiments of two different systems, two different sociopolitical narratives, about the provision of water. The fountain is an exemplar of public infrastructure and collective responsibility. The ubiquitous bottle of branded water is an accouterment of consumer culture — a small but telling instance of the triumphant market mentality that has in the past half-century remade so many aspects of our lives.”

It’s rare that an essay jolts my convictions on some major topic. But that happened with one by Subrena E. Smith and David Livingstone Smith, called “ The Trouble With Race and Its Many Shades of Deceit ,” in New Lines magazine. The Smiths are, as they put it, a so-called mixed-race couple. She has brown skin; his is beige. They support the aims of diversity, equity and inclusion programs but argue that there is a fatal contradiction in many antiracism programs. “Although the purpose of anti-racist training is to vanquish racism, most of these initiatives are simultaneously committed to upholding and celebrating race,” they write. “In the real world, can we have race without racism coming along for the ride? Trying to extinguish racism while shoring up race is like trying to put out a fire by pouring gasoline on it.”

I’ve heard this argument — that we should seek to get rid of the whole concept of race — before and dismissed it. I did so because too many people I know have formed their identity around racial solidarity; it’s a source of meaning and strength in their lives. The Smiths argue that this is a mistake because race is a myth: “The scientific study of human variation shows that race is not meaningfully understood as a biological grouping, and there are no such things as racial essences. There is now near consensus among scholars that race is an ideological construction rather than a biological fact. Race was fashioned for nothing that was good. History has shown us how groups of people ‘racialize’ other groups of people to justify their exploitation, oppression and annihilation.”

One of the joys of small magazines is that they discover writers. Comment is a magazine that brings theological thinking to bear on public issues (and you should know that my wife is the editor in chief). This year, Comment published a powerful essay by Skyler Adleta, who was homeless in high school and is now a construction project manager in Ohio. His voice has power and depth. In “ The Providence of Poverty ” he writes about his father’s alcoholism: “I’ve only really known a shade of my dad, like glimpsing at dead, fallen leaves to study the intricacies of a large, old tree. My dad is an addict. Addiction is like rot, a slow decay imperceptible at first, that works its way from the inside out. When you at last survey the great damage, it may no longer be the person you are surveying, but the remnants of the attack itself. I despise addiction beyond any other ailment because of this.”

The essay traces his relationship with his dad and his decision not to forsake him. He concludes: “So I will continue to climb this mountain with my dad. Whether he likes it, or even realizes it, or not. And when his knees buckle and he falls to his face, he will at the very least not be alone. The question will be whether he allows his son, reinforced by our Lord, to carry him the rest of the way. If he does accept it, it will be a glorious occasion. The great old tree will be restored. The orphan will, at last, be face to face with his father.” Reading the essay, I felt myself in the presence of a bright new talent.

This year I’ve organized the Sidneys around small magazines. But I should conclude by adding that the big magazines, like The New Yorker and The Atlantic (where I also write), also had fantastic years and remain essential reading for any cultivated person. For example, if some year I’m feeling lazy when it comes time to compile the Sidneys, I could save a lot of effort if I just wrote down a single sentence: “Read what Caitlin Flanagan and Jennifer Senior wrote over the past 12 months.” These two writers, who work at The Atlantic, consistently produce masterpieces, as they did this year. Flanagan had a marvelously entertaining piece on the timeshare industry, “ The Timeshare Comes for Us All .” Senior had a moving and powerful piece called “ The Ones We Sent Away, ” on all those people who have been institutionalized and in some cases forgotten because they suffered from brain damage, extreme autism or some other mental disability.

As always, I’m grateful to two phenomenal aggregators who help me find Sidney nominees: Robert Cottrell, who founded The Browser, which gathers the best essays in English from around the world, and Conor Friedersdorf, who publishes the Best of Journalism newsletter, which lands in my inbox every Sunday morning and who catches me up on all the stuff I should have read the previous week.

This year’s nominees convince me once again that we’re living in a golden age of nonfiction.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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David Brooks has been a columnist with The Times since 2003. He is the author, most recently,  of “How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen.” @ nytdavidbrooks


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A lesson to never give up in "the odyssey", a poem by homer, an analysis of the organizational structure and management of alibaba and its application to organizations in the 21st century, challenges faced by native americans in 21str century, trump and the rise of 21st century fascism, princess diana’s memoir, a study on the impact of corporate accountability, understanding the craze behind esports, the changing role of accountants in the 21st century, sylvia plath’s presentation of feelings and standards on women as described in her book, the bell jar, analysis on communication as a factor in relationships, understanding the representation of black females sexual desirability in the u.s, how lucky i am to be born in this century.

The beginning of the 21st century was the rise of a global warming, global economy and Third World consumerism, increased private enterprise and terrorist attacks. Many great and many bad things happened in the current century. Many natural and man-made disasters made their impact on the world.

In the 21st century the effects of social development have affected different countries and different social groups differently. Although social development upgraded life standards of population.

The main challenges in the 21st century are: climate change, plastic pollution in the oceans, natural hazards, air pollution, hunger and increased inequalities.

Technology in the 21st century has enabled to humans to make strides that our ancestors could only dream of. People in the 21st century live in a technology and media-suffused environment.

The world population was about 6.1 billion at the start of the 21st century and reached 7.8 billion by March 2020.

Economically and politically, the United States and Western Europe were dominant at the beginning of the century. By the 2010s, China became an emerging global superpower and the world's largest economy. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are increasing in popularity worldwide.

The 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers, Hurricane Katrina, Same-Sex Marriage Legalisation, Haiti Earthquake, The Arab Spring, Brexit

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The zeitgeist is changing. A strange, romantic backlash to the tech era looms

Ross Barkan

Empiricism, algorithms and smartphones are out – astrology, art and a life lived fiercely offline are in

C ultural upheavals can be a riddle in real time. Trends that might seem obvious in hindsight are poorly understood in the present or not fathomed at all. We live in turbulent times now, at the tail end of a pandemic that killed millions and, for a period, reordered existence as we knew it. It marked, perhaps more than any other crisis in modern times, a new era, the world of the 2010s wrenched away for good.

What comes next can’t be known – not with so much war and political instability, the rise of autocrats around the world, and the growing plausibility of a second Donald Trump term. Within the roil – or below it – one can hazard, at least, a hypothesis: a change is here and it should be named. A rebellion, both conscious and unconscious, has begun. It is happening both online and off-, and the off is where the youth, one day, might prefer to wage it. It echoes, in its own way, a great shift that came more than two centuries ago, out of the ashes of the Napoleonic wars.

The new romanticism has arrived, butting up against and even outright rejecting the empiricism that reigned for a significant chunk of this century. Backlash is bubbling against tech’s dominance of everyday life, particularly the godlike algorithms – their true calculus still proprietary – that rule all of digital existence.

The famed mantra of the liberal left in the early months of the pandemic – trust the science – has faded from view, as hero worship ceases for the bureaucrat scientists (Anthony Fauci) and even for the pharmaceutical behemoths that developed, with federal assistance, the Covid vaccines.

Church attendance, long the barometer of the US’s devotion to the unseen, has continued to plummet , but taking its place isn’t any of the pugnacious New Atheism that tugged at the discourse for a stretch of the 2000s. Instead, it’s what can be loosely termed “spirituality” – a devotion to astrology, witchcraft, magic and manifestation – that has emerged, particularly among the young. Online life, paradoxically enough, has only catalyzed this spirituality more, with teenage TikTok occultists and “manifesting” influencers racking up ever more followers.

This all, as the writer Ted Gioia noted not long ago, might have been inevitable, given the societal disruption over the last 20 years. On Christmas Day 2003, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, X (Twitter) and TikTok did not exist. Google was merely a popular search engine that was competing with the likes of Netscape Navigator for market share. Amazon had not eviscerated the bricks-and-mortar shopping giants of the 20th century. There was no such thing as an iPhone; cellphones were not ubiquitous, and could only make calls and text.

Online life then was clearly cleaved away from where one actually conducted an existence: gossiping with friends, shopping at the mall and congregating in physical groups to play video games. “Surfing the web” was a distinct activity undertaken at a desktop computer. It had, each day, an obvious beginning and end.

The digital explosion would forever change how we view the world and interact with one another. The late 2000s were characterized by what might have been the last burst of techno-optimism for decades to come. Facebook was credited, in part, for helping to elect Barack Obama, the first Black president, and the new social media and its attendant smartphone technology was treated with a kind of messianic reverence. “Learn to code” was the mantra of the age, Stem the only ticket to the American dream. When Steve Jobs died in 2011, it was like another Gandhi had left us, and the existence of Apple itself was regarded as an unalloyed blessing.

Trump’s shock election would permanently alter how Facebook was perceived – it was not merely a proving ground for the young liberal vanguard – and other social media platforms became increasingly terrifying places to come of age. Instagram wrecked body images, smartphones metastasized schoolyard bullying in a 24/7 enterprise and teen depression, even before the arrival of Covid, surged .

Adults weren’t much better off. For thousands of years, mature human beings knew how to be alone in their own thoughts and tolerate boredom. The smartphone’s addictive entertainments immolated attention spans. The market, meanwhile, was suddenly glutted with underemployed computer science and business majors. Surging interest rates strangled the startup economy. There would be no Uber 2.0.

None of this, by now, is new. But this 2020s romanticism is, and it might mirror what came long before us. In the early years of the 19th century, rationalism seemed ascendant, as the rapid technological changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution promised their own algorithmic models for daily life. Machines displaced the old craftsmen and the workers that remained were punished through all their waking hours, forced to meet productivity goals that would have been science fiction a generation before. The individual, flesh-and-blood human never meant less, now that wonders like the cotton gin and the coal-fired steam engine could accomplish so much.

Romanticism was the great, bloody cry against it all. Luddites began by burning factories to the ground. Artists declared war against the principles of the Age of Reason that had seemed to beget the new industrial drudgery. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein offered a frightful riposte to those who believed science could only deliver bountiful good. Beethoven unleashed radical symphonies of a sweep and emotional intensity that had never been known before in western music. Ann Radcliffe, the English novelist, wrote a prescient defense of terror as a literary device, as the Gothic – dark swallowing light – rushed back into vogue.

The poets and painters, the influencers of their age, lashed the old gods of logic and gentility. There were William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, blasting away at British cultural elites in Lyrical Ballads, and Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron hurling between profound ecstasy and crepuscular sorrow in their poetry. William Blake, beset by visions of trees glittering with angels, believed imagination was the most vital element of human existence, and became the herald for generations of metaphysical insurgents and revolutionaries. Ralph Waldo Emerson lectured about the invisible eyeball and the over-soul.

Not all of the old romantics were opposed to Judeo-Christian religion, but they were drawn, like the youth of today, to spiritual realms that operated far beyond any biblical teachings or rationalist precepts. They were deeply wary of technology’s encroachment on the human spirit. They feared, ultimately, an inhuman future – and hence their rebellion. Today’s romantics, still nascent, sense something similar. Why else, in such an algorithmic and data-clogged age – with so much of existence quantifiable and knowable – would magic suddenly hold such sway?

The greater hope for the new romanticism is, in some sense, art, and not the dominance of digital charlatans who promise all of life’s riches are at hand if only you visualize hard enough or utter the correct incantations. Embracing the paranormal or believing, wholeheartedly, that star positions can determine personalities can be harmless fun – until the delusions become life-consuming and despair takes hold when they inevitably do not deliver on their promise.

Irrationality, on its own, is no virtue, and some of the romantics of the 19th and 21st centuries succumb to the same ancient dross, magic alone as the supposed channel to transcendence. That spiritualism has spread with tech is an irony fitting of the age.

There is logic, though, in the anti-logic. Science is science, not a religion, but for many months in 2020 and 2021 it was treated as one, even as the scientists failed, in several striking instances, to adequately explain and predict the virus in our midst. Masks were a waste, ineffective , until they weren’t; the vaccines were a miracle cure that could immediately stop the spread of Covid, until the virus kept circulating anyway. Fauci was a cult hero who nevertheless became the face of a shambolic American pandemic response, his mythos swelling with the nation’s death toll.

Trust in the science did not curdle at the same instance as trust in the tech conglomerates, but they are not so dissimilar when weighed against the hype of progress. The new romantics wonder: what good has any of this done for us? Were hyper-sophisticated GPS devices, cameras and video recorders worth it? It is too soon to predict a revival of the Luddites, but there has been at least one press report of a teen group ditching smartphones altogether because “social media and phones are not real life”.

Science brought about these revolutions; science compressed once unimaginable computing power into a single handheld device. Science now promises a great leap forward with artificial intelligence, which seems intent on replacing the arts themselves – machines will now make mediocre art, music, literature and even fact-challenged journalism.

The amusement phase has passed. The modern creative class, beleaguered enough, barraged by two decades of digital technology that has radically cheapened music, television and cinema, is ready for combat, as the successful writers’ and actors’ strikes demonstrated earlier in the year. Newer writing platforms like Substack promise a discursive, algorithm-free mode of communication, with the gloriously shaggy and strange finding new readers. Naturally, in the romantic tradition, Substack elevates the individual.

For now, rapacious tech still has a mass buy-in. Smartphones are ubiquitous. Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google are hegemonic. Mark Zuckerberg sculpts his pharaonic Hawaii compound. He and his ilk own the present. Whether they own the future, forevermore, is no longer clear. Generational change is hard on the incumbents. And romanticism won’t hold still; it promises, at the minimum, a wild and unsteady flame. What it burns is still anyone’s guess.

Ross Barkan is a writer based in New York

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The 100 Greatest R&B Songs of the 21st Century

By Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone

For many decades, going as far back as the 1940s, artists from the world of R&B couldn’t really claim mainstream success until they’d crossed over to Top 40 radio and the pop charts. This century, it often feels more like the pop world is crossing over to R&B. The genre has never been more successful, relevant, or ambitious. Many of this century’s epochal blockbuster albums are R&B records: from Usher’s 10-times platinum Confessions, to Beyonce’s Lemonade, to Mariah Carey’s The Emancipation of Mimi, to Rihanna’s Anti. R&B hits omnivorously dominate the Top 10, often leaving room for little else. 

Aesthetically, it’s a sound that contains multitudes — there’s the organic traditionalism of neo-soul acts like Bilal, Jill Scott, and Erykah Badu, and the new piano-driven classicism of Alicia Keys and John Legend, to the futurism of Janelle Monáe, the goth moodiness of the Weeknd, the unapologetic realness of Monica and SZA, the trap soul of Bryson Tiller, and much more. Hip-hop and R&B, which began to merge in the Nineties, have enjoyed a symbiotic cohabitation, so much so that in December 1999, Billboard changed the name of its R&B chart to the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks. You can hear that in many of the songs that made this list, including entrants from Outkast, Pharrell, and Drake. 

R&B and the indie-music underground used to exist on different planets; today innovators like Frank Ocean, Childish Gambino, and Solange are beloved by the mass audience and the hipsterati alike. Similarly, the music’s most towering figures, such as Beyoncé and Rihanna, can maintain their status as maga-stars without sacrificing their identity as R&B royalty, striking a balance that was nearly impossible to attain for Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston, even in their heydays. Solange exemplified that sense of aesthetic pride and self-assurance in 2013 when she famously tweeted in defense of the “culture of R&B,” a concept that would’ve seemed odd in the mainstream of 1995 or 1985.

Through all these musical variants, what’s made R&B great in this era has been what’s made it great in every era: incredible singers putting their stamp on unforgettable songs. To make our list of the 100 Greatest R&B Songs of the 21st Century, Rolling Stone convened a panel of staffers and critics with deep knowledge of the genre. We spent less time debating what R&B was then letting our taste guide us to the music we couldn’t live without, from massive hits to lesser-known gems. We’ve included a playlist to help tell the story, and set the mood. We hope you have as much fun listening to it as we did making it.

Raheem DeVaughn, ‘Woman’

best essays 21st century

“It’s official right now: In four minutes or less, we’re gonna crown ‘em all,” Raheem DeVaughn declares at the outset of this stretched-out ode to the feminine. “Woman,” from 2008, clocks in a little bit over that mark, but that can easily be excused by how much the singer-songwriter wants to praise the special, beautiful, strong, grown figure at this song’s center — his full-throated admiration is so divine that “Woman” turns into a full-on hymn as it fades out . — M. Johnston  

B2K, ‘Bump, Bump, Bump’

best essays 21st century

Designed to be the Jackson 5 of the 21st century, boy band B2K made a huge splash with Black preteen and teenage girls thanks to their hit “Bump, Bump, Bump.” Produced by Diddy, the song featured quintessential early 2000s staples such as the producer’s signature intro and ad-libs, unnecessary vocal runs from singer Omarion (who was trying to replicate writer R. Kelly’s demo), and the kind of “clubby” track that was popular at the time. “Bump, Bump, Bump” reached Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 for a week and was B2K’s second-to-last Top 40 hit before they disbanded in 2004. — K.T.

Ryan Leslie feat. Cassie and Fabolous, ‘Addiction’

best essays 21st century

In a decade when too many R&B innovators struggled to crack the pop charts, Ryan Leslie stood out. A multi-talented songwriter and producer who famously masterminded Cassie’s memorable debut and was an early YouTube star, he earned credits with the likes of Britney Spears and Mary J. Blige. Yet his solo work sold moderately, even as his single “Addiction” became a cult classic sampled by Clipse and Wiz Khalifa. The track finds RLS chilling amidst a flurry of electronic keyboards like a new-gen Puff Daddy as he lavishes praise on a lover. “It started out with a kiss/I’m never expecting this,” he sings in falsetto. “Addiction” feels clubby and fresh, the kind of jam that fits on any dance floor, mainstream appeal or not . — M.R.

Avant, ‘Makin’ Good Love’

best essays 21st century

“Makin’ Good Love” is a sultry lullaby that fully encapsulates the direction R&B would be heading in the late Nineties and early 21st century. With the rise of acts such as Jodeci and Tank, R&B love songs became more explicit, and this single from Avant’s sophomore album, Ecstasy , was a prime example of that trend. With lyrics such as “I got your legs spread all over the bed/Hands clenched in the sheets,” “Makin’ Good Love” is an early entry into the space artists like Chris Brown and Trey Songz would inhabit. — K.T.

Tems, ‘Free Mind’

GLASTONBURY, ENGLAND - JUNE 25: Tems performs on the Other stage during day four of Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm, Pilton on June 25, 2022 in Glastonbury, England. The 50th anniversary of Glastonbury’s inaugural event in 1970 was postponed twice after two cancelled events, in 2020 and 2021, due to the Covid pandemic. The festival, founded by farmer Michael Eavis, is the largest greenfield music and performing arts festival in the world. (Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images)

Afrobeats star Tems looks to a higher power to ease her struggles in “Free Mind,” a 2020 breakthrough hit on U.S. radio for the Nigerian artist. Accompanied by delicate electric keys and a gentle, syncopated beat, Tems expertly articulates what it’s like to deal with mental illness: “I try to be fine but I can’t be/the noise in my mind wouldn’t leave me,” she sings, as she falls deeper into darkness. She tries to find hope in God, and the song doubles as a prayer for release (“I need a free mind now,” she pleads), but the unexpected melodic shift near the end suggests the battle isn’t nearly over. — J.F.

Tank, ‘Please Don’t Go’

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Durrell “Tank” Babbs had a wide-ranging career as a songwriter and producer, working with Aaliyah, Beyoncé, Jamie Foxx, Pitbull, and others, as well as his own solo career, which included the minor 2007 hit “Please Don’t Go.” Tank might not be the most inviting stage name for a romantic crooner, but here he delivers a sensual performance as he dresses himself down for his infidelities, asking all men to do better. After hearing loss issues sidelined Tank from music, he has continued on in a mentor roll, co-hosting the R&B Money Podcast . — J.D.

Jeremih feat. J. Cole, ‘Planez’

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 05:  Jeremih performs during Hot 97's "Busta Rhymes and Friends: Hot for the Holidays" at Prudential Center on December 5, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)

After his 2009 debut single, “Birthday Sex,” became an unlikely hit, Jeremih went off-script, recording a psychedelic masterpiece called Late Nights about a dimension in which the sun never rises. That release’s major-label follow-up, titled Late Nights: The Album , had the same general conceit but went wide screen with the vision, and “Planez” works as an aesthetic thesis statement, as seductive as it is shameless. Vinylz’s beat feels as airy and weightless as a plane breaking through the clouds into the night sky. Jeremih finds a half-dozen different hooks to play with before kicking it to J. Cole for an instantly notorious verse that has become central to the track’s enduring appeal. — C.P.

Brent Faiyaz, ‘Jackie Brown’

best essays 21st century

With a title referencing Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 blaxploitation homage, “Jackie Brown” is a perfect mixture of the melodic R&B and rapping that has become Brent Faiyaz’s signature sound. The song kicks off with a high-pitched vocal that evokes the sense of reckless freedom, leading into a woozy track and lyrical quotes from the Tarantino film like, “Crib by the beach like Ordell/No Beaumont, my killas don’t tell.” Faiyaz’s 2022 album, Wasteland , dealt with the overhasty Gen Z obsession with luxury, coolness, and defiance, and that mood reached an epic high on “Jackie Brown.” — K.T.

Goapele, ‘Closer’

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Goapele released her independent EP just as the retro-meets-future neo-soul movement was hitting a commercial stride. The environment was ripe for the ethereal breakout track “Closer” to gain traction outside of an underground or indie niche, eventually landing on Bay Area radio station KMEL’s nightly countdown. The song’s soft, simple production, and accessible narrative about closing in on a long-held dream elevated “Closer” from a groove to a mantra for both original fans and generations to follow. The so-close-I-can-see-it theme is universally resonant, even in hip-hop with rappers Kendrick Lamar and Drake among those who sampled the track. — N.C. 

Khalid feat. 6lack and Ty Dolla $ign, ‘OTW’

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On his skittering single “OTW,” Khalid is only in town for a moment and doesn’t have time to waste. In a considerable step up from hitting send on a late-night “you up?” text, the singer pulls up in a drop top (with proof of purchase, for good measure) and cruises through the streets. Gliding across Nineteen85’s slick Nineties production, the singer calls in reinforcements in the form of 6lack’s enthralling promises and Ty Dolla $ign’s amorous urgency. It’s not quite an outright R&B boy band team-up, but the trifecta of heavy hitters makes for masterful wingmen. — L.P.

Bobby Valentino, ‘Slow Down’

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Shedding his image as a former member of Nineties teen group Mista, the first single from Bobby Valentino’s self-titled debut album displayed maturity without spilling over into sleazeball territory. “Slow Down” was appropriately released on Valentine’s Day in 2005. V’s velvety vocals cruise perfectly over slinky, come-hither production from Grammy-winning producers Tim and Bob, as he croons about a woman he just wants “to get to know.” The grown-ass leap into the big leagues came with a warm welcome; “Slow Down” topped the Billboard Hip-Hop/R&B chart for four weeks. It would later (and indisputably) become his signature song. — J.J.

3LW, ‘No More (Baby I’ma Do Right)’

best essays 21st century

R&B girl group 3LW (an abbreviation for 3 Little Women) arrived in 2000 with their self-titled debut, singing and rapping over the herky-jerky production that TLC and Destiny’s Child had made radio staples. The biggest song, “No More (Baby I’ma Do Right),” is a scorched earth cheating anthem. Together, the trio — comprised of Adrienne Bailon, Kiely Williams, and Naturi Naughton — confirms that the protagonist’s man is indeed two-timing her, and she’s had enough. “You do or you don’t, don’t/You will or you won’t, won’t/No more/No more, baby, I’ma do right,” they assert in the chorus. — I.K.

Lucky Daye, ‘Roll Some Mo’

best essays 21st century

After a brief run on American Idol , Lucky Daye graduated to behind-the-scenes studio fixture, popping up deep in the liner notes on albums by Keith Sweat, Mary J. Blige, and others. But in the meantime, he was quietly etching his own vision across a series of EPs he’d eventually release as Painted , a debut that kicks off with the irrepressible “Roll Some Mo.” Like a lot of Daye’s best songs, it sounds like it has existed forever, finding something sanguine in the liminal space between going out and staying in, late night and early morning, this joint and the next. — C.P.

Summer Walker, ‘Girls Need Love’

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 07: Summer Walker performs at the 10th annual ONE Musicfest at Centennial Olympic Park on September 7, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia.(Prince Williams/Wireimage)

Summer Walker’s arrival had a Sade-esque mystique, incorporating acoustic performances with emotionally exposed lyrics that addressed the insecurities of Black women in the millennial/Gen Z era. “Girls Need Love” ushered in a new era of R&B led by artists such as Walker, Victoria Monet, SZA, Ari Lennox, and others. With lyrics such as “I just need some dick, I just need some love/Tired of fucking with these lame niggas, I just need a thug,” the Atlanta singer-songwriter joined her peers as part of a movement of artists authentically expressing the diverse experiences and emotions of contemporary women. — K.T.

112, ‘Peaches and Cream’

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112’s “It’s Over Now” became a key track that contributed to Bad Boy Records’ continued prominence into the early 2000s. While the group didn’t reach the commercial heights of peers like Jagged Edge or Dru Hill, 112 were one of the last male vocal groups to seamlessly merge R&B and rap with a traditional flair. “It’s Over Now” is one of the many songs from their brief run at Bad Boy that underlined their ability to navigate the urban musical landscape, putting their own stamp on the R&B-hip-hop fusion co-pioneered by their former producer and boss, Diddy . — K.T.  

Ella Mai, ‘Boo’d Up’

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“R&B is not dead,” Ella Mai told Rolling Stone as her breakout ballad “Boo’d Up” ascended the charts. The London singer exemplified an era of R&B artists evoking classic hits, whether subtly or through explicit samples. “Boo’d Up” falls into the former category — produced by DJ Mustard, it has a piano refrain reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s “These Three Words.” But it also sounds wholly contemporary. Mai settles into the music with a warm and inviting voice and treats romance as a source of domesticated bliss. As she rhapsodizes about her partner, she confirms that yes, zoomers need love, too. — M.R.

Babyface and Toni Braxton, ‘Hurt You’

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Much as Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear decades before, Babyface and Toni Braxton’s Love, Marriage & Divorce is a gloriously feel-bad concept album. It learns hard into the reality-TV vibes that marked R&B in the early 2010s — also see Braxton’s sister Tamar’s “Love & War” — while relying on Babyface’s award-winning talent for writing and producing sturdy songs out of complex emotions. At the album’s center is “Hurt You,” a duet where Babyface and Braxton navigate feelings of regret and how his neglect pushed her to sleep with someone else. “God knows I never meant to hurt you,” Braxton sings in her famously wintry voice. “God knows I never meant to turn you on, to turn you out.” — M.R.

Lloyd, ‘You’

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On much of Street Love , Lloyd sings at a whisper, close to the mic, elucidating his feelings directly if discretely. But on “You,” something about the flip of Spandau Ballet’s “True” pulls the journeyman out of his shell. The track feels operatic, urbane, a heartsick neo-noir glide through various locales of late-night melancholy. Lloyd sings each come-on — “Let’s dip up out of here,” “You’re just my type” — as if his soul was on the line, and Lil Wayne, at his ’06 apex, banks in two easy-money verses that perfectly complement Lloyd’s in-the-red ardor. A later remix flips the sample differently, with a scene-stealing Andre 3000 verse; it’s just as good, somehow. — C.P.

Drake, ‘Marvin’s Room’

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Singer/rapper Drake performs onstage at the 2011 American Music Awards held at Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE on November 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/AMA2011/Getty Images for AMA)

Early in his career, Drake’s oscillating between boastful and bashful in his depictions of his romantic encounters created an air of mystery. The latter facade was often saved for his R&B entries, separating the rapper from the singer. On Take Care ’s “Marvin’s Room,” the lines soften and blur in Noah “40” Shebib’s watery production. Drake’s vocals swim in the dull bass sound mirroring the way that his head swims in his inebriation as he hits dial on a late-night drunken phone call. It’s Drake in his most classic form. He wants the person on the other line to know that he’s doing fine, except that he’s not; that he’s living the life, but something is missing; that he’s only occasionally ashamed, but still stuck in his ways. — L.P. 

The Foreign Exchange, ‘Take Off the Blues’

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Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, ‘How Long Do I Have to Wait for You?’

(MANDATORY CREDIT Ebet Roberts/Getty Images) AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 17: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings perform at Stubb's during day one of SXSW Festival 2010 on March 17, 2010 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

In the mid-Nineties, Georgia-born nightclub singer Sharon Jones began recording “heavy funk” 7-inches with a group of young musicians who would become the core of Brooklyn outfit the Dap-Kings. A decade later, they and other Daptone Records acts like Lee Fields and Charles Bradley were at the center of an increasingly popular retro-soul movement, thanks to brilliant singles like “How Long Do I Have to Wait for You?” The track found Jones and the Dap-Kings blending a funky Clyde Stubblefield-style rhythm with piping ska-flavored horns and wah-wah guitar. “Every hour seems like a day, and every day seems like a year,” Jones wailed over the melancholy yet imminently danceable track. Retro soul would eventually go mainstream, thanks to Amy Winehouse, while Jones, who passed away in 2016, is mostly appreciated by funk enthusiasts. But her excellent catalog deserves to resonate far more widely . — M.R.

India.Arie, ‘Brown Skin’

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“Brown skin, you know I love your brown skin,” sings India.Arie. The Colorado-born, Atlanta-raised singer-songwriter’s ballad stands out as an affirmation of pride in a community still afflicted by colorism as well as a deeply sensuous jam in which two bodies can’t tell “where yours begins” and “mine ends.” As she coos rhythmically, it feels like Arie’s slowly, emphatically strumming a guitar with her voice. Like Roberta Flack, India.Arie recognizes that Black love is both personal and political. “I know for certain that God made us the way we’re supposed to be,” she told a radio station in 2002 . “I love everything about myself, the way I look, my nose, my skin.” — M.R.

Pretty Ricky, ‘On the Hotline’

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Pretty Ricky’s “On the Hotline” blended explicit allure with distinctive Southern twang. The unabashed sensuality of the group’s lyrics (“It’s five in the morning, and I’m up having phone sex with you”), the soft crooning of the phrase “So horny” in the background, and the charisma of each member got the song into heavy rotation on the BET video show 106 and Park , and catapulted the group into stardom. Solidifying its place as an all-time classic for R&B boy bands, “On the Hotline” not only pushed the boundaries of acceptable content but also showcased Pretty Ricky’s ability to infuse regional flavor into the genre. — K.T. 

Dwele, ‘Find a Way’

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For a brief moment in the early 2000s, Dwele was your favorite artist’s favorite artist. A talented multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, singer, and producer from Detroit who took Marvin Gaye as his model, Dwele made neo-soul with a nod toward the alternative hip-hop sounds of acts like his Motor City contemporaries Slum Village, who appeared on Dwele’s great 2003 debut, Subject . “Find a Way,” Dwele’s only single to hit the Hot 100, is a smooth, upbeat tune that showcases his unique mix of nuanced vocal power and lyrical sensitivity . — M.Jordan

Sisqo, ‘Incomplete’

Portrait of American Hip Hop and R&b musician Sisqo as he poses backstage at the Joliet Speedway, Joliet, Illinois, June 14, 2000. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Sisqo’s “Thong Song” was so huge it overshadowed the rest of the charismatic entertainer’s debut album, Unleash the Dragon . The standout “Incomplete” highlighted Sisqo’s virtuosity, demonstrating his ability to stand apart from the Nineties trio Dru Hill, which he’d recently left, as well as contemporaries like Usher. The song not only underscored his gifts as a hitmaker but unveiled Sisqo as a power vocalist, strengthening his place as a formidable force in R&B beyond the catchy allure of his more flamboyant tracks . — K.T.

Janelle Monáe, ‘Tightrope’

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Though not Janelle Monáe’s first release, 2010’s “Tightrope” was the moment where the multi-hyphenate performer’s expansive artistic vision really started to coalesce. Funky and futuristic, “Tightrope” clatters like James Brown if he’d been sharing a bill with Outkast (whose Big Boi gives Monáe a cosign by providing a few bars here) at some interstellar jazz club. Lyrically it’s all about maintaining balance — “This ain’t no acrobatics/You either follow or you lead” — but Monáe shows some serious range as she switches from a punchy, scat-style delivery in her verses to an all-out soul belt when she gets to the chorus hook. It’s a knockout performance, and she was only getting started . — J.F.

T-Pain, ‘Buy U a Drank’

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T-Pain’s self-produced, mid-2000s breakout combines the Floridian’s smooth delivery with the highly popular, Southern-bred “snap” sound of that period. Throughout “Buy U a Drank,” he references songs by acts like Lil Jon and featured artist Yung Joc, highlighting the importance of the relationship between R&B and hip-hop. The use of Auto-Tune here and throughout the early work of the “rappa ternt sanga” helped to cement the vocal processor as a fixture of pop music. But outside of the effect, T-Pain could actually sing, proving that while the machine may enhance other vocalists’ skills, true talent and a knack for finding what’s hot is what ultimately allowed him to thrive. — J.J.

Bryson Tiller, ‘Exchange’

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“Exchange” epitomizes the fusion of Drake’s introspective lyricism and the gritty vibes of Bryson Tiller’s hometown, Louisville. A breakout hit from his debut album, Trapsoul , “Exchange” showcases Tiller’s sudden emergence into R&B, blending soulful melodies with trap-inspired beats. The album marked a pivotal moment in the genre, offering a fresh take on classic themes like love and relationships. While subsequent Tiller releases have yet to surpass the impact of Trapsoul , the subgenre of the same name it helped spawn is still undeniably influential. — K.T.

Amy Winehouse, ‘Tears Dry on Their Own’

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“Tears Dry on Their Own,” one of the standout moments on of British soul icon Amy Winehouse’s final album, Back to Blac k, features a somber interpolation of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s Motown classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Over a quivering doo-wop-pop brass and bass melody, Winehouse’s raspy lilt is a commanding force as she sings, “We could have never had it all/ We had to hit a wall/And this is inevitable withdrawal.” — I.K.

Ray J, ‘One Wish’

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“One Wish” went against the grain at a time in which vocal performances were often downplayed by mainstream male R&B artists. The chameleonic Ray J not only delivered a memorable example of great vocals on this Darkchild-produced hit (which hit Number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100), but also crafted a meme-worthy moment by singing and dancing in the rain in the song’s music video. In a landscape where R&B singers were diversifying their styles, “One Wish” proved that in the midst of evolving trends, a genuinely good song is still as transcendent as ever. — K.T.

Teeyana Taylor, ‘Gonna Love Me’

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“Gonna Love Me” is a particular brand of love song, one that situated itself in the casual realities of romantic reconciliation. “Sometimes we say things that we really don’t mean,” she sings. “I’m sorry if I made you feel less than who you are.” Its boom bap beat is cozy but strained, amplifying its feeling of familiarity, misgivings, and evolution, both in a relationship and of Taylor, who had been making music as an It girl since she was a teen but hit her stride much later. It was the highlight of Taylor’s K.T.S.E. , the best body of work in a chaotic season of releases helmed by Kanye West for his imprint G.O.O.D. Music, to which Taylor was signed. — M.C.

J. Holiday, ‘Bed’

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The seductive smash hit from J. Holiday’s debut studio album, Back of My Lac , portrays the duality of bedroom lovin’. Over tom-tom drums and shimmering chimes, the DMV-bred artist croons about running his fingers through his lover’s hair, while she gets her beauty rest after a long day. In the same breath, he adds in more straightforward musings about gettin’ it on “until [her] eyes roll back.” Written and produced by Los Da Mystro and The-Dream, the song peaked at Number Five on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2007, and it spent an impressive five weeks in the top slot on the magazine’s R&B/Hip-Hop songs chart . — J.J.

Ciara feat. Petey Pablo, ‘Goodies’

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As the sexy title track of Ciara’s studio debut album, “Goodies” is a self-assured dance-pop anthem that flaunts her breathy, wanting vocals. “I bet you want the goodies (uh)/ Bet you thought about it (yeah)/Got you all hot and bothered (ow),” she taunts over a siren-like melody. The song has lived on as one of Ciara’s most career-defining hits and a staple of every R&B playlist . — I.K.

Ari Lennox, ‘Whipped Cream’

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Featured on the DMV native’s debut LP, Shea Butter Baby, the plucky, Seventies-inspired “Whipped Cream” finds Ari Lennox doing everything she can to forget her former flame. “You’ve been everywhere,” she laments, adding, “And I wish I didn’t care.” Throughout the groovy, Cameo-sampling tune, she grapples with the idea of moving on, which is daunting enough for her to reconsider her “deceivin’, receivin’, non-givin headass ” of an ex. While maintaining her quirky relatability and contemporary songwriting approach, she marries the energy of R&B’s present with the best of the genre’s past . — J.J. 

Joe, ‘I Wanna Know’

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This plush ballad by the Georgia singer Joe is a stretched-out plea to a lover who’s nursing their wounds from a recent breakup. “Baby, I’m the kind of man who shows concern, yes I do/Any way that I can please you, let me learn,” Joe croons over twinkling synths and a cupid’s-arrow acoustic guitar before the sumptuous chorus, which has a singsong melody that makes his pitch for being a safe haven even sweeter. — M. Johnston

Outkast, ‘Prototype’

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The Love Below remains a bracingly strange record from a pop star at their commercial peak — full of acid jazz, kicky punk rock, even a song about Dracula — but it’s also full of hooks, from “Roses” to the immortal “Hey Ya!” But the aqueous album centerpiece “Prototype” feels different, meditative, designed for some higher purpose. An ambling guitar figure traces the arc of a hazy afternoon romance, André 3000’s repeated, sigh-like exhortations “I think I’m in love/Again” giving the track the feeling of an exhale. It all evaporates into an outro (“Stank you/Smelly much”) as sublime and singular as the song itself. — C.P.

H.E.R., ‘Every Kind of Way’

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 10:  H.E.R. attends the 61st Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on February 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

Gabriella Wilson has no shortage of top-notch R&B ballads, but the sexiest of the bunch for the artist known as H.E.R. is “Every Kind of Way.” An album cut from H.E.R.’s self-titled 2017 release, it’s an excellent showcase for Wilson’s singular talents. Her fluid electric guitar licks course through the track, which radiates cocoon-like warmth from little more than a simple drum pattern, bass, and her soft, flush-with-desire vocals. “I want you off my mind, and on me,” she confesses. “For you, I wanna take my time.” So hot that it should come with a warning . — J.F.

Muni Long, ‘Hrs and Hrs’

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Under her own name, Priscilla Renea penned hits for Rihanna, Fifth Harmony, and Kesha, then released the great, slept-on country-soul album Coloured in 2018. After dubbing herself Muni Long, she returned in 2022 with “Hrs and Hrs,” which found viral success on TikTok as people tried (largely in vain) to imitate Long’s jaw-dropping vocal runs and ad-libs. Her bravura performance also brought home the theme of finding life-altering love and its many sensual pleasures (“order shrimp and lobster towers, but it’s me that gets devoured,” she sings) that can make time seem like an abstract concept. — J.F.

Jhené Aiko, ‘The Worst’

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Jhené Aiko Efuru Chilombo spent several years navigating the Black teen-pop scene before she found her identity with the 2011 mixtape Sailing Soul(s). As the Grammy-nominated breakout hit from her 2013 Sail Out EP, “The Worst” marked her as a talent to be reckoned with, thanks to her unforgettable hook. “Don’t take this personal, but you’re the worst, you know what you’ve done to me,” she sings over an aqueous, piano-flecked track produced by Fisticuffs. “I don’t need you … but I want you.” While Aiko flits between desire and despair, the accompanying video for “The Worst” leads to a starker result as it depicts Aiko being arrested for murdering her lover. — M.R.

Mario, ‘Just a Friend’

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More than a decade after Biz Markie flipped Freddie Scott’s “(You) Got What I Need” into the left-field hip-pop smash “Just a Friend,” Baltimore smoothie Mario took the song and switched it up Y2K-style — it’s a bit sweeter and peppier, driven by unrequited love instead of cheating-related paranoia. Warryn “Baby Dubb” Campbell’s feather-light production allows Mario’s longing to take center stage, his rapid-fire questions to his intended coming off like overwhelming excitement about being in her presence. — M. Johnston

Ciara, ‘Body Party’

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Ciara has always had great taste in producers, creating a string of uptempo party-starters with collaborators as varied as Lil Jon, Jazze Pha, and Rodney Jerkins. On her self-titled fifth LP, she pulled Mike Will Made It in the opposite direction, creating an iconically sexy slow jam full of billowing, satiny synthesizers. Director X’s low-key video captures the vibe perfectly: Ciara pitched at a grown-up party across then-paramour (and song co-writer) Future, breaking into easy dance moves and enjoying herself particularly in his presence. Each hook is its own little crescendo, a hint of breathlessness creeping in at the edges. — C.P.

Ashanti, ‘Happy’

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You can’t talk 2000s R&B without mentioning Ashanti . The Long Island-born singer was discovered in her teens and signed to Murder Inc. Records, sweetening hits by rappers Fat Joe and Ja Rule. On her 2002 hit “Happy,” Ashanti’s positivity is contagious as she radiates joy on an airy, flute-flanked jaunt about her lover. “Boy, you got me feeling so good/You take all my pain away from me/Without you around, I couldn’t be/And I know you fell in love with me,” she sings with a dreamy lilt. It’s one of the reasons she also landed the nickname “princess of R&B” over the years. — I.K.

Mya, ‘Case of the Ex (Whatcha Gonna Do)’

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With “Case of the Ex,” Mya made one of the defining no-good-boyfriend anthems of the 2000s. The brooding pop-meets-R&B number proved to be the singer’s breakthrough hit, as she probes her man’s desire to get back with his ex over an infectious, stuttering melody. “Now what is it that she wants?/Tell me what is it that she needs?/Did she hear about the brand new Benz/That you just bought for me?” she taunts, driving the song’ message with clinical precision and unmistakable authority . — I.K.

Keyshia Cole, ‘Love’

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“Love” is a big, gorgeous ballad by Keyshia Cole, an Oakland native whose first industry credits involved singing hooks for mobb-music acts like Messy Marv and her brother Sean “Nutt-So” Cole. Much like the Bronx-born Mary J. Blige in the early ’90s, Cole nurtured a rough-edged persona that evoked a brokenhearted past. But on her most famous song, all that blissfully falls away in a gushy showstopper reminiscent of Judy Garland and Diana Ross. Cole, who co-wrote the song with Gregory Curtis, fully commits to the performance with an amazing, soaring vocal and demonstrates how the flip side of “keeping it real” is being unafraid to lose yourself in the life-changing possibility of a kiss . — M.R.

Monica, ‘So Gone’

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There’s a reason we all call her Goonica. Monica’s “So Gone” etched itself into R&B history as an iconic anthem that combines her raw, hood personality with the characteristically excellent lyrics and production crafted by Missy Elliott. With its semi-orchestral track, crackling beat, empowering lyrics, Donna Summer-referencing refrain, and a rap that proclaims that Monica will “Kick down ya doors and smack ya chick!,” “So Gone” is a fearless fusion of authenticity, talent, and innovation . — K.T. 

Lil’ Mo feat. Fabolous, ‘4Ever’

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Across her first two LPs, Lil’ Mo etched out a persona as a tough girl with a heart of gold, unafraid to spit over the “Ten Crack Commandments” beat on one track and bear her soul on the next. She brings it all together on the wedding-day anthem “4Ever,” challenging her beau to commit to every side of her through sickness and health, ride or die, crazy and mundane. Producer Bryan Michael Cox’s beat, full of chiming, palm-muted guitars and shimmy-down-the-aisle drums, nudge a heart-on-sleeve Fabolous into saying “I do,” too. — C.P. 

Tamia, ‘Stranger in My House’

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You can hear the betrayal dripping from Tamia’s syrupy vocals on “Stranger in My House.” The Canadian singer laments her lover turning into someone she doesn’t recognize: “’Cause he wouldn’t touch me like that/And he wouldn’t treat me like you do (you do)/He would adore me, he wouldn’t ignore me/So, I’m convinced there’s a stranger in my house.” While the original version of the song emulates the deep pain of the protagonist, a remix took over nightclubs everywhere, turning “Stranger in My House” into a reclamation of sorts. — I.K.

Jaheim, ‘Put That Woman First’

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“I forgot to be your lover,” Jaheim admits on “Put That Woman First” while referencing Stax artist William Bell’s 1968 standard. The New Jersey singer presented a modernized take on classic soul, with a soft and inviting voice burnished by surviving a childhood spent in public housing. You can hear his strong-yet-sensitive tone in the way he presents “Put That Woman First” as a lesson not to mess up a good thing the way he did. “If it wasn’t for the makeup on my shirt, still out there chasing skirts then, I couldn’t remember,” he admits, ruefully acknowledging how he acted like a louse even as he seductively draws the audience closer . — M.R.

Floetry, ‘Say Yes’

Floetry during The 3rd Annual BET Awards - Arrivals at The Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage for BET Entertainment)

Toward the mid-2000s, the short lived neo-soul movement was beginning to crest, and Floetry’s 2002 debut album, Floetic , was one of the subgenres final mainstream staples. The duo of Marsha Ambrosius and Natalie Stewart delivered lyrics like “Don’t deny what you feel, let me undress you/Open up your mind and just rest” with a sultry allure over Andre Harris’ elegant production. One of the sexiest songs of all time, “Say Yes” is a testament to Floetry’s ability to merge soulful storytelling and a seductive realism, setting the table for future acts like Ari Lennox and Alex Isley. — T.K. 

Tyrese, ‘How You Gonna Act Like That’

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Tyrese Gibson first appeared via a TV commercial in which he wowed a busload of people by crooning about the wonders of Coca-Cola, and he went on to augment his singing career with roles in several action movies. He had his biggest hit in 2002 with this beautifully heartbroken ballad. “How You Gonna Act Like That” is a slow jam in the slowest, jammiest sense, stretching out to allow Tyrese all the room he needs to offer a forensic investigation of a brutal breakup that he can’t get over. The almost prayerful insistence in his voice as he goes from begging to pleading to full-on belting makes this a master class in the fine art of not being able to figure out when it’s time to get over it and just move on . — J.D.   

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Reimagining Design with Nature: ecological urbanism in Moscow

  • Reflective Essay
  • Published: 10 September 2019
  • Volume 1 , pages 233–247, ( 2019 )
  • Brian Mark Evans   ORCID: 1  

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The twenty-first century is the era when populations of cities will exceed rural communities for the first time in human history. The population growth of cities in many countries, including those in transition from planned to market economies, is putting considerable strain on ecological and natural resources. This paper examines four central issues: (a) the challenges and opportunities presented through working in jurisdictions where there are no official or established methods in place to guide regional, ecological and landscape planning and design; (b) the experience of the author’s practice—Gillespies LLP—in addressing these challenges using techniques and methods inspired by McHarg in Design with Nature in the Russian Federation in the first decade of the twenty-first century; (c) the augmentation of methods derived from Design with Nature in reference to innovations in technology since its publication and the contribution that the art of landscape painters can make to landscape analysis and interpretation; and (d) the application of this experience to the international competition and colloquium for the expansion of Moscow. The text concludes with a comment on how the application of this learning and methodological development to landscape and ecological planning and design was judged to be a central tenant of the winning design. Finally, a concluding section reflects on lessons learned and conclusions drawn.

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The landscape team from Gillespies Glasgow Studio (Steve Nelson, Graeme Pert, Joanne Walker, Rory Wilson and Chris Swan) led by the author and all our collaborators in the Capital Cities Planning Group.

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Evans, B.M. Reimagining Design with Nature: ecological urbanism in Moscow. Socio Ecol Pract Res 1 , 233–247 (2019).

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Received : 17 March 2019

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Published : 10 September 2019

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Modern Architecture and Its Variations

Timeline of 20th Century Modernism

  • An Introduction to Architecture
  • Great Buildings
  • Famous Architects
  • Famous Houses
  • Skyscrapers
  • Tips For Homeowners
  • Art & Artists

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  • Doctor of Arts, University of Albany, SUNY
  • M.S., Literacy Education, University of Albany, SUNY
  • B.A., English, Virginia Commonwealth University

Modernism isn't just another architectural style. It is an evolution in design that first appeared around 1850 — some say it began earlier than that — and continues to this day. The photos presented here illustrate an array of architecture — Expressionism, Constructivism, Bauhaus, Functionalism, International, Desert Midcentury Modernism, Structuralism, Formalism, High-tech, Brutalism, Deconstructivism, Minimalism, De Stijl, Metabolism, Organic, Postmodernism, and Parametricism. Dating these eras only approximates their initial impact on architectural history and society.

The 1963 Beinecke Library at Yale University is a good example of modern architecture. No windows in a library? Think again. The panels on the outer walls where the windows might be are, in fact, windows for a modern rare books library. The facade is built with thin pieces of Vermont marble framed within granite and concrete clad steel trusses, allowing a filtered natural light through the stone and into the interior spaces — a remarkable technical achievement with natural materials by design architect Gordon Bunshaft and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). The rare books library does everything one would expect of modern architecture. Besides being functional, the building's aesthetic rejects its Classical and Gothic surroundings. It is new.

As you view the images of these modern approaches to building design, notice that modern architects often draw on several design philosophies to create buildings that are startling and unique. Architects, like other artists, build on the past to create the present.

1920s: Expressionism and Neo-expressionism

Built in 1920, the Einstein Tower or Einsteinturm in Potsdam, Germany is an Expressionist work by architect Erich Mendelsohn.

Expressionism evolved from the work of avant garde artists and designers in Germany and other European countries during the first decades of the 20th century. Many fanciful works were rendered on paper but never built. Key features of Expressionism include the use of distorted shapes, fragmented lines, organic or biomorphic forms, massive sculpted shapes, extensive use of concrete and brick, and lack of symmetry.

Neo-expressionism built upon expressionist ideas. Architects in the 1950s and 1960s designed buildings that expressed their feelings about the surrounding landscape. Sculptural forms suggested rocks and mountains. Organic and Brutalist architecture is sometimes described as Neo-expressionist.

Expressionist and Neo-expressionist architects include Gunther Domenig, Hans Scharoun, Rudolf Steiner, Bruno Taut, Erich Mendelsohn, the early works of Walter Gropius , and Eero Saarinen.

1920s: Constructivism

During the 1920s and early 1930s, a group of avant-garde architects in Russia launched a movement to design buildings for the new socialist regime. Calling themselves constructivists , they believed that design began with construction. Their buildings emphasized abstract geometric shapes and functional machine parts.

Constructivist architecture combined engineering and technology with political ideology. Constructivist architects attempted to suggest the idea of humanity's collectivism through the harmonious arrangement of diverse structural elements. Constructivist buildings are characterized by a sense of movement and abstract geometric shapes; technological details such as antennae, signs, and projection screens; and machine-made building parts primarily of glass and steel.

The most famous (and perhaps the first) work of constructivist architecture was never actually built. In 1920, Russian architect Vladimir Tatlin proposed a futuristic monument to the Third International (the Communist International) in the city of St. Petersburg. The unbuilt project, called Tatlin's Tower , used spiral forms to symbolize revolution and human interaction. Inside the spirals, three glass-walled building units — a cube, a pyramid, and a cylinder — would rotate at different speeds.

Soaring 400 meters (about 1,300 feet), Tatlin's Tower would have been taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The cost to erect such a building would have been enormous. But, even though the design was not built, the plan helped launch the Constructivist movement.

By the late 1920s, Constructivism had spread outside the USSR . Many European architects called themselves constructivists, including Vladimir Tatlin, Konstantin Melnikov, Nikolai Milyutin, Aleksandr Vesnin, Leonid Vesnin, Viktor Vesnin, El Lissitzky, Vladimir Krinsky, and Iakov Chernikhov. Within a few years, Constructivism faded from popularity and was eclipsed by the Bauhaus movement in Germany.

1920s: Bauhaus

Bauhaus is a German expression meaning house for building , or, literally, Construction House . In 1919, the economy in Germany was collapsing after a crushing war. Architect Walter Gropius was appointed to head a new institution that would help rebuild the country and form a new social order. Called the Bauhaus, the Institution called for a new "rational" social housing for the workers. Bauhaus architects rejected "bourgeois" details such as cornices, eaves, and decorative details. They wanted to use principles of Classical architecture in their most pure form: functional, without ornamentation of any kind.

Generally, Bauhaus buildings have flat roofs, smooth façades, and cubic shapes. Colors are white, gray, beige, or black. Floor plans are open and furniture is functional. Popular construction methods of the time — steel-frame with glass curtain walls — were used for both residential and commercial architecture. More than any architectural style, however, the Bauhaus Manifesto promoted principles of creative collaboration — planning, designing, drafting, and construction are tasks equal within the building collective. Art and craft should have no difference.

The Bauhaus school originated in Weimar, Germany (1919), moved to Dessau, Germany (1925), and disbanded when the Nazis rose to power. Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer , Ludwig Mies van der Rohe , and other Bauhaus leaders migrated to the United States. At times the term International Modernism was applied to the American form of Bauhaus architecture.

Architect Walter Gropius used Bauhaus ideas when he built his own monochrome home in 1938 near where he taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The historic Gropius House in Lincoln, Massachusetts is open for the public to experience genuine Bauhaus architecture.

1920s: De Stijl

The Rietveld Schröder House in The Netherlands is a prime example of architecture from the De Stijl movement. Architects like Gerrit Thomas Rietveld made bold, minimalist geometric statements in 20th century Europe. In 1924 Rietveld built this house in Utrecht for Mrs. Truus Schröder-Schräder, who embraced a flexible home designed with no interior walls.

Taking the name from the art publication The Style, the De Stijl movement was not exclusive to architecture. Abstract artists like Dutch painter Piet Mondrian were also influential in minimalizing realities to simple geometric shapes and limited colors ( e.g., red, blue, yellow, white, and black). The art and architecture movement was also known as neo-plasticism , influencing designers around the world well into the 21st century.

1930s: Functionalism

Toward the end of the 20th century, the term Functionalism was used to describe any utilitarian structure that was quickly constructed for purely practical purposes without an eye for artistry. For Bauhaus and other early Functionalists, the concept was a liberating philosophy that freed architecture from frilly excesses of the past.

When American architect Louis Sullivan coined the phrase "form follows function" in 1896, he described what later became a dominant trend in Modernist architecture. Louis Sullivan and other architects were striving for "honest" approaches to building design that focused on functional efficiency. Functionalist architects believed that the ways buildings are used and the types of materials available should determine the design.

Of course, Louis Sullivan lavished his buildings with ornamental details that did not serve any functional purpose. The philosophy of functionalism was followed more closely by Bauhaus and International Style architects.

Architect Louis I. Kahn sought honest approaches to design when he designed the Functionalist  Yale Center for British Art in New Haven , Connecticut, which looks much different than the functional Norwegian Rådhuset in Oslo . The 1950 City Hall in Oslo has been cited as an example of Functionalism in architecture. If form follows function, functionalist architecture will take many forms.

1940s: Minimalism

One important trend in Modernist architecture is the movement toward minimalist or reductivist design. Hallmarks of Minimalism include open floor plans with few if any interior walls; emphasis on the outline or frame of the structure; incorporating negative spaces around the structure as part of the overall design; using lighting to dramatize geometric lines and planes; and stripping the building of all but the most essential elements — after the anti-ornamentation beliefs of Adolf Loos.

The Mexico City home of the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Luis Barragán is Minimalist in its emphasis on lines, planes, and open spaces. Other architects known for Minimalist designs include Tadao Ando, Shigeru Ban, Yoshio Taniguchi, and Richard Gluckman.

Modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe paved the way for Minimalism when he said, "Less is more." Minimalist architects drew much of their inspiration from the elegant simplicity of traditional Japanese architecture. Minimalists were also inspired by an early 20th century Dutch movement known as De Stijl. Valuing simplicity and abstraction, De Stijl artists used only straight lines and rectangular shapes.

1950s: International

International Style is a term often used to describe Bauhaus-like architecture in the United States. One of the most famous examples of the International Style is the United Nations Secretariat building, originally designed by an international team of architects including Le Corbusier , Oscar Niemeyer , and Wallace Harrison. It was completed in 1952 and meticulously renovated in 2012. The smooth glass-sided slab, one of the first uses of curtain-wall glass cladding on a tall building, dominates New York City's skyline along the East River. 

Skyscraper office buildings near the U.N. that also are International in design include the 1958 Seagram Building by Mies van der Rohe and the MetLife Building, built as the PanAm building in 1963 and designed by Emery Roth, Walter Gropius, and Pietro Belluschi..

American International style buildings tend to be geometric, monolithic skyscrapers with these typical features: a rectangular solid with six sides (including ground floor) and a flat roof; a curtain wall (exterior siding) completely of glass; no ornamentation; and stone, steel, glass construction materials.

The name came from the book The International Style by historian and critic Henry-Russell Hitchcock and architect Philip Johnson . The book was published in 1932 in conjunction with an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The term is again used in a later book, International Architecture by Walter Gropius , founder of Bauhaus.

While German Bauhaus architecture had been concerned with the social aspects of design, America's International Style became a symbolism of Capitalism. The International Style is the favored architecture for office buildings and is also found in upscale homes built for the rich.

By the mid-20th century, many variations of the International Style had evolved. In Southern California and the American Southwest, architects adapted the International Style to the warm climate and arid terrain, creating an elegant yet informal style known as Desert Modernism, after the climate, or Midcentury Modernism, after the era.

1950s: Desert or Midcentury Modern

Desert Modernism was a mid-20th century approach to modernism that capitalized on the sunny skies and warm climate of Southern California and the American Southwest. With expansive glass and streamlined styling, Desert Modernism was a regional approach to International Style architecture. Rocks, trees, and other landscape features were often incorporated into the design.

Architects adapted ideas from the European Bauhaus movement to the warm climate and arid terrain. Characteristics of Desert Modernism include expansive glass walls and windows; dramatic roof lines with wide overhangs; open floor plans with outdoor living spaces incorporated into the overall design; and a combination of modern (steel and plastic) and traditional (wood and stone) building materials. Architects associated with Desert Modernism include William F. Cody, Albert Frey, John Lautner, Richard Neutra, E. Stewart Williams, and Donald Wexler. This style of architecture evolved throughout the U.S. to become the more affordable Midcentury Modern.

Examples of Desert Modernism may be found throughout Southern California and parts of the American Southwest, but the largest and best-preserved examples of the style are concentrated in Palm Springs, California . It was an architecture of the very rich — the Kaufmann's 1946 home designed by Richard Neutra in Palm Springs was built after Frank Lloyd Wright built the Kaufmann's Pennsylvania home known as Fallingwater. Neither home was the Kaufmann's primary residence.

1960s: Structuralism

Structuralism is based on the idea that all things are built from a system of signs and these signs are made up of opposites: male/female, hot/cold, old/young, etc. For Structuralists, design is a process of searching for the relationship between elements. Structuralists are also interested in the social structures and mental processes that contributed to the design.

Structuralist architecture will have a great deal of complexity within a highly structured framework. For example, a Structuralist design may consist of cell-like honeycomb shapes, intersecting planes, cubed grids, or densely clustered spaces with connecting courtyards.

Architect Peter Eisenman is said to have brought a Structuralist approach to his works. Officially called the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the 2005 Berlin Holocaust Memorial in Germany is one of Eisenman's controversial works, with an order within disorder that some find too intellectual.

1960s: Metabolism

With cell-like apartments, Kisho Kurokawa's 1972 Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo, Japan is a lasting impression of the 1960s Metabolism Movement .

Metabolism is a type of organic architecture characterized by recycling and prefabrication; expansion and contraction based on need; modular, replaceable units (cells or pods) attached to a core infrastructure; and sustainability. It is a philosophy of organic urban design, that structures must act like living creatures within an environment that naturally changes and evolves.

The 1972 Nakagin Capsule Tower is a residential building built as a series of pods or capsules. The design was to "install the capsule units into a concrete core with only 4 high-tension bolts, as well as making the units detachable and replaceable," according to Kisho Kurokawa Architect & Associates. The idea was to have individual or connected units, with prefabricated interiors lifted into the units and attached to the core. "The Nakagin Capsule Tower realizes the ideas of metabolism, exchangeability, recycleablity as the prototype of sustainable architecture," describes the firm.

1970s: High-Tech

The 1977 Centre Pompidou in Paris, France is a High-tech building by Richard Rogers , Renzo Piano , and Gianfranco Franchini. It appears to be turned inside out, revealing its inner workings on the exterior facade. Norman Foster and I.M. Pei are other well-known architects who have designed this way.

High-tech buildings are often called machine-like. Steel, aluminum, and glass combine with brightly colored braces, girders, and beams. Many of the building parts are prefabricated in a factory and assembled on site. The support beams, duct work, and other functional elements are placed on the exterior of the building, where they become the focus of attention. The interior spaces are open and adaptable for many uses.

1970s: Brutalism

Rugged reinforced concrete construction lead to an approach popularly known as Brutalism. Brutalism grew out of the Bauhaus Movement and the béton brut buildings by Le Corbusier and his followers.

The Bauhaus architect Le Corbusier used the French phrase béton brut , or crude concrete , to describe the construction of his own rough, concrete buildings. When concrete is cast, the surface will take on imperfections and designs of the form itself, like the wood grain of wooden forms. The form's roughness can make the concrete ( béton) look "unfinished" or raw. This aesthetic is often a characteristic of what became known as brutalist architecture.

These heavy, angular, Brutalist style buildings can be constructed quickly and economically, and, therefore, they are often seen on a campus of government office buildings. The Hubert H. Humphrey Building in Washington, D.C. is a good example. Designed by architect Marcel Breuer, this 1977 building is headquarters of the Department of Health & Human Services.

Common features include precast concrete slabs, rough, unfinished surfaces, exposed steel beams, and massive, sculptural shapes.

The Pritzker Prize-winning architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha is often called a "Brazilian Brutalist" because his buildings are constructed of prefabricated and mass-produced concrete components. The Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer also turned to Brutalism when he designed the original 1966 Whitney Museum in New York City and the Central Library in Atlanta, Georgia.

1970s: Organic

Designed by Jorn Utzon, the 1973 Sydney Opera House in Australia is an example of modern Organic architecture. Borrowing shell-like forms, the architecture seems to soar from the harbor as if it had always been there.

Frank Lloyd Wright said that all architecture is organic, and the Art Nouveau architects of the early 20th century incorporated curving, plant-like shapes into their designs. But in the later 20th century, Modernist architects took the concept of organic architecture to new heights. By using new forms of concrete and cantilever trusses, architects could create swooping arches without visible beams or pillars.

Organic buildings are never linear or rigidly geometric. Instead, wavy lines and curved shapes suggest natural forms. Before using computers to design, Frank Lloyd Wright used shell-like spiral forms when he designed the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) is known for designing grand bird-like buildings such as the TWA terminal at New York's Kennedy Airport and the Dulles Airport terminal near Washington D.C. — two organic forms in Saarinen's portfolio of works , designed before desktop computers made things so much easier.

1970s: Postmodernism

Combining new ideas with traditional forms, postmodernist buildings may startle, surprise, and even amuse.

Postmodern architecture evolved from the modernist movement, yet contradicts many of the modernist ideas. Combining new ideas with traditional forms, postmodernist buildings may startle, surprise, and even amuse. Familiar shapes and details are used in unexpected ways. Buildings may incorporate symbols to make a statement or simply to delight the viewer.

Postmodern architects include Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Michael Graves, Robert A.M. Stern, and Philip Johnson. All are playful in their own ways. Look at the top of Johnson's AT&T Building — where else in New York City could you find a skyscraper that looks like a giant Chippendale-like piece of furniture?

The key ideas of Postmodernism are set forth in two important books by Venturi and Brown: Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966) and Learning from Las Vegas (1972) .

1980s: Deconstructivism

Deconstructivism, or Deconstruction, is an approach to building design that attempts to view architecture in bits and pieces. The basic elements of architecture are dismantled. Deconstructivist buildings may seem to have no visual logic. Structures may appear to be made up of unrelated, disharmonious abstract forms, like a cubist work of art — and then the architect violates the cube.

Deconstructive ideas are borrowed from the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. The Seattle Public Library by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his team including Joshua Prince-Ramus is an example of Deconstructivist architecture. Another example in Seattle, Washington is the Museum of Pop Culture, which architect Frank Gehry has said is designed as a smashed guitar. Other architects known for this architectural style include the early works of Peter Eisenman , Daniel Libeskind, and Zaha Hadid. Although some of their architecture is classified as Postmodern, deconstructivist architects reject Postmodernist ways for an approach more akin to Russian Constructivism.

In the summer of 1988, architect Philip Johnson was instrumental in organizing a Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exhibit called "Deconstructivist Architecture." Johnson gathered works from seven architects (Eisenman, Gehry, Hadid, Koolhaas, Libeskind, Bernard Tschumi, and Coop Himmelblau) who "intentionally violate the cubes and right angles of modernism." The announcement of the exhibit explained:

" The hallmark of deconstructivist architecture is its apparent instability. Though structurally sound, the projects seem to be in states of explosion or collapse....Deconstructivist architecture, however, is not an architecture of decay or demolition. On the contrary, it gains all of its force by challenging the very values of harmony, unity, and stability, proposing instead that flaws are intrinsic to the structure."

Rem Koolhaas' radical, deconstructivist design for the 2004 Seattle Public Library in Washington State has been praised...and questioned. Early critics said that Seattle was "bracing for a wild ride with a man famous for straying outside the bounds of convention."

It is constructed of concrete (enough to fill 10 football fields 1-foot deep), steel (enough to make 20 Statues of Liberty), and glass (enough to cover 5 1/2 football fields). The exterior "skin" is insulated, earthquake-resistant glass on a steel structure. Diamond-shaped (4 by 7 foot) glass units allow natural lighting. In addition to coated clear glass, half of the glass diamonds contain aluminum sheet metal between glass layers. This triple-layered, "metal mesh glass" reduces heat and glare — the first U.S. building to install this type of glass.

Pritzker Prize Laureate Koolhaas told reporters that he wanted "the building to signal that something special is going on here." Some have said the design looks like a glass book opening up and ushering in a new age of library use. The traditional notion of a library as a place devoted solely to printed publications has changed in the information age. Although the design includes book stacks, emphasis is placed on spacious community spaces and areas for media such as technology, photography, and video. Four hundred computers connect the library to the rest of the world, beyond the views of Mount Rainier and Puget Sound.

1990s and 21st Century Parametricism

The Heydar Aliyev Centre, a cultural center built in 2012 in Baku, the capital of the Republic of Azerbaijan is a design by ZHA — Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher with Saffet Kaya Bekiroglu. The design concept was to create a fluid, continuous skin that would appear to fold onto its surrounding plaza, and the interior would be column-free to create a continuously open and fluid space. "Advanced computing allowed for the continuous control and communication of these complexities among the numerous project participants," describes the firm.

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) moves to Computer-Driven Design in the 21st Century. When architects began using high-powered software created for the aerospace industry, some buildings started to look like they could fly away. Others looked like big, immobile blobs of architecture.

In the design phase, computer programs can organize and manipulate the relationships of a building's many interrelated parts. In the building phase, algorithms and laser beams define the necessary construction materials and how to assemble them. Commercial architecture in particular has transcended the blueprint.

Algorithms have become the design tool of the modern architect.

Some say that today's software is designing tomorrow's buildings. Others say that the software allows exploration and the real possibility of new, organic forms. Patrik Schumacher, a partner at Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), is credited with using the word parametricism to describe these algorithmic designs .

Getting to Modern

When did the modern era of architecture begin? Many people believe the roots of 20th century Modernity are with the  Industrial Revolution  (1820-1870). The manufacturing of new building materials, the invention of new construction methods, and the growth of cities inspired an architecture that became known as  Modern .  Chicago architect Louis Sullivan  (1856-1924) is often named as the first modern architect, yet his early skyscrapers are nothing like what we think of as "modern" today.

Other names that come up are Le Corbusier,  Adolf Loos,  Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright, all born in the 1800s. These architects presented a new way of thinking about architecture, both structurally and aesthetically.

In 1896, the same year Louis Sullivan gave us his  form follows function  essay, the  Viennese architect Otto Wagner  wrote  Moderne Architektur — an instruction manual of sorts,  A Guidebook for His Students to This Field of Art. Wagner writes:

" A ll modern creations must correspond to the new materials and demands of the present if they are to suit modern man; they must illustrate our own better, democratic, self-confident, ideal nature and take into account man's colossal technical and scientific achievements, as well as his thoroughly practical tendency — that is surely self-evident! "

Yet the word comes from the Latin  modo , meaning "just now," which makes us wonder if every generation has a modern movement. British architect and historian Kenneth Frampton has attempted to "establish the beginning of the period." Frampton writes:

"  The more rigorously one searches for the origin of modernity...the further back it seems to lie. One tends to project it back, if not to the Renaissance, then to that movement in the mid-18th century when a new view of history brought architects to question the Classical canons of Vitruvius and to document the remains of the antique world in order to establish a more objective basis on which to work. "
  • Frampton, Kenneth. Modern Architecture (3rd ed., 1992), p. 8
  • Kisho Kurokawa Architect & Associates. Nakagin Capsule Tower.
  • Museum of Modern Art. Deconstructivist Architecture. Press Release, June 1988, pp. 1, 3.
  • Wagner, Otto. Modern Architecture (3rd ed., 1902), translated by Harry Francis Mallgrave, Getty Center Publication, p. 78.
  • Zaha Hadid Architects. Heydar Aliyev Centre Design Concept.
  • Top 10 Buildings of the Modern Era
  • Marcel Breuer, Bauhaus Architect and Designer
  • Winners of the Pritzker Prize in Architecture
  • Architecture in Vienna, a Guide for Travelers
  • Otto Wagner in Vienna
  • A Gallery of Coffered Ceilings
  • Organic Architecture from Frank Lloyd Wright to Modernist
  • Skyscraper Photos of Historic Buildings
  • Architecture Drawing: Presenting Ideas
  • Guide to Mid-Century Homes, 1930 to 1965
  • Modern Houses, A Visual Tour of the 20th Century
  • Discover the Beauty of Beaux Arts
  • The Architecture of Presidential Library Buildings
  • Architecture in Italy for the Lifelong Learner
  • An Historic Brew of Architecture in Seattle
  • Anne Tyng, an Architect Living in Geometry

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best essays 21st century

Entertainment News


21 of the best musical movie moments of the 21st century, so far

Music adds so much to film — be it a score that becomes as iconic as in Jurassic Park  or a dance scene that captivates like  Singin’ in the Rain . However, those are movies from the last century, and since then, the current one has seen its fair share of delights in that arena, from performances to dance breaks and everything in between. These are the best musical movie moments of the 21st century so far.

The finals in 'Pitch Perfect'

The Barden Bellas proved they were absolutely aca-mazing!

Pink Slip in 'Freaky Friday'

Raise your hand if you’re still waiting for the Freaky Friday  sequel in which Pink Slip reunites.

Letting go with 'Frozen'

“Let It Go” is one of Disney’s most popular songs and one of the most hated songs by parents of children under the age of seven.

Educational tunes in 'The School of Rock'

Jack Black for educator of the century!

The entirety of 'Moulin Rouge!'

Not every musical has worthwhile moments, but from start to finish, Moulin Rouge! sets the bar.

Going far in 'Moana'

As if Hamilton wasn’t enough, Lin-Manuel Miranda turned around and provided Disney with a dose of water-filled magic for Moana  with "How Far I'll Go."

Juno & Paulie's final duet in 'Juno'

Juno and Paulie's cover of The Moldy Peaches’ “Anyone Else but You” at the end of this 2007 flick will forever hit fans in the feels.

Ken’s moment from 'Barbie'

Ken walked into a movie titled Barbie and stole the spotlight with one declaration in song.

The ballad of Bowser in 'The Super Mario Bros. Movie'


Holiday recital in 'Mean Girls'

The debate about Die Hard being a Christmas movie is over and done. Now it’s time to start debating whether Mean Girls  is a Christmas movie based solely on their “Jingle Bell Rocks” performance.

Halle's version in 'The Little Mermaid'

Disney movies from their Renaissance era are hard to beat, as a lot of their live-action counterparts have proven. However, Halle Bailey didn’t come to play when she swam into the role of Ariel and masterfully delivered the vocal goodness with  The Little Mermaid classic, "Part of Your World." 

All the lights in 'Tangled'

Tangled helped usher in a whole new era for Disney, and it’s in part to “I See the Light.”

Zac Efron betting on it in 'High School Musical 2'

Years before Zac Efron bulked up for The Iron Claw , he was a stressed-out high school student having a breakdown on a resort golf course. Remarkable.

The beginning of 'Bring It On'

Not just a great musical moment in movies but also one of the best openings in film history.

Tiana’s “Almost There” in ‘The Princess and the Frog’

Disney went back to traditions with The Princess and the Frog in 2009, which included giving their characters grand musical numbers. While they didn’t stick with it moving forward, fans are grateful for this modern-day throwback.

Sex Bob-Omb goodness in 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World'

If Michael Cera and the rest of Sex Bob-Omb ever want to go on tour, many will be ready and willing to shell out money for tickets. Just saying…

The band's big concert, 'Josie and the Pūssycats'

Josie and the Pūssycats was not appreciated when it dropped in 2001 but has rightfully gained the following it’s always deserved since then.

Welcome to Duloc in 'Shrek'

Shrek and Donkey’s confused facial expressions after witnessing that warm yet weird welcome is one of the best scenes in the entire Shrek franchise.

Jenna's thrilling moves in '13 Going on 30'

Could Jennifer Garner still bust out those “Thriller” moves all these years later? Fans sure hope so!

Starlord's moves in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

The use of music throughout the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise has always been one of the best aspects, and it all started with Chris Pratt dancing to Redbone's "Come and Get Your Love."

Giselle in Central Park in 'Enchanted'

Kudos to Amy Adams for truly embodying what it means to be a fairy tale princess come to life and for owning every second of “That’s How You Know.”

Kendra Beltran went to college with no game plan and found herself falling back on her love of writing soon after graduating all the way back in 2009. Since then, she's written for MTV Geek, Cosplay Central, Collider, Apartment Therapy, and many other sites that allowed her to showcase her love of all things pop culture. When she isn't writing, Kendra is either hosting her show, Crushgasm, baking all the cookies, or spoiling her fur baby, Mason.

More must-reads:

  • 20 facts you might not know about 'Barbie'
  • Jimmy Kimmel threatens legal action against Aaron Rodgers over comments on Jeffrey Epstein
  • 20 movies that are guaranteed to make you cry

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The 21 best romantic movies of the 21st century (so far)

Posted: April 13, 2023 | Last updated: July 30, 2023

<p><span><span>Are you looking for a movie with a love story, a cute couple, and a scene where two people kiss? Good news: you've come to the right place. Our list chronicles the best romantic movies of the century, from rom-coms to rom-drams, meet-cutes to meet-hoots. These movies will have you falling head-over-heels with the screen.  </span></span></p>

Are you looking for a movie with a love story, a cute couple, and a scene where two people kiss? Good news: you've come to the right place. Our list chronicles the best romantic movies of the century, from rom-coms to rom-drams, meet-cutes to meet-hoots. These movies will have you falling head-over-heels with the screen.  

<p><span><span><em>Amelie</em> is about as quirky as they come, but it's still a sweet romance with some serious moments. Audrey Tautou plays the titular character who finds a box belonging to the person who formerly owned her apartment. When she decides to return it, she comes across a host of colorful characters and corners of Paris, all rendered as a children's book come to life.</span></span></p><p>You may also like: <a href=''>The 25 coolest TV characters of all time</a></p>

'Amelie' (2001)

Amelie is about as quirky as they come, but it's still a sweet romance with some serious moments. Audrey Tautou plays the titular character who finds a box belonging to the person who formerly owned her apartment. When she decides to return it, she comes across a host of colorful characters and corners of Paris, all rendered as a children's book come to life.

You may also like: The 25 best musicals of all time

<p>Who doesn't love an LGBTQ+ movie with chic outfits and erotic elements? Losers and prudes. The rest of us will be dazzled by this story of two lovers in 1950s America. Rooney Mara is terrific as Therese, a woman at the department store during the holiday season. Cate Blanchett gives the performance of her career as Carol, a woman buying what she's selling.</p><p><a href=''>Follow us on MSN to see more of our exclusive entertainment content.</a></p>

'Carol' (2015)

Who doesn't love an LGBTQ+ movie with chic outfits and erotic elements? Losers and prudes. The rest of us will be dazzled by this story of two lovers in 1950s America. Rooney Mara is terrific as Therese, a woman at the department store during the holiday season. Cate Blanchett gives the performance of her career as Carol, a woman buying what she's selling.

Follow us on MSN to see more of our exclusive entertainment content.

<p>Meryl Streep plays Julia Child. That's it. That's all you need to know. Everything else in this rom-com isn't as good as Streep's performance, but then again, what is? </p><p>You may also like: <a href=''>The 25 most iconic film and TV vehicles</a></p>

'Julie and Julia' (2009)

Meryl Streep plays Julia Child. That's it. That's all you need to know. Everything else in this rom-com isn't as good as Streep's performance, but then again, what is? 

You may also like: The most memorable characters from David Fincher movies

<p><span><span><em>Moonlight</em> is one of the ultimate coming-of-age movies. It also happens to be one of the ultimate romances. As Chiron's life unfolds, we see a boy search for love in the unlikeliest places. In the final scene, he reaches out to his gay friend and finds something there — something along the lines of support. </span></span></p><p><a href=''>Follow us on MSN to see more of our exclusive entertainment content.</a></p>

'Moonlight' (2016)

Moonlight is one of the ultimate coming-of-age movies. It also happens to be one of the ultimate romances. As Chiron's life unfolds, we see a boy search for love in the unlikeliest places. In the final scene, he reaches out to his gay friend and finds something there — something along the lines of support. 

<p><span><span>The premise of this movie doesn't sound romantic: A nine-year-old boy runs away from home, but there's something touching about it. It helps to have Wes Anderson, a director who can turn even the most childish premises into something cute, colorful, and profound. What also helps? A female love interest. </span></span></p><p>You may also like: <a href=''>The 25 best album closers</a></p>

'Moonrise Kingdom' (2012)

The premise of this movie doesn't sound romantic: A nine-year-old boy runs away from home, but there's something touching about it. It helps to have Wes Anderson, a director who can turn even the most childish premises into something cute, colorful, and profound. What also helps? A female love interest. 

You may also like: The 25 greatest director's cuts

<p>Oh, come on. We just had to include it. The scene where Nick's parents come over for dinner is worth the price of admission alone. </p><p><a href=''>Follow us on MSN to see more of our exclusive entertainment content.</a></p>

'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' (2002)

Oh, come on. We just had to include it. The scene where Nick's parents come over for dinner is worth the price of admission alone. 

<p>This isn't your average rom-com. Instead, this funny and smart movie (based on Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon's real-life experience) is more of a Best Picture contender than a Netflix After Work contender. The film has real things to say about race and marriage and will even make you question your devotion to love. </p><p>You may also like: <a href=''>25 actors who revived popular characters after many years</a></p>

'The Big Sick' (2017)

This isn't your average rom-com. Instead, this funny and smart movie (based on Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon's real-life experience) is more of a Best Picture contender than a Netflix After Work contender. The film has real things to say about race and marriage and will even make you question your devotion to love. 

You may also like: Thanks for nothing, Academy: The biggest snubs in Oscar history

<p><span><span>Traditional romance movies take viewers on a ride toward the final kiss. But this movie does the exact opposite.<em> In the Mood For Love</em> takes viewers on a ride toward the final goodbye — toward that moment when our two leads must fade into the mist of memory, never to see each other again. </span></span></p><p><a href=''>Follow us on MSN to see more of our exclusive entertainment content.</a></p>

'In the Mood for Love' (2000)

Traditional romance movies take viewers on a ride toward the final kiss. But this movie does the exact opposite.  In the Mood For Love takes viewers on a ride toward the final goodbye — toward that moment when our two leads must fade into the mist of memory, never to see each other again. 

<p><em>Monsoon Wedding</em> is a movie that sheds light on India's marriage rituals and does so in an entertaining way. The fact that most women can't choose who they want to marry is insane. What's even more insane? How vibrant this movie is despite having such a serious subject. </p><p>You may also like: <a href=''>25 movies that definitely did not need a sequel</a></p>

'Monsoon Wedding' (2001)

Monsoon Wedding is a movie that sheds light on India's marriage rituals and does so in an entertaining way. The fact that most women can't choose who they want to marry is insane. What's even more insane? How vibrant this movie is despite having such a serious subject. 

You may also like: 25 people who won Oscars for their first films

<p>The second installment in the <em>Before </em>trilogy, <em>Before Sunse</em>t follows what happens when Jesse and Celine reunite after their first meeting. Their reunion is a series of long conversations and long takes of Parisian scenery. It's a cinematic waltz, a dance set to the tune of love. </p><p><a href=''>Follow us on MSN to see more of our exclusive entertainment content.</a></p>

'Before Sunset' (2004)

The second installment in the Before  trilogy, Before Sunse t follows what happens when Jesse and Celine reunite after their first meeting. Their reunion is a series of long conversations and long takes of Parisian scenery. It's a cinematic waltz, a dance set to the tune of love. 

<p>Get out those tissues! This one's a real tearjerker, with knockout performances from Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as cowboys. The movie will have you reeling from minute one to the final frame, from the second these two meet to the second they say goodbye. </p><p>You may also like: <a href=''>The 25 all-time punk rock characters</a></p>

'Brokeback Mountain' (2005)

Get out those tissues! This one's a real tearjerker, with knockout performances from Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as cowboys. The movie will have you reeling from minute one to the final frame, from the second these two meet to the second they say goodbye. 

You may also like: Who are the oldest Oscar nominees?

<p><span><span>It only took four movies and a hundred years to get it right. Greta Gerwig finally gave us the <em>Little Women</em> adaptation we'd been asking for, with all the cute dresses, lovely characters, and warm fires you could ever want. Everything in this movie is perfect. From the costumes to the performers, the sets to the sights, this is what you imagine when you read the novel. </span></span></p><p><a href=''>Follow us on MSN to see more of our exclusive entertainment content.</a></p>

'Little Women' (2019)

It only took four movies and a hundred years to get it right. Greta Gerwig finally gave us the Little Women adaptation we'd been asking for, with all the cute dresses, lovely characters, and warm fires you could ever want. Everything in this movie is perfect. From the costumes to the performers, the sets to the sights, this is what you imagine when you read the novel. 

<p>Celine Sciamma is a master of her craft, a director who uses her camera as a canvas and her image as a brush. The setting is an island where two women find love at a time when their love is forbidden. The way they work around that is genius, giving Sciama a chance to turn her island into a cove of desire.  </p><p>You may also like: <a href=''>The films of Ridley Scott, ranked</a></p>

'Portrait of a Lady on Fire' (2019)

Celine Sciamma is a master of her craft, a director who uses her camera as a canvas and her image as a brush. The setting is an island where two women find love at a time when their love is forbidden. The way they work around that is genius, giving Sciama a chance to turn her island into a cove of desire.  

You may also like: Which actors have the most Razzie nominations?

<p>In the past few years, we've gotten more queer romances, and that representation is important, especially when those movies are made with the love of <em>Love, Simon</em>, a high school drama about a student who hasn't come out yet. </p><p><a href=''>Follow us on MSN to see more of our exclusive entertainment content.</a></p>

'Love, Simon' (2018)

In the past few years, we've gotten more queer romances, and that representation is important, especially when those movies are made with the love of Love, Simon , a high school drama about a student who hasn't come out yet. 

<p><span><span>The first entry into the Adam Sandler Can Actually Act canon, <em>Punch Drunk Love</em> is the story of what happens when two crazy people fall in love. The movie is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, which is the first sign this movie is going to some pretty unexpected places. The second? Adam Sandler is doing serious work. </span></span></p><p>You may also like: <a href=''>Ad nauseam: The 25 worst Super Bowl commercials</a></p>

'Punch Drunk Love' (2002)

The first entry into the Adam Sandler Can Actually Act canon, Punch Drunk Love is the story of what happens when two crazy people fall in love. The movie is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, which is the first sign this movie is going to some pretty unexpected places. The second? Adam Sandler is doing serious work. 

You may also like: 25 legendary filmmakers who never won the Best Director Oscar

<p>Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence play the couple in <em>Silver Linings Playbook</em>, a movie about two people with mental illness and bonding over their love of running, dancing, fighting, and betting. Cooper wears a trash bag over his waist, which I don't recall Sandler doing in<em> Punch Drunk Love</em>. I could be wrong, though... </p><p><a href=''>Follow us on MSN to see more of our exclusive entertainment content.</a></p>

'Silver Linings Playbook' (2013)

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence play the couple in Silver Linings Playbook , a movie about two people with mental illness and bonding over their love of running, dancing, fighting, and betting. Cooper wears a trash bag over his waist, which I don't recall Sandler doing in  Punch Drunk Love . I could be wrong, though... 

<p>Robot meets robot. Robot falls in love with robot. Robot flies to space with robot. It's a tale as old as time in a movie that can only be described as "timeless." </p><p>You may also like: <a href=''>Actors who won Oscars before the age of 30</a></p>

'Wall-E' (2008)

Robot meets robot. Robot falls in love with robot. Robot flies to space with robot. It's a tale as old as time in a movie that can only be described as "timeless." 

You may also like: The 25 funniest, weirdest, zaniest characters from Mel Brooks movies

<p>Before you watch this one for the magical visuals, let's talk plot. A young mermaid runs away from home and falls in love with a boy. But when dad comes to find her, their love is put to the test, and they're forced to venture across a flooded terrain. There's more to this movie than just love, though. There's a tale of families sticking together, a message about kindness, and even a theme song. What more could you want? </p><p><a href=''>Follow us on MSN to see more of our exclusive entertainment content.</a></p>

'Ponyo' (2008)

Before you watch this one for the magical visuals, let's talk plot. A young mermaid runs away from home and falls in love with a boy. But when dad comes to find her, their love is put to the test, and they're forced to venture across a flooded terrain. There's more to this movie than just love, though. There's a tale of families sticking together, a message about kindness, and even a theme song. What more could you want? 

<p>A romance movie list without Sandra Bullock is not complete. While it might be easy to fall back on <em>Miss Congeniality</em>, the unbelievable and unpredictable story of an editor and her assistant (Ryan Reynolds) getting engaged is at the top of our pile. </p><p>You may also like: <a href=''>25 must-watch three-hour movies to help you pass the time</a></p>

'The Proposal' (2009)

A romance movie list without Sandra Bullock is not complete. While it might be easy to fall back on Miss Congeniality , the unbelievable and unpredictable story of an editor and her assistant (Ryan Reynolds) getting engaged is at the top of our pile. 

You may also like: Ron Howard movies, ranked

<p>Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet star in this 2004 melodrama, which follows the story of a split couple who erase all memory of each other. It's the most heartbreaking film on our list but also the most imaginative. Charlie Kaufman wrote a story about memory that is impossible to forget. </p><p><a href=''>Follow us on MSN to see more of our exclusive entertainment content.</a></p>

'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' (2004)

Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet star in this 2004 melodrama, which follows the story of a split couple who erase all memory of each other. It's the most heartbreaking film on our list but also the most imaginative. Charlie Kaufman wrote a story about memory that is impossible to forget. 

<p>A cashmere coat of a movie. <em>The Holiday</em> is one of those rom-coms that warms your heart. Everyone in this movie is charming (except the exes, of course), and the story of two ladies swapping homes is pure escapism. Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz do some of their best work, while Nancy Meyers makes England at Christmas look like England at Christmas. It's exactly what you want from a movie called <em>The Holiday</em>. </p><p><a href=''>Did you enjoy this slideshow? Follow us on MSN to see more of our exclusive entertainment content.</a></p>

'The Holiday' (2006)

A cashmere coat of a movie. The Holiday is one of those rom-coms that warms your heart. Everyone in this movie is charming (except the exes, of course), and the story of two ladies swapping homes is pure escapism. Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz do some of their best work, while Nancy Meyers makes England at Christmas look like England at Christmas. It's exactly what you want from a movie called The Holiday . 

Did you enjoy this slideshow? Follow us on MSN to see more of our exclusive entertainment content.

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Visit Moscow – Top 10 reasons to go

1. moscow architecture.

St. Basil’s Cathedral

Saint Basil’s Cathedral

In Moscow you can travel through ages just walking through the streets. Diversified architectural styles wait for you at every turn. To see the beauty of ancient Russian architecture, visit the Kremlin or Kolomenskoe Museum. These places keep the unique Russian style, original and exceptional. The Moscow estates are good examples of the romantic flavor of the XVIII-XIX century’s architecture. The Home-museum of M. Gorky is situated in in a luxurious house built by F. Shechtel, well-known Russian architecture at beginning of the XX century. It is a fantastic example of Art-Nouveau style, one of the few saved places from that epoque, open to visitors. You can find constructivism in architecture, the most striking manifestation of Russian avant-garde, not far from the Arbat Street. The Soviet Empire style can be found on most of the Moscow central avenues and Tverskaya Street. The White Square Business District is a remarkable example of contemporary city building.


Inside Garage Museum of Contemporary Art Hall

Inside Garage Museum of Contemporary Art Hall

-> Read our main article about Art in Moscow

-> We also have MOSCOW ART & DESIGN TOUR , available for you

Moscow has a great amount of exceptional museums and galleries. The State Tretyakov Gallery, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, The Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow Museum of Modern Art and lots of other museums have unique collections and hold remarkable exhibitions. Lots of Moscow former industrial areas have become interesting cultural spaces, undoubtedly worth visiting. Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Center for Contemporary Art Winzavod, ARTPLAY Center of Design, Flacon Design Factory are the new city meccas of cultural life. You can find here galleries, concept stores, cafes, educational activities and lots of art events – from designer fairs to concerts, exhibitions of Russian and foreign artists.


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The Bolshoi Theatre

-> Read our main article about Moscow Theatres

Theatregoers have lots of opportunities to spend a wonderful evening in one of the Moscow theatres. Recently renovated Bolshoi Theatre offers world-famous opera and ballet performances. Malyi Theatre, Lenkom, Satirikon, Moscow Art Theatre have wonderful drama plays. You can enjoy one of the modern theatres, such as Practica Theatre, Theatre.doc or Gogol-center, with their contemporary performances.


Gorky Park

The Gorky Park

-> Read our main article about Moscow Parks

The parks have undoubtedly become the pride of Moscow. These city areas have turned into well groomed nature spots, with enormous amount of things to do for the last few years. Have a walk, do the sports, play a board game, meet your friends in one of the cafes and restaurants, watch a movie or go to a concert – all these is available in Moscow parks. The Gorky Park, Sokolniki, Fili and also recently opened Zaryadye – are only a small part in the diversity of Moscow green areas.


Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

790 Orthodox churches and chapels and 8 monasteries! Walking through the city center you will see a big amount of beautiful old churches. Practically all Moscow churches and monastic ensembles are functioning. These are unique monuments of Russian architecture. There are significant collections of old paintings and applied arts and the resting place of outstanding figures of Russian and world culture, military and political figures. Monasteries, built at the borders of the city were often called ‘the guards’. Powerful constructions had defensive purposes, and, in case of danger, the residents could take refuge inside the monastery walls. Some of the Moscow ‘guards’ have survived – Vysokopetrovsky, Rogdestvensky, Sretensky, Novospasskiy, Danilov, Novodevichy monasteries and others. Now the ancient fortress cherish the historical past.


A fish dish at Café Pouchkine

A fish dish at Café Pouchkine

Visitors to Russia are often surprised by the variety and flavors of Russian traditional food. A great many can be described as «divine», and it will have you searching for the recipes when you return home! Russian cuisine is famous for exotic soups, cabbage schi and solyanka, which is made of assorted meats, pancakes with different fillings, and of course, caviar. Russians are great lovers of pelmeni, small Siberian meat pies boiled in broth. Of our folk soft drinks, kvass is the best-known. Made of brown bread or malted rye flour, it goes down best on a sultry summer day. If you add it to chopped-up meat and vegetables, you get okroshka, an exquisite cold soup. There are a lot of restaurants, providing national food. From very budget «Elki-Palki», to numerous luxurious restaurants like «Café Pouchkine». There you can not only taste Russian delicacies, but also plunge into the atmosphere of the XIX century Russia.


Luzhniki Stadium

Luzhniki Stadium from Moscow State University by D. Chistoprudov

Here are the places with splendid views over Moscow:

  • «Federation Tower» is a set of two high-rise towers, located in the Moscow City Business District. The 61st floor of the Tower West accommodates the highest restaurant in Moscow – «Sixty».
  • The main building of the Moscow State University was built in the years 1949-1953 and its total height is 182 meters, with a spire – 240 meters. On the top floor there is a Museum of Geography with a panoramic view of Moscow.
  • The observation deck of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior can be reached only in the excursions. There you can get a really exciting view of the Moscow center.
  • The building of the Russian Academy of Science is called «golden brains» due to the original constructions of its roof. It stands on the high riverbank and opens a charming view of the whole Moscow. «Sky Lounge» restaurant is situated on the 21st floor.


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Stoleshnikov Lane

-> Learn more about Walking Routes -> Read our main article about City Tours

The main attractions and the most interesting places in the historic city center are within walking distance. Take a walk in Lavrushinsky Lane, Nikolskaya Street, Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, Rozhdestvenka Street, Kuznetsky Bridge Street, Kamergersky Lane, Stoleshnikov Lane, Stariy Arbat, Maroseyka or Pyatnitskaya. If you don’t want to walk by foot take the city bus or river bus tour. You can choose a red open top double-decker bus that will take you around all of the key sites in Moscow. The total length of the tour is about 12 km downtown and has 18 stops around Moscow including the Kremlin, Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, Bolshoi Theater, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, The Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Old Arbat walking street and much more. To see the whole beauty of Moscow, have a boat trip at the Moskva River. At spring and summer season the variety of boat excursions are really big, you can travel through the center of the city, or go further to see picturesque nature around Moscow.


Denis Simachev Shop & Bar

Denis Simachev Bar by Sergey Kaluzhniy

Night life in Moscow is divisive as everything else. Bars, clubs, concerts, parties – you can find here anything you want and can imagine. We heart Moscow suggests you some really nice places for you not to get lost in all this splendor.

  • Simachev Bar is bar-club by the most famous Russian designer, a two-story house in Stoleshnikov Lane. The music and menu are diverse, as well as the audience. A special drink of the bar is cider «Sidor Simachev».
  • Strelka Bar is a nice place with a great atmosphere, quality music, and beautiful interior, very popular among hip and intelligent Moscow public. In summer the terrace opens here and the place gives you stunning view of Moscow.
  • Noor Bar is one of the famous bars in Moscow. Come here to try marvelous classic cocktails. Bar snacks are also noteworthy. The atmosphere is always positive and benevolent. On Fridays and Saturdays the bar has music DJ sets, and despite rather little area, there are many desirous to dance.
  • Propaganda is one of the oldest clubs in Moscow. Opened back in 1997, it can be considered the same age as Moscow club culture. It is still nice and trendy. During the day time you can enjoy fresh homemade pappardelle, sandwiches on focaccia and steaks. In the evening – dances. On Thursdays it holds DJ Sanches dance party and gay parties on Sundays.


Sergiev Posad

Sergiev-Posad Museum-Reserve

If Moscow is not enough for you, take a journey (of several hundred km from Moscow) and find yourself travelling through the «Golden Ring» of Russia. The Golden Ring is a name for several towns located around Moscow: Suzdal, Rostov, Vladimir are among them. If you want to know more about Russia, see old architecture, churches made of white stone, hear the bell-ring, see old fortifications, be ready to go out from Moscow. The first town of the Golden Ring, is Vladimir, located 179 kilometers to the east from Moscow with 378 thousand people living there. It is an old Russian town, it used to be the capital of Russia in the 12th century. Suzdal is located nearby. It’s an old town, steeped in medieval history, but with little more than 10,000 residents nowadays. Dating back to 990 AD, Suzdal is one of the oldest towns in Russia and the «jewel» of Russia’s history. Today the town is filled with busy churches and monasteries and its streets are lined by colourful traditional wooden houses. Having survived the blight of Soviet town-planning, Suzdal looks much as it did centuries ago and is one of the most popular tourist sights in Russia. Yaroslavl got its name from Yaroslav Mudry, who founded the town in the beginning of 11th century. Now it is a large industrial city, the biggest along the Golden Ring (630 inhabitants), however it has very interesting history, architecture, and city life. If you are tired of sightseeing and want to have some rest from Moscow busy life, you can take a breath of wonderful Russian nature, not going too far, and visit one of the nature hotels and spa situated near Moscow. Places like «Fox Lodge», «Zavidovo» or «Yahonty» are a good variant for relaxing rest, with marvelous nature around you and interesting entertainments for you not to get bored.


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Tverskaya Street in Moscow

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    His essays have appeared in Fourth Genre, Hotel Amerika, the Iowa Review, the Normal School, River Teeth, and other journals, as well as in the Best Creative Nonfiction and Best American Spiritual Writing. His books have won Independent Publisher, Foreword Indies, and Association of Mormon Letters awards, among others.

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    Andrea Wulf's 2015 biography of 18th-century German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt—one of the most famous men of his time, for whom literally hundreds of towns, rivers, currents, glaciers, and more are named—is so much more than the story of a single life. ... The 10 Best Essay Collections of the Decade Friends, it's true: the end of ...

  12. The Top 10 Essays Since 1950

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  13. 40 Best Essays of All Time (Including Links & Writing Tips)

    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 top essays of the lot. It's a great mixture of family reminiscences, travel writing, and advice on what's most important in life.

  14. Opinion

    Some of the best long-form essays of 2023. ... might turn out in the 21st century to be what Spain's discovery of gold had been in the 16th — a source of destabilization and decline disguised ...

  15. Best Essayists

    This list features the best essayists in history, ranked as the best by voters, and including, Virginia Woolf, Geoff Dyer, Ellen Willis, Christopher Hitchens, Nora Ephron, and Zadie Smith. Vote up the best essayists below to see how the essayists you think are great rank! Most divisive: Phillip Lopate. 1. 545 votes.

  16. Best Essays of All Time

    Best of the 21st Century (So Far) The Lists; Visual Arts. Best Works of Art of All Time - Ranked, Part 1. ... I found over 12 best essays lists and several essay anthologies and combined the essays into one meta-list. The meta-list below includes every essay that was on at least two of the original source lists. They are organized by rank ...

  17. Essay About 21st Century

    People around the world have recognized that raising 835 Words 4 Pages Decent Essays Preview The Beginning Of The 21st Century The 21st Century, the time period that we all live in today, smothered in continuous social, economic and political issues.

  18. Essays on 21st Century

    General Overview 23 essay samples found 1 How Lucky I Am to Be Born in This Century 2 pages / 870 words As I reflect on the circumstances of my birth, I cannot help but feel a profound sense of gratitude and privilege. I was born in the 21st century, a time characterized by unprecedented advancements in technology, medicine, and social progress.

  19. 21st Century

    1 Cultural Competence: An Important Skill Set for the 21st Century Words • 2292 Pages • 9 Cultural competence is having the necessary skills and training to understand, respect, and work alongside people that have a diverse background and culture.

  20. Category:21st-century essayists

    24th 25th 26th Contents Top 0-9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Subcategories This category has the following 6 subcategories, out of 6 total. A 21st-century American essayists ‎ (504 P) B 21st-century British essayists ‎ (65 P) C 21st-century Canadian essayists ‎ (81 P) F 21st-century French essayists ‎ (127 P) I

  21. How to get rich in the 21st century

    In 2015 Mr Modi announced plans to increase industry's share of Indian GDP to 25%, from 16%. "Sell anywhere, but make in India," he urged business leaders. Cambodia hopes to double the ...

  22. The zeitgeist is changing. A strange, romantic backlash to the tech era

    'The 19th-century romantics feared an inhuman future - hence their rebellion. Today's romantics, still nascent, sense something similar.' (Painting: Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, Caspar ...

  23. The 100 Best R&B Songs Of The 21st Century

    Designed to be the Jackson 5 of the 21st century, boy band B2K made a huge splash with Black preteen and teenage girls thanks to their hit "Bump, Bump, Bump." Produced by Diddy, the song ...

  24. Reimagining Design with Nature: ecological urbanism in Moscow

    The twenty-first century is the era when populations of cities will exceed rural communities for the first time in human history. The population growth of cities in many countries, including those in transition from planned to market economies, is putting considerable strain on ecological and natural resources. This paper examines four central issues: (a) the challenges and opportunities ...

  25. Timeline of 20th Century Modern Architecture

    1920s: Expressionism and Neo-expressionism. Einstein Tower Observatory, Potsdam, Germany, 1920, Erich Mendelsohn. Marcus Winter via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic CC BY-SA 2.0) Built in 1920, the Einstein Tower or Einsteinturm in Potsdam, Germany is an Expressionist work by architect Erich Mendelsohn.

  26. Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union

    In 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin famously labeled the collapse of the Soviet Union "the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the century." Years later, analysts, pundits and casual ...

  27. 21 of the best musical movie moments of the 21st century, so far

    Tiana's "Almost There" in 'The Princess and the Frog'. Walt Disney Pictures. Disney went back to traditions with The Princess and the Frog in 2009, which included giving their characters ...

  28. The 21 best romantic movies of the 21st century (so far)

    Our list chronicles the best romantic movies of the century, from rom-coms to rom-drams, meet-cutes to meet-hoots. These movies will have you falling head-over-heels with the screen.

  29. Visit Moscow

    The Moscow estates are good examples of the romantic flavor of the XVIII-XIX century's architecture. ... «Sky Lounge» restaurant is situated on the 21st floor. 8. CITY PROMEDATE. ... Russian and other languages for travelers from all over the world. They need best service, amazing stories and deep history knowledge. If you want to become ...