Famous 20th Century Non-Fiction Writers

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

Vote for Your Favourite 20th Century Non-Fiction Writers

 1 Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway
4
Famous As: Novelist, Won 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature
Birthdate: July 21, 1899
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Oak Park, Illinois, United States
Died: July 2, 1961

Ernest Hemingway was an American novelist and short-story writer who had a strong impact on 20th-century fiction. He published seven novels and six short-story collections and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea are some of his classic works. He ended his own life in July 1961.

 2 C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: November 29, 1898
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Belfast, Ireland
Died: November 22, 1963

C. S. Lewis was a British writer whose books have sold millions of copies worldwide after having been translated into over 30 languages. His works, such as The Chronicles of Narnia, have inspired the works of other famous authors. Lewis' work continues to attract readership and he was ranked 11th on The Times' 50 greatest British writers since 1945 list.

 3 Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath
4
Famous As: Famous for her Books 'The Bell Jar' and 'Ariel'
Birthdate: October 27, 1932
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Died: February 11, 1963

Sylvia Plath was an American short-story writer, novelist, and poet. Plath is credited with popularizing confessional poetry and won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Sylvia Plath achieved popularity and critical acclaim despite suffering from clinical depression for the most part of her adult life. Her story inspired the 2003 film Sylvia in which she was portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow.

Recommended Lists:

 4 James Baldwin

James Baldwin
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: August 2, 1924
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Harlem, New York, United States
Died: December 1, 1987

Amongst the greatest writers of the 20th century and a leading literary voice in the civil rights movement, James Baldwin extensively explored issues like race, sexuality and humanity in his work. His best known work include his debut novel Go Tell It on the Mountain and his books of essays Notes of a Native Son and Nobody Knows My Name.

 5 David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: February 21, 1962
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Ithaca, New York, United States
Died: September 12, 2008

David Foster Wallace was an American author who is regarded as one of the most innovative and influential writers of the past 20 years. His best-known work, Infinite Jest, was named one of the best English-language novels between 1923 and 2005 by Time magazine. Wallace continues to serve as an inspiration to writers like Darin Strauss and George Saunders.

 6 Truman Capote

Truman Capote
4
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: September 30, 1924
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Died: August 25, 1984
Truman Capote is best known for his novella Breakfast at Tiffany's, which was made into a movie that starred Audrey Hepburn, and the non-fiction novel In Cold Blood. His short story Shut a Final Door won the O. Henry Award. He was a lifelong friend of author Harper Lee.

 7 Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins
4
Famous As: Evolutionary Biologist
Birthdate: March 26, 1941
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Nairobi, Kenya

Richard Dawkins is a British ethologist, author, and evolutionary biologist. He first achieved popularity after publishing his book, The Selfish Gene, which is credited with popularizing the gene selection theory. The book is also credited with introducing the term meme. In 2006, he established the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science to promote secularism and scientific literacy.

You May Like

 8 Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4
Famous As: Nobel Prize Winner in Literature
Birthdate: March 6, 1927
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Aracataca, Colombia
Died: April 17, 2014

Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, also known as “Gabo,” is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the magic realism literary style. His novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera have achieved cult status. He previously worked as a journalist.

 9 Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell
4
Famous As: Journalist
Birthdate: September 3, 1963
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Fareham, Hampshire, England
Malcolm Gladwell is best known for his bestselling books The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers. He has also written for The New Yorker and The Washington Post. His writings encompass subjects such as psychology, economics, and sociology. Gladwell has also co-founded a podcast company and hosts the podcast Revisionist History.

 10 John Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes
4
Famous As: Economist
Birthdate: June 5, 1883
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Cambridge ,England
Died: April 21, 1946

John Maynard Keynes was an English economist. His ideas are credited with changing the theory and practice of the economic policies and macroeconomics of governments at a fundamental level. Counted among the 20th century's most influential economists, Keynes' ideas are the basis for Keynesian economics. In 1999, he was named in Time magazine's Most Important People of the Century list.

 11 Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett
4
Famous As: Novelist, Playwright
Birthdate: April 13, 1906
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Foxrock, Ireland
Died: December 22, 1989

Samuel Beckett was a legendary Nobel Prize-winning Irish postmodernist and minimalist playwright and author, regarded as a prominent figure of the "Theatre of the Absurd.” He is best known for the play Waiting for Godot and for his tragi-comic themes and black comedy. He was also the Saoi of Aosdána.

 12 Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward
4
Famous As: Journalist
Birthdate: March 26, 1943
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Geneva, Illinois, United States

 13 Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt
4
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: October 14, 1906
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Linden - Mitte, Hanover, Germany
Died: December 4, 1975

Hannah Arendt was a political theorist. Widely regarded as one of the 20th century's most prominent political thinkers, Hannah Arendt's articles and books have had a significant influence on philosophy and political theory. Her life and work inspired the 2012 biographical drama film, Hannah Arendt. Her work has also inspired several biographies written by popular authors.

 14 Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes
4
Famous As: Poet and Children's Writer
Birthdate: August 17, 1930
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Mytholmroyd
Died: October 28, 1998
Poet and children’s author Ted Hughes is best remembered for his iconic poems The Hawk in the Rain, Birthday Letters, and Crow. He was married to poet Sylvia Plath, who eventually committed suicide at 30. Most people blamed him for mistreating Plath and indirectly causing her death.   

 15 James Watson

James Watson
4
Famous As: Molecular Biologist Who Co-discovered the Double Helix Structure of DNA With Francis Crick
Birthdate: April 6, 1928
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States

James Watson is a geneticist, molecular biologist, and zoologist. He is credited with co-authoring the academic paper that propounded the double helix structure of nucleic acids such as DNA for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962. In 1977, he was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1997, he was awarded the National Medal of Science.

 16 Dale Carnegie

Dale Carnegie
4
Famous As: Self-Help Writer, Motivational Guru, Public Speaker
Birthdate: November 24, 1888
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Maryville, Missouri, United States
Died: November 1, 1955
Writer and academic Dale Carnegie is best remembered for his work on courses in areas such as corporate training, self-improvement, and salesmanship. He started his career as a salesperson. He wrote many books, including the international bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People, and was a successful lecturer, too.

 17 Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer
4
Famous As: Journalist, Explorer, Writer
Birthdate: April 12, 1954
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Brookline, Massachusetts, United States

Best known for his bestselling novels such as Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer is not just an author who writes about the outdoors but is also a mountaineer himself. He was part of the 1996 expedition to Mt. Everest which witnessed 4 of the team members dying in a storm.

 18 Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag
4
Famous As: Writer and Filmmaker, Best Known for her Essay 'Notes on 'Camp'
Birthdate: January 16, 1933
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Died: December 28, 2004
Susan Sontag is best known for her essay anthologies such as Against Interpretation and her novels such as In America. She wrote about diverse issues such as human rights, photography, AIDS, and leftist beliefs, and also visited war-torn areas. The National Book Award-winning author was also openly bisexual. 

 19 Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson
3
Famous As: Marine biologist
Birthdate: May 27, 1907
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Springdale
Died: April 14, 1964

Rachel Carson was a conservationist, marine biologist, and author. She is credited with authoring an influential book titled Silent Spring, which played a significant role in advancing the global environmental movement. Carson is also remembered for her book, The Sea Around Us, which earned her a U.S. National Book Award. She was posthumously honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 20 Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe
4
Famous As: American author
Birthdate: March 2, 1931
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Richmond, Virginia, United States
Died: March 14, 2018

 21 Stephen King

Stephen King
4
Famous As: A Prolific & Immensely Popular Author of Horror Fiction
Birthdate: September 21, 1947
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Portland, Maine, United States

One of the most popular American authors, Stephen King has sold over 350 million copies of his works. Many of his books have been adapted into television series, miniseries, and films. One of the most decorated authors, King believes in giving back to society as he and his wife are noted philanthropists.

 22 Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan
3
Famous As: Feminist, Writer
Birthdate: February 4, 1921
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: eoria, Illinois, United States
Died: February 4, 2004

 23 Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan
3
Famous As: Author, Journalist
Birthdate: February 6, 1955
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Long Island, New York, United States
Author and journalist Michael Pollan is best known for his books such as The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, which talk about the social impact of people’s culinary choices. He has also contributed to The New York Times Magazine and Harper's Magazine, and currently teaches journalism at UCB.

 24 Edward Said

Edward Said
3
Famous As: Professor
Birthdate: November 1, 1935
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Mandatory Palestine
Died: September 25, 2003

 25 Caroline Kennedy

Caroline Kennedy
4
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: November 27, 1957
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Cornell Medical Center Hospital, New York City, New York, U.S.

Caroline Kennedy is an American author, diplomat, and attorney. The only surviving child of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Caroline served as the US Ambassador to Japan between 2013 and 2017. A prolific author who writes about civil liberties, Caroline Kennedy has also served as a spokesperson for the Kennedy family's legacy.

 26 Germaine Greer

Germaine Greer
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: January 29, 1939
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Melbourne, Australia

Australian author and feminist Germaine Greer made headlines with her first book, The Female Eunuch, which focused on female sexuality. Greer’s career boasts of a PhD in literature, and she has also taught at the University of Warwick and other institutes. She was later named an Australian National Living Treasure.

 27 Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn
3
Famous As: Historian
Birthdate: August 24, 1922
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Died: January 27, 2010

Born into a Jewish working-class, immigrant family in Brooklyn, Howard Zinn was initially dragged into communism. He was part of the U.S. Army during World War II and later established himself as a historian. Of his many books, the most popular has been A People's History of the United States.

 28 Geri Halliwell

Geri Halliwell
4
Famous As: Singer
Birthdate: August 6, 1972
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Watford

Geri Halliwell is a British singer-songwriter who achieved international fame as part of the popular girl group, The Spice Girls, which has sold more than 85 million records worldwide. Also a well-known philanthropist, Geri Halliwell has worked closely with the United Nations Population Fund, becoming its goodwill ambassador in 1998. She is widely regarded as a girl power icon.

 29 Jared Diamond

Jared Diamond
3
Famous As: Scientist & Author
Birthdate: September 10, 1937
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, United States

 30 Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein
3
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: May 5, 1970
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Montreal, Canada

Canadian author, social activist, and filmmaker Naomi Klein is known for her criticism of corporate globalization and capitalism. She became internationally known following the release of her alter-globalization book No Logo. She often appears on global and national lists of top influential thinkers and is the recipient of the 2016 Sydney Peace Prize. She is a prominent environmentalist as well.

 31 David Icke

David Icke
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: April 29, 1952
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Leicester

A popular English conspiracy theorist, David Icke has written books and delivered lectures on various theories, such as infinite dimensions, reptoid humanoids, and the Illuminati. While he has faced criticisms and accusations, he also has a large following and has influenced people who support counter-cultural movement and ancient astronaut theories.

 32 Lady Colin Campbell

Lady Colin Campbell
5
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: August 17, 1949
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: St. Andrew Parish, Jamaica

Jamaican-born British writer, socialite, and TV personality, Lady Colin Campbell, is known for publishing four books about the British royal family, including a biography of Diana, Princess of Wales. While her books about the royal family made her popular, she also faced criticism for some of her claims. She once kindled controversy for supporting sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, on TV.

 33 Jocko Willink

Jocko Willink
4
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: September 8, 1971
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Torrington, Connecticut, United States

Jocko Willink is an American podcaster, author, and retired US Navy officer. Willink, who served in the Navy SEALs, played an important role in the Iraq War. He served as the commanding officer for Task Unit Bruiser, which fought the Iraqi insurgents in Ramadi. He was honored with the Bronze Star and Silver Star Medal for his service.

 34 Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: December 8, 1951
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Des Moines, Iowa, United States
Best known for his books on travel, travel, languages, and science, Bill Bryson had been a journalist before he ventured into writing. Notes From a Small Island gained him the initial attention, while the award-winning and bestselling A Short History of Nearly Everything established him as a seasoned author.

 35 Michelle McNamara

Michelle McNamara
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: April 14, 1970
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Oak Park, Illinois, United States
Died: April 21, 2016

True-crime writer, Michelle McNamara, is remembered for coining the name "Golden State Killer" for the serial killer later identified as Joseph James DeAngelo. Sadly, the author died before his identification and arrest. Fascinated by true crime from a young age, she launched her website TrueCrimeDiary in 2006 and dedicated her life to researching and writing about true crime.

 36 Saroo Brierley

Saroo Brierley
4
Famous As: Businessman, Author
Birthdate: May 22, 1981
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, India

Indian-born Australian entrepreneur and author Saroo Brierley was separated from his mother at 5, when he accidentally boarded a train to Howrah station from Burhanpur. He ended up being adopted by an Australian couple. He later found his mother via Google Earth. His autobiography was adapted into the film Lion.

 37 Richard Wright

Richard Wright
3
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: September 4, 1908
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Roxie, Mississippi, United States
Died: November 28, 1960

 38 Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie
4
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: July 14, 1912
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Okemah, Oklahoma, United States
Died: October 3, 1967
Legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie is best remembered for his songs such as This Land Is Your Land and Cocaine Blues, and the concept album Dust Bowl Ballads. He inspired artists such as Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, and performed with a guitar labeled “This machine kills fascists.”

 39 Suzanne Somers

Suzanne Somers
4
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: October 16, 1946
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: San Bruno, California, United States

 40 Karl Pilkington

Karl Pilkington
4
Famous As: Television Presenter, Radio Producer
Birthdate: September 23, 1972
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Manchester

Karl Pilkington is an English comedian, television presenter, radio producer, and actor. He achieved popularity as the producer of Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais' radio program on Xfm. Pilkington is credited with co-founding a TV production company called RiSK Productions. Also known for his charity work, Pilkington designed and signed a card to benefit the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children.

 41 Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers
3
Birthdate: March 12, 1970
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Dave Eggers is an American writer, publisher, and editor. He is credited with founding a non-profit publishing house named McSweeney's Publishing and a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization called ScholarMatch. Eggers is also credited with co-founding other non-profit organizations like 826 Valencia and Voice of Witness. His novels A Hologram for the King and The Circle have been adapted into movies.

 42 Rick Riordan

Rick Riordan
4
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: June 5, 1964
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: San Antonio, Texas, United States

Rick Riordan is an author whose Percy Jackson & the Olympians series was adapted into a film series. Known for writing books based on the mythologies of various cultures, Riordan's works have been translated into 42 languages. In the US alone, his books have sold over 30 million copies and he is a two-time winner of Mark Twain Award.

 43 Gerald Durrell

Gerald Durrell
4
Famous As: Naturalist, Conservationist
Birthdate: January 7, 1925
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Jamshedpur, India
Died: January 30, 1995
Naturalist, author, TV presenter, and zookeeper Gerald Durrell, the youngest brother of author Lawrence Durrell, was the founder of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Jersey Zoo. His memoirs were made into the series My Family and Other Animals and The Durrells. He was also a skilled Illustrator.

 44 Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin
4
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: October 21, 1929
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Berkeley, California, United States
Died: January 22, 2018

Ursula K. Le Guin was an American author. In a career spanning almost six decades, Ursula wrote about political and social themes like race and sexuality. Throughout her career, Ursula had a major influence on speculative fiction. Her book A Wizard of Earthsea is credited with inspiring ideas like 'wizard school', which was later popularized in the Harry Potter series.

 45 Jordan Belfort

Jordan Belfort
4
Famous As: Author of 'The Wolf of Wall Street'
Birthdate: July 9, 1962
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: The Bronx, New York, United States
The former stock broker, who was convicted for stock-market manipulation and cheating several investors, Jordan Belfort spent 22 months in prison before he was released and altered his way of living. Using his life experiences, he became a motivational speaker and also authored two memoirs, one of which, The Wolf of Wall Street, was adapted into an award winning film.

 46 Peter Bogdanovich

Peter Bogdanovich
4
Famous As: Director
Birthdate: July 30, 1939
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Kingston, New York, USA

 47 Stanley A McChrystal

Stanley A McChrystal
4
Famous As: Retired Armed Force Officer
Birthdate: August 14, 1954
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, United States

Retired United States Army general, Stanley A McChrysta,l is best known for his command of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) during the 2000s. He was described as "perhaps the finest warrior and leader of men in combat I ever met" by Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Following his retirement, he began teaching courses in international relations at Yale University.

 48 Sara Pascoe

Sara Pascoe
4
Famous As: Comedian
Birthdate: May 22, 1981
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Dagenham, London, England

Born to musician Derek Pascoe, comedian Sara Pascoe was raised by her mother amid poverty after her parents’ divorce. Initially a tour guide, she later stepped into comedy and never looked back. She is known for shows such as 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown and Twenty Twelve.

 49 Michio Kaku

Michio Kaku
4
Famous As: Physicist who wrote the best-selling books Physics of the Impossible
Birthdate: January 24, 1947
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: San Jose, California, United States

Apart from teaching at the City College of New York, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku also often pens his thoughts in blogs and has written several bestselling books, such as The God Equation. His research is focused on the string theory. He also believes in the existence of aliens.

 50 Thomas Kuhn

Thomas Kuhn
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: July 18, 1922
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
Died: June 17, 1996

American philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn is noted for his book on history of science, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, publication of which marked a significant event in the history, philosophy, and sociology of science. He presented his notion of paradigm shift and identified and elaborated on normal science in this book which remained influential in academic and popular circles.