Our Picks from ‘TIME’ Magazine’s Top 100 Nonfiction Books


TIME recently chose their favorite nonfiction books in English from the magazine’s inception in 1923 to today, and we decided to cull 10 from their list to present to you, dear readers. These are the books that have stayed in the public mind for years, which is increasingly difficult to do today, as we measure the popularity of a book now in months, if not days. In June, we featured 10 picks from the Guardian‘s Top 100 list of nonfiction titles, but these were culled from throughout history, making it tough to choose between, say, Herodotus and Hannah Arendt. With this 88-year span, however, the choices were somewhat easier. As always, let us know what you think of the books in the comments section below.

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser (2001)

Bryan Walsh of TIME writes, “It would be a mistake to treat Fast Food Nationas just another piece of stomach-turning, muckraking literature” like Upton Sinclair’s tell-all on the Chicago meatpacking industry, The Jungle. Walsh continues, “Schlosser did far more, connecting the rise and consolidation of the fast-food industry in America to the declining power of labor unions, sliding blue-collar wages and growing income inequality.” Whether you’re living in New York or Nebraska, you will feel the effects of industrialized farming and corporate sponsorship at some point during a meal away from home. Welcome to Fast Food Nation.

The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf (1991)

In our arguably liberated society, Wolf finds that women are still under some pretty terrible mechanisms of social control in order to restrict their behavior and appearance. Our intrepid journalist mentions the rise of eating disorders and the field of cosmetic surgery as just two examples where unrealistic expectations have been placed on and internalized by women in order to keep them in line. Wolf urges us to stop believing the hype, which is a lesson that we still need to learn today.

Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism by Benedict Anderson (1983)

We are not ashamed to say that this book blew our minds in college. Anderson posed the idea that the nation is “an imagined political community” that believes so strongly in itself that it fought world wars over the subject. He writes, “These deaths bring us abruptly face to face with the central problem posed by nationalism: what makes the shrunken imaginings of recent history (scarcely more than two centuries) generate such colossal sacrifices?” In order to find out, you’ll have to read the book, won’t you?

Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock’n’Roll Music by Greil Marcus (1975)

In TIME, Gilbert Cruz writes, “The arrival of Mystery Train was akin to an explosion, the effects of which have rippled forward in time.” He continues, “Marcus’ work proved once and for all that one can write about popular music with the same sense of importance and sophistication with which one writes about high art.” Greil Marcus writes about the Band, Sly Stone, Randy Newman and Elvis in order to explore the heady world of American Rock and Roll.

All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (1974)

Two reporters from The Washington Post brought down an American president! How crazy is that? Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward detail their role in the proceedings from start to finish in what has been called “the single greatest reporting effort of all time.” We meet Deep Throat, their rogue source who was later revealed to be FBI agent William Mark Felt, Sr., as well as a slew of people involved in either avoiding or revealing the crimes of the Nixon White House.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (1968)

Wolfe’s 1968 book — which follows a noted author and his group of hippie followers called the Merry Pranksters — is listed in the “nonfiction novel” category, which works, we suppose, though it’s seems like an awfully awkward title. In his New York Times review at the time, CDB Bryan writes, “Wolfe is precisely the right author to chronicle the transformation of Ken Kesey from respected author of And One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to an LSD enthusiast, to the messianic leader of a mystical band of Merry Pranksters, to a fugitive from the F.B.I., California police and Mexican Federales…The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a celebration of psychedelia, of all its sounds and costumes, colors and fantasies.”

Against Interpretation, and Other Essays by Susan Sontag (1966)

From “Notes on Camp” to an essay on Godard’s “Vivre Sa Vie,” Susan Sontag tackles pop culture and literature with an academic’s eye for minute details and a dogged defense of art that challenges and inspires. In the titular essay she ends with the serious (or laughable) flourish: “In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.” Oh, Susan. You are missed.

How to Cook a Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher (1942)

M.F.K. Fisher’s stern gaze melts our hearts while also striking a bit of fear in them. However, we find that How to Cook A Wolf is more than just a wartime cookbook about rationing food. Susannah Schrobsdorff at TIME writes, “The real lesson is in how Fisher cherishes each egg or dollop of cream like it was a gift delivered unexpectedly to her door. Even water isn’t just water; it’s something to be savored and discussed.”

The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas by Gertrude Stein (1933)

It takes all of about two pages until Gertrude Stein is first mentioned, and then it is apparent that the “autobiography” is actually an account of the couple’s daily life together in France; it’s similar to a journal entry, with its narration of the events of an evening and the people in attendance, rather than a straightforward bio. It’s funny, sometimes rude, and includes some hilarious and offensive descriptions of Stein, who apparently had “an explosive temper.”

Coming of Age in Samoa by Margaret Mead (1928)

Mead writes, “Are the disturbances which vex our adolescents due to the nature of adolescence itself or to the civilization? Under different conditions does adolescence present a different picture?” During her time in Samoa, Mead, then only a 23-year-old budding anthropologist, lived with and interviewed a group of Samoan women and girls, aged 9 to 20, about their upbringings, hopes, and fears, concluding that Samoans were better off psychologically than their American counterparts. Which, as you can guess, didn’t sit well with some, and sparked the never ending “nature vs. nurture” debate.