Find Inspiration in the Best Essayists: Check Their Famous Essays

November 20, 2023

Have you ever wondered who are the best essay writers of all time? Is there such a thing as the best essay ever? There is no objective answer. People have different preferences: some like emotional essays that disclose the rawest corners of writers’ personalities; others prefer pure descriptions of nature, while someone might love complex papers with scientific observations. Still, some works are more popular than others. Students who need writing help often can’t imagine how an essay could be engaging — our goal is to prove them wrong. We will share brief information about the twelve most compelling essay writers whose works have become invaluable contributions to literature. They all created them well in the past, but they continue to impress even now. Learn about them, see whether there are still writers passionate about their jobs, and extend the limits of your inspiration!

12 famous essayists

12 Essay Authors Whose Works Changed Lives

The influence that writers have on this world is undeniable. They inspired, motivated, and educated multiple generations: some wrote books whose characters feel real even now; some created short stories. But sometimes, these geniuses wrote essays when the right mood set in. Short or long, emotional or scientific, they conquered the hearts of thousands of readers worldwide when they first appeared and continue to do so now. Let us introduce the twelve most-known authors and essays that made a difference.

1. Elwyn Brooks White

Passionate, rebellious, and determined, E. B. White became one of the most famous American essayists. He liked publishing works he genuinely liked, even if it meant perfecting them. As a result, he was fired from one of his jobs because of his inability to finish his stories on time. Refusing to give up, White went to work for competitors of his previous firm, but soon enough, they fired him, too. Despite repeated rejections, he didn’t lose his drive and earned his spot in literature by creating more and more works that captured readers’ attention. Being in love with literature to no end, White even married a known editor who encouraged his work. They spent their life together; White was buried beside her, leaving a rich literary legacy behind. He specialized in books for children as well as essays. Some of the most known ones are Once More to the Lake, an essay with vivid descriptions, and The Sea and the Wind that Blows, filled with dream-like images and wistfulness. Another great essay is Death of a Pig, and that’s the work we chose to focus on.

Death of a Pig outlines a small tragedy that happened to White — a tragedy that happens daily in the world but which few people consider tragic. Like many other people before & after him, White bought a pig. He intended to feed it through the summer and slaughter it in autumn, but to his surprise, his pig fell sick. And suddenly, what was supposed to be a meal turned into a sick child that White tried to take care of. He treated it; he consulted doctors; he comforted it the way he could. His pig still died, and it broke White’s heart, quietly and unexpectedly. The quote that reflects his state best is: “He died twenty-four hours later, or it might have been forty-eight - there is a blur in time here, and I may have lost or picked up a day in the telling and the pig one in the dying.” Loss is often accompanied by a sense of blurred time, and White experiences it with a creature that was never supposed to be a friend.

Lessons learned:

  • Every loss of life is a tragedy

  • Animals intended for slaughter can be friends

  • Grief distorts time and senses

2. Joan Didion

Didion is also a known American essayist. She started writing as soon as she gained a basic sense of self — when she was five, people often saw her working on one work after another, completely engrossed in the world of creativity and images that existed in it. Despite this, she hesitated to believe she was a real writer until her first novel was accepted and published. Later, she produced multiple books, essays, and articles on different topics. Her ability to feel deeply and to understand the whole array of worries and emotions made her works mesmerizing, earning her a small army of admirers. She was interested in politics, and this motif is often present in her essays. Didion married a man who stole her heart, and remained faithful to him until the end of their lives. Her most famous works are The Year of Magical Thinking, a memoir that followed her grief after the death of her husband and got her multiple awards, including a Pulitzer Prize, and her novel Play It as It Plays, which reveals a vivid psychological account of a traumatized woman who’s fighting for emotional survival. One of her other classic essays is called After Life.

After Life follows Didion’s struggle after she lost her husband, she obsesses over the tiniest details that took place before his death; she keeps remarking on how normal the circumstances were when the tragedy happened. Her account is full of sorrow, love, & loss, and any person can relate to it. Notable quote: “I recognize now that there was nothing unusual in this: confronted with sudden disaster, we all focus on how unremarkable the circumstances were in which the unthinkable occurred, the clear blue sky from which the plane fell, the routine errand that ended on the shoulder with the car in flames.”

Lessons learned:

  • Your world might stop, but life goes on

  • Tragedies can happen any day

  • Every person shares each other’s grief

3. Sigmund Freud

It’s impossible to discuss the best essayists and not mention Freud. He’s a controversial figure; there are legends about his sexism, but he had a serious impact on literature and the field of psychology that cannot be underestimated. Freud carried a love for literature throughout his life. Human psychology fascinated him the most, so all his works revolved around it. He married a woman to whom he sent over 900 love letters — his jealousy, passion, & obsession fuelled his devotion, but in the end, they managed to have a more or less healthy marriage. He authored many works, the most famous being On Aphasia, the earliest work exploring Freud’s thoughts about mysteries of psychology, and The Interpretation of Dreams, where he tries to give meaning to different dreams. We chose his famous essay titled Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

This essay explores people’s inherent desire to experience pleasure and avoid pain. These are universal concepts, which is why people continue to be drawn toward this work of Freud. Freud analyzes the experiences of war veterans, neurotic patients, and ideas about life and death, concluding that they are as similar as they are different. We want to love, but we also strive to destroy the world around us; we want pleasure, but reality stops us from having it, making us choose self-preservation over anything else. A good quote from his essay: “This raises the question of whether feelings of pleasure and unpleasure can be produced equally from bound and unbound excitatory processes.” This duality is a fascinating concept, and Freud investigates it in depth.

Lessons learned:

  • Life and death are two sides of the same coin

  • Reality stops us from seeking constant pleasure 

  • There is still no clear understanding of what the human mind wants

4. Margaret Atwood

Atwood is a famous essayist from Canada. She published over 50 novels, essays, books of poetry, and other works, which is an astonishing result as she started getting an education when she was 12. Atwood’s love for books and writing fuelled her for more and more achievements – she was loved by her professors plus later by her readers, who appreciated her feminist ideas and her deep understanding of women’s worries, hopes, and needs. Interestingly, despite her brilliance, Atwood admits that she still can’t spell well enough, meaning that she would have benefitted from professional essay editing by experts. She spent over 50 years married to her husband, and losing him hit her hard, resulting in her releasing several grief-stricken works that instantly found acceptance among the public. Her well-known creations include The Handmaid's Tale, a futuristic novel about patriarchal racists coming to power, and Cat’s Eye, a book centering on the emotional journey of a female painter. One of her cool essays is Happy Endings.

This work is extremely creative as it has multiple-choice plots. Plot A is about John and Mary who fall in love, get married, and die when they are old; plot B is about Mary loving John but him not loving her back, with Mary finally killing herself. John marries another woman, and they have a happy life as outlined in plot A. Plot C is about role reversal where John, who is hopelessly in love, kills Mary, her lover, and himself, while his wife has a life from plot A. Etc. The point is that no matter how you slice it, even the best ending means death because people are destined to lose each other sooner or later. A quote: “The only authentic ending is the one provided here: John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die.”

Lessons learned:

  • Death is inevitable

  • Beginnings are more fun

  • Love always hurts

5. Virginia Woolf

Woolf is renowned for her usage of stream of consciousness in her works. She’s one of the best essayists of all time, and her works always stun readers with their raw, pure emotions. Woolf loved writing — she had the unwavering support of her father in her endeavors. Despite being married, she had affairs with women, and this left an imprint on her works, just like the mental illness she was suffering from. Her passion, her feminist ideas, and her talent inspired millions of people, which is why her works remain popular in modern days. The two most notable are Mrs. Dalloway, a philosophical novel about a family full of observations with next to no action, and To the Lighthouse, another novel centering on life belonging to an upper-class woman post-war.

One of her best essays of all time is called A Room of One's Own. It explores the social injustices women face daily, especially those with creative souls. It’s not easy for them to do what they love because as soon as they try, a man appears to explain why they can’t do it and impose yet another rule. A relevant quote: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Lessons learned:

  • Women continue to be disadvantaged

  • Female creativity is constantly hindered

  • Creating means being happy

6. James Baldwin

Baldwin is among the greatest essayists in America. As a Black man plus a human rights activist, he spent his life fighting for the freedom of his people and recognition of their existence. His complex relationship with his stepfather, who raised him, left its mark, just like support from the first Black principal who encouraged his writing, as well as the racism that he constantly encountered. Baldwin studied and lived in predominantly white places, and when he fully understood the full extent of unacceptance of him and others like him, he poured his fury into his works. His most famous novels include Giovanni's Room, which explores a man's life facing a sexuality crisis, reflecting Balwdin’s reservations, and Go Tell It on the Mountain, a semi-autobiographical novel that explores the life and worries of the teenager in Harlem.

Balwdin’s popular essay is Many Thousands Gone. It tackles the pain and alienation that Black people face in America, the way they are constantly silenced, able to express themselves only in fragile works of art like music. It’s a raw account best represented by a quote: “It is only in his music, which Americans can admire because protective sentimentality limits their understanding of it, that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story."

Lessons learned:

  • Black people faced indescribable racism

  • Creativity was one of the few avenues available for their self-expression

  • Myths about Black people’s inferiority are debunked

7. George Orwell

Orwell, whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair, is one of the great essayists the world has seen. His brilliant works are known for their sharp criticism of totalitarianism, vivid prose, and dry humor. Despite being born in India, Orwell grew up in England; he was a bright and talented man who fought in a war and saw people at their most violent. River Orwell was a source of his constant inspiration, explaining his choice of a pen name. His most famous fictional story is Animal Farm, a satirical allegorical novella about animals rebelling against their farmer yet falling victim to their nature, and a non-fiction book The Road to Wigan Pier, describing Orwell’s sociological investigations into what it means to live in poverty.

A Hanging is among the best English essays out there. It is entirely unclear whether it’s fictional or not as it’s written from the first person’s point of view, and it fits the place and occupation Orwell had at a time; still, he claimed it was just a story. The narrator witnesses the hanging of an Indian man and suddenly realizes the mundane horror of it. A great quote from this essay: “When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide.”

Lessons learned:

  • What the majority think is normal isn’t a norm

  • People can fail to comprehend their cruelty

  • Sometimes, the condemned have the most dignity

8. Annie Dillard

Dillard is one of the top essay writers in America who created fictional and non-fictional works that stunned people with their unique observations, quirky thinking, unusual style, and powerful conclusions. Dillard led a relatively sheltered life until she matured and saw our world as a harsh and cruel place where tragedies are inevitable. Still, she maintained her sense of humor. She found ultimate love with her third husband, staying married to him for over thirty years. During her life full of creation, Dillard earned multiple rewards, including a Pulitzer Prize. Her famous works are Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a nonfiction narrative about the connection of humans with nature, and The Maytrees, a fictional story that follows a couple from their youth up until their old years.

A top essay by Dillard is The Force That Drives the Flower. It’s a strange but fascinating tale that focuses on the narrator’s odd dreams and her observations about nature and its inevitable cycles. Dillard explores her bewilderment and gradual acceptance of the idea that life is cheap and boundless — every moment, someone new appears, and every second, someone else dies. Humans and animals are similar. Only humans pretend to be more moral. An impressive quote: “The terms are clear: if you want to live, you have to die; you cannot have mountains and creeks without space, and space is a beauty married to a blind man.”

Lessons learned:

  • Insects and people have more similarities than we think

  • Life cannot exist without death

  • Everyone in this world is interconnected

9. Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald

For a good reason, many people consider Fitzgerald the greatest American author. His works are complete with complex emotions, bitterness, scorn, and heartbreak, all of which mirror his life. Fitzgerald spent years feeling suicidal. He loved writing, but his works were often rejected; he fell in love, but his first two women rejected him due to his lower status. He fought in a war, worked as an advertiser, and tasted success and disappointment of declining popularity. His greatest works include The Great Gatsby, a captivating novel depicting a man’s effort to win back his love by demonstrating his wealth, and Tender Is the Night, which explores the rise and fall of a young doctor. Both novels heavily borrow from events of Fitzgerald’s life.

Fitzgerald wrote only several purely non-fiction works, with The Crack-Up being the best essay. It reveals Fitzgerald’s struggle with losing his identity, wanting success yet being fed up with it, loving some people but not wanting to see them any longer. Depression, confusion, and an attempt at recovery are the prevailing themes that many people can relate to. A chosen quote: “It was strange to have no self — to be like a little boy left alone in a big house, who knew that now he could do anything he wanted to do, but found that there was nothing he wanted to do.”

Lessons learned:

  • Sometimes, people lose their sense of self

  • You can have everything yet want none of it

  • Not all recoveries are successful

10. Susan Sontag

This American author was mostly known for her intellectually stimulating essays. She was considered one of the best contemporary essayists of her time. Sontag had an unhappy childhood, and books became her salvation. She immersed herself in literature entirely — eventually, it brought its fruits because more people started showing interest in her works. She was bisexual, and her creations feature such crucial topics as human rights, culture, AIDS, war, and other relevant issues. She traveled to war zones, which stimulated her writing and made it even more compelling. Her known works comprise Against Interpretation, an essay about art, and Illness as Metaphor, which focuses on the phenomenon of victim blaming.

Another extremely popular work by Sontag is titled Notes on "Camp". Some individuals still consider it the best essay in the world — in fact, Sontag’s career started with it. In this essay, she muses about what camp means, providing numerous descriptions that add up to the final definition of this concept. In some ways, this work set up camp culture as we know it. An engaging quote from this essay: “The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful.”

Lessons learned:

  • Memories of camps stay with you for life

  • Camps can be awful

  • They can also be really good

11. Cynthia Ozick

Ozick was born in a family of Jewish immigrants. She lived through WW2, and it left a huge wound that shaped her writing for decades to come. Ozick’s works frequently revolve around the intricacies of being a Jewish American and history and her love for her people and literature is evident in every line. She described the urge to write as madness, implying how addictive and all-encompassing it is. Amazingly, Ozick is still alive, which makes her the best even among modern essayists.  Her top works are The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories, a collection about different people with their tragic or mundane accounts, and Foreign Bodies, a novel focusing on the life of a Jew in Paris in the 20th century.

One of Ozick’s greatest essays is Who Owns Anne Frank? It contains the musings of the author about the diary of a girl who died in WW2 shortly before Germany was defeated. It brims with grief, regret, and respect, contributing more information that makes Anne’s story feel even more complete. A solemn quote: “She was designated to be erased from the living, to leave no grave, no sign, no physical trace of any kind.”

Lessons learned:

  • So many victims of war could live happy lives

  • Some people turn personal tragedies into business

  • Victims deserve respect no matter how many years pass

12. Thomas De Quincey

De Quincey spent many years of his life sick and miserable, but it didn’t stop him from becoming one of the best essayists of all time. He was exceedingly smart and talented, and despite his controversial political views, he created numerous works that people continue to appreciate today. Two of his most famous works entail On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth, a piece of literary criticism, and Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, an autobiographical account about De Quincey’s addiction. 

On Suicide is one of the best-known essays by De Quincey. It contains commentary on a work titled Biathanatos, contemplating the nuances and kinds of suicide. Is it suicide when a person knows that a bull can kill them and charges him anyway? De Quincey searches for answers in his essay. A quote reflecting some of his ideas: “We do not all agree on the particular cases which will justify self-destruction: but we all feel and involuntarily acknowledge (implicitly acknowledge in our admiration, though not explicitly in our words or our principles), that there are such cases.”

Lessons learned:

  •  People seek self-destruction in numerous ways

  • Sometimes suicide is justified

  • Suicide can save one from being dishonored

The Best Modern Academic Essayists Who Could Help You

Are you a student who’s struggling with finishing an essay? In this case, you need help from the best essay writers for hire who respect your terms and your time and whose skills allow them to provide the most compelling piece of writing. It’s captivating to see what the world’s sharpest, most creative, and most interesting writers published, but there are different ways of making a difference. Sure, no one will remember your standard college paper on a boring topic years from now, but in experts’ hands, it will supply you with the knowledge and ideas you need to progress in your studies. This is meaningful enough.

Consult TopEssayWriting’s team if you require assistance. Explain what kind of essay you want — anything from research to a case study and a powerful fictional story. We have specialists who represent different spheres and are passionate about different subjects. They are united by one crucial element: their boundless love for writing. By working for us, they combine their hobby with a job, and as a result, everyone is happy. Students get high-quality assistance while our employees perform the work they like. Try it personally!

Draw Inspiration from Top Essays and Start Creating

We hope that learning about the works of 12 notable essay writers has convinced you of one thing: writing can be engaging in all its variations. Which author interested you most? Whose works sound the most interesting to you? Absorb inspiration from them to make your papers. Read free essay samples on our website if you need more material and academic insights, and if something is amiss, let us know. Leave your message, and we’ll respond immediately, helping you solve your problems and write your essay.

Writing Guides and Study Tips: