Today marks the release of Aleksandar Hemon’s excellent book of personal essays, The Book of My Lives , which we loved, and which we’re convinced deserves a place in the literary canon. To that end, we were inspired to put together our list of the greatest essay collections of all time, from the classic to the contemporary, from the personal to the critical. In making our choices, we’ve steered away from posthumous omnibuses (Michel de Montaigne’s Complete Essays , the collected Orwell, etc.) and multi-author compilations, and given what might be undue weight to our favorite writers (as one does). After the jump, our picks for the 25 greatest essay collections of all time. Feel free to disagree with us, praise our intellect, or create an entirely new list in the comments.
Bob always shaped how I thought. I had no opinion I did not run by him first. “New York: Sentimental Journeys” (1991), on the Central Park jogger case, was far and away the hardest piece I ever worked on for this reason. Bob from the beginning knew what the piece had to be—he knew before I did—and he pushed me until I got it there. He knew exactly how dangerous the subject was, and his reaction to this danger was to make it more dangerous. His idea from the first was to get it right, to make it perfect, regardless of whatever negative reaction it might elicit in the city at that moment. When I first turned it in to him, it was clearly too long. His solution was to insist I go further. This meant making it longer. If that piece succeeds at all, it succeeds because he gave me permission to finish it.