The Ten Greatest Essays, Ever

Pico Iyer

Alas, with essays I could probably choose a hundred old favorites,
or a different every hour of the day. But on this particular blazing
autumn morning in Japan, the sun burning down out of a cloudless
blue sky onto the rusting reds and oranges and lemon-yellows of
my local park, the ones that come to me instantly include:

“Self-Reliance,” by Ralph Waldo Emerson
(from Essays: First Series, 1841)

“Walking” by Henry David Thoreau
(from a lecture, 1861)

“Total Eclipse” by Annie Dillard
(from Teaching a Stone to Talk, 1982)

“Late Victorians” by Richard Rodriguez
(from Harper’s, October 1990)

“Speaking in Tongues” by Zadie Smith
(from The New York Review of Books, February 2009)

“On Going a Journey” by William Hazlitt
(from The New Monthly Magazine, 1822)

“The Critic as Artist” by Oscar Wilde
(from Intentions, 1891)

“Mrs Gupta Never Rang” by Jan Morris
(from City Improbable, 2005)

The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory by Derek Walcott
(published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1993)

“Reflections on Writing” by Henry Miller
(from Wisdom of the Heart, 1942)

(With sincerest apologies to Donald Richie, Joan Didion, Somerset Maugham, James Wood, Thomas Merton, S.J. Perelman, Norman Mailer, Joseph Brodsky, Virginia Woolf, Woody Allen, Kenneth Tynan, Hunter Thompson, Thomas de Quincey and many others, any one of whom I would probably include in this list if you asked me again an hour from now.)

Back To List

About Pico Iyer


Pico Iyer is one of the world’s foremost travel writers. The author of over ten books,
including the seminal Video Night in Katmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So Far East,
Tropical Classical: Essays from Several Directions, and Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places
of the World
. He was named by The Utne Reader one of the world’s “100 Visionaries Who Could
Change Your Life” and The New Yorker has said that “As a guide to far flung places, Iyer can
hardly be surpassed. His essays regularly appear in Harper’s, The New York Review of Books,
National Geographic, Time, The Times Literary Supplement,
and many others. He lives in
suburban Japan.