One Hundred Great Essays

There are several ways you could look at examining a book of 100 Great Essays. First, you could argue for months over whether these 100 are the absolute best in the world across all time. Are they the best written? The best examples of what essays have been like across the centuries? The best collection that includes a variety of cultural backgrounds? The best to catch the attention of the target audience, which we'll assume is the 18-20 year old new writer?

I realize there is no way any two people could ever come to a consensus on this issue, but I do think Diyanni did a reasonable job coming up with a collection which is interesting to read, that new writers will find inspiring, and that covers a range of time periods and ethnic backgrounds. There are essays by dead white males and by feisty female hispanics. There are serious essays about politics and fun essays about cats vs dogs. Some essays make you think, "this person feels exactly the way I do!" and other essays where you shake your head in disagreement the entire time. Perhaps most importantly, for the vast majority of these essays, you enjoy reading them, and you are drawn into wanting to write essays of your own. If the book is going to do one thing, I think that is a key. It demonstrates a variety of writing styles, all of them are fairly well done, and they inject an enthusiasm into the reader to give it a try.

The brief biographies and commentaries are helpful to place a given essay in its location in history. Knowing that an essay written about the African American experience was created in 1950 rather than 2010 makes a fairly significant difference.

The questions to ponder at the end of each essay are not rocket science. "Do you agree or disagree with the author" is fairly bland. "Write a similar essay" is not something we needed the book to direct us towards. Definitely all of those end-of-essay questions could use some tuning.

Still, for me that is not the great value of the book. The value is that, in one spot, I have a ton of wonderful essays that I can read, enjoy, and draw inspiration from. It's like having a "writing prompts" book chock full of brilliant ideas. I often found myself finishing one essay that had been assigned, and reading right into the next one because it seemed so appealing. My writing creativity was sparked in a variety of ways, and I became familiar with a number of authors who I might not have otherwise heard about.

A great book to enjoy.

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