When writing an essay, you need to apply at least two types of critical thinking. First, you will be thinking about your subject. When you have finished the essay, you need to look at your own work with a critical eye, which you may have to do several times.
The University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill Writing Center has an excellent section on their website for Tips and Tools. There are documents on a variety of topics to help students write and write well. They even have a document about “Procrastination” and how to overcome it.
Montaigne's essays were ultimately written for Montaigne. I often wonder how honest he was in writing the essays. He seems truthful enough, but from the beginning, he makes it very clear that someday he would publish his book. In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter. Montaigne’s Essays is not a philosophical work concerned with debating the right and wrong, or piercing the veil of reality and gazing at the metaphysical truth. It is not a memoir or an autobiography, since he cares little for specific, factual events themselves, instead focusing on their impact on his mind. No, this book is more closely related to a work of fiction. Though the man lived, breathed and impacted his time and place, his thoughts, however clear, are now only real in print, like any other novel or poem dreamt by a beautiful mind. Montaigne is a character who ponders almost everything and leaves me thinking on these subjects and wanting more. He thought, questioned, and changed his mind in the process. He wrote those ruminations down and provided us with a wonderful template for the fiction in our minds.
For many years Andrei Codrescu was a regular commentator on NPR. This collection reflects his wry, sardonic and yet optimistic view of life. Beware of the seductive charm in the brief titles because you will not necessarily know where Codrescu is taking you.
Best known for her novels, Zadie Smith’s essays cover modern culture, politics, and personal thoughts.
Pierre Ryckmans (pen name Simon Leys), was a true Renaissance man, who read and wrote about wide-ranging subjects. His points of view are fresh, startling and make you think. You may not agree with his ideas, but as with good essayists, he justifies his analysis.
Bertrand Russell, philosopher and social critic, is provocative and sometimes maddening in his opinions.
Takes students and others through the writing process, from idea to finished document; the basic essay to academic papers. Includes grammar, punctuation, word usage. Excellent alphabetically arranged index of topics.
W. H. Auden said, “I do not know of anyone in the States who writes better prose.” M. F. K. Fisher wrote about food, as a subject and as a symbol of life, and was a unique stylist.
Best known for science fiction and fantasy novels, Ursula Le Guin was a master essay writer. Direct, acerbic, witty and funny are attributes of her writing.
Novelist, short story writer, essayist and cultural analyst, Lorrie Moore’s collection of essays mostly cover literary analysis, but other essays are about current events and politics. She is never mean-spirited, but not shy in expressing her negative critical analysis.
The Scheherazade of the essay, as she lures you in with that first sentence, and then takes you places never imagined. She melds analysis and emotional reactions, which takes time and talent to do well.
For over 30 years Jack Smith was a daily columnist for the Los Angeles Times. There were many readers who often skipped the headline news to first read Smith’s column. Many of the essays were anecdotally based, which is not an easy task.
A selection of Howard Jacobson’s witty and insightful columns in the British newspaper, The Independent. Check out his other collection the dog’s last walk.
Here is a good sampling of essays by Christopher Hitchens, who could be very opinionated and biting, but never dull.