15 Female Mathematicians Whose Accomplishments Add Up

Katherine Johnson at NASA in 1966
Katherine Johnson at NASA in 1966
NASA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In many periods of history, women have been discouraged from applying their minds to mathematics—but a few persevered. The world-altering contributions of these 15 notable female mathematicians include making hospitals safer, laying the groundwork for the computer, and advancing space flight.

1. HYPATIA

Hypatia (c.355–415) was the first woman known to have taught mathematics. Her father Theon was a famous mathematician in Alexandria who wrote commentaries on Euclid’s Elements and works by Ptolemy. Theon taught his daughter math and astronomy, then sent her to Athens to study the teachings of Plato and Aristotle. Father and daughter collaborated on several commentaries, but Hypatia also wrote commentaries of her own and lectured on math, astronomy, and philosophy. Sadly, she died at the hands of a mob of Christian zealots.

2. EMILIE DU CHATELET

Emilie Chatelet portrait by Latour
Maurice Quentin de La Tour, Wikipedia // Public Domain

Emilie Du Chatelet (1706–1749) was born in Paris in a home that entertained several scientists and mathematicians. Although her mother thought her interest in math was unladylike, her father was supportive. Chatalet initially employed her math skills to gamble, which financed the purchase of math books and lab equipment.

In 1725 she married an army officer, the Marquis Florent-Claude du Chatalet, and the couple eventually had three children. Her husband traveled frequently, an arrangement that provided ample time for her to study mathematics and write scientific articles (it also apparently gave her time to have an affair with Voltaire). From 1745 until her death, Chatalet worked on a translation of Isaac Newton’s Principia. She added her own commentaries, including valuable clarification of the principles in the original work.

3. SOPHIE GERMAIN

Sophie Germain (1776–1831) was only 13 when she developed an interest in mathematics, one that could be blamed on the French Revolution. Since the fighting raged around her home, Germain could not explore the streets of Paris—instead she explored her father’s library, teaching herself Latin and Greek and reading respected mathematical works. Germain’s family also tried to discourage her academic leanings. Not wanting her to study at night, they denied her a fire in her room, but she lit candles and read anyway, bundled in blankets.

Since women’s educational opportunities were limited, Germain studied secretly at the Ecole Polytechnique, using the name of a previously enrolled male student. That worked until the teachers noticed the dramatic improvement in the student’s math skills.

Although Germain never worked as a mathematician, she studied independently and wrote about the subject. She is best known for her work on Fermat’s Last Theorem, considered at the time to be one of the most challenging mathematical puzzles. A 17th century mathematician named Pierre de Fermat claimed he could prove that the equation x^n + y^n = z^n had no integer solution when n was greater than 2, but his proof was never written down. Germain proposed a new way of looking at the problem.

Germain also became the first woman to win a prize from the Paris Academy of Sciences, for writing about elasticity theory. Today that prize is known as the Sophie Germain Prize.

4. MARY SOMERVILLE

A portrait of Mary Somerville
Thomas Phillips, Wikipedia // Public Domain

Mary Somerville (1780–1872) was born in Scotland, and was not particularly interested in academics as a child—she only attended school for a year. However, when she encountered an algebra symbol in a puzzle at age 16, she became fascinated with math and began studying it on her own. Her parents tried to discourage her, worried that her intellectual preoccupations might drive her insane. (At the time, a popular theory held that difficult study could damage a woman’s mental health.) But Somerville continued to study, teaching herself Latin so she could read earlier versions of works by Euclid.

She also corresponded with William Wallace, a professor of mathematics at Edinburgh University, and solved mathematical problems posed in contests, winning a silver prize in 1811.

Somerville’s first husband did not encourage her interests, but when he died, she remarried. Her second husband, Dr. William Somerville, an inspector of the Army Medical Board, was proud of her work in mathematics and astronomy. For her work translating a book titled Celestial Mechanics and adding commentary, she was named an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Physicist Sir David Brewster called her “certainly the most extraordinary woman in Europe—a mathematician of the very first rank with all the gentleness of a woman.” When John Stuart Mill petitioned the British government for women’s votes, he filed his petition with Somerville’s signature first. She was proof that women were men’s intellectual equals.

5. ADA LOVELACE

A portrait of Augusta Ada, Countess Lovelace
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The next time you download some electronica, you may want to remember Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace (1815–1852). Lovelace was born during the brief marriage of poet George, Lord Byron and Anne Milbanke, Lady Wentworth. Her mother did not want her to be a poet like her father and encouraged her interest in mathematics and music. As a teenager, Ada began to correspond with Charles Babbage, a professor at Cambridge. At the time, Babbage was working on his ideas for a calculating machine called the Analytical Engine, now considered a precursor to the computer. Babbage was solely focused on the calculating aspects, but Lovelace supplied notes that helped envision other possibilities, including the idea of computer-generated music.

Lovelace also translated an article about the Analytic Engine by French mathematician Louis Menebrea. Her notes include an algorithm showing how to calculate a sequence of numbers, which forms the basis for the design of the modern computer. It was the first algorithm created expressly for a machine to perform.

Lovelace was a countess after her marriage, but she preferred to describe herself as an analyst and a metaphysician. Babbage called her “the enchantress of numbers”—but she might also be called the world’s first computer programmer.

6. FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE

A black-and-white photograph of Florence Nightingale
London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

Florence Nightingale (1820–1910) is best known as a nurse and social reformer, but a lesser-known contribution of hers continues to save lives. In her efforts to improve the survival rates of hospital patients, Nightingale became a statistician.

When the “lady with the lamp” returned from service during the Crimean War, she expressed sadness about how many soldiers had become sick and died while lying in the hospital. “Oh my poor men, who endured so patiently,” she wrote to a friend. “I feel I have been a bad mother to you to come home and leave you lying in your Crimean graves.”

As part of her plan to reform hospital care, Nightingale began gathering statistics. The figures she gathered indicated that a lack of sanitation was the primary reason for the high mortality rate. Efforts were instituted to make hospitals cleaner and thus safer.

Not only did Nightingale’s discovery save lives and change hospital protocol forever, but she also designed charts that were easy on the Queen’s eyes. Statistics had been presented with graphics only rarely before, and Nightingale’s work helped pioneer the field of applied statistics. She is particularly known for inventing a new kind of graph known as a coxcomb, which was a variation on a pie chart. She said that the graph was designed “to affect thro’ the Eyes what we fail to convey to the public through their word-proof ears.”

7. EMMY NOETHER

Portrait of Emmy Noether
Wikipedia // Public Domain

Like Hypatia, Emmy Noether (1882–1935) had a well-known mathematician for a dad. Her father, Max Noether, was a German math professor, but becoming a math teacher would be a longer process for her. After being certified to teach English and French, she also wanted a degree in mathematics, but she had to wait—the University of Erlangen in Bavaria did not let women officially enroll until 1904. Noether eventually received her doctorate in mathematics, but because her university had a policy against hiring female professors, she instead helped her father in his work at the Mathematics Institute in Erlangen (without being paid), researching and writing papers on the side.

In 1918 she proved two theorems, one of which is now known as "Noether's Theorem." After that she researched ring theory and number theory, both of which would later prove useful for physicists. Finally, in 1922, she became an associate professor and received a small stipend.

But her teaching career in Germany was short-lived. Because of growing anti-Semitism, she and other Jewish mathematicians had to flee the country in 1933. She moved to the United States, and taught at Bryn Mawr College until her death.

After her death in 1935, Albert Einstein described Noether in a letter to The New York Times with these words: "In the judgment of the most competent living mathematicians, Fraulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began."

8. MARY CARTWRIGHT

Mary Cartwright (1900–1998) achieved a few notable firsts: She was the first woman to receive the Sylvester Medal for mathematical research and the first to serve as president of the London Mathematical Society (1961–62).

In 1919 she was one of only five women studying mathematics at Oxford University. When she did not score well on her tests, she briefly considered giving up math. Fortunately, she chose to persevere, and went on to lecture at Cambridge University. She later earned a doctorate in philosophy and had her thesis published in the Quarterly Journal of Mathematics. After being awarded a research fellowship, she went on to publish more than 100 papers. One of her theorems, known as Cartwright's Theorem, is still frequently applied in signal processing. She also contributed to the study of chaos theory. In 1969 Queen Elizabeth II honored Cartwright’s accomplishments by proclaiming her Dame Mary Cartwright.

9. DOROTHY JOHNSON VAUGHAN


Dorothy Vaughan (left) at NACA
Beverly Golemba, Wikipedia // Public Domain

The excitement of space travel was made possible by years of painstaking work conducted by “human computers”—specifically, a group of mathematically proficient women who calculated a variety of scientific and mathematical data at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became NASA. Dorothy Johnson Vaughan (1910–2008) was one of them, and her contributions are featured alongside those of several other African-American female mathematicians at NACA in the 2016 film Hidden Figures.

After working as a math teacher, Vaughan took a job at NACA in 1943. In 1949, she was promoted to lead the division’s segregated work group West Area Computers, which was entirely composed of African-American female mathematicians. She became an expert in coding languages such as FORTRAN (now a popular language for high-performance computing). She described working in space research as being on “the cutting edge of something very exciting.”

10. MARJORIE LEE BROWNE

Mathematician and educator Marjorie Lee Browne (1914–1979) was one of the first African-American women to acquire a Ph.D. in math. Becoming a respected educator meant overcoming personal tragedy (the death of her mother at a young age), as well as race and gender discrimination. Fortunately, her mathematically gifted father and teacher stepmother encouraged her educational interests. She attended a private school, graduated Howard University cum laude and earned her doctorate at the University of Michigan.

Browne taught math at North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University), where she was named chair of the math department in 1951. She helped her school acquire grants, including a 1960 grant to set up a computer center, one of the first of its kind. Thanks in part to her work, the school became home to a National Science Foundation Institute for secondary education in mathematics. Browne also received the first W.W. Rankin Memorial Award for Excellence in Mathematics Education.

11. JULIA ROBINSON

Julia Robinson’s (1919–1985) early education was interrupted more than once by illness. One bout of rheumatic fever required a year of recuperation and would continue to affect her health. When Robinson returned to school in the ninth grade, she developed an interest in math. She graduated high school with honors in math and science classes, then eventually attended Berkeley, where she married an assistant professor named Raphael Robinson.

After being told she could not have children due to the residual effects of the rheumatic fever, she renewed her devotion to math, receiving her doctorate in 1948. That year she began to work on the mathematical problem known as David Hilbert’s Tenth Problem, which occupied her for decades. Her work toward solving the problem with an international team of other mathematicians is the subject of a one-hour documentary titled “Julia Robinson and Hilbert’s Tenth Problem.” In 1975 Robinson was the first woman mathematician to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences. She also became the first woman president of the American Mathematical Society.

12. KATHERINE JOHNSON

Katherine Johnson receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015
NASA, Wikimedia // Public Domain

When Katherine Johnson (born 1918) wanted to study math, she faced a big obstacle. White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, where she lived, did not offer schooling for black students past eighth grade. So, her father drove his family 120 miles so she could attend a high school in another town, leaving Katherine and her mother there while he continued to work in White Sulphur Springs. The math prodigy graduated by the age of 14. When she attended West Virginia State College, several professors recognized her unusual ability and mentored her. She graduated summa cum laude at the age of 18, with plans to teach. After doing so for a little while, she went to work for NACA as one of the mathematicians known as “computers who wore skirts.” Her knowledge of analytic geometry resulted in her assignment to the all-male flight research team, where she helped calculate the trajectory of Alan Shepherd’s first trip into space. She was so good at her job that she stayed on the research team after Shepherd’s trip, working at Langley Research Center from 1953 to 1986.

“I went to work every day for 33 years happy,” she said. “Never did I get up and say I don’t want to go to work.” She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, and her work is also celebrated in Hidden Figures.

13. MARY JACKSON

Photograph of Mary Winston Jackson
Wikipedia, NASA // Public Domain

Mary Jackson (1921–2005) grew up in Hampton, Virginia, graduating with honors from high school and receiving a bachelor’s degree from Hampton Institute in mathematics and physical science. She was hired as a research mathematician at the NACA campus in Langley, and was eventually promoted to aerospace engineer, specializing in aerodynamics.

“After five years of working in that department and taking additional courses at the Hampton Center of the University of Virginia I was invited to become an engineer-in-training through a special program and I’ve been an aerospace engineer ever since,” she said.

She later worked with flight engineers at NASA and was repeatedly promoted. After three decades, Jackson achieved the highest level of engineer, but then chose to focus on efforts to help women and minorities advance their careers. She is also featured in Hidden Figures.

14. CHRISTINE DARDEN

Color photograph of Dr. Christine Darden
NASA, Wikipedia // Public Domain

Dr. Christine Darden (born 1942) is a mathematician, data analyst, and aeronautical engineer who spent her 25-year career at NASA researching sonic booms—the sound associated with the shock wave of an object traveling through air faster than the speed of sound. After a brief stint teaching and researching aerosol physics, she landed at the Langley Research Center. There she performed calculations for engineers, eventually writing computer programs to automate the process. She became one of the first female aerospace engineers at Langley, writing a computer program to measure sonic boom. After earning a doctorate in mechanical engineering, she became the leader of NASA's Sonic Boom Group. Darden conducted research on air traffic management, as well as other aeronautics programs, and has authored more than 50 publications. She is also featured in Hidden Figures.

15. MARYAM MIRZAKHANI

As a girl, Maryam Mirzakhani (1977-2017) was not very interested in math, and dreamt of being a writer. “I never thought I would pursue mathematics until my last year in high school,” Mirzakhani told The Guardian.

The choice turned out to be a wise one: In 2014 she became the first woman and the first Iranian honored with the prestigious Fields Medal, awarded for her work on hyperbolic geometry—a non-Euclidean geometry used to explore concepts of space and time.

Mirzakhani taught math at Stanford University. Curtis McMullen, her doctoral advisor at Harvard, described her as having “a fearless ambition when it comes to mathematics.” 

This story first ran in 2017.

The Best Bookstores in All 50 States

Robert Kim, Getty Images
Robert Kim, Getty Images

From their resident cats to that old book smell, there's something about wandering up and down the aisles of a brick-and-mortar bookstore that online merchants could never replicate. In honor of Independent Bookstore Day (April 27, 2019), Mental Floss has picked the best bookshop in every state—plus a few others we loved, too.

  1. The Best Bookstore in Alabama: Alabama Booksmith // Homewood, Alabama

One of the Birmingham area's hidden gems, the Alabama Booksmith is a unique delight for book-lovers and collectors alike. Since a remodel in 2012, the shop has featured an inventory consisting exclusively of signed book copies. The store has another special touch, too: Every book is displayed face-out so that customers can more easily discern whether or not something is right for them.

Other Alabama Bookstores We Love: Reed Books (Birmingham), Page & Palette (Fairhope)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Alaska: Title Wave Books // Anchorage, Alaska

The cleverly named Title Wave Books is not only the largest bookstore in Alaska, but also one of the biggest used bookstores in the entire country. In addition to its massive catalog of over 500,000 books, the store houses many vinyl records, audiobooks, and DVDs. And if for some reason you aren't interested in checking out the books, the store also has a host of events including Scrabble and chess nights.

Other Alaska Bookstores We Love: The Writer's Block (Anchorage), The Homer Bookstore (Homer)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Arizona: Changing Hands Bookstore // Phoenix & Tempe, Arizona

An exterior view of the Changing Hands Bookstore
An exterior view of the Changing Hands Bookstore
Mike Moore/Getty Images for Corday Productions

With locations in both Phoenix and Tempe, Changing Hands Bookstore encompasses the best of Arizona literature. The Tempe location has been in business since 1974, and its success allowed them to open their second store in a repurposed restaurant in central Phoenix. The Phoenix location is home to the must-visit First Draft Book Bar—after all, how often you can be served booze at a bookstore?

Other Arizona Bookstores We Love: Antigone Books (Tucson)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Arkansas: Dickson St. Bookshop // Fayetteville, Arkansas

A community favorite located only a short distance away from the University of Arkansas campus, Dickson St. Bookshop features a plethora of literary classics and much more. With thousands of books onsite, it's frequently named not just one of the best bookstores in Arkansas, but also one of the best in the nation. Owners Donald Choffel and Charles O'Donnell have been in charge from the very beginning in 1978.

Other Arkansas Bookstores We Love: WordsWorth Books & Co (Little Rock), Nightbird Books (Fayetteville)

  1. The Best Bookstore in California: Green Apple Books // San Francisco, California

Competition for San Francisco's book lovers is fierce—the city is also home to famous independent bookstores like City Lights—but Green Apple Books remains a beloved local luminary. The store, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017, has grown over the decades to occupy a two-story, sprawling space in the city's Richmond District. Filled with books both new and used, the store sells not just hardback literature, but e-books and audiobooks, magazines, LPs, and more. In 2014, it expanded its wares to a second location, Green Apple Books on the Park, located near Golden Gate Park. Online, it offers services like the Apple-a-Month Club, which sends subscribers a new fiction paperback each month, while its two stores host readings by local writers and literary legends alike. (It's also a popular haunt for literature-loving celebrities—it has previously been frequented by the likes of Robin Williams, Oliver Sacks, and more.)

Other California Bookstores We Love: City Lights Bookstore (San Francisco), The Last Bookstore (Los Angeles), Book Soup (Los Angeles), Time Tested Books (Sacramento), Chaucer's Bookstore (Santa Barbara)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Colorado: Tattered Cover // Denver, Colorado

Denver’s storied Tattered Cover has been around since 1971 and has been through numerous transformations: moving locations, opening satellites, adding cafes and, at one point, having a (since closed) restaurant and bar. Considered one of the most successful independent bookstores in the country, it now sells new and used books at four different outposts in Denver and Littleton, Colorado as well as operating several stores at the Denver International Airport. You can find international bestsellers alongside indie literature and a wide range of used volumes. It hosts writing workshops, book clubs, literary readings, film screenings, and storytime for kids, and in 2019, launched the one-day Colorado Book and Arts Festival.

Other Colorado Bookstores We Love: Book Cranny (Arvada), Boulder Bookstore (Boulder), Capitol Hill Books (Denver)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Connecticut: R.J. Julia Booksellers // Madison, Connecticut

An image of the store front of RJ Julia Booksellers.

R.J. Julia has been one of Connecticut's premier book destinations for decades, and for good reason. Named one of New England magazine’s "Best Bookstores to Spend the Day" in 2018, the Madison-based bookstore features a large selection of books and gifts, knowledgeable staff, and a great cafe. It's more than just a place to stop by and grab a new paperback, though. The store hosts more than 300 events every year, and owner Roxanne J. Coady is dedicated to finding every reader their perfect book. In 2009, she launched Just the Right Book, a personalized book-of-the-month subscription service, and recently expanded it to include a Just the Right Book podcast that features interviews between Coady and bestselling authors. If you can't stop by the store in person, we recommend using R.J. Julia's "What's Your Perfect Next Read" online quiz to find your new favorite book.

Other Connecticut Bookstores We Love: Hickory Stick Bookshop (Washington Depot), Byrd's Books (Bethel)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Delaware: Browseabout Books // Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Founded in 1975, Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware is a local legend—so much so that the company's 40th anniversary party was attended by Delaware's governor and multiple state senators. In 1992, Browseabout took over a former open-air mall that once housed seven stores and evolved to sell gifts, toys, and stationery alongside books and a coffee bar. Poets.org lists it as one of its favorite poetry-friendly bookstores, while writer Anna March extolled its virtues in the literary journal Tin House in 2013, calling it "a thing to behold—best sellers and beach books, yes, but also a strong kids section; travel books and literary fiction with an extensive back catalog; books by local authors; and a selection of essays, poetry, plays."

Other Delaware Bookstores We Love: Bethany Beach Books (Bethany Beach), Acorn Bookstore (Smyrna)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Florida: Books & Books at The Studios of Key West // Key West, Florida

There are several locations of Books & Books, which has stores around South Florida (and one in the Cayman Islands), but the Key West affiliate of the chain has a special place in book lovers' hearts for one reason: It's the only store that was founded by Judy Blume and her husband, George Cooper. Located in a former Masonic Temple that now serves as a nonprofit arts space, it's just what you would expect from a bookstore owned by a literary luminary. The store is designed with readers in mind, with reading lights and a curated selection of literary fiction, poetry, art books, magazines, and new bestsellers, plus an entire room devoted to professional-grade art supplies. Oh, and it's perhaps the only bookstore where you can get book recommendations straight from the mouth of Judy Blume.

Other Florida Bookstores We Love: Key West Island Books (Key West), Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore (Delray Beach)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Georgia: Charis Books // Atlanta, Georgia

Charis Books And More has been an Atlanta institution since 1974, making it the oldest independent feminist bookstore in the southern United States. Charis's inventory is stocked with books that fall into diverse categories, like LGBTQ fiction and non-fiction, food issues and body image, anti-ableism, race, and reproductive rights. As part of its mission to support local, independent authors, Charis encourages writers of all backgrounds to request to have their books sold in the store. The shop also hosts about 270 literary, social justice, and educational events a year.

Other Georgia Bookstores We Love: Book Nook (Decatur), Avid Bookshop (Athens), A Cappella Books (Atlanta)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Hawaii: Talk Story Bookstore // Hanapepe, Kauai

The exterior of Hawaii's Talk Story bookstore.
Paul Schultz, Flickr // CC By 2.0

The westernmost bookstore in the United States, Talk Story Bookstore has over 150,000 new, used, and out-of-print titles to choose from, whether it's mysteries or Hawaiiana. As the only bookstore on Kauai, it's a much-loved community resource, and patrons praise its friendly owners, Ed Justus and Cynthia Lynn, who have been in business since 2004. As you're browsing the books and records, keep an eye out for the store's cat/guardian angel, Celeste.

Other Hawaii Bookstores We Love: da Shop: books + curiosities (Honolulu), BookEnds (Kailua)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Idaho: Rediscovered Books // Boise, Idaho

Founded in 2006, Rediscovered Books is known as the go-to community bookstore for literature geeks. With more than 30 book clubs (including a Comic Book Book Club, a Macchiato and Murder one, and a noon-hour Lit for Lunch group) and a litany of special events ranging from author signings to their so-called "infamous" Book & Booze nights, there's sure to be a reading group to meet any adult special interest. And for the kids, there's a weekly Tasty Tales storytime with snacks from the local Guru Donuts.

Other Idaho Bookstores We Love: The Well-Read Moose (Coeur d'Alene), BookPeople of Moscow (Moscow)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Illinois: Anderson's Bookshop // Naperville, Illinois

A beloved part of the Naperville, Illinois, community since 1875, Anderson's Bookshop is still operated by fifth-generation descendants of the original founders. It's a hub for author events, book clubs, children's reading activities, and a huge selection of books. Catch the monthly staff picks of new and older titles offered at a 25 percent discount. Recent selection included Meghan Cox Gurdon's The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction and Brad Meltzer's The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington.

Other Illinois Bookstores We Love: Bookman's Corner (Chicago), The Book Cellar (Chicago)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Indiana: Hyde Brothers // Ft. Wayne, Indiana

Hyde Brothers claims to be "Indiana's best-loved bookstore," and who are we to argue? This charming secondhand bookshop brims with titles jostling for space on floor-to-ceiling shelves. There are plenty of step stools and rolling ladders to help you find what you crave among the store's specialties—history, literature, nature, sports, horror, religion, and more. And while you're there, don't forget to pet Scout and Sherlock, the bookshop's two kitties.

Other Indiana Bookstores We Love: Indy Reads Books (Indianapolis), Main Street Books (Lafayette)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Iowa: The Haunted Bookshop // Iowa City, Iowa

Spoiler alert: This secondhand bookshop isn't actually haunted (it's named after the Christopher Morley novel of the same name). While that may be disappointing, this 41-year-old shop's inventory definitely isn't. Spread over 10 rooms in an 1847 mansion, the collection spans fiction, world cultures and history, art and writing, regional history, science and nature, and much more. The store's feline employees Nierme and Logan keep an eye on it all.

Other Iowa Bookstores We Love: Source Book Store (Davenport), Plot Twist Bookstore (Ankeny)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Kansas: Rainy Day Books // Kansas City, Kansas

The first stop for authors and their fans in Kansas City is usually Rainy Day Books. The shop was one of the first in the U.S. to focus on author events to create a community around books and reading, and today, it has one of the busiest schedules in the country. That's in addition to a selection of books featuring emerging writers as well as bestsellers. Recent staff picks included Therese Anne Fowler's A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts and Maxwell King's The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers.

Other Kansas Bookstores We Love: Watermark Books and Cafe (Wichita), The Raven Bookstore (Lawrence)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Kentucky: Joseph-Beth Booksellers // Lexington, Kentucky

One reviewer called Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington the "world's largest small bookstore" and that's a pretty apt description for this literary treasure trove. CEO Adam Miller says the store carries "more titles than any of the national bookstore chains in the country." JB, as it's called locally, has six outlets in both Kentucky and Ohio, but the Lexington branch is perhaps the most beautiful one. Grab a book and a bite to eat from the store's Brontë Bistro, and enjoy the atmosphere as natural light filters into the building through a skylight in the high, vaulted ceiling.

Other Kentucky Bookstores We Love: Carmichael's Bookstore (Louisville), Roebling Point Books and Coffee (Covington)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Louisiana: Faulkner House Books // New Orleans, Louisiana

Faulkner House Books in New Orleans
Lisa Cericola, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

It's only fitting that As I Lay Dying author William Faulkner's former apartment in New Orleans was converted into a bookstore. Located on Pirate's Alley in the historic French Quarter, Faulkner House Books is just as charming as you'd expect. Naturally, you'll find a number of Faulkner titles on the store's wooden shelves, but the outlet also specializes in Modern First Editions, Southern Americana books, and the works of Tennessee Williams and Walker Percy.

Other Louisiana Bookstores We Love: Garden District Book Shop (New Orleans), Cottonwood Books (Baton Rouge), Bent Pages Bookstore (Houma)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Maine: Longfellow Books // Portland, Maine

Portland has been called the "hippest city" in Maine, so it's perhaps no surprise that the coastal town is home to roughly a half-dozen indie bookstores. If you only have time to visit one, though, make it Longfellow Books. Named after Portland native Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the store hosts regular book launches, poetry readings, and book clubs (including one that focuses on international mystery books). Ideal for browsing, Longfellow hosts a variety of odd and unusual titles.

Other Maine Bookstores We Love: Owl & Turtle Bookshop Café (Camden), Annie's Book Stop (Wells), Gulf of Maine Books (Brunswick)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Maryland: Second Story Books // Rockville, Maryland

Second Story Books's cavernous warehouse in this Washington, D.C. suburb is crammed with used books, rare volumes, antiquarian collections, art and antiques, and much more, all arranged in delightfully specific categories (Byzantine studies or polar exploration, anyone?). Be ready to hunt for buried treasure at 50 percent off the cover price. There's another, smaller location in D.C.'s Dupont Circle neighborhood too.

Other Maryland Bookstores We Love: The Book Escape (Baltimore), Ukazoo Books (Towson), Normal's Books and Records (Baltimore)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Massachusetts: Trident Booksellers & Cafe // Boston, Massachusetts

With so many colleges in the state, it makes sense that Massachusetts also has an impressive array of bookstores to cater to all those students. Trident Booksellers & Cafe not only has great books, but something that's just as essential to college kids: A cafe that serves breakfast until midnight. After grabbing a meal or coffee, guests can browse the books and one of the most impressive magazine selections in the city.

Other Massachusetts Bookstores We Love: Raven Used Books (Cambridge), Titcomb's Bookshop (East Sandwich), Grolier Poetry Book Shop (Cambridge)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Michigan: John K. King Used and Rare Books // Detroit, Michigan

John K. King Used and Rare Books in Detroit, Michigan
Liza Lagman Sperl, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Book lovers could easily spend all day at John K. King Used and Rare Books in Detroit. The store houses more than a million books spread over four stories, with 25,000 volumes in the rare books room alone. Don't let the intimidating size stop you from popping in: Staff members hand out maps to guests as soon as they enter.

Other Michigan Bookstores We Love: Brilliant Books (Traverse City), Kazoo Books (Kalamazoo)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Minnesota: Wild Rumpus // Minneapolis, Minnesota

Wild Rumpus bookstore in Minneapolis
Kent Kanouse, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Though the inventory here might be geared toward younger readers, it would be hard for any true book lover to pass up a visit to this charming shop that takes its name from Where the Wild Things Are. Opened in 1992, Wild Rumpus endeavors to be more than just a bookstore—it hopes to turn curious kids into lifelong readers. The store has teamed up with the Autism Society of Minnesota to host a biweekly story time for sensory-sensitive youngsters, which takes place before the store opens to the public. While the store itself is more laid-back than "wild," it is home to a menagerie of pets—including birds, a trio of rats named for A Wrinkle In Time characters, a mischievous ferret named Ferdinand, and a couple of chinchillas named Caldecott and Newbery. It's hardly surprising that the store was named Publishers Weekly's Bookstore of the Year in 2017 (or that it was the first children's store to ever achieve that honor).

Other Minnesota Bookstores We Love: Magers & Quinn Booksellers (Minneapolis), Sweet Reads (Austin)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Mississippi: Square Books // Oxford, Mississippi

"Three bookstores 100 feet apart" boasts Oxford's Square Books. All located at the historic town square, the main bookstore holds court in an older building with a block-long second-level balcony. They also have a separate children's bookstore and "Off Square Books," a full store for lifestyle books (cooking, travel, photography, etc.) and bargain buys. Along with the usual author events, Square hosts Thacker Mountain Radio, a live weekly show that features both literary and musical talent—it's no wonder Publishers Weekly named Square Books their Bookstore of the Year in 2013.

Other Mississippi Bookstores We Love: Lemuria Books (Jackson), Reed's Gum Tree Bookstore (Tupelo)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Missouri: Left Bank Books // St. Louis, Missouri

Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri
Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri
Paul Sableman, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Founded in 1969 by a group of Washington University grad students who wanted a central place with a wide variety of literature, St. Louis's Left Bank Books is now celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Left Bank has grown into cultural institution—it's become a center for community outreach, it has a foundation for helping improve literacy in the St. Louis public schools, and it hosts multiple open book clubs each month, including a gay men's group, a lesbian group, a "read the resistance" night, and a book group dedicated to horror novels.

Other Missouri Bookstores We Love: Prospero's (Kansas City), Well Read Books (Fulton)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Montana: Country Bookshelf // Bozeman, Montana

Country Bookshelf, Bozeman
Country Bookshelf in Bozeman
Amy Guth, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Established way back in 1957, the Country Bookshelf has an old-timey feel and knowledgable staff that frequently earn it accolades. In addition to author events and a bookclub, the store partners with Bozeman schools and the Bozeman Public Library to help promote literacy with a program known as "One Book—One Bozeman."

Other Montana Bookstores We Love: Shakespeare & Co. (Missoula), Tumbleweed Bookstore and Cafe (Gardiner)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Nebraska: Indigo Bridge Books // Lincoln, Nebraska

Functioning as both a bookstore and a coffee shop, Indigo Bridge is a great hangout spot for any kind of reader. The store has a particularly strong connection to the local community, with some of its spaces designed by children. Furthermore, all of the coffee sales are donated back to the community.

Other Nebraska Bookstores We Love: The Sequel Bookshop (Kearney), A Novel Idea Bookstore (Lincoln)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Nevada: Sundance Books and Music // Reno, Nevada

Sundance Books and Music in Reno
Sundance Books and Music in Reno
Trevor Bexon, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Does anyone get a lot of reading done in the same state as Las Vegas? Apparently so: Sundance has been in business since 1985 and in its current location for the past eight years. Their selection is housed in a converted Victorian mansion that's become a monument to the written word. It's also minutes from the airport so you can pick up titles for your travels.

Other Nevada Bookstores We Love: Bauman Rare Books (Las Vegas), Copper Cat Books (Henderson)

  1. The Best Bookstore in New Hampshire: Gibson's Bookstore // Concord, New Hampshire

If you need a little more incentive to log off Amazon and go into a physical bookstore, Gibson’s in Concord makes a compelling case. In business since 1898, the store not only houses books and baristas but also acquired local toy store Imagination Village to incorporate educational toys and games.

Other New Hampshire Bookstores We Love: Book and Bar (Portsmouth), Escape Hatch Books (Jaffrey)

  1. The Best Bookstore in New Jersey: Montclair Book Center // Montclair, New Jersey

Fans have mused—semi-seriously—that being locked in the Montclair Book Center for the rest of your life wouldn't be so bad. The shop boasts over 10,000 square feet of shelves stocked to the brim with new and used titles.

Other New Jersey Bookstores We Love: Books and Greetings (Northvale), WORD (Jersey City)

  1. The Best Bookstore in New Mexico: Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeehouse // Santa Fe, New Mexico

Relax with a book and organic, locally roasted coffee indoors or on the patio at Collected Works in Santa Fe, which boasts over 30,000 titles and plenty of author readings. Fans of the bookshop point to its relaxed, inviting atmosphere and fresh desserts as reasons to linger.

Other New Mexico Bookstores We Love: Page 1 Books (Albuquerque), Bookworks (Albuquerque)

  1. The Best Bookstore in New York: The Strand Bookstore // New York, New York

The exterior of the Strand Bookstore
Eunice, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The Strand's multi-story collection of books is so plentiful it bleeds out into the sidewalk. The store claims its bookshelves hold 18 miles' worth of new, used, and rare books.

Other New York Bookstores We Love: Housing Works Bookstore Cafe (New York City), Binnacle Books (Beacon), Dog Ears Bookstore (Buffalo)

  1. The Best Bookstore in North Carolina: Main Street Books // Davidson, North Carolina

There's stiff competition in North Carolina, but Main Street Books in Davidson is one of the finest literary establishments in the state. In business since 1987, the store was actually built out of an old general store, and offers a plethora of programs and activities for book lovers. As part of the bookstore's subscription program, "The Matchbox," customers can elect to receive a staff-approved book from the store's kids' books, first editions, or paperback titles each month.

Other North Carolina Bookstores We Love: Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe (Asheville), City Lights Bookstore (Sylva)

  1. The Best Bookstore in North Dakota: Zandbroz Variety // Fargo, North Dakota

In May 1989, brothers Jeff and Greg Danz realized their longtime dream of opening the kind of store where they would want to shop, launching the first location of Zandbroz Variety in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It became so popular that they decided to head north to open a second location in Fargo just a few years later. The Fargo store features a trippy mix of smart and quirky goodies, but books are undoubtedly the main event, with a special section dedicated to local authors and titles that explore the history of the area (which is just as interesting to visitors as it is longtime residents). But there’s also a full supply of greeting cards, toys, jewelry, housewares, and other trinkets. They also brew a mean cup of coffee, giving you one more excuse to never want to leave the store’s delightfully eclectic confines.

Other North Dakota Bookstores We Love: Main Street Books (Minot), Sweets N Stories (Oakes)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Ohio: Loganberry Books // Cleveland, Ohio

Loganberry Books—named after owner Harriet Logan—has been offering Clevelanders an alternative to big bookstore chains since 1994. Considering that Loganberry boasts over 100,000 new, used, and rare titles, the shop certainly gives mainstream outlets a run for their money. (Another perk is the store's resident cat, Otis.) Online, Loganberry Books also runs helpful service called "Stump the Bookseller," which lets customers describe books they can't quite recall the title of, in hopes that other bibliophiles will be able to fill in the gaps.

Other Ohio Bookstores We Love: The Ohio Book Store (Cincinnati), Ashland Books (Ashland), Gramercy Books (Bexley)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Oklahoma: GypsySnark Books // Stillwater, Oklahoma

This little used bookstore and bric-a-brac shop in Stillwater covers pretty much any genre you might want—get lost in the sci-fi and horror nook, or search through shelves on the presidents, gardening, or local history and authors. Its unusual name reveals its owner's varied interests: Founder Susan Thomas, a retired analyst with the U.S. Forest Service, spent years studying gypsy moths. She also has always loved the Lewis Carroll poem "The Hunting of the Snark." Combine the two, and you get GypsySnark.

Other Oklahoma Bookstores We Love: Full Circle Bookstore (Oklahoma City), Chapters (Miami)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Oregon: Bloomsbury Books // Ashland, Oregon

For nearly 40 years, Bloomsbury Books has worked to make the pleasure of reading as pure as possible. It's named for an early 20th century London literary society called the Bloomsbury Group—one in which Virginia Woolf was a central figure, just as she is at this Bloomsbury. Ask the staff for recommendation, then relax with your new tome in their cozy on-site coffeeshop.

Other Oregon Bookstores We Love: Powell's Books (Portland), Gold Beach Books (Gold Beach)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Pennsylvania: Farley's Bookshop // New Hope, Pennsylvania

Whether you know it or not, there’s one thing that can turn any bookshop from good to great: a resident cat. At Farley’s, that would be Butter—an adorably attentive feline who serves as both greeter, security, and insurance that you'll make a repeat visit. Located in bustling downtown New Hope, a picturesque enclave nestled on the Delaware River, Farley's has been in business since 1967. The shop has that lived-in feel that makes you kind of nostalgic for the time before Amazon existed, and its friendly staff is full of bibliophiles who seem magically able to figure out what it is you're looking for even if the only description you can utter is "a true crime book with a black cover by that guy." It's also worth noting that the store has a private parking lot, which is a rarity in the area and a godsend for shoppers who have a tendency to lose all track of time when surrounded by an impossibly well-curated collection of literature.

Other Pennsylvania Bookstores We Love: Head House Books (Philadelphia), The Old Library Bookshop (Bethlehem), Books Galore (Erie), City Books (Pittsburgh)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Rhode Island: Cellar Stories // Providence, Rhode Island

Cellar Stories prides itself on being "the largest used and rare bookstore in the smallest state in the U.S." The shop has graduated from the basement location that inspired its name to a Providence store big enough to house over 70,000 volumes. It's a great place to find books related to Rhode Island and New England history, as well as obscure science fiction novels, cookbooks, vintage paperbacks, and more.

Other Rhode Island Bookstores We Love: Barrington Books (Cranston), Spring Street Bookstore (Newport)

  1. The Best Bookstore in South Carolina: Blue Bicycle Books // Charleston, South Carolina

Don't let the small(ish) storefront fool you: Blue Bicycle Books on Charleston's Upper King Street, located just a few blocks from the College of Charleston, takes up a substantial amount of real estate: It goes back 172 feet. It has ample space for as many as 150 people to attend the more than 200 author events the store hosts each year. David Sedaris, R.L. Stine, Sue Monk Kidd, Bill Murray, and Neil Gaiman are just a few of the hundreds of authors who have stopped by since Blue Bicycle opened in 1995. The shop devotes a chunk of its shelf space to local Charleston authors as well as military history (The Citadel and Fort Sumter are just a stone's throw away, after all), but it doesn't shy away from bestsellers and other new titles. The shop also deals in rare signed first editions from the likes of Harper Lee and William Faulkner. In an effort to engage its community of young readers and writers, the store also hosts a summer writing camp for kids and the annual YALLFest, which attracts more than 12,000 YA fans (not to mention top authors in the genre) to the city each November.

Other South Carolina Bookstores We Love: M.Judson Booksellers (Greenville), Fiction Addiction (Greenville)

  1. The Best Bookstore in South Dakota: Mitzi's Books // Rapid City, South Dakota

For more than a decade, Mitzi's has been offering Rapid City's literati an amazingly well-curated selection of books in a comfy-cozy shop that kind of feels like an extension of your own living room. You'll get no dirty looks here if you decide to plop down in a chair and while away an afternoon reading one of the knowledgeable staff's latest book recommendations. In fact, hanging around is encouraged. Best of all, there's just as much variety in the well-stocked children's book section, making a visit to Mitzi's an easy all-ages affair.

Other South Dakota Bookstores We Love: The Book Zealot (Watertown), Prairie Pages Bookseller (Pierre)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Tennessee: Parnassus Books // Nashville, Tennessee

Parnassus Books ("An Independent Bookstore For Independent People") has become an oasis for Nashville book lovers. Indeed, it was designed that way: Bestselling author Ann Patchett and publishing veteran Karen Hayes opened Parnassus in 2011 at a moment when Nashville had zero other bookstores, drawing on Patchett's childhood love of smaller-scale, personable bookshops. "I wanted to re-create that kind of bookstore, one that valued books and readers above muffins and adorable plastic watering cans," she writes on the Parnassus website. Highlights include books by local authors, a standout biography section, a passionate staff, regular author events (including a Saturday story time), and a "Conscious Aging" book club.

Other Tennessee Bookstores We Love: Burke's Book Store (Memphis), Landmark Booksellers (Franklin), novel., (Memphis)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Texas: BookPeople // Austin, Texas

The city of Austin, Texas, has gone through rapid changes in the last 10 years. While restaurants have gotten more expensive and buildings have gotten taller, some staples of the city remain. The charm of "old" Austin can still be found at BookPeople, a local favorite since 1970. Every bookseller there is extremely well informed, they're never out of stock of the classics, and they are always promoting new, great literature. Some of the biggest authors in recent memory have made their way through for readings and events. It's been the best bookstore in Austin since they opened their doors, and it's always worth stopping by.

Other Texas Bookstores We Love: Interabang Books (Dallas), Burrowing Owl Books (Canyon), The Twig Bookshop (San Antonio)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Utah: The King's English // Salt Lake City, Utah

King's English bookstore in Salt Lake City, Utah
Christian Harrison, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Ann Berman and Betsy Burton wanted a place to work on their novels when they opened King’s English in 1977. They ended up committing themselves fully to the business, and today, King's English is one of the most beloved bookshops in Utah. Though it has attracted some famous fans, like author James Patterson (who gave the store a grant to build its children's section), it's still a community business where employees remember your name and your reading preferences.

Other Utah Bookstores We Love: Weller Book Works (Salt Lake City), Back of Beyond Books (Moab)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Vermont: Northshire Bookstore // Manchester Center, Vermont

This warm, family-owned bookstore has been around since 1976, although it moved across the street to take over the beautiful premises of a historic inn. With a great selection, plenty of reading nooks, and a dedicated staff (some of whom have been there for decades), you're sure to find your next favorite read. Close to a third of the shop is dedicated to kids' books, which makes it a perfect excursion for little ones. There's food, too, at the Spiral Press Café, in case customers get peckish.

Other Vermont Bookstores We Love: The Vermont Book Shop (Middlebury), Crow Bookshop (Burlington), Bartleby's Books (Wilmington)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Virginia: Chop Suey Books // Richmond, Virginia

Chop Suey Books in Richmond, Virginia
Russ Walker, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

According to its website, Chop Suey Books has its name because its original location was on the former site of George's Chop Suey, whose rusted sign remained on the wall even after the eatery had gone. But the term chop suey, which roughly translates to "a little bit of this, a little bit of that," also symbolizes the store's eclectic approach, which ranges across subject matter and material. Today the shop is home to two floors of books, both used and new, as well as a very sweet black-and-white cat known to lounge in the shop windows.

Other Virginia Bookstores We Love: One More Page Books (Arlington), BookPeople (Richmond), Blue Whale Books (Charlottesville)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Washington: The Elliott Bay Book Company // Seattle, Washington

A community mainstay since 1973 (even if some still mourn the original, historic Pioneer Square location), Elliott Bay Books is the place to find the latest books from established names and rising stars alike. New releases (as well as some older gems) are prominently displayed with hand-written notes from the sales staff, and the local history section is particularly strong. A downstairs area is one of the best places in town to catch local and touring authors, and the cafe is a perfect spot to refresh or even work on a laptop (provided you can find a seat). For serious bibliophiles, it's a must-see destination in the Pacific Northwest.

Other Washington Bookstores We Love:: Third Place Books (Seattle), Auntie's (Spokane), Darvill's Bookstore (Eastsound, Orcas Island)

  1. The Best Bookstore in West Virginia: Taylor Books // Charleston, West Virginia

It would be easy to lose track of time and accidentally spend an entire day at Taylor Books, Charleston's one-stop shop for all things artsy. Sure, the brick-walled building is charming, and there are thousands of books to choose from, but those aren't the only draws. Customers can also grab a coffee and scone (lovingly made by owner Ann Saville) from the built-in cafe, take a pottery class, stroll through an art gallery, and attend live musical performances on the weekends.

Other West Virginia Bookstores We Love: Paradox Book Store (Wheeling), Books and Brews (Hurricane)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Wisconsin: Dotters Books // Eau Clair, Wisconsin

This independent, woman-owned bookstore works hard to curate its selection to focus on women, authors of color, and smaller publishing presses. One of the ways Dotters stands behind their selections? Every book is forward-facing, meaning no books can be hidden away in the corner of a shelf. And if you can't make it into the beautiful little shop, its monthly subscription service will mail that month's book club pick in addition to a new recommendation list and a locally designed bookmark.

Other Wisconsin Bookstores We Love: Boswell Book Company (Milwaukee), Village Booksmith (Baraboo)

  1. The Best Bookstore in Wyoming: Sidekicks Bookbar // Rock Springs, Wyoming

This bright, cozy little enclave in downtown Rock Springs has everything you need for a relaxing evening in, with or without your favorite bibliophile friends. Find a book on their floor-to-ceiling wall of titles, tuck into one of many white couches that wind through the shop, and order some wine and charcuterie. Sidekicks has partnered with Jackson Hole Winery, so the selection of local wines is as well-stocked as the bestsellers up front.

Other Wyoming Bookstores We Love: Jackson Hole Book Trader (Jackson), Sidekicks Book & Wine Bar (Rock Springs)

By Colin Ainsworth, Erika Berlin, Michele Debczak, Shaunacy Ferro, Kat Long, Bess Lovejoy, Emily Petsko, Javier Reyes, Jake Rossen, and Jenn Wood.

The 15 Best TV Series Finales of All Time

Ursula Coyote, AMC
Ursula Coyote, AMC

What makes a great TV series finale? It depends on the show, of course. But no matter what series you may be watching, you want a finale that ties up loose ends without being annoyingly completist, gives you heart without seeming overly sentimental, and of course makes you feel just as happy, sad, thrilled, or compelled as you did with each previous episode. It’s a very tricky needle to thread, and some series have undoubtedly done it better than others.

In celebration of what it takes to deliver a great final episode, here are (some of) the greatest series finales of all time.

1. The Sopranos // “Made In America”

“Made In America” is, infamously, the episode of television that made millions of viewers briefly think that their cable had just gone out at some crucial moment, when in reality what happened was creator David Chase simply decided one seemingly random moment was the exact second where Tony Soprano’s journey would end. The series finale of The Sopranos spent the better part of its runtime wrapping up a mob war that crippled the family, and then devoted its final minutes to a family dinner set to Journey. Fans still debate the meaning and merits of the final scene, but the sense of palpable unease Chase built up in those last moments—signifying Tony’s perpetual state of watching his back—were a brilliant way to end a show that began as a meditation on existential dread in the first place.

2. Six Feet Under // “Everyone’s Waiting”

The final minutes of “Everyone’s Waiting” are among the most famous in the history of television, and even if the rest of the episode had been a disappointment, they would still rank among the greatest farewells in the medium. As it is, Six Feet Under's final episode with the Fisher family is a gripping, heartfelt, and bitterly funny gem, all building to that last montage. As Sia’s "Breathe Me" plays, we see the deaths of every member of the main cast, which reminds us that death takes many forms beyond mere tragedy, all culminating in the last breaths of Claire. Just thinking about it is enough to make fans of the show burst into tears.

3. Breaking Bad // “Felina”

Few series finales have ever faced such high expectations and managed to rise to meet them so powerfully as Breaking Bad did with its final episode in 2013. “Felina” has everything you could ever want from a Breaking Bad send-off: Walt’s final conversation with Skyler, that incredible revenge shoot-out featuring the rigged machine gun, Jesse’s defiant cry of freedom as he drives away, Walt’s collapse, and that little smile of victory on his face. Some series finales deliver what you want; others deliver what you need. “Felina” somehow manages to do both.

4. M*A*S*H // “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”

M*A*S*H was on longer than the Korean War was actually fought, and was more than 250 episodes into its run by the time “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” aired and became one of the most-watched television events in the history of the medium. You’d think the staff of the 4077th might have run out of things to say after such a run, but the series finale manages to be absolutely jam-packed, featuring everything from Hawkeye’s dark repressed memories to Klinger’s wedding. It all builds to that final shot of “GOODBYE” written in stones, which still ranks as one of the most iconic moments in TV history.

5. The Americans // “START”

The Americans quietly became one of the best shows on TV before finally winning a bunch of awards for its final season, and with good reason. The final adventures of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings as they contemplated a return to Russia and an end to their double lives in America were among the best the series ever delivered, all building to a final episode that stuck the landing in every possible way, from the thrills of their final escape to the emotional payoff of their daughter Paige’s big decision.

6. The Wire // "-30-"

The Wire was never going to end anything in a clean, cut-and-dried way, but its series finale did mange to wield the various talents at play in the series to end everything on an ambitious and fairly comprehensive note. The finale reckoned with many of the same questions the entire series did—from the nature of justice to the fragility of power systems and how far people will go to keep them in place—as it worked to resolve the homeless serial killer hoax, illegal wiretapping, and the all-important future of Tommy Carcetti. One last montage reminds us that life goes on in Baltimore, whether the show’s characters have reshaped it for the better or not.

7. Seinfeld // “The Finale”

The series finale of Seinfeld is also among the most divisive in the history of television, and it all begins with an amusing swerve. The show leads off by making us think Jerry and George are about to embark on a typical sitcom sendoff, bidding New York City farewell as they head to California to make a television series, but then the real plot kicks in as the show’s quartet of main characters is arrested for literally doing nothing as a man is carjacked.

The brilliance of the show’s protagonists getting in trouble for the very same thing they’d been doing for nine seasons in a “show about nothing” then pivots to a trial that does play by the sitcom rule of allowing old fan-favorite characters to come back as witnesses, then launches into a wrap-up that mocks the characters, the show’s fans, and the show’s own place of seeming importance in the pop culture landscape. Sitcom finales are usually more like curtain calls; "The Finale" was a provocative final joke.

8. Battlestar Galactica // “Daybreak Parts 1-3”

The finale of Battlestar Galactica might be a little too metaphysical in nature for some viewers, but there’s something about the sense of totality running through it that makes it a perfect sendoff for a series that always placed everything on the line with every single story it told. As the surviving humans of the fleet finally defeat their Cylon enemies, Starbuck sends them to a new home, and they agree to abandon all of their old technology and live among the primitive humans already present on what turns out to be our Earth. It’s a beautiful blending of victory, bittersweet goodbyes, seismic changes to everyone’s lives, angels, the future, and—believe it or not—“All Along the Watchtower.”

9. Star Trek: The Next Generation // “All Good Things…”

“Encounter at Farpoint,” the series premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation, is a famously slow, bloated affair that was a sign of things to come for the relatively weak first season. “All Good Things…” brilliantly repurposes that story as a time travel saga in which Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) learns that Q, the alien being who put humanity on trial back in the premiere, is continuing his test of the human race by placing Picard in three different eras of his life. It’s a brilliant conceit that makes an elegant circle out of the series while also allowing Picard to give viewers a grand tour of the series’ entire history, including his own future.

10. Buffy the Vampire Slayer // “Chosen”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer spent weeks setting up its series finale, laying out a last stand that would either end Buffy and her gang of allies forever or wipe Sunnydale off the face of the Earth—or both. The final battle itself has since been dwarfed by more epic series like Game of Thrones, but what makes “Chosen” so magical isn’t its fight scenes, but its heart. With her own army of potential Slayers at her back, Buffy asks Willow to perform a spell that will give them all the powers of a Slayer, leading to one of the most empowering montages in the history of television. Then, even while mourning absent friends, Buffy is able to look toward tomorrow.

11. Newhart // “The Last Newhart”

So many sitcom series finales are all about final goodbyes. Very often characters leave their longtime TV homes for somewhere new, leading to tearful farewells or at least a final moment for everyone to spend one last day together. Newhart absolutely blew that premise up with a twisty, joke-filled finale that includes the entire town being turned into a resort, a five-year time jump, and that brilliant final scene which reveals all of Newhart to have been the dream of Dr. Bob Hartley, Newhart’s character from The Bob Newhart Show. The level of ambition is admirable. That the ambition translated to genuine laughs is wonderful.

12. Twin Peaks: The Return // “Part 17 and Part 18”

Twin Peaks famously ended its early ’90s run with a cliffhanger, which then led to the joyous reception that accompanied The Return, an 18-hour monument to creative freedom which everyone hoped would finally provide some answers. In true David Lynch fashion, though, the answers we got were often difficult to parse. And by the time it was all over, we were left with even more questions. The final two hours of The Return are among the most mind-meltingly intense episodes of television ever devised, all building to a daring and stunning final scene that still has fans talking.

13. The West Wing // “Tomorrow”

The West Wing played the long game with its series finale thanks to a year-long election storyline, which meant that its final episode was always going to be the combination of both an end and a beginning. The intense election story—which included a live debate episode—culminated in the inauguration of a new president, and a farewell to Martin Sheen’s President Josiah Bartlet, but the sense of transition inherent in the plot managed to imbue the series with a new sense of potential energy as it made the turn toward home. Watching “Tomorrow,” you can’t help but fantasize about what it will be like for Josh Lyman and Sam Seaborn to be together in the White House again, changing the world in all new ways. That emotional weight meant that, after seven years, we actually all felt like we could use a little more of The West Wing.

14. Halt and Catch Fire // “Ten of Swords”

Mackenzie Davis as Cameron Howe in Halt and Catch Fire
Bob Mahoney, AMC

Halt and Catch Fire never got the audience it deserved when it was airing, which means many people likely don’t know just how brilliant and daring the show got in its final seasons, which included a time jump, a shocking death, and the dawn of the internet age. “Ten of Swords” is all about closing old chapters and starting new ones, and sends the show’s trinity of remaining major characters in promising new directions, even as they all come to terms with the fact that they can never again recapture what they once had.

15. 30 Rock // “Last Lunch”

30 Rock was one of the most acclaimed comedies of its era in part because of its outright refusal to ever be straightforward about anything. Every plot was jokes on top of jokes and references on top of references, creating a show that rewards viewers who can’t get enough of rapid fire wit (and deserves rewatching). “Last Lunch” continued that tradition while also managing to inject some genuine emotion into the affair, as Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) and Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) reconcile their friendship in a half hour packed with so many gags and callbacks you could watch it half a dozen times and still not catch everything.

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