I can't go a week without reading an item about how my attention spam is diminishing. I suspect the overwhelming amount of digital information flooding my frontal lobe is in part to blame, though I'm not entirely sure - I never manage to get through the pieces. However, after having a tough time making it through even Snooki's Times profile this past weekend, I've decided it must be true. Which is why I was elated to find this guide to the best magazine articles ever (by Kevin Kelly) floating around tumblr this morning. Practice material!
51 Articles to be exact. Take on two a day if your ADD is up for it, and take solace in the fact that your summer afternoon wasn't a total waste.
The following are suggestions for the best magazine articles (in English) ever. Arranged in chronological order. Stars denote how many times a correspondent has suggested it. Reader notes are in italics. For a great way to read long-form magazine articles on a tablet device see my review here.
* Vannevar Bush, "As We May Think." Atlantic Magazine, July 1945.
** John Updike, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu." The New Yorker, October 22, 1960. About Ted Williams career framed by his last game. I read it every opening day without fail.
** Norman Mailer, "Superman Comes to the Supermarket." Esquire, November 1960.
* Richard Hofstadter, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." Harper's Magazine, November 1964.
** Tom Wolfe, "The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!" Esquire, March 1965.
**** Gay Talese, "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold." Esquire, April 1966.
** John Sack, "M." Esquire, October 1966.
** Hunter Thompson, "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved." Scanlan's Monthly, June 1970.
* Tom Wolfe, "Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers." New York Magazine, June 8, 1970.
*** Ron Rosenbaum, "Secrets of the Little Blue Box." Esquire, October 1971. The first and best account of telephone hackers, more amazing than you might believe.
** Stewart Brand, "Space War: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Dearth Among Computer Bums." Rolling Stone, December 7, 1972. Written nearly 40 years ago, this account of virtual realities has all the classic props: midnight hours, geek humor, nerd hubris, and other worldliness.
* Howard Kohn and David Weir, "Tania's World: The Inside Story." Rolling Stone, October 23, 1975. About Patty Hearst's kidnapping.
** Edward Jay Epstein, "Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?." Atlantic Magazine, February 1982. Diamonds, De Beers, monopoly & marketing.
* Frank Deford, "The Boxer and the Blonde." Sports Illustrated, June 17, 1985. Story of a hard Pittsburgh boxer and the woman who captured his heart.
** Richard Ben Cramer, "What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?" Esquire, June 1986.
* Bill Barol, "I Stayed Up With Jerry." Newsweek, September 1987.
* Gary Smith, "Shadow of a Nation." Sports Illustrated, February 18, 1991. Feature on the Crow Indians -- the story that won him his first National Magazine Award.
* Richard Preston, "The Mountains of Pi." The New Yorker, March 2, 1992. Two brothers build a supercomputer from mailorder parts in the New York apartment. All it does is compute new digits of Pi.
* Karl Taro Greenfeld, "The Incredibly Strange Mutant Creatures who Rule the Universe of Alienated Japanese Zombie Computer Nerds (Otaku to You)." Wired, March/April 1993.
* David Foster Wallace, "Ticket to the Fair." Harper's Magazine, July 1994.
** Gary Wolf, "The Curse of Xanadu." Wired, June 1995. The story of Ted's Nelson attempt to heal his personality with his invention of hypertext.
* Susan Orlean, "Orchid Fever." The New Yorker, January 23, 1995.
* Barry Lopez, "On the Wings of Commerce." Harper's, October 1995. An excellent view inside the hidden world of commercial air freight, which powers a big chunk of the global economy. Think Neal Stevenson's glass necklace (see below), but airborne.
** David Foster Wallace, "Shipping Out: On the (Nearly Lethal) Comforts of a Luxury Cruise." Harper's Magazine, January 1996.
* David Foster Wallace, "The String Theory." Esquire, July 1996.
**** Neal Stephenson, "Mother Earth, Mother Board: Wiring the Planet." Wired, December 1996.
* John Gregory Dunne, "The Humbolt Murders." The New Yorker, January 13, 1997.
* Katie Hafner, "The Epic Saga of The Well." Wired, May 1997.
* Tom Junod, "Can you say- Hero?" Esquire, November 1998. A profile of Mr. Rogers.
* Robert Kurson, "My Favorite Teacher." Esquire, March 1, 2000.
* Malcolm Gladwell, "The Pitchman." The New Yorker, October 30, 2000. Part story teller and part sleuth, he gets beyond the simple sound bite to the core of what drives Popeil and his process. The fundamental takeaway is the inseparability of product design and product marketing in building products designed to be coveted by the customer they are target for.
* Rebecca Mead, “You’ve Got Blog.” The New Yorker, November 13, 2000. Profile of two bloggers before I knew what a blog was.
* David Foster Wallace, "Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars Over Usage." Harper's Magazine, April 2001. A tome to the politics of language.
* Edward W. Said "The Clash of Ignorance." The Nation, October 22, 2001. In response to Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations."
* William Langewiesche, "The Crash of EgyptAir 990." Atlantic Magazine, November 2001.
* Steven Kotler, "Vision Quest: A Half Centure of Artificial-sigh Research has Succeeded. And Now This Blind Man Can See." Wired, September 2002.
* Calvin Tomkins, “His Body, Himself.” The New Yorker, January 27, 2003. Profile of Mathew Barney.
*** Tom Junod, "The Falling Man." Esquire, September 2003.
* Stephen Dubner, "The Silver Thief." The New Yorker, May 17, 2004.
**** David Foster Wallace, "Consider the Lobster." Gourmet Magazine, Aug 2004.
* Gene Weingarten, "The Peekaboo Paradox." The Washington Post, Sunday Magazine, January 22, 2006. Story about the weirdest clown, the Great Zucchini, you'll never want to meet. Keep reading....
* C.J. Chivers, "The School." Esquire, June 2006.
**** David Foster Wallace, "Federer As Religious Experience." The New York Times, Play Magazine, August 20, 2006.
* Jonathan Lethem, "The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism." Harper's Magazine, February 2007.
* Gene Weingarten, "Pearls Before Breakfast." The Washington Post, Magazine, April 8, 2007. Joshua Bell is one of the world's greatest violinists. His instrument of choice is a multimillion-dollar Stradivarius. If he played it for spare change, incognito, outside a bustling Metro stop in Washington, would anyone notice?
* Chris Anderson, "The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete." Wired, June 23, 2008.
* Gene Weingarten, "Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?" The Washington Post, Magazine, March 8, 2009. Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing.
* Mike Sager, "Todd Marinovich: The Man Who Never Was." Esquire, May 2009.
* Thomas Lake, "The Debtor." Atlanta Magazine, November 2009.
* Evan Ratliff, "Writer Evan Ratliff Tried to Vanish: Here’s What Happened." Wired, November 20, 2009.
Thanks to Matthew Robbins, Jim Hausman, Richard Perrin, Louis Rossetto, Steven Levy, Pete Forde, Martin Haeberli, Howard Rheingold, Todd Lappin, Mark Frauenfelder, Thodoris Georgakopoulos, Lee Joramo, Jeb Adams, Jason Kottke, James Cooper, MarkA, Matt LaWell, Erik Price, Donna Lowe, Sam Posten, Bill Fisher, Rodolfo S Filho, Edward Fu, Oliver Hulland, Craig Pittman, Peter Jacobson, Steven Leckart, Robin Southern, Mark Sigal, Brian Burt, Mark Neigh, Bill Barol
What is your favorite magazine article of all time? Email me and I'll add it, or add a star.