The feature stories, dispatches, columns, and essays in The Atlantic's January/February 2013 issue include:
What's Inside America's Banks?
More than four years after the 2008 financial crisis, public confidence in banks is as low as ever. Even sophisticated investors describe big banks as "black boxes" that may still be concealing enormous risks--the sort that could take down the economy. Again. A close investigation of the financial statements of Wells Fargo, one of the country's most conservative and trusted banks, uncovers the reasons for these fears. In the bank's 236-page annual report, Frank Partnoy and Jesse Eisinger encountered cryptic, opaque language that raises serious questions about many of the company's trading practices, including $2.8 trillion in derivatives and $1.46 trillion in variable-interest entities, accounting tricks that resemble the infamous ones Enron used to hide its debts. Every major bank's financial statements have some of these same elements, and many are much, much worse: impossible to decipher, or to trust.
Digital exclusive: Eisinger and Derek Thompson, The Atlantic's business editor, discuss banks' hidden risks.
Awake Under the Knife
Since its introduction in 1846, anesthesia has allowed for medical miracles. Limbs can be removed, tumors examined, organs replaced--and a patient will feel and remember nothing. Or so we choose to believe. In reality, tens of thousands of people wake up on the table each year. Since their bodies are usually paralyzed and their eyes are taped shut, they can't alert anyone to their condition. In efforts to eradicate this phenomenon, Joshua Lang finds, the medical community has been forced to confront how little it really knows about anesthesia's effects on the brain. The doctor who may be closest to understanding may also answer a question that has confounded scientists and philosophers for centuries: What does it mean to be conscious?
A Million First Dates
First, pick from a multitude of sites: Match.com, eHarmony.com, OkCupid.com. Next, scour through hundreds--no, thousands--of profiles. If a relationship is what you want, those are some seriously good odds. So you start dating someone. Now, say this love affair, once promising, fizzles. No big deal. There's always that profile of yours to fall back on. Dan Slater explains how online dating is changing our thinking about commitment, and even threatening monogamy.
Second terms in the White House have ranged from the disappointing to the disastrous (see: Dwight D. Eisenhower's political routing, Richard Nixon's resignation, Bill Clinton's impeachment). But, according to Akhil Reed Amar, there have been exceptions--and Obama's new term could be one of them. Here's how.
Enter the Dragon
By many accounts, the Chinese zodiac's dragon is the most auspicious sign in the 12-year cycle. In this Year of the Dragon, birthrates are booming, and that presents some challenges for mother-to-be Mara Hvistendahl, who is living in Shanghai. For starters: finding a hospital bed.
Where the Streets Have No Name
In much of rural America, the roads are unmapped and the streets are unnamed. That is about to change in West Virginia, where one of the most ambitious mapping projects in recent decades is under way. Deirdre Mask visits McDowell County to take in the wide variety of street-naming philosophies.
When the 113th Congress convenes in January, one of the most striking aspects will be its inexperience: a full 38 percent of House members have served for fewer than three years. Among them is soon-to-be Congressman Ted Yoho. Ben Terris profiles the veterinarian who defeated a 12-term incumbent for the seat.
In the early 19th century, some 14,000 distilleries were in operation across the United States. Nearly all of them shuttered during Prohibition, and only a few returned after Repeal in 1933--mostly the large-scale producers who could navigate Congress's new, byzantine regulations. Eight decades later, Wayne Curtis finds that micro-distilling is making a comeback, in spite of the regulatory headaches for the little guy.
The Places You'll Go
In The Atlantic's technology column, Google's Michael Jones talks with James Fallows about the future of mapping, and why you'll never be lost again.
The Web's New Monopolists
If you can corner the market for, say, search engines or social networks, your company starts to sound a lot like a utility: a monopoly we are willing to live with and often can't live without. Hence this warning from Justin Fox: the Googles and Facebooks of the world may be inventive now, but that doesn't mean they won't strangle growth and reduce our options down the line--if we let them.
Downton Abbey's Tabloid Charm
On the occasion of Downton Abbey's highly anticipated Season Three debut in the United States (January 6! Check your local listings!), James Parker reflects on the series' "ludicrous charms," and its place as TV's reigning aristo-soap.
Digital exclusive: Parker narrates scenes from Downton Abbey, Britain's most popular cultural export since Harry Potter.
These articles and more are featured in the January/February issue of The Atlantic, available today, January 3, 2013, on TheAtlantic.com and newsstands.