More Than 100 Exceptional Works of Journalism

This fantastic nonfiction from 2016 is still worth discovering and pondering today.

Damir Sagolj / Reuters

Each year, I keep a running list of exceptional nonfiction that I encounter as I publish The Best of Journalism, an email newsletter that I curate weekly for its subscribers. This is my annual attempt to bring roughly 100 of those stories that stood the test of time to a wider audience. I could not read or note every worthy article published in the past few years, and I haven't included any paywalled articles or anything published at The Atlantic. But everything that follows is worthy of wider attention and engagement. I hope it provides fodder for reflection and inspiration for future writing. My thanks to all of the publishers, editors and, writers who made these gems possible.

The Art of Storytelling

Antonio Bronic / Reuters

POPULAR MECHANICS / Marooned Among the Polar Bears by Justin Nobel

“Sergey Ananov is trapped on a slab of ice in the Arctic Circle. He has no locator beacon, no phone, and barely any water. The fog will hide him from any rescuers. Night will come. Hypothermia will come. And whatever large, powerful creatures that scratch out their existence in this primordial world—maybe they will come too.”

STARTUP / Season Four by Lisa Chow (audio)

Dov Charney recounts his rise and fall at American Apparel and tries to make a comeback.

THE NEW YORKER / Citizen Khan by Kathryn Schulz

“Wyoming is huge—you could fit all of New England inside it, then throw in Hawaii and Maryland for good measure—but it is the least populous state in the Union; under six hundred thousand people live there, fewer than in Louisville, Kentucky. Its Muslim population is correspondingly tiny—perhaps seven or eight hundred people. Contrary to the claims of Stop Islam in Gillette, however, the Muslims who established the mosque are not new to the region. Together with some twenty per cent of all Muslims in Wyoming, they trace their presence back more than a hundred years, to 1909, when a young man named Zarif Khan immigrated to the American frontier.”

DAGBLADET / The Baby in the Plastic Bag by Bernt Jakob Oksnes

“The plastic bag is stained with blood. He leans down, grasps one of the handles, and realises that there is yet another carrier bag inside the first, its handles knotted together. As he works to untie the knot, muffled whimpers can be heard from within. The knot gives way and the plastic handles slide apart. As Tor glances inside the bag, he beholds what lies within. It is a human being. A living newborn baby, blue and cold.”

CHICAGO MAGAZINE / Dispatches From the Rap Wars by Forrest Stuart

“For the gang—and others like it—the rappers are designated as the ticket out of poverty. It becomes the responsibility of the rest of the members to support and protect them. Each rapper has ‘shooters.’ These are members who make good on the threats the rappers dish out in their lyrics. And, yes, that means shooting—and sometimes killing—people. CBE has about a dozen shooters. A.J. may be the one holding an automatic weapon in his Instagram photos, but he has never shot at the opps.”

ROADS & KINGDOMS / The Barnacle Queens of the Spanish Seaside by Matt Goulding

“When she left her job to work the rocks, she fell instantly in love with almost everything about her new profession: the open air, the ever-changing office space, the sisterly camaraderie. But she didn’t love the way she and her fellow women were treated.”

GQ / Inside the Federal Bureau of Way Too Many Guns by Jeanne Marie Laskas

“There's no telling how many guns we have in America—and when one gets used in a crime, no way for the cops to connect it to its owner. The only place the police can turn for help is a Kafkaesque agency in West Virginia, where, thanks to the gun lobby, computers are illegal and detective work is absurdly antiquated. On purpose. Thing is, the geniuses who work there are quietly inventing ways to do the impossible.”

SPIEGEL / Three Shepherds on a Surreal Front by Christoph Reuter

“The attempt to retake Mosul from Islamic State has been underway for almost two weeks. Resistance is fierce and chaos on the front lines has resulted in some surreal scenes.”

HUFFPOST / Meet the Ungers by Jason Fagone

“When they were young, 230 men and one woman were convicted of terrible crimes—murders, rapes, robberies. They thought they were going to die in prison. They were supposed to. But then, just a few years back, Merle Unger Jr., one of the most notorious escape artists of our time, discovered an ingenious (and legal) way to get them out. It was an unimagined second chance for them—and a nerve-wracking experiment for everyone else.”

THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE / David’s Ankles: How Imperfections Could Bring Down the World’s Most Perfect Statue by Sam Anderson

“My mind could not stop imagining it. An earthquake hits the center of Florence: The church bells ring out of time, terra cotta tiles rain down from the Renaissance rooftops, priceless paintings rattle off the walls of the Uffizi. Meanwhile, inside the Accademia Gallery, the David’s pedestal begins to tilt. Slightly at first, just enough to shift the statue’s gaze, so that he looks not at his old enemy anymore—the implied Goliath off in the distance—but at a new one: the floor he’s been standing on for 134 years.”

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES / Framed by Christopher Goffard

“She ran down the hall, seized by panic. She thought it must be about her husband, who was now working as a traveling wine salesman. He was on the road all the time, and she thought he’d been in an accident. Officer Charles Shaver tried to calm her down. He was not here about her husband. Did she have anything in her car she shouldn’t have?”

VANITY FAIR / Joan Rivers’s Remarkable Rise to (and Devastating Fall From) Comedy’s Highest Ranks by Leslie Bennetts

“Only a few months earlier, Joan Rivers had everything she ever wanted: fame and fortune, the job of her dreams, a loyal husband, a loving child, a lavish estate—and a future that beckoned with enticing possibilities. After years of struggle, she had not only succeeded as a comedian, but made history on the newly launched FOX Network as television’s first and only female late-night talk show host. And now she’d lost it all.”

Slices of American Life

Robert Galbraith/Reuters

ESPN / O.J.: Made in America (video)

The year’s best documentary.

THE WASHINGTON POST / From Belief to Outrage: The Decline of the Middle Class Reaches the Next American Town by Eli Saslow

“Fast-food consumption was beginning to tick up. Foreclosures were up. Meth usage up. Heroin up. Death rate up. In Dan Quayle’s Middle America, one of the biggest news stories of the year had been the case of a mother who had let her three-week-old child suck heroin off her finger.”

THE WEEKLY STANDARD / Big Budget Items by Andrew Ferguson

“As you walked around you got the idea that here, right here, after 200 years of ceaseless propulsion across a vast continent, the American dream had finally come to rest. This is where it had been heading all along. And then you turned a corner and saw that Frank Gehry didn't like it.”

VIRGINIA QUARTERLY REVIEW/ Vertical Descent by Elisabeth Donnelly

“If sport, in the truest, downright ancient-Olympic sense of the word, is embodied by a lone warrior running to Marathon to tell the troops news of war, then ‘synchro,’ as it’s called by insiders, is its opposite. It’s not a war game. It’s not a show of superior speed and cunning in comparison to a direct opponent. It developed over the last hundred years, and it’s obstensibly, on the surface, showbiz. Yet while showbiz may be in its origins, synchro is a celebration of extraordinary athletes proving that they can perform with skill and beauty in the water. It combines dance, gymnastics, choreography, originality, and artistry in order to tell a story. The competition, as it is, is seeing who can be more perfect in the water.”

THE LINCOLN JOURNAL STAR / A Mom for All Ages by Marcella Mercer

“Medicine for Arianna and Dontae alone tops out at $12,200 a month. The family’s medical needs are so massive and complex that Lynn’s Dakotamart Pharmacy in nearby Belle Fourche hired an additional full-time employee just to process their prescriptions. By age 3, it had cost about $3 million to keep Arianna alive.”

REPLY ALL / A Simple Question and Lost in a Cab by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman (audio)

SACRAMENTO NEWS & REVIEW / Homeless—and In Hiding by Raheem F. Hosseini

“There are more than a dozen—mostly of Southeast Asian descent, dehydrated and dazed groggy by the sun—but this represents only a third of the people who called this field home and flew under the radar of Sacramento County’s lead homeless agency. Or at least they used to.”

OXFORD AMERICAN / Ride Along With the Cow Police by Matt Wolfe

“Cattle rustling, signature crime of the Old West, has returned to Texas.”

ARS TECHNICA / Finding North America’s Lost Medieval City by Annalee Newitz

“A thousand years ago, huge pyramids and earthen mounds stood where East St. Louis sprawls today in Southern Illinois. This majestic urban architecture towered over the swampy Mississippi River floodplains, blotting out the region's tiny villages. Beginning in the late 900s, word about the city spread throughout the southeast. Thousands of people visited for feasts and rituals, lured by the promise of a new kind of civilization.”

GQ / Inside the Church of Chili’s by Daniel Riley

“Like most chains, there’s plenty that’s cheesy about Chili’s Grill and Bar. But there is also something special—something that converts its most devoted employees into enthusiastic, unblinking evangelists. Their devotion to The Sizzle is pure, and these are their secrets.”

THE WASHINGTON POST / What Kind of Childhood Is That by Eli Saslow

“After losing their parents to overdoses, three children confront America's opioid epidemic.”

THE GUARDIAN / McDonald’s: You Can Sneer, But It’s the Glue That Holds Communities Together by Chris Arnade

“When many lower-income Americans feel isolated and empty, they yearn for physical social networks. And all across the U.S., this happens organically at McDonald’s.”

WIRED / The Internet Really Has Changed Everything by Rex Sorgatz

“Napoleon would be trapped in the amber of time, in a big glass case, if not for one thing: access to information.”

CITY JOURNAL / Portrait of the Neighborhood as a Hipster Haven by Kay S. Hymowitz

“Williamsburg’s creative class has learned the ways of market competition, profits, distribution, business plans, customer satisfaction, and vertical markets, along with sustainability, organic materials, and community responsibility. The marriage between art, millennial politics, and old-fashioned capitalism will strike some as Marx’s worst fear come true. But even the haters would have to admit that it tastes and looks good.”

THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE / What Happened to Worcester? by Adam Davidson

“These two trapped, poor, broken people somehow met and managed to put all that pain behind and create a new life in what still felt like the fresh, quickly growing frontier of central Massachusetts. Bumpa, following a tip from a minister who had moved to Worcester, seems to have arrived in the city with an office job in hand, at the Heald Machine Company, where he worked until his retirement decades later. A combination of historical luck, a fast-growing economy, and his own hard work enabled him to carve out a good life that must have seemed unattainable when he was younger.”

THE WASHINGTON POST / ‘How’s Amanda? by Eli Saslow

“She had no job, no high school diploma, no car and no money beyond what her mother gave her for Mountain Dew and cigarettes. A few days earlier, a dentist had pulled all 28 of her teeth, which had decayed from years of neglect. It had been a week since she’d seen her 9-year-old twin sons, who lived in a nearby suburb with their father, and lately the most frequent text messages coming into her phone were from a dealer hoping to lure her back with free samples.”

COMMENTARY and NATIONAL REVIEW / Trump’s Terrifying Online Brigades and Why White-Nationalist Thugs Thrill to Trump by James Kirchick

“Though we all have reason to be annoyed by the resurgence of political correctness, the alt-right remedy is the oratorical inverse of the problem they claim to despise. Social-justice warriors needlessly shut down debate and proscribe words and ideas to assuage the feelings of allegedly vulnerable minority groups; the alt-right flings around racial epithets and Der Stürmer cartoons purely to transgress accepted social codes. And that’s only the most charitable explanation for their behavior, assuming as it does that they don’t ‘really’ mean what they say. But what about that element of the alt-right that actually does have a political agenda beyond annoying its adversaries?”

THE CUT / From Pickup Artist to Pariah by Rachel Monroe

“Jared Rutledge fancied himself a big man of the ‘manosphere.’ But when his online musings about 46 women were exposed, his whole town turned against him.”

THE WEEK / The columns of Michael Brendan Dougherty in aggregate, including America Is More Divided Than Ever. So Why Is Obama Optimistic?, Why Is America Backing Saudi Arabia’s Atrocious War in Yemen? Donald Trump’s Malicious Stupidity, How Hillary Clinton Could Blow It, Trump vs. Clinton Is a Verdict on America, How Donald Trump Watered Down the Very Idea of American Greatness, This Election Is God’s Judgment on Us, and The Limits of a Trump Presidency


Brian Snyder / Reuters

THE NEW YORKER / The Most Exclusive Restaurant in America by Nick Paumgarten

“Damon Baehrel’s methods are a marvel, and his tables are all booked until 2025. Or are they?”

THE RINGER / The Burning Desire for Hot Chicken by Danny Chau

“Hot chicken was a dish created for the express purpose of bringing a man to his knees. Its origin myth wasn’t the result of a mistake, like chocolate chip cookies, Coca-Cola, or the French dip sandwich. Hot chicken was premeditated; to this day, every bite of Nashville hot chicken is touched by the spectral presence of a betrayed lover.”

TAMPA BAY TIMES / Farm to Fable by Laura Reiley

“What makes buying food different from other forms of commerce is this: It’s a trust-based system. How do you know the Dover sole on your plate is Dover sole? Only that the restaurateur said so. And how can you be sure the strawberries your toddler is gobbling are free of pesticides? Only because the vendor at the farmers market said so. Your purchases are unverifiable unless you drive to that farm or track back through a restaurant’s distributors and ask for invoices. I did.”

FOOD 52 / In Sickness, In Health, In White Castle by Allison Robicelli

“The children the doctors said you’d never bear came immediately. He didn’t drive, but occasionally he took three trains to White Castle to surprise you with a sack of ten. Sometimes you were so happy you’d cry. Sometimes you’d scream at him for not psychically knowing you were nauseous. You’re amazed that he never once—back then and in all the years that followed—stopped trying to make you happy.”

THE RINGER / Sriracha Is a Quintessentially American Flavor by Danny Chau

“David Tran’s exact sriracha recipe may not be available to the public, but with only six core ingredients (red jalapenos, garlic, distilled vinegar, sugar, salt, and xanthan gum), it’s as open source as any name-brand foodstuff. But no matter how good or bad an outside interpretation, the signifiers always lead you back to the source, to the first time you let the rooster into your life.”

LUCKY PEACH / Why New York Is Better Than San Francisco by Peter Meehan

“My best memories are experiences of texture more than flavor: crinkly, crumpled, shiny foil keeping a sandwich swaddled in steam-softened white paper piping hot; the kaiser roll crumbly, the fine cornmeal from its underside adding a pleasant grit to the assemblage; the bacon on the border of unbearably crisp but not too far gone; the egg, if eaten while magma-hot, still passably tender; squeezed-out packages of ketchup providing cool, sweet counterpoint.”

EATER / Maybe Just Don’t Drink Coffee by Matt Buchanan

“At this point you could, as more than half of all American adults do on a daily basis, drink a cup of coffee to stave off the fog of imminent unconsciousness. After all, you love coffee. And not just because of the caffeine. But have you really thought it all through?”

LIFE & THYME / Good Graces by Carolyn Phillips

“As my mother-in-law reaches out and refills my cup, I do not know whether I am more shocked by the senseless cruelties in her story or by the fact that she has just now actually served me tea.”

EATER / The People’s Cheeseburger by Willy Blackmore

“Locol’s messaging isn’t geared toward people who will not be its primary customers. Choi and Patterson don’t openly talk about conscious capitalism or triple-bottom lines. They’re mostly just leaning on the premise that serving neighborhoods like Watts, which often have a dearth of food options beyond corner stores and outposts of gigantic chains, is good business both ethically and fiscally, and likely to be profitable.”

GIMLET MEDIA / Milk Wanted by Phia Bennin (audio)

“A breast milk paradise, shady breastmilk scammers, and the surprising history of breast milk in the United States.”

ROADS & KINGDOMS / A Last Dinner in the Jungle by Shane Mitchell

“Here, atop a toxic landfill, mired in mud and muck, in a makeshift kitchen lacking running water or refrigeration, was a bird to sing about. A spicy paste clung to pieces of meat, juicy without being greasy. What do you crave when you can’t go home again? Or worse, fear being sent back? Perhaps this drumstick, DayGlo red with spices.”


Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

THE WEEKLY STANDARD / The Migrants of Calais by Christopher Caldwell

“We are using antiquated categories that make the most explosive social problems of our time wholly invisible to us. The geographical segregation into globalized and unglobalized areas has created a sort of epistemological trap. From the age of social democracy, when class was measured by one dimension, income, we have inherited the habit of assuming political issues will pit ‘the rich’ against ‘the poor.’ But today's issues don't. The dividing line on most issues is whether people are being helped or hurt by the global economy.”

GARDEN AND GUN / The Columns Hotel by Rick Bragg

“It was as if someone had taken so much of what is lovely and unique about this place and just hung it on the thick, wet air, to be admired. It was just a moment, fine in itself.”

HAZLITT / Hunger Makes Me by Jess Zimmerman

“A man’s appetite can be hearty, but a woman with an appetite—for food, for sex, for simple attention—is always voracious: she always overreaches, because it is not supposed to exist.”

VIRGINIA QUARTERLY REVIEW / Cost of Living by Emily Maloney

“At some point I started billing differently. I can’t say when. It could have been when we had a patient die and I had to bill his family. It could have been when I saw the dizzying costs that were itemized for inpatient bills, or the time the woman I evaluated—my patient, our patient—and then billed was saddled with an amount she could never hope to pay. I remember her: how she came in and explained that things were difficult, that she didn’t have insurance, but she needed someone to lance the boil that had erupted at her waistline. It had been causing her incredible pain, to the point where she could no longer dress herself. Please, she said. But she had already been registered, been given an ID bracelet, all the apparatuses of the emergency department and its tracking. Her bill popped up later on my screen; I saw the amount. This, somehow, totaled the cost of living. I thought of my own unpaid medical debt, reduced the amount, told no one, and let the next chart flash across my screen.”

n+1 / Every Body Goes Haywire by Anna Altman

“It’s inconceivable to most people that this is it—there is no other, underlying condition. The headaches are the condition itself.”

ELLE / My Destructive Dependency on Migraine Drugs by Dana Goldstein

“For a period of several years that ended only six months ago, I had a migraine, of varying degrees of intensity, essentially 100 percent of the time that I was awake.”

THE GUARDIAN / Dance Lessons for Writers by Zadie Smith

“On YouTube you will find them, locked in many dance-offs, and so you are presented with a stark choice. But it’s not a question of degrees of ability, of who was the greater dancer. The choice is between two completely opposite values: legibility on the one hand, temporality on the other. Between a monument (Jackson) and a kind of mirage (Prince).”

LIT HUB / Walking While Black by Garnette Cadogan

“The sidewalk was a minefield, and every hesitation and self-censored compensation reduced my dignity. Despite my best efforts, the streets never felt comfortably safe.”

FACEBOOK / What It’s Like to Be Black in Naperville by Brian Crooks

“Please, bear with me for a few minutes. Hopefully, it'll help you understand why I feel the way I do about what's been going on.”

NATIONAL AFFAIRS / Renewing the University by Alan Jacobs

“When students demand the intervention of administrative authority to solve every little conflict, they end reinforce a power structure in which students and faculty alike are stripped of moral agency, in which all of us in the university—including the administrators themselves—become instruments in the hands of a self-perpetuating bureaucratic regime. Few social structures could be more alien to the character of true education.”

FILM COMMENT / The Great Recession by Shonni Enelow

“While cooler styles have always been with us, from Greta Garbo and Cary Grant to Steve McQueen and Charlotte Rampling, those actors communicate that they are above or outside of emotion, either aristocratically detached or winningly unflappable. In contrast, the thread of resistance to and evasion of spectacular emotionality among many in today’s new generation of stars doesn’t evoke emotional detachment or indifference but rather a tortured mistrust of expression itself—one that, in its understated way, clearly forms its own kind of emotional appeal to the audience at the same time as it dramatizes why the actor must resist making one.”

REAL LIFE / Auto Format by Navneet Alang

“Twitter has colonized my mind. Almost every day for just under a decade, I have checked the site, have tweeted, retweeted, been subtweeted. My mental map is the frontier surrendered, and Twitter is the empire. To become occupied by a social network is to internalize its gaze. It is to forever carry a doubled view of both your own mind and the platform’s.”

BRIGHT WALL / DARK ROOM / The Grace of Keanu Reeves by Angelica Jade Bastién

“Keanu, of course, isn’t the first star to exist at the crossroads of virile and vulnerable. Actors like James Dean, Montgomery Clift, and Paul Newman embody a similar alchemy that have drawn women (and men) to them. But these actors often seem to fight against the lustful gaze of the camera, while Keanu supplants himself to it. Where they seem cynical, disinterested, or too wounded as a romantic lead, Keanu is utterly open.”

THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR / Saving the Self in the Age of the Selfie by James McWilliams

“Daily life offers endless opportunities to cultivate character-building behaviors that, once they become habitual, can nurture our weapons of resistance rather than exchange them for the conveniences of the Internet. Four of these habits stand out as essential to the preservation of an anchored identity: spending time alone, engaging in meaningful conversations, forming friendships, and pursuing an activity within a community. Imagine, if you can, an identity that’s permitted to develop with minimal interference from digital culture and you’ll begin to grasp the benefits that these four kinds of stresses can have on a self hoping to develop a healthier relationship with digitized life.”

THE WEEKLY STANDARD / Love Me Do by Andrew Ferguson

“A bit past the midpoint of the last century, roughly from early 1967 to late 1969, a sizable number of human beings believed that Paul McCartney was the coolest man who ever lived. Compared with your average world-historical claim, this one was not unreasonable.”

PRISON UK / Preparing for Prison by Alex Cavendish

“Never underestimate that cold click of steel as your wrist is cuffed, chaining you to another human being who now has control over you. Most newly convicted prisoners are so shocked at the experience that they become compliant. I know I did.”

GARDEN AND GUN / Dog Days of Youth by Douglas Cutting

“At daybreak, about the moment when ducks move before legal light, I snapped off the couch from a bad dream and looked around. Total silence. I scrambled to the porch door. Saw Gauge Man on his bed, sound asleep. Stared. Looked around again, buzzing with exhaustion and delirium. Looked back at my dog—slick pawed and skinned up around his nose and chin—and realized it was real. He’d run a long way back from somewhere, and he was home, and so I piled onto the old dog bed with him and buried my face in his fur and suddenly recognized all the spaces he filled.”

AEON / Nadia’s Story by Ana Todorović

“We could get into an ambulance and go to Southampton, where I would have a caesarean and Nadia would be put on a machine for some time, ‘to give her heart a rest’. Then she would be treated with drugs, and she would have to stay in hospital. Perhaps for six months, perhaps for a year. She might not survive the birth, or the machine, or the medication, but if she did, there would be some chance of a full recovery. And some chance of a partial recovery, a life with a debilitating heart disease, or disability, or both. The alternative path would be to ‘put her to sleep’ with a needle to the heart, after which her birth would be induced and it would all be over.”

Identity & Difference

Edgar Su / Reuters

THIS AMERICAN LIFE / Will I Know Anyone at This Party? (audio)

“Right now lots of Republicans feel like they don’t recognize their own party. Like a Minnesota congressman who’s confused when the residents in his district, people he’s known for years, start calling for a ban on Muslims moving to their town.”

THIS AMERICAN LIFE / Who’s Really on Line One? by Zoe Chace (audio)

A radio producer “goes to Greenville, South Carolina to talk with Tony Beam – host of the radio show Christian Worldview Today. Tony and his listeners are evangelical Christians, and usually, Tony backs a candidate for office and his listeners tend to agree with him. But this election season, things are playing out very differently.”

MOTHER JONES / I Spent 5 Years With Some of Trump’s Biggest Fans. Here’s What They Won’t Tell You by Arlie Russell Hochschild

“The deep story of the right goes like this: You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black—beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you’re being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He’s on their side.”

OXFORD AMERICAN / The Last Florida Indians Will Now Die by Justin Nobel

“As a child, I learned of certain native tribes and their respective homelands—the Cherokee in the South, the Navajo in the Southwest, the Iroquois in New York State. What I wasn’t taught is that these tribes exist because they were defeated, and in defeat they signed treaties with the U.S. government. As awful as their lot was, these treaty tribes are now recognized by the federal government, meaning at least some money is available for healthcare, housing, and schools. These tribes also have the right to operate casinos. Perhaps most significantly, they have the legal right to exist, a spot in the record. They will be remembered, if only because some bureaucrat has made a mark in a list.”

THIS AMERICAN LIFE / Tell Me I’m Fat and Once More, With Feeling (audio)

Stories on a theme.

THE WASHINGTON POST /  The White Flight of Derek Black by Eli Saslow

“His father, Don Black, had created Stormfront, the Internet’s first and largest white nationalist site, with 300,000 users and counting. His mother, Chloe, had once been married to David Duke, one of the country’s most infamous racial zealots, and Duke had become Derek’s godfather. They had raised Derek at the forefront of the movement, and some white nationalists had begun calling him ‘the heir.’”

THE NEW YORKER / White Plight? by Hua Hsu

“In working-class America, an élite-resenting identity politics has emerged in which whiteness spells dispossession.”

THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE / Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City by Nikole Hannah-Jones

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel pulled in the way other parents with options feel pulled. I had moments when I couldn’t ignore the nagging fear that in my quest for fairness, I was being unfair to my own daughter. I worried—I worry still—about whether I made the right decision for our little girl. But I knew that I made the just one.”

GQ / My Son, The Prince of Fashion by Michael Chabon

“I took my son to Paris Fashion Week, and all I got was a profound understanding of who he is, what he wants to do with his life, and how it feels to watch a grown man stride down a runway wearing shaggy yellow Muppet pants.”

1843 / Eton and the Making of a Modern Elite by Christopher de Bellaigue

“The world’s most famous school aspires to become an agent of social change; but, as old boy Christopher de Bellaigue learns when he goes back, it is also an increasingly effective way for the global elite to give its offspring an expensive leg up in life.”

AEON / Gender Is Not a Spectrum by Rebecca Reilly-Cooper

“Nobody, and certainly no radical feminist, wants to stop anyone from defining themselves in ways that make sense to them. So if you want to call yourself a genderqueer femme presenting demigirl, you go for it. Express that identity however you like. A problem emerges only when you start making political claims on the basis of that label, demanding that others call themselves cisgender, because you require there to be a bunch of conventional binary cis people for you to define yourself against.”

BUZZFEED / To Love Your Sister Is to Grieve Your Twin by Tomi Obaro

“She is my best friend, but that phrase doesn’t quite do the relationship justice. Our kinship is so binding that there are memories I have of us where I’m not sure if I was actually there or if she was there and I’m just hijacking the recollection. Growing apart, or becoming sisters and not twins, was mostly horrifying, but sometimes it’s a relief. It means my worst fear, her death, can’t devastate me as much as it once could.”

THE PLAYERS’ TRIBUNE / A Guy Like Me by John Scott

“People think enforcers skate out there for two minutes a night, take a few pops and call it a night. What a life, right? But I’ll be honest. You can never shut it off. It’s a 24/7 job. When you know a fight is coming up, you can never shut off your brain. You can be the toughest guy in the NHL, and there’s still that fear. I’d stay up all night on and YouTube, researching the tendencies of the next enforcer on the schedule.”

ESPN / The Art of Letting Go by Mina Kimes

“MLB's code is clear: Flip your bat and you'll pay. But in South Korea, flips are an art. How does this alternate world exist? And what does it say about us?”

ELLE / The Afterlife of a Ballerina by Alice Robb

“At age 16, Alexandra Ansanelli was anointed a prodigy. By 22, she was a principal for the New York City Ballet. At 26, she was a principal for the Royal Ballet. By 28, she had given it all up.”

OXFORD AMERICAN / Blood Ties by Alex Mar

“A self-mythologizing takes place when we assimilate the stories of our ancestors into our own—it’s automatic. We tell ourselves that their triumphs have somehow entered our bloodstream.”

SPIEGEL / A Visit to Ground Zero of Refugee Anxiety by Takis Würger

“Clausnitz became shorthand for the xenophobic side of Germany after residents threatened a bus full of refugees. We spent a month in the town to find out what happened.”

THE BUCKLEY CLUB / My Open Letter to Conservatives by Conservative Black Man

“Conservatives need to try to understand why black people feel the way we feel about some of these things. Would it hurt for you to show compassion for a mother who has lost her son to a derelict police officer, rather than pointing out the black on black crime statistics in Chicago? Why is the first reaction to the mentioning of the KKK a pivot to the Black Panthers as if the Black Panthers were ever at the top of that figurative mountain? Have you ever tried to understand what most black people feel when they see the Confederate flag? Have you taken the time to ask any?”

RAND / Assessing the Implications of Allowing Transgender Personnel to Serve Openly

This lengthy report is more dry than everything else recommended here, but is noteworthy as the most careful, logical, informative, fact-based approach I’ve seen on this subject. If you want the research brief instead, it’s here. A short, polished essay is here.

LAPHAM’S QUARTERLY / The Anomaly of Barbarism by John Gray

“While much remains unknown, there is nothing mysterious in the rise of ISIS. It is baffling only for those who believe—despite everything that occurred in the twentieth century—that modernization and civilization are advancing hand in hand. In fact, now as in the past some of the most modern movements are among the most barbaric. But to admit this would mean surrendering the ruling political faith, a decayed form of liberalism without which Western leaders and opinion formers would be disoriented and lost. To accept that liberal societies may not be ‘on the right side of history’ would leave their lives drained of significance, while a stoical response—which is ready to fight while being doubtful of ultimate victory—seems to be beyond their powers. With mounting bewilderment and desperation, they cling to the faith that the normal course of history has somehow been temporarily derailed.”

STANDPOINT MAGAZINE / Islam and the French Republic: From the Banlieues to Le Pen Land by Ben Judah

“A Jew can’t live where he wants anymore. Bit by bit, everyone is moving from the banlieues. As soon as there are ethnic populations, and as soon as it gets, shall we say, problematic, the Jews move. The visible ones — they get constantly attacked.”

THE GUARDIAN / My Night Out in Cleveland With the Worst Men on the Internet by Laurie Penny

“The most widely accepted definition of a troll is a provocateur—someone who says outrageous, extreme or abusive things to elicit a reaction. For them, the reaction itself is the win. The key distinction is between the attention-hustlers—the pure troll howlers who play this grotesque game for its own sake and their own—and the true believers.”

CRACKED / How Half of America Lost Its Fucking Mind by David Wong

“Basic, obvious truths that have gone unquestioned for thousands of years now get laughed at and shouted down. … The foundation upon which America was undeniably built—family, faith, and hard work—had been deemed unfashionable and small-minded. Those snooty elites up in their ivory tower laughed as they kicked away that foundation, and then wrote 10,000-word thinkpieces blaming the builders for the ensuing collapse.”

SLATE STAR CODEX / Book Review: Albion’s Seed by Scott Alexander

Failures of Justice

Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

THE GUARDIAN / Inside the Fight to Reveal the CIA’s Torture Secrets by Spencer Ackerman

“The Panetta Review saga would spur a furious CIA to take an extraordinary step: it would spy on its own legislative overseers—especially Jones. The episode would spill out publicly the following March, when top committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who had already taken a huge political risk in pushing the torture inquiry, accused the CIA on the Senate floor of triggering what she called a constitutional crisis. Both sides requested the justice department pursue a criminal investigation on the other. The bitterness would nearly overshadow a landmark report, a fraction of which was released to the public in December 2014, that documented in chilling detail the depravations CIA inflicted on terrorism suspects after 9/11.”

COSMOPOLITAN / Why Did It Take 9 Hours and 3 Emergency Rooms For This Woman to Get a Rape Kit? By Jillian Keenan

“The complicated, infuriating, little-known reasons why women can be denied emergency care after a sexual assault.”

ROADS & KINGDOMS / The Dog Thief Killings by Calvin Godfrey

“The dog would serve as the centerpiece of a big party attended by former colleagues and war buddies. His wife would spend the better part of a day cooking it up, organs and all; his job was to make sure they got a good one, properly prepared.”

MEDIUM / Chronicles of a Concerned Citizen by Aglaia Berlutti

“A reflection on the wave of lynchings in Venezuela.”

THE INTERCEPT / Operation Smoke and Mirrors by Jamie Kalven

“Two Chicago police officers uncovered a massive criminal enterprise within the department.”

MOTHER JONES /  My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard by Shane Bauer

“Inmates are glued up against the TV room window, watching a young white cadet named Miss Stirling pick through their stuff. She’s pretty and petite, with long, jet-black hair. The attention makes her uncomfortable; she thinks the inmates are gross. Earlier this week, she said she would refuse to give an inmate CPR and won’t try the cafeteria food because she doesn’t want to ‘eat AIDS.’ The more she is around prisoners, though, the more I notice her grapple with an inner conflict. ‘I don’t want to treat everyone like a criminal because I’ve done things myself,’ she says.”

BUZZFEED / The Court That Rules the World by Chris Hamby

“A parallel legal universe, open only to corporations and largely invisible to everyone else, helps executives convicted of crimes escape punishment.”

REASON / The Truth About the Biggest U.S. Sex Trafficking Story of the Year by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

“The reality—as evidenced by police reports, court documents, online records, and statements from those involved—is far less lurid and depraved. Instead of a story of stark abuse and exploitation, it's a story of immigration, economics, the pull of companionship and connection, the structures and dynamism that drive black markets, and a criminal-justice system all too eager to declare women victims of the choices they make.”

THE NEW YORK TIMES / The Fighter by C.J. Chivers

“The Marine Corps taught Sam Siatta how to shoot. The war in Afghanistan
taught him how to kill. Nobody taught him how to come home.”

DIGG / Broken by Kevin Heldman

“When we talk about hoods and bad neighborhoods, crime zones and ghetto areas in NYC and you then compare them to East New York, all those areas that fit those definitions are nothing like East New York. East New York is sicker, sadder, more dysfunctional, more isolated, harsher, frailer, madder, toxic, broken through and through everywhere.”

PRO PUBLICA and NEW YORK DAILY NEWS / The NYPD IS Kicking People Out of Their Homes, Even If They Haven’t Committed a Crime by Sarah Ryley

“The NYPD Is kicking people out of their homes, even if they haven’t committed a crime. The nuisance abatement law was created in the 1970’s to combat the sex industry in Times Square. Since then, its use has been vastly expanded, commonly targeting apartments and mom-and-pop bodegas even as the city’s crime rate has reached historic lows.”

ESPN / The Hardest Choice Demaryius Thomas’s Mom Will Make by Eli Saslow

“She spent 15 years cut off from America in a 20-by-20-foot concrete cell, and now she has an invitation to the biggest American spectacle of all.”

REASON / Confessions of an Ex-Prosecutor by Ken White

“The day O.J. Simpson was acquitted, I began my career as a federal prosecutor. I was 26—a young 26 at that—on the cusp of extraordinary power over the lives of my fellow citizens. After years of internships with federal and state prosecutors, I knew to expect camaraderie and sense of mission. I didn't expect it to influence how I thought about constitutional rights. But it did.”

SPIKED / The Tyranny of Transparency by Tim Black

“This isn’t a legal problem. It can’t be corrected by frantic invocations of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act. No assertion that ‘Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence’ can magically restore substance to the idea of privacy. That’s because the idea of privacy has not been legally debased; rather, it’s been culturally and politically undermined.”

THIS AMERICAN LIFE, PRO PUBLICA, and THE MARSHALL PROJECT / Anatomy of Doubt by Robyn Semien and An Unbelievable Story of Rape by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong (the print version appeared at the very end of 2015)

“If she met certain conditions for the next year, the charge would be dropped. She would need to get mental health counseling for her lying. She would need to go on supervised probation. She would need to keep straight, breaking no more laws. And she would have to pay $500 to cover the court’s costs.Marie wanted this behind her. She took the deal.”

Exploring the Unknown

Amr Dalsh / Reuters

THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE / The Secrets of the Wave Pilots by Kim Tingley

“For thousands of years, sailors in the Marshall Islands have navigated vast distances of open ocean without instruments. Can science explain their method before it’s lost forever?”

PHILOSOPHY NOW / A Golden Manifesto by Mary Midgley

What a bygone moment of female ascendance in philosophy can teach us about the pursuit of truth.

HARPER’S / What Came Before the Big Bang? by Alan Lightman

“Physicists hope that within the next fifty years or so, string theory or other new theoretical work will provide a good understanding of quantum gravity, including an explanation of how the universe began.”

THE GUARDIAN / Artificial Intelligence: ‘We’re Like Children Playing With a Bomb’ by Tim Adams

“If you look at all the things the world is spending money on, what we are doing is less than a pittance. You go to some random city and you travel from the airport to your hotel. Along the highway you see all these huge buildings for companies you have never heard of. Maybe they are designing a new publicity campaign for a razor blade. You drive past hundreds of these buildings. Any one of those has more resources than the total that humanity is spending on this field. We have half a floor of one building in Oxford, and there are two or three other groups doing what we do. So I think it is OK.”

AEON / The Empty Brain by Robert Epstein

“We don’t store words or the rules that tell us how to manipulate them. We don’t create representations of visual stimuli, store them in a short-term memory buffer, and then transfer the representation into a long-term memory device. We don’t retrieve information or images or words from memory registers. Computers do all of these things, but organisms do not.”

AUDUBON MAGAZINE / Can the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Be Found in Cuba? by Mac McClelland

“Earlier, the photographer sidled next to the writer and asked, as they both turned their faces away from the merciless beating of the oxen, a patch of protected Cuban forest being deforested with the tearing down of ever-larger branches and trees with which to assault them, ‘Do you ever wonder if this is all worth it? For a bird?’ The two of them snickered darkly. Just moments before, a chunk of wood had cracked off an oxen-beating club as it broke over the animal’s hide and shot past the photographer’s head, missing him by maybe an inch. ‘One that almost definitely doesn’t exist?’”

THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE / The Amateur Cloud Society That (Sort of) Rattled the Scientific Community by Jon Mooallem

“To keep it all from feeling ephemeral or imaginary, he eventually decided that membership should cost $15 and that members would receive a badge and certificate in the mail. He recognized that joining an online Cloud Appreciation Society that only nominally existed might appear ridiculous, but it was important to him that it not feel meaningless.”

THE INTERCEPT / The Dark Side of VR by Janus Kopfstein

“The data that virtually reality headsets can collect will give corporations and governments unprecedented insight and power over our emotions and physical behavior.”

LONGREADS / STAT: My Daughter’s MS Diagnosis and the Question My Doctors Couldn’t Answer by Maria Bustillos

“Is there a dietary treatment for multiple sclerosis? And if so, why is the medical establishment ignoring published academic research that started in the 1950s proving it?”

LOVE + RADIO / Doing the No No by Britt Wray

“Adam Zaretsky is a bioartist who explores the manipulation of DNA, the fringes of genetic modification, and butts up against the ethical boundaries of science and beyond.”

BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK / How to Hack an Election by Jordan Robertson, Michael Riley, and Andrew Willis

“Andrés Sepúlveda rigged elections throughout Latin America for almost a decade.”

NAUTILUS / How Necking Shaped the Giraffe by David P. Barash

“As notably long as are giraffe necks, these are actually outclassed by their legs, such that those monumental necks are—believe it or not—too short to comfortably reach a puddle; as a result, a drinking giraffe must splay its front feet wide apart. And, by the way, the same fluid sluice-way control mechanism in its lengthy neck works in reverse when a giraffe is done drinking and eventually raises its high head, allowing only a relative trickle of blood to flow back down so that its brain doesn’t suddenly become hypoxic.”

THE TEXAS TRIBUNE and PRO PUBLICA / Hell and High Water by Neena Satija, Kiah Collier, Al Shaw, and Jeff Larson

“Houston is the fourth-largest city in the country. It’s home to the nation’s largest refining and petrochemical complex, where billions of gallons of oil and dangerous chemicals are stored. And it’s a sitting duck for the next big hurricane. Why isn’t Texas ready?”

WIRED /A Swarm of Controversy by Hannah Nordhaus

“In their struggle for survival against killer mites, bees get an unlikely ally.”

NEW YORK / I Used to Be a Human Being by Andrew Sullivan

“Observe yourself in line for coffee, or driving, or even just going to the bathroom. Visit an airport and see the sea of craned necks and the dead eyes. We have gone from looking up and around to constantly looking down. If an alien had visited just five years ago, then returned today, wouldn’t this be its immediate observation? That this species has developed an extraordinary new habit—and, everywhere you look, lives constantly in its thrall?”

THE BOSTON GLOBE / Where Did ISIS Come From? The Story Starts Here. by Neil Swidey

“An attempt to pinpoint the moment when the American occupation of Iraq failed so catastrophically that it birthed a juggernaut in global terrorism. Paul Bremer is interviewed.”

RADIOLAB / From Tree to Shining Tree

“A forest can feel like a place of great stillness and quiet. But if you dig a little deeper, there’s a hidden world beneath your feet as busy and complicated as a city at rush hour.”

IDLE WORDS / Shuffleboard at McMurdo by Maciej Cegłowski

“The whole thing is like one of those Russian fairy tales, where the hero must cross seven seas and seven mountains, slay Koshchei the Deathless, find the giant oak, exhume an iron chest, open it to find a hare, cut the hare open to find a duck, dig through the duck to find an egg, and crack the egg open to reveal an enchanted golden needle, or in this case, Zippo lighter.”

Honorable mention to writer R. Scott Moxley and editor Gustavo Arellano for OC Weekly’s dogged coverage of misconduct in the Orange County, California, law enforcement community; and to National Review for standing on principles its more populist competitors lacked with its Against Trump issue and related commentary by David French, Kevin Williamson, Charles C.W. Cooke, Jonah Goldberg, and others.