The New York Times columnist highlights a range of stories from The Atlantic magazine this year.
Each December, New York Times columnist David Brooks spends a few weeks poring over a year's worth of magazines, looking for articles that seem particularly "nutritious" or capture the spirit of the times. He calls his selections the Sidney Awards, after the 20th century pragmatic philosopher Sidney Hook. This year's picks included three very different stories from The Atlantic magazine.
Jeffrey Goldberg's "Jersey Boys" (July/August) looks at New Jersey Governor Chris Christie through the lens of his longtime infatuation with Bruce Springsteen. Goldberg accompanies the governor to his 129th Springsteen show and watches as he headlocks his aides, screaming lyrics into their faces and pumping his fist in elation. The Boss, a famous champion of the working man, has snubbed the Republican governor again and again, refusing every request to perform. But Christie has the final word: "He's writing about the carpenter and the pipe fitter, the bricklayer," he tells Goldberg. "And let me tell you something. Those guys voted for me."
Another Sidney-winning Atlantic story, "How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy" (March), tells a very different tale: that of a frizzy-haired Czech scientist named Jaroslav Flegr who began to suspect, sometime in the 1990s, that a parasite had invaded his brain and altered his personality. He has since spent years researching the single-cell organism, Toxoplasma gondii, which can be passed on to humans by their housecats. As author Kathleen McAuliffe reports, Flegr has come to believe that the organism is contributing to everything from car accidents to suicides. By making people do destructive things, Flegr says, the feline-borne parasite "might even kill as many people as malaria, or at least a million people a year."
In contrast, Brooks's third Atlantic pick, "The Writing Revolution" (October), is a cautiously optimistic story. Author Peg Tyre describes a school on Staten Island that pulled itself back from the brink of failure by totally revising its writing curriculum. The story struck a nerve with many educators, especially when it questioned the focus on memoirs and creative writing that has prevailed at many at-risk schools. Instead, the story argued that students need to learn how to structure an argument and master the parts of speech. Without those basic skills, Tyre's piece argued, students will not only fail their exams and drop out of school -- they'll go through life without ever truly knowing how to think.