The dispatches, articles, columns, and essays in The Atlantic’s December issue include:
They’re Watching You at Work
What happens when Big Data meets human resources? As Don Peck reports in this month’s cover story, the emerging practice of “people analytics” is transforming the way employers hire, fire, and promote people. New technologies are enabling HR departments to move away from qualitative-based hiring and management methods to quantitative, data-driven ones: the use of specialized “badges” that transmit detailed information about employees’ interactions as they go about their days, algorithms that assess workers’ potential, personality-revealing video games. Think Moneyball for the office. If that sounds scary, Peck explains why it’s actually a good thing—for businesses, and employees.
John Kerry Will Not Be Denied
When John Kerry succeeded Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in February, the consensus in Washington was that Kerry was a boring if not irrelevant man stepping into what was becoming a boring, irrelevant job. Yet his nine months at the State Department have been anything but boring—and no one can argue his lack of relevance: He has brokered a deal with Russia to remove chemical weapons from Syria, revived the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, started hammering out a post-withdrawal security agreement with Afghanistan, and embarked on a new round of nuclear talks with Iran. In a wide-ranging profile, David Rohde talks with the secretary of state, as well as those closest to him, to reveal a complex portrait of a man whose critics call him arrogant, undisciplined, and reckless, and yet whose relentless pursuit of negotiations might produce some of the most important diplomatic breakthroughs in years.
Have a Safe Riot!
The U.S. prison population has exploded over the past 40 years—yet the number of inmate uprisings has plummeted. Joseph Bernstein’s visit to the annual Mock Prison Riot—where the jailers of the world come together to share new ideas and technologies—reveals the riot-suppression tactics that have so dramatically reduced prison disorder and violence. There is one tactic, though, almost never publicly discussed: the development of elite security squads trained to preempt and put down prison disorder of every kind. While certainly effective, have these now-ubiquitous Correctional Emergency Response Teams stifled the voices of some genuinely mistreated prison inmates?
The Quest to End the Flu
Every year, the flu virus mutates, forcing scientists and drugmakers to scramble to produce new vaccines using slow and sometimes unreliable methods that were pioneered nearly 80 years ago. But new viruses threaten to outwit and outrun them, and can cause millions of deaths. As Carl Zimmer reports, researchers have finally found a way to ramp up production faster than ever—and even have in sight a single shot that could offer lifetime protection.
The Home Remedy for Old Age
The fastest-growing and most-expensive portion of our Medicare population consists of elderly, chronically ill patients, many of whom need medical attention for years, if not decades. Our health-care system wasn’t designed to cope with this reality and hasn’t shown much interest in adapting to it. But now that’s changing, reports Jonathan Rauch, thanks in part to a recognition that not all health care has to be medical care.
- Do Democrats Make Better Neighbors?: Possibly, though not if you need a kidney, or your plants watered while you’re away, finds Ken Stern. Read more
- How Women Change Men: In this month’s Study of Studies, Sarah Yager examines the latest research on the effect daughters, sisters, wives, and female co-workers have on men—in the workplace and at home. Read more
- Is Capitalism in Trouble?: In Western capitalism circa 2013, fear that the market economy has become dysfunctional is not limited to a few socially conscious entrepreneurs. It is being publicly expressed, with increasing frequency, by some of the people who occupy the commanding heights of the global economy. Chrystia Freeland asks: Can they help save our system from its worst excesses? Read more
- In Praise of Fancy Words: Bedizened, biffing, cozenage, jinking—these are just a few of the words that stumped Mark Bowden when reading a history of World War II recently. Here, he makes the case for always reading with a dictionary nearby. Read more
- Cloudy With a Chance of Beer: Alexis Madrigal talks with the Weather Company’s Vikram Somaya about why marketers are clamoring for weather data. Read more
- The Next Housing Crash: With more Baby Boomers preparing to retire and downsize, and many of their children trading homeownership for rentals, suburbs for cities, and two-car garages for more-compact living, Emily Badger wonders: Can the housing market alter course in time to accommodate everyone? Read more
The Culture File & Essay:
- America’s Artist: Following the release of a new book about Norman Rockwell’s life and art, James Parker reflects on how the artist so perfectly captured the inner life of a nation. Read more
- Machiavelli Was Right: The shocking lesson of The Prince isn’t that politics demands dirty hands, but that politicians shouldn’t care. So argues Michael Ignatieff on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of this iconic political work, and the publication of four new books on the subject. Read more
- Where They Drink Whiskey in the Morning: Terence Smith files this travel dispatch from the Hebrides, the Scottish islands that inspired Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, and Robert Lewis Stevenson. Read more
- The War No Image Could Capture: Photography has given us iconic representations of conflict since the Civil War—with a notable exception. Deborah Cohen explores why, during the Great War, the camera failed. Read more
Finally, the Big Question on our back page: What was the worst year in history? The paleontologist Peter Ward, the director Peter Segal, the professor Lisa Randall, the author Garry Wills, the comedian Wyatt Cenac, and others weigh in.
These articles and more are featured in the December issue of The Atlantic, available today, November 21, 2013, on TheAtlantic.com and mobile devices and on newsstands next week.