The Atlantic's December Issue: The Silicon Valley Suicides

Plus: China builds the next Hollywood; Trump, Carson, and the myth of early polling; why you bought that ugly sweater

Washington, D.C. (November 17, 2015)— America’s mecca for technology and innovation is experiencing a startling trend: High-school students with seemingly bright futures ahead of them are killing themselves in unusually high numbers. In the December issue of The Atlantic, national correspondent Hanna Rosin reports from two of the most prominent and high-achieving high schools in Palo Alto—each with a 10-year suicide rate between four and five times the national average—to find out the roots of this alarming pattern.

Also in the issue, Molly Ball profiles New York City mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to push the Democratic Party left on a national scale; Willy Shih and Henry McGee explore how one of the richest men in China is creating his own Hollywood on the Yellow Sea; and David Greenberg debunks reliance on early polling data when it comes to the race for the White House.

The December issue of The Atlantic is now available online—with key pieces summarized below:

Cover: “The Silicon Valley Suicides”:Admitting we don’t entirely know why teenagers kill themselves isn’t an invitation to do nothing to prevent it from happening. It’s just a call for humility, a short pause to acknowledge that a sense of absolute certainty about what children should do or be or how they should operate is part of what landed us here.

At the two most prominent and high-achieving high schools in Palo Alto, the 10-year suicide rate is between four and five times the national average, and 12 percent of students at one of the schools say they have seriously contemplated taking their own life. Two separate clusters of suicides have occurred in the past five years alone—sending shock waves throughout the community. Which leads to a question: In a town that inspires jealousy from out-of-towners, where the coolest gadgets and inventions come from, where optimism abounds, why is this happening? Have parents who are both demanding and emotionally remote created a toxic combination? Hanna Rosin talks with Palo Alto families and educators, and with leading psychiatrists and researchers, about the “culture of affluence” and other possible factors underlying this tragic trend. Read more.

Features and Essay:

“The Equalizer”: New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has a progressive agenda, and he has a weapon other liberal powerhouses like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren lack: executive power. Using his perch in city hall, the first Democratic mayor in nearly two decades is fighting to make his city —and then the country— more economically equal by pushing the Democratic Party to the left. Despite a series of liberal accomplishments, a view persists of the de Blasio administration as an embarrassing comedy of errors, and the mayor as its fool. In her profile, Atlantic staff writer Molly Ball reports on the Mayor’s efforts to change the course of the country, whether or not his constituents—8.4 million of them—like his plans, too. Read more.

“Hollywood on the Yellow Sea”: Wang Jianlin, one of China’s richest men, is creating a rival to the American dream factory, from scratch. As an increasing percentage of the movie industry leaves Hollywood, Jianlin is hoping to draw top talent and filmmakers to his country by creating a studio metropolis in Qingdao, complete with one of the world’s largest movie-production facilities, a theme park, a yacht club, a resort/hotel, and much more. He may be just the man to do it: A year and a half after purchasing the AMC theater chain in 2012, he saw the value of his controlling stake more than double; he’s raising visibility for his company in the U.S. with the creation of a $1.2 billion development in the heart of Beverly Hills; and in China he’s continuing to build the kind of multiplexes that spur moviegoing. Willy Shih and Henry McGee travel to China and interview Wang and witness a movie in the making. Read more. .

“Why Primo Levi Survives”: Levi’s will to bear witness, and record the Holocaust in its hellish particularity, helped save his life in Auschwitz. It also inspired the writing for which he will be remembered. In this month’s essay, William Deresiewicz reflects on how the works of the Jewish chemist, writer, and Holocaust survivor tell the story of his life and death. He writes: “Primo Levi is the rare writer about whom it can be said that his literary virtues are largely inseparable from his moral ones.” Read more.

From Dispatches:

Politics: “The Front-Runner Fallacy”: The first thing to keep in mind a year before a given election? Most voters aren’t paying attention. Amidst all the punditry over Donald Trump’s and Ben Carson’s lead in the GOP polls, David Greenberg shows us how “startlingly unreliable” early polls tend to be as predictors of actual election outcomes. Polling at times in the single digits in the fall of 1975, 1987, 1991, and 2003: Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, and John Kerry. In fact, one year before Carter was elected to the nation’s highest office, voters’ top choices were Senator Ted Kennedy, Governor George Wallace, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Unfortunately only one of these men (Wallace) was actually running for president. So, fear not, wary political watchers: “Early polls capture not the convictions of a newly aroused and assertive body politic, but instead the fleeting impulses of an electorate that remains overwhelmingly disengaged.” Read more.

Technology: “The End of Thirst”: “Imagine turning on your tap and seeing no water come out. Or looking down into your village’s only well and finding it dust-dry. Much of the developing world could soon face such a scenario.” In this month’s Technology column, Sam Kean looks at the future of water: from desalination plants and recycling wastewater to allow us to drink from the sea ... or the toilet; to capturing fog drops and storing them in tanks; to weather modification to make it rain. Read more.

Study of Studies: “Why You Bought That Ugly Sweater”: There’s a science to every sale. We all can sense the tactics (and ploys) at play when we enter stores as prospective customers: from the soundtrack, to the attitude of the staff, to the lighting and appeal (or not) of the fitting rooms. Ahead of Black Friday, Eleanor Smith studies the tricks that retail stores may be using, intentionally or not, to part you from your money. Avoid snooty salespeople, cool temperatures, and blue-toned interiors: All have been shown to make customers more likely to spend. Read more.

From the Culture File:

Film: “The Greatest Actor Alive”: The Swedish actor Max von Sydow made his first foray into film in 1957. For a significant portion of the six decades since, Terrence Rafferty asserts, he has been the greatest actor alive. Now 87, von Sydow may be on the verge of becoming a pop-culture icon, as he takes on roles in the highly anticipated Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens and HBO’s Game of Thrones. Read more.

Books: “The Secret to Rome’s Success”: Emily Wilson reviews Mary Beard’s sweeping new history of ancient Rome, SPQR, which reveals the enduring value of an expansive vision of citizenship. Read more.

This month’s Big Question asks: What is the greatest comeback of all time? Many of history’s greatest screw-ups are marked by even more iconic recoveries; think Richard Nixon, Winston Churchill, Julius Caesar, and Chrysler. Joe Scarborough, Erin Burnett, Pat Buchanan, and others weigh in on who had the best fourth quarter.

The December 2015 issue of The Atlantic is available today, November 17, 2015, on and The Atlantic’s mobile app, and on newsstands later this week.