The New Yorker Is Temporarily Making Its Archives Free; Here Are 8 Stories You Should Read

The New Yorker relaunched its  website today with a complete makeover, signaling the first step in the magazine's new focus on the web .

Part of that initiative is the magazine's decision to open up its archives (2007 to present as well as selected pieces) to the general public for the rest of the summer. Until the website puts up its metered paywall sometime in the fall, the New Yorker editors will be releasing curated collections of stories periodically .

We pulled out a selection of our favorite stories from the archives that you should definitely check out while they're free.

1. "Eichmann In Jerusalem—I" by Hannah Arendt, Feb. 16, 1963

German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt examined nothing short of the nature of evil in her 1961 reporting on the trial of Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann. In her dispatches — which many have called a masterpiece — Arendt coined the phrase "the banality of evil" to describe Eichmann, who she contended was not a "monster" but "terribly and terrifyingly normal." While some have since criticized her conclusions about Eichmann , her work still forms the basis for much of our understanding of the Nazi apparatus. 

From the first dispatch:

Half a dozen psychiatrists had certified Eichmann as "normal." "More normal at any rate, than I am after having examined him," one of them was said to have exclaimed, while another had found that Eichmann's whole psychological outlook, including his relationship with his wife and children, his mother and father, his brothers and sisters and friends, was "not only normal, but most desirable … Behind the comedy of the soul, experts lay the hard fact that Eichmann's was obviously no case of moral insanity.

2. "Hiroshima" by John Hersey, Aug. 31, 1946

A little more than one year after the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, The New Yorker dedicated an entire issue to a single article. It was a startling choice necessitated by one of the most momentous acts of destruction in history. In a bid to force its readers to consider "the terrible implications" of the atomic bomb, The New Yorker's John Hersey followed the stories of six survivors immediately prior to the bombing until one year after the bombing. The issue was an unrivaled success. It sold out on newsstands in hours, radio networks broadcast readings of the story with well-known actors, and it became an instant best-seller.

From Hersey: 

A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb and these six were among the survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so many others died. Each of them counts many small items of chance or volition — a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next – that spared him. And now each knows that in the act of survival, he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time, none of them knew anything.

3. "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson, June 16, 1962  

Few books have had the kind of effect that Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" had when it was released in 1962. The book, which documented the deleterious effect that widespread use of pesticides have on the environment, was actually first serialized in The New Yorker in June 1962. Carson's work directly led to the modern environmental movement in the U.S. as well the ban of the destructive insecticide DDT. Carson's work played a large role in the creation of the Environmental Defense Fund in 1967 and the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.

From Carson:

Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species — man — acquired significant power to alter the nature of the world.

4. "Torture At Abu Ghraib," Seymour Hersh, May 10, 2004

Though abuses at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq were reported by the media as early as November 2003, it wasn't until dueling reports came out from "60 Minutes" and The New Yorker in 2004 that the scandal was blown wide open. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh ( who made his career by recording another major abuse by the U.S. military ) went deep into Abu Ghraib to uncover just how far up the chain of command the abuses went. Hersh revealed that the scandal wasn't an isolated incident (as the Army wanted to portray), but an example of an interrogation program ("Copper Green") that was an official and systemic use of torture.

From Hersh:

As the international furor grew, senior military officers, and President Bush, insisted that the actions of a few did not reflect the conduct of the military as a whole. Taguba’s report, however, amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority.

5. "After The Genocide," Philip Gourevitch, Dec. 18, 1995

Though many in the international community knew about the devastation wrought by the Hutus on the Tutsis in Rwanda, New Yorker journalist Philip Gourevitch brought the tragedy into full focus. A year after the Rwandan genocide ended, Gourevitch began traveling to Rwanda for months at a time to try to understand the genocide. He eventually filed eight lengthy articles that covered the story from nearly every angle — Tutsi survivors, imprisoned Hutu killers, the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, and Major General Paul Kagame, who later became president. Though Gourevitch has more recently been criticized for his supposedly easy treatment of Kagame , his early dispatches are incredibly revealing stories about how a country begins to heal after a genocide.

As I traveled around the country, collecting accounts of the killing, it almost seemed as if, with the machete, the nail-studded club, a few well-placed grenades, and a few bursts of automatic-rifle fire, the quiet orders of Hutu Power had made the neutron bomb obsolete. Then I came across a man in a market butchering a cow with a machete, and I saw that it was hard work. His big, precise strokes made a sharp hacking noise, and it took many hacks—two, three, four, five hard hacks—to chop through the cow’s leg. How many hacks to dismember a person?

6. "American Hunger," David Remnick, Oct. 12, 1998 

The New Yorker's best-known story form is perhaps the profile. While there are certainly any number of excellent pieces to choose from, New Yorker editor David Remnick's 1998 profile of a middle-aged Muhammad Ali may be his most memorable. Riddled with Parkinson's, the older Ali tries to make sense of his early years to figure out how "a gangly kid from segregated Louisville willed himself to become one of the great original improvisers in American History."

From Remnick:

Ali still walked well. He was still powerful in the arms and across the chest; it was obvious, just from shaking his hand, that he still possessed a knockout punch. For him, the special torture was speech and expression, as if the disease had intentionally struck first at what had once please him —and had pleased (or annoyed) the world — most. He hated the effort that speech now cost him.

7.  “The Predator War,” Jane Mayer, Oct. 26, 2009

Jane Mayer's 2009 expose of the CIA's increasing use of drones to kill terrorist suspects in Pakistan revealed that while many in the American public were aware of the drones, few understood that there are two drone programs. The first is a conventional U.S. military program. The second is a clandestine C.I.A.-run targeted-killing program that represents an unprecedented expansion of force in sovereign nations like Pakistan, Yemen, and Libya. Mayer's account revealed how the drone program has become a "radically new and geographically unbounded use of state-sanctioned lethal force," that ultimately signals an endless state of war.

From Mayer:

At first, some intelligence experts were uneasy about drone attacks. In 2002, Jeffrey Smith, a former C.I.A. general counsel, told Seymour M. Hersh, for an article in this magazine, “If they’re dead, they’re not talking to you, and you create more martyrs.” And, in an interview with the Washington  Post , Smith said that ongoing drone attacks could “suggest that it’s acceptable behavior to assassinate people. . . . Assassination as a norm of international conduct exposes American leaders and Americans overseas.”

Seven years later, there is no longer any doubt that targeted killing has become official U.S. policy. “The things we were complaining about from Israel a few years ago we now embrace,” Solis says. Now, he notes, nobody in the government calls it assassination.

8. "The Duke In His Domain," Truman Capote, Nov. 9, 1957

In November 1957, The New Yorker presented a profile that featured one of the most interesting pairings in American media. Legendary writer Truman Capote was contracted to interview actor Marlon Brando, both of whom were just entering their respective primes. The result is a candid portrait that many consider to be a textbook example of how to reveal the inner life of a notoriously guarded figure.

The voice went on, as though speaking to hear itself, an effect Brando’s speech often has, for, like many persons who are intensely self-absorbed, he is something of a monologuist—a fact that he recognizes and for which he offers his own explanation. “People around me never say anything,” he says. “They just seem to want to hear what I have to say. That’s why I do all the talking.”

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The New Yorker  Stories You Should Read Before the Paywall Goes Up

Yesterday, The New Yorker   made all of its magazine pieces since 2007 freely available online for three months. After that time, everything will go behind a metered paywall , along the lines of what the New York Times has in place. So what should you read during this three-month free-for-all? We canvassed Slate staff for their favorite New Yorker articles, essays, profiles, and fiction from 2007 to the present. Our annotated list of 30 stories, divided semi-arbitrarily into seven categories, is below.

Perhaps once you’ve gotten through these, you’ll decide to shell out for a subscription and enjoy unlimited access even after this grace period is over.

POLITICS AND WORLD AFFAIRS “ Hellhole ,” March 30, 2009. Atul Gawande provides a groundbreaking examination into whether solitary confinement in the United States constitutes torture.

“ Eight Days ,” Sept. 21, 2009. This exhaustively reported story by James B. Stewart recounts the closed-door dealings that went down after Lehman Brothers imploded.

“ The Empty Chamber ,” Aug. 9, 2010. George Packer offers a sobering take on the staggering dysfunction and obstructionist theatrics that prevent progress in the United States Senate.

“ Getting Bin Laden ,” Aug. 8, 2011. This moment-by-moment account of the mission to get Osama Bin Laden, written by Nicholas Schmidle, is every bit as thrilling as Zero Dark Thirty , and much more rigorously fact-checked .

“ Netherland ,” Dec. 10, 2012. Rachel Aviv delivers a powerful, shocking, and brilliant story on LGBTQ homeless youth.

“ Taken ,” Aug. 12, 2013. Sarah Stillman’s reporting illuminates an appalling, pervasive practice that you won’t believe actually exists.

PROFILES “ Master of Play ,” Dec. 20, 2010. In this surprisingly rich profile of Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Super Mario Brothers and grandhomme of Nintendo, Nick Paumgarten explores what we seek out when we play.

“ The Apostate ,” Feb. 14, 2011. Lawrence Wright’s  heavily vetted and fact-checked  reporting on the Church of Scientology, which later evolved into the book  Going Clear , offers a rare look into the notoriously secretive organization.

“ How To Be Good ,” Sept. 5, 2011. Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile of Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit addresses deep questions of morality, happiness, and suffering.

“ Dr. Don ,” Sept. 26, 2011. Peter Hessler’s profile of a small-town druggist in Colorado is a story of place as well as simple humanity.

“ You Belong With Me ,” Oct. 10, 2011. In Lizzie Widdicombe’s profile of Taylor Swift, the songstress comes off as a genius purveyor of teen-angst in tune form and an earnestly sensitive and precocious star.*

“ The Yankee Commandante ,” May 28, 2012. David Grann profiles William Morgan, an American who fled to Cuba and fought alongside Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in the Revolution, only to be executed by firing squad under Castro’s orders.

CRIME “ Trial By Fire ,” Sept. 7, 2009. David Grann’s gripping story demonstrated that by executing Cameron Todd Willingham for the murder of his family, the state of Texas may very well have killed an innocent man.

“ The Pink Panthers ,” April 12, 2010. David Samuels’ account of a band of brazen jewel thieves from the Balkans reads like a sophisticated detective novel.

“ Iphegenia in Forest Hills ,” May 3, 2010. Janet Malcolm turns a murder trial in Queens into a study of crime, the legal system, journalistic ethics, and insular immigrant communities. Like several pieces on this list, the story was later expanded into  a book .

“ The Throwaways ,” Sept. 3, 2012. Sarah Stillman provides a crucial exposé about the use of young offenders as confidential informants.

“ A Loaded Gun ,” Feb. 11, 2013. In this thorough and troubling crime story, Patrick Radden Keefe examines the life of Amy Bishop, who killed six of her colleagues in a mass shooting, and 25 years ago, may have killed her brother, too.

SCIENCE “ Swingers ,” July 30, 2007. This widely celebrated story by Ian Parker complicated the popular notion of the bonobo, a type of chimpanzee that had been hailed for its supposedly peaceful, sex-loving disposition.

“ The Itch ,” June 30, 2008. Atul Gawande probes the fascinating medical mystery of a woman whose puzzling itch caused her to scratch all the way through to her brain. Warning: might make you itchy.

“ The Sixth Extinction? ,” May 25, 2009. Elizabeth Kolbert’s consideration of the history of mass extinctions led to a  book  of the same name, published this year.

“ God Knows Where I Am ,” May 30, 2011. Rachel Aviv’s look at mental health patients who reject their psychiatric diagnoses is smart and heartbreaking in equal measures.

PERSONAL ESSAYS “ The Running Novelist ,” June 9, 2008. Translated from Japanese, this essay by Haruki Murakami chronicles the parallels between a career as a novelist and a passion for running.

“ Thanksgiving in Mongolia ,” Nov. 18, 2013. Ariel Levy’s candid personal account of her brief but life-altering experience with motherhood is devastating.

“ The Unmothered ,” May 9, 2014. Ruth Margalit tenderly captures her experience of grief after losing her mother to cancer, detailing the unexpected ways in which it unfolded.

ARTS AND CRITICISM “ Noble Savages ,” Feb. 27, 2012. One  Slate  staffer recalled reading James Wood’s review of Edward St. Aubyn and “just thinking that it is impossible to write any better than that.” 

“ Danse Macabre ,” March 18, 2013. David Remnick exposes the Bolshoi, once the jewel of Russian culture and favorite for political patronage from the Kremlin, as an organization struggling to retain its relevance, artistry, and prestige in modern times.*

“ Home Fires ,” April 7, 2014. George Packer takes on the literature of war, the memoirs of veterans, and the power of the storytelling.

FICTION “ Them Old Cowboy Songs ,” May 5, 2008. This melancholy story about a young couple on a homestead won a National Magazine Award and appeared in Annie Proulx’s collection  Fine Just the Way It Is .

“ Midnight in Dostoevsky ,” Nov. 30, 2009. This short story by Don DeLillo centers on a pair of college students taking a logic class together and wondering about a stranger they see around town.

HUMOR “ Guy Walks Into a Bar ,” by Simon Rich, Nov. 18, 2013. This Shouts & Murmurs piece this is the best 12-inch pianist joke of all time.

Correction, July 22, 2014: This post originally misspelled Lizzie Widdicombe’s last name and David Remnick’s first name.

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July 21, 2014

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Collections

Our 25 Favorite Unlocked New Yorker Articles

The New Yorker has lifted its paywall on stories published since 2007. The following picks are available free for the first time.

A marriage devoted to the mind-body problem.

Larissa MacFarquhar Feb 2007 40 min

The Interpreter

Has a remote Amazonian tribe upended our understanding of language?

John Colapinto Apr 2007 50 min

Bonobos are celebrated as peace-loving, matriarchal, and sexually liberated. Are they?

Ian Parker Jul 2007 45 min

Parallel Play

A lifetime of restless isolation explained.

Tim Page Aug 2007 20 min

Wheels of Fortune

The People’s Republic learns to drive.

Peter Hessler Nov 2007 20 min

A postmodern murder mystery.

David Grann Feb 2008 45 min

How the Mississippi lawyer who brought down Big Tobacco overstepped.

Peter J. Boyer May 2008 40 min

The Running Novelist

Learning how to go the distance.

Haruki Murakami Jun 2008 20 min

The Brass Ring

A multibillionaire’s relentless quest for global influence.

Connie Bruck Jun 2008 50 min

The Mask of Doom

A nonconformist rapper’s second act.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Sep 2009 15 min

The far-flung adventures of a tugboating family.

Burkhard Bilger Apr 2010 40 min

The Cost Conundrum

What a Texas town can teach us about health care.

Atul Gawande Jun 2009 30 min

Iphigenia in Forest Hills

Anatomy of a murder trial.

Janet Malcolm May 2010 1 h 45 min

The Scholar

She was brilliant. Was she also a fraud?

Jeffrey Toobin Oct 2010 30 min

The Fun Stuff

My life as Keith Moon.

James Wood Nov 2010 20 min

Lessons from Late Night

What separates the women from the men.

Tina Fey Mar 2011 20 min

The Dog Star

Rin Tin Tin and the making of Warner Bros.

Susan Orlean Aug 2011 20 min

You Belong With Me

How Taylor Swift made teen angst into a business empire.

Lizzie Widdicombe Oct 2011 35 min

The Implosion

On the front lines of a burgeoning civil war.

John Lee Anderson Feb 2012 35 min

The River Martyrs

Day by day, a city at war with the regime collects its dead.

Luke Mogelson Apr 2013 30 min

Living-Room Leopards

A new group of breeders want to undomesticate the cat.

Ariel Levy May 2013 20 min

Crowded House

They thought that they’d found the perfect apartment. They weren’t alone.

Tad Friend May 2013 30 min

The traumatized veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

David Finkel Sep 2013 20 min

The Africans who risk all to reach Europe look to an exiled priest as their savior.

Mattathias Schwartz Apr 2014 30 min

Get Out of Jail, Inc.

Does the alternatives-to-incarceration industry profit from injustice?

Sarah Stillman Jun 2014 40 min

Feb 2007 – Jun 2014 Permalink

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New Yorker Classics That Resonated in 2020

By Erin Overbey

This has been a strange year to be an archivist, a role that seeks to illuminate the present by excavating the past. Typically, my routine consists of unearthing pieces that allow readers to experience some measure of diversion or quiet reflection amid the hubbub of the world swirling around them. This year, it was the world that seemed, at times, to stand still. As many of us began working remotely, the fundamentals of my job shifted. Living through such an extraordinary time has expanded my work in surprising and meaningful ways. In July, The New Yorker published a dissent-themed Archival Issue that reflected the growing calls for change resounding across the globe. The urgent nature of the pandemic and life under quarantine elicited new examinations of past pieces about outbreaks of disease, such as Richard Preston’s “ Crisis in the Hot Zone ” and Michael Specter’s “ Nature’s Bioterrorist .” James Baldwin’s “ Letter from a Region in My Mind ” drew an upswell of interest during the marches for racial justice over the summer, as my colleague Michael Luo has noted . It turns out that, for many, there’s been more time to spend on archival spelunking—alighting on themes both familiar and further afield—when there’s very little chance of being interrupted by in-person office meetings and social commitments.

Sign up for Classics, a twice-weekly newsletter featuring notable pieces from the past.

All that extra time has certainly been put to good use. Last year, we débuted New Yorker Classics, a newsletter designed to highlight notable and newly digitized pieces from our archive. It quickly became one of our most popular dispatches, with readers discovering and revisiting stories ranging from Shirley Jackson’s “ The Lottery ” to Nora Ephron’s “ Moving On .” This year, we turned our archival spotlight on pieces by Arthur Miller, Hannah Arendt, Gabriel García Márquez, and many others. And we created new themed collections on such subjects as con artists and hoaxes, literary portraits, and the nineteen-eighties. As this tumultuous year winds down, we’re offering ten of our classic stories from the archive as both a break from 2020 and illuminating points of comparison. We hope that you’ll take some time to enjoy these pieces this holiday season.

— Erin Overbey, archive editor

“ Why I Wrote ‘The Crucible ,’ ” by Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller sitting at a desk holding a pen

At the beginning of 2020, with the country embroiled in impeachment hearings, I was interested in addressing present events by resurfacing an unexpected piece from the past. In a serendipitous moment, I recalled a ruminative essay , from 1996, by the playwright Arthur Miller, which explored how he came to write his iconic drama “The Crucible.” It was during his research on the Salem witch trials, Miller explains, that he found a fitting setting for his parable about persecution and paranoia. He writes about the fraught political climate of the fifties, when politicians of all stripes were cowed by seemingly daily attacks from Senator Joseph McCarthy. In hindsight, Miller observes, McCarthy, like so many other firebrands from history, appeared “nearly comical, a self-aware performer keeping a straight face as he does his juicy threat-shtick.” Miller was struck by the lengths to which otherwise rational people were willing to go to indulge the paranoid fantasies of an erratic politician. During periods of political delirium, he seems to be saying, it can be all too easy to perceive demagogues as invincible; yet, once a political fever breaks, even giants begin to look small.

“ Eichmann in Jerusalem ,” by Hannah Arendt

In 1963, the journalist Hannah Arendt published an expansive five-part series on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi war criminal and one of the chief architects of the Holocaust. Although Arendt recognized the monstrosity of Eichmann’s actions, she also perceived him as a bureaucrat, motivated primarily, she argued, by ambition and opportunism rather than anti-Semitism. Arendt’s true subject is the appeal of authoritarianism and the ease with which despotism can take hold. In one of the most famous passages in the piece, she notes that the trial, with its revelations about the genocide, resulted in a lesson on “the fearsome word-and-thought-defying banality of evil .” It’s all too easy, she argues, to dismiss men like Eichmann as outliers. Arendt’s piece is ultimately a study of what occurs when the unimaginable is normalized—and when a society begins not only to tolerate persecution but to embrace it.

“ Orwell on the Future ,” by Lionel Trilling

New Yorker writers reflect on the year’s highs and lows.

The literary critic Lionel Trilling contributed multiple book reviews to The New Yorker during the forties and fifties. One of my favorites is his review of the novel “ 1984 ,” George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, which ran in the magazine when the book was published, more than seventy years ago. Trilling calls “1984” a “profound, terrifying, and wholly fascinating book.” The novel, he argues, serves as a clarion call against the kind of intellectual apathy that facilitates the ascent of despots and dictators. He perceived it as a fantasy of a political future as yet untold. Orwell, Trilling writes, was fascinated by the effects of emotional and cultural dispossession—and he had an oracle’s gift for identifying the vulnerabilities within our civic compacts. Trilling’s examination of Orwell’s vision presents an intriguing glimpse into another fraught era—the beginning of the Cold War. And his review offers a prescient reminder that the dissemination of misinformation often goes hand in hand with authoritarianism.

“ Living Through the Blitz ,” by Mollie Panter-Downes

In a year in which New York City was turned upside down by COVID -19, it was striking to revisit Mollie Panter-Downes’s dispatches from London during the Second World War. Panter-Downes wrote a regular column from the city for forty-five years, and some of those pieces are collected in her terrific anthology of war letters, “ London War Notes .” In the fall of 1940, she wrote an essay about how residents were faring during the early days of the Blitz. “The great sweep of Regent Street, deserted by everyone except police and salvage workers, stared gauntly like a thoroughfare in a dead city. It would have been no surprise to see grass growing out of the pavements.” For Londoners, she wrote, there were no longer such things as good nights. Reading about the heroic efforts of relief workers amid the ghostly avenues feels eerily familiar. And Panter-Downes’s ability to render visceral the unsettling metamorphosis of the lives she observes offers us a trenchant account of the resiliency of a city and its people.

“ Distance ,” by Roger Angell

Bob Gibson throwing a pitch

Roger Angell’s work is as exhilarating as the sporting events he has covered—in addition to his many other subjects—for nearly six decades. Angell, who turned a hundred this year , has a poet’s grasp of the small, intimate moments that capture the arc of his subjects’ lives. In 1980, he profiled Bob Gibson, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Gibson, who played for the St. Louis Cardinals, was a complex figure. As an athlete, he thrilled his colleagues with his extraordinary talent, yet he refused to play the off-field role of the sports icon. His prowess was so transcendent that, as Angell wrote, he “made pitching look unfair.” Like much of Angell’s work, this piece is a corker—soaring with crackling energy and verve. You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate the rousing quality of Angell’s prose. Just take a break from your daily routine and revel in one of the great sports essays by a veritable master of the form.

“ The Itch ,” by Atul Gawande

Atul Gawande, who was recently appointed to President-elect Biden’s coronavirus advisory board, has covered medicine for The New Yorker since 1998. In 2008, he published a fascinating report on the case of a thirtysomething woman who had developed an unbearable itch on the side of her head, after an episode of shingles. “It crawled along her scalp,” he writes, “and no matter how much she scratched it would not go away. ‘I felt like my inner self, like my brain itself, was itching,’ she says.” There’s something contagious about the idea of an itch; we can feel a tickle on the back of our neck as Gawande describes each new detail of the woman’s affliction. The piece is paced like a thriller, showcasing the woman’s alarm as her condition progresses to a horrifying dénouement. Like a medical Edgar Allan Poe, Gawande crafts a spine-tingling narrative that demonstrates how an otherwise common condition can suddenly transform into a nightmare.

“ The Dead Zone ,” by Malcolm Gladwell

In the year of COVID -19, Malcolm Gladwell’s sweeping report on the devastating influenza pandemic of 1918 became relevant again. A mutated strain of the virus spread across every continent in the early twentieth century, killing more Americans in the course of several months than were killed in the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined. Streetcars were converted into hearses to house the dead, and entire cities were overwhelmed. Gladwell’s piece unfolds as a riveting series of flashbacks to 1918, offering a salient look at what can happen when a catastrophic virus sweeps across the globe. It also presents a daunting lesson in how we might battle the current pandemic, and new viruses that eventually emerge.

“ The Autumn of the Patriarch ,” by Gabriel García Márquez

A military dictator sitting  on a chair with crows at his feet.

The Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez, the author of “ Love in the Time of Cholera ” and “ One Hundred Years of Solitude ,” among other novels, published nearly a dozen pieces in the magazine in the course of three decades. In 1976, he contributed a short story about an aging Caribbean dictator whose intensifying paranoia and destructiveness lead to his downfall. The novelist later claimed that the character was a composite of several Latin-American dictators, particularly Juan Vicente Gómez, of Venezuela. García Márquez explores the increasing isolation of his protagonist, and he describes the despot’s growing frustration as he realizes that his remaining acolytes are useless—“that they were dissembling from habit, that they lied to him out of fear, that nothing was true in that crisis of uncertainty which was rendering his glory bitter.” García Márquez’s tale is a penetrating meditation on the political wreckage that can result when an untethered leader is surrounded solely by extremists and sycophants.

“ Bird ,” by Whitney Balliett

Whitney Balliett, one of the magazine’s music critics for five decades, once remarked that jazz is the “art of surprise.” Balliett’s 1976 profile of the jazz legend Charlie (Bird) Parker chronicles the musician’s personal excesses and artistic virtuosity. It’s an arresting portrait of a musician whose expansive view of the genre allowed him to immerse himself—and his listeners—in unexplored musical waters. Balliett’s writing evokes the fluctuations in tone and timbre of a jazz maestro. Parker’s “rhythms had a muscled, chattering density,” the writer observes. “He crackled and poured and roared.” As he chronicles Parker’s lyrical evolution, Balliett uncovers the hidden layers of one of music’s most complex innovators. He presents the artist in full, documenting the ways in which Parker upended the world of jazz and inspired a new generation of musicians—leaping, floating, and gliding melodiously along the way.

“ Bonnie and Clyde ,” by Pauline Kael

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in “Bonnie and Clyde”

Pauline Kael famously submitted her groundbreaking review of “Bonnie and Clyde” to The New Republic, which declined to print it, before it found a home at The New Yorker . Kael’s slashing wit was already legendary, and her essay, which was published in 1967, indelibly transfigured the landscape of film criticism. Arthur Penn’s brutal gangster movie outraged and stunned audiences, and Kael perceptively identified the root of the extreme response. “When an American movie reaches people, when it makes them react,” she wrote, “some of them think there must be something the matter with it.” An audience’s sensibilities often become unmoored, she observed, by films that don’t adhere to conventional depictions of morality. Great art, including great cinema, she argues, allows people to absorb new expressions of humanity’s flaws, as well as its strengths. Her essay is a transcendent ride—and, as it unfolds, Kael wrests American poetry out of popular culture, crafting a landmark piece of criticism.

2020 in Review

  • The top twenty-five New Yorker stories .
  • The funniest New Yorker cartoons , as chosen by our Instagram followers.
  • Helen Rosner on the best cookbooks .
  • Doreen St. Félix selects the best TV shows .
  • Richard Brody lists his top thirty-six movies .
  • Ian Crouch recounts the best jokes of the year .
  • Sheldon Pearce on the albums that helped him navigate a lost plague year.
  • Sarah Larson picks the best podcasts .
  • New Yorker writers on the best books they read this year.

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The Movies That Mattered in 2020

By Anthony Lane

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The 10 Best Essay Collections of the Decade

Ever tried. ever failed. no matter..

Friends, it’s true: the end of the decade approaches. It’s been a difficult, anxiety-provoking, morally compromised decade, but at least it’s been populated by some damn fine literature. We’ll take our silver linings where we can.

So, as is our hallowed duty as a literary and culture website—though with full awareness of the potentially fruitless and endlessly contestable nature of the task—in the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a look at the best and most important (these being not always the same) books of the decade that was. We will do this, of course, by means of a variety of lists. We began with the best debut novels , the best short story collections , the best poetry collections , and the best memoirs of the decade , and we have now reached the fifth list in our series: the best essay collections published in English between 2010 and 2019.

The following books were chosen after much debate (and several rounds of voting) by the Literary Hub staff. Tears were spilled, feelings were hurt, books were re-read. And as you’ll shortly see, we had a hard time choosing just ten—so we’ve also included a list of dissenting opinions, and an even longer list of also-rans. As ever, free to add any of your own favorites that we’ve missed in the comments below.

The Top Ten

Oliver sacks, the mind’s eye (2010).

Toward the end of his life, maybe suspecting or sensing that it was coming to a close, Dr. Oliver Sacks tended to focus his efforts on sweeping intellectual projects like On the Move (a memoir), The River of Consciousness (a hybrid intellectual history), and Hallucinations (a book-length meditation on, what else, hallucinations). But in 2010, he gave us one more classic in the style that first made him famous, a form he revolutionized and brought into the contemporary literary canon: the medical case study as essay. In The Mind’s Eye , Sacks focuses on vision, expanding the notion to embrace not only how we see the world, but also how we map that world onto our brains when our eyes are closed and we’re communing with the deeper recesses of consciousness. Relaying histories of patients and public figures, as well as his own history of ocular cancer (the condition that would eventually spread and contribute to his death), Sacks uses vision as a lens through which to see all of what makes us human, what binds us together, and what keeps us painfully apart. The essays that make up this collection are quintessential Sacks: sensitive, searching, with an expertise that conveys scientific information and experimentation in terms we can not only comprehend, but which also expand how we see life carrying on around us. The case studies of “Stereo Sue,” of the concert pianist Lillian Kalir, and of Howard, the mystery novelist who can no longer read, are highlights of the collection, but each essay is a kind of gem, mined and polished by one of the great storytellers of our era.  –Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads Managing Editor

John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead (2011)

The American essay was having a moment at the beginning of the decade, and Pulphead was smack in the middle. Without any hard data, I can tell you that this collection of John Jeremiah Sullivan’s magazine features—published primarily in GQ , but also in The Paris Review , and Harper’s —was the only full book of essays most of my literary friends had read since Slouching Towards Bethlehem , and probably one of the only full books of essays they had even heard of.

Well, we all picked a good one. Every essay in Pulphead is brilliant and entertaining, and illuminates some small corner of the American experience—even if it’s just one house, with Sullivan and an aging writer inside (“Mr. Lytle” is in fact a standout in a collection with no filler; fittingly, it won a National Magazine Award and a Pushcart Prize). But what are they about? Oh, Axl Rose, Christian Rock festivals, living around the filming of One Tree Hill , the Tea Party movement, Michael Jackson, Bunny Wailer, the influence of animals, and by god, the Miz (of Real World/Road Rules Challenge fame).

But as Dan Kois has pointed out , what connects these essays, apart from their general tone and excellence, is “their author’s essential curiosity about the world, his eye for the perfect detail, and his great good humor in revealing both his subjects’ and his own foibles.” They are also extremely well written, drawing much from fictional techniques and sentence craft, their literary pleasures so acute and remarkable that James Wood began his review of the collection in The New Yorker with a quiz: “Are the following sentences the beginnings of essays or of short stories?” (It was not a hard quiz, considering the context.)

It’s hard not to feel, reading this collection, like someone reached into your brain, took out the half-baked stuff you talk about with your friends, researched it, lived it, and represented it to you smarter and better and more thoroughly than you ever could. So read it in awe if you must, but read it.  –Emily Temple, Senior Editor

Aleksandar Hemon, The Book of My Lives (2013)

Such is the sentence-level virtuosity of Aleksandar Hemon—the Bosnian-American writer, essayist, and critic—that throughout his career he has frequently been compared to the granddaddy of borrowed language prose stylists: Vladimir Nabokov. While it is, of course, objectively remarkable that anyone could write so beautifully in a language they learned in their twenties, what I admire most about Hemon’s work is the way in which he infuses every essay and story and novel with both a deep humanity and a controlled (but never subdued) fury. He can also be damn funny. Hemon grew up in Sarajevo and left in 1992 to study in Chicago, where he almost immediately found himself stranded, forced to watch from afar as his beloved home city was subjected to a relentless four-year bombardment, the longest siege of a capital in the history of modern warfare. This extraordinary memoir-in-essays is many things: it’s a love letter to both the family that raised him and the family he built in exile; it’s a rich, joyous, and complex portrait of a place the 90s made synonymous with war and devastation; and it’s an elegy for the wrenching loss of precious things. There’s an essay about coming of age in Sarajevo and another about why he can’t bring himself to leave Chicago. There are stories about relationships forged and maintained on the soccer pitch or over the chessboard, and stories about neighbors and mentors turned monstrous by ethnic prejudice. As a chorus they sing with insight, wry humor, and unimaginable sorrow. I am not exaggerating when I say that the collection’s devastating final piece, “The Aquarium”—which details his infant daughter’s brain tumor and the agonizing months which led up to her death—remains the most painful essay I have ever read.  –Dan Sheehan, Book Marks Editor

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass (2013)

Of every essay in my relentlessly earmarked copy of Braiding Sweetgrass , Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s gorgeously rendered argument for why and how we should keep going, there’s one that especially hits home: her account of professor-turned-forester Franz Dolp. When Dolp, several decades ago, revisited the farm that he had once shared with his ex-wife, he found a scene of destruction: The farm’s new owners had razed the land where he had tried to build a life. “I sat among the stumps and the swirling red dust and I cried,” he wrote in his journal.

So many in my generation (and younger) feel this kind of helplessness–and considerable rage–at finding ourselves newly adult in a world where those in power seem determined to abandon or destroy everything that human bodies have always needed to survive: air, water, land. Asking any single book to speak to this helplessness feels unfair, somehow; yet, Braiding Sweetgrass does, by weaving descriptions of indigenous tradition with the environmental sciences in order to show what survival has looked like over the course of many millennia. Kimmerer’s essays describe her personal experience as a Potawotami woman, plant ecologist, and teacher alongside stories of the many ways that humans have lived in relationship to other species. Whether describing Dolp’s work–he left the stumps for a life of forest restoration on the Oregon coast–or the work of others in maple sugar harvesting, creating black ash baskets, or planting a Three Sisters garden of corn, beans, and squash, she brings hope. “In ripe ears and swelling fruit, they counsel us that all gifts are multiplied in relationship,” she writes of the Three Sisters, which all sustain one another as they grow. “This is how the world keeps going.”  –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Hilton Als, White Girls (2013)

In a world where we are so often reduced to one essential self, Hilton Als’ breathtaking book of critical essays, White Girls , which meditates on the ways he and other subjects read, project and absorb parts of white femininity, is a radically liberating book. It’s one of the only works of critical thinking that doesn’t ask the reader, its author or anyone he writes about to stoop before the doorframe of complete legibility before entering. Something he also permitted the subjects and readers of his first book, the glorious book-length essay, The Women , a series of riffs and psychological portraits of Dorothy Dean, Owen Dodson, and the author’s own mother, among others. One of the shifts of that book, uncommon at the time, was how it acknowledges the way we inhabit bodies made up of variously gendered influences. To read White Girls now is to experience the utter freedom of this gift and to marvel at Als’ tremendous versatility and intelligence.

He is easily the most diversely talented American critic alive. He can write into genres like pop music and film where being part of an audience is a fantasy happening in the dark. He’s also wired enough to know how the art world builds reputations on the nod of rich white patrons, a significant collision in a time when Jean-Michel Basquiat is America’s most expensive modern artist. Als’ swerving and always moving grip on performance means he’s especially good on describing the effect of art which is volatile and unstable and built on the mingling of made-up concepts and the hard fact of their effect on behavior, such as race. Writing on Flannery O’Connor for instance he alone puts a finger on her “uneasy and unavoidable union between black and white, the sacred and the profane, the shit and the stars.” From Eminem to Richard Pryor, André Leon Talley to Michael Jackson, Als enters the life and work of numerous artists here who turn the fascinations of race and with whiteness into fury and song and describes the complexity of their beauty like his life depended upon it. There are also brief memoirs here that will stop your heart. This is an essential work to understanding American culture.  –John Freeman, Executive Editor

Eula Biss, On Immunity (2014)

We move through the world as if we can protect ourselves from its myriad dangers, exercising what little agency we have in an effort to keep at bay those fears that gather at the edges of any given life: of loss, illness, disaster, death. It is these fears—amplified by the birth of her first child—that Eula Biss confronts in her essential 2014 essay collection, On Immunity . As any great essayist does, Biss moves outward in concentric circles from her own very private view of the world to reveal wider truths, discovering as she does a culture consumed by anxiety at the pervasive toxicity of contemporary life. As Biss interrogates this culture—of privilege, of whiteness—she interrogates herself, questioning the flimsy ways in which we arm ourselves with science or superstition against the impurities of daily existence.

Five years on from its publication, it is dismaying that On Immunity feels as urgent (and necessary) a defense of basic science as ever. Vaccination, we learn, is derived from vacca —for cow—after the 17th-century discovery that a small application of cowpox was often enough to inoculate against the scourge of smallpox, an etymological digression that belies modern conspiratorial fears of Big Pharma and its vaccination agenda. But Biss never scolds or belittles the fears of others, and in her generosity and openness pulls off a neat (and important) trick: insofar as we are of the very world we fear, she seems to be suggesting, we ourselves are impure, have always been so, permeable, vulnerable, yet so much stronger than we think.  –Jonny Diamond, Editor-in-Chief 

Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions (2016)

When Rebecca Solnit’s essay, “Men Explain Things to Me,” was published in 2008, it quickly became a cultural phenomenon unlike almost any other in recent memory, assigning language to a behavior that almost every woman has witnessed—mansplaining—and, in the course of identifying that behavior, spurring a movement, online and offline, to share the ways in which patriarchal arrogance has intersected all our lives. (It would also come to be the titular essay in her collection published in 2014.) The Mother of All Questions follows up on that work and takes it further in order to examine the nature of self-expression—who is afforded it and denied it, what institutions have been put in place to limit it, and what happens when it is employed by women. Solnit has a singular gift for describing and decoding the misogynistic dynamics that govern the world so universally that they can seem invisible and the gendered violence that is so common as to seem unremarkable; this naming is powerful, and it opens space for sharing the stories that shape our lives.

The Mother of All Questions, comprised of essays written between 2014 and 2016, in many ways armed us with some of the tools necessary to survive the gaslighting of the Trump years, in which many of us—and especially women—have continued to hear from those in power that the things we see and hear do not exist and never existed. Solnit also acknowledges that labels like “woman,” and other gendered labels, are identities that are fluid in reality; in reviewing the book for The New Yorker , Moira Donegan suggested that, “One useful working definition of a woman might be ‘someone who experiences misogyny.'” Whichever words we use, Solnit writes in the introduction to the book that “when words break through unspeakability, what was tolerated by a society sometimes becomes intolerable.” This storytelling work has always been vital; it continues to be vital, and in this book, it is brilliantly done.  –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Valeria Luiselli, Tell Me How It Ends (2017)

The newly minted MacArthur fellow Valeria Luiselli’s four-part (but really six-part) essay  Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions  was inspired by her time spent volunteering at the federal immigration court in New York City, working as an interpreter for undocumented, unaccompanied migrant children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Written concurrently with her novel  Lost Children Archive  (a fictional exploration of the same topic), Luiselli’s essay offers a fascinating conceit, the fashioning of an argument from the questions on the government intake form given to these children to process their arrivals. (Aside from the fact that this essay is a heartbreaking masterpiece, this is such a  good  conceit—transforming a cold, reproducible administrative document into highly personal literature.) Luiselli interweaves a grounded discussion of the questionnaire with a narrative of the road trip Luiselli takes with her husband and family, across America, while they (both Mexican citizens) wait for their own Green Card applications to be processed. It is on this trip when Luiselli reflects on the thousands of migrant children mysteriously traveling across the border by themselves. But the real point of the essay is to actually delve into the real stories of some of these children, which are agonizing, as well as to gravely, clearly expose what literally happens, procedural, when they do arrive—from forms to courts, as they’re swallowed by a bureaucratic vortex. Amid all of this, Luiselli also takes on more, exploring the larger contextual relationship between the United States of America and Mexico (as well as other countries in Central America, more broadly) as it has evolved to our current, adverse moment.  Tell Me How It Ends  is so small, but it is so passionate and vigorous: it desperately accomplishes in its less-than-100-pages-of-prose what centuries and miles and endless records of federal bureaucracy have never been able, and have never cared, to do: reverse the dehumanization of Latin American immigrants that occurs once they set foot in this country.  –Olivia Rutigliano, CrimeReads Editorial Fellow

Zadie Smith, Feel Free (2018)

In the essay “Meet Justin Bieber!” in Feel Free , Zadie Smith writes that her interest in Justin Bieber is not an interest in the interiority of the singer himself, but in “the idea of the love object”. This essay—in which Smith imagines a meeting between Bieber and the late philosopher Martin Buber (“Bieber and Buber are alternative spellings of the same German surname,” she explains in one of many winning footnotes. “Who am I to ignore these hints from the universe?”). Smith allows that this premise is a bit premise -y: “I know, I know.” Still, the resulting essay is a very funny, very smart, and un-tricky exploration of individuality and true “meeting,” with a dash of late capitalism thrown in for good measure. The melding of high and low culture is the bread and butter of pretty much every prestige publication on the internet these days (and certainly of the Twitter feeds of all “public intellectuals”), but the essays in Smith’s collection don’t feel familiar—perhaps because hers is, as we’ve long known, an uncommon skill. Though I believe Smith could probably write compellingly about anything, she chooses her subjects wisely. She writes with as much electricity about Brexit as the aforementioned Beliebers—and each essay is utterly engrossing. “She contains multitudes, but her point is we all do,” writes Hermione Hoby in her review of the collection in The New Republic . “At the same time, we are, in our endless difference, nobody but ourselves.”  –Jessie Gaynor, Social Media Editor

Tressie McMillan Cottom, Thick: And Other Essays (2019)

Tressie McMillan Cottom is an academic who has transcended the ivory tower to become the sort of public intellectual who can easily appear on radio or television talk shows to discuss race, gender, and capitalism. Her collection of essays reflects this duality, blending scholarly work with memoir to create a collection on the black female experience in postmodern America that’s “intersectional analysis with a side of pop culture.” The essays range from an analysis of sexual violence, to populist politics, to social media, but in centering her own experiences throughout, the collection becomes something unlike other pieces of criticism of contemporary culture. In explaining the title, she reflects on what an editor had said about her work: “I was too readable to be academic, too deep to be popular, too country black to be literary, and too naïve to show the rigor of my thinking in the complexity of my prose. I had wanted to create something meaningful that sounded not only like me, but like all of me. It was too thick.” One of the most powerful essays in the book is “Dying to be Competent” which begins with her unpacking the idiocy of LinkedIn (and the myth of meritocracy) and ends with a description of her miscarriage, the mishandling of black woman’s pain, and a condemnation of healthcare bureaucracy. A finalist for the 2019 National Book Award for Nonfiction, Thick confirms McMillan Cottom as one of our most fearless public intellectuals and one of the most vital.  –Emily Firetog, Deputy Editor

Dissenting Opinions

The following books were just barely nudged out of the top ten, but we (or at least one of us) couldn’t let them pass without comment.

Elif Batuman, The Possessed (2010)

In The Possessed Elif Batuman indulges her love of Russian literature and the result is hilarious and remarkable. Each essay of the collection chronicles some adventure or other that she had while in graduate school for Comparative Literature and each is more unpredictable than the next. There’s the time a “well-known 20th-centuryist” gave a graduate student the finger; and the time when Batuman ended up living in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, for a summer; and the time that she convinced herself Tolstoy was murdered and spent the length of the Tolstoy Conference in Yasnaya Polyana considering clues and motives. Rich in historic detail about Russian authors and literature and thoughtfully constructed, each essay is an amalgam of critical analysis, cultural criticism, and serious contemplation of big ideas like that of identity, intellectual legacy, and authorship. With wit and a serpentine-like shape to her narratives, Batuman adopts a form reminiscent of a Socratic discourse, setting up questions at the beginning of her essays and then following digressions that more or less entreat the reader to synthesize the answer for herself. The digressions are always amusing and arguably the backbone of the collection, relaying absurd anecdotes with foreign scholars or awkward, surreal encounters with Eastern European strangers. Central also to the collection are Batuman’s intellectual asides where she entertains a theory—like the “problem of the person”: the inability to ever wholly capture one’s character—that ultimately layer the book’s themes. “You are certainly my most entertaining student,” a professor said to Batuman. But she is also curious and enthusiastic and reflective and so knowledgeable that she might even convince you (she has me!) that you too love Russian literature as much as she does. –Eleni Theodoropoulos, Editorial Fellow

Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist (2014)

Roxane Gay’s now-classic essay collection is a book that will make you laugh, think, cry, and then wonder, how can cultural criticism be this fun? My favorite essays in the book include Gay’s musings on competitive Scrabble, her stranded-in-academia dispatches, and her joyous film and television criticism, but given the breadth of topics Roxane Gay can discuss in an entertaining manner, there’s something for everyone in this one. This book is accessible because feminism itself should be accessible – Roxane Gay is as likely to draw inspiration from YA novels, or middle-brow shows about friendship, as she is to introduce concepts from the academic world, and if there’s anyone I trust to bridge the gap between high culture, low culture, and pop culture, it’s the Goddess of Twitter. I used to host a book club dedicated to radical reads, and this was one of the first picks for the club; a week after the book club met, I spied a few of the attendees meeting in the café of the bookstore, and found out that they had bonded so much over discussing  Bad Feminist  that they couldn’t wait for the next meeting of the book club to keep discussing politics and intersectionality, and that, in a nutshell, is the power of Roxane. –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Associate Editor

Rivka Galchen, Little Labors (2016)

Generally, I find stories about the trials and tribulations of child-having to be of limited appeal—useful, maybe, insofar as they offer validation that other people have also endured the bizarre realities of living with a tiny human, but otherwise liable to drift into the musings of parents thrilled at the simple fact of their own fecundity, as if they were the first ones to figure the process out (or not). But Little Labors is not simply an essay collection about motherhood, perhaps because Galchen initially “didn’t want to write about” her new baby—mostly, she writes, “because I had never been interested in babies, or mothers; in fact, those subjects had seemed perfectly not interesting to me.” Like many new mothers, though, Galchen soon discovered her baby—which she refers to sometimes as “the puma”—to be a preoccupying thought, demanding to be written about. Galchen’s interest isn’t just in her own progeny, but in babies in literature (“Literature has more dogs than babies, and also more abortions”), The Pillow Book , the eleventh-century collection of musings by Sei Shōnagon, and writers who are mothers. There are sections that made me laugh out loud, like when Galchen continually finds herself in an elevator with a neighbor who never fails to remark on the puma’s size. There are also deeper, darker musings, like the realization that the baby means “that it’s not permissible to die. There are days when this does not feel good.” It is a slim collection that I happened to read at the perfect time, and it remains one of my favorites of the decade. –Emily Firetog, Deputy Editor

Charlie Fox, This Young Monster (2017)

On social media as in his writing, British art critic Charlie Fox rejects lucidity for allusion and doesn’t quite answer the Twitter textbox’s persistent question: “What’s happening?” These days, it’s hard to tell.  This Young Monster  (2017), Fox’s first book,was published a few months after Donald Trump’s election, and at one point Fox takes a swipe at a man he judges “direct from a nightmare and just a repulsive fucking goon.” Fox doesn’t linger on politics, though, since most of the monsters he looks at “embody otherness and make it into art, ripping any conventional idea of beauty to shreds and replacing it with something weird and troubling of their own invention.”

If clichés are loathed because they conform to what philosopher Georges Bataille called “the common measure,” then monsters are rebellious non-sequiturs, comedic or horrific derailments from a classical ideal. Perverts in the most literal sense, monsters have gone astray from some “proper” course. The book’s nine chapters, which are about a specific monster or type of monster, are full of callbacks to familiar and lesser-known media. Fox cites visual art, film, songs, and books with the screwy buoyancy of a savant. Take one of his essays, “Spook House,” framed as a stage play with two principal characters, Klaus (“an intoxicated young skinhead vampire”) and Hermione (“a teen sorceress with green skin and jet-black hair” who looks more like The Wicked Witch than her namesake). The chorus is a troupe of trick-or-treaters. Using the filmmaker Cameron Jamie as a starting point, the rest is free association on gothic decadence and Detroit and L.A. as cities of the dead. All the while, Klaus quotes from  Artforum ,  Dazed & Confused , and  Time Out. It’s a technical feat that makes fictionalized dialogue a conveyor belt for cultural criticism.

In Fox’s imagination, David Bowie and the Hydra coexist alongside Peter Pan, Dennis Hopper, and the maenads. Fox’s book reaches for the monster’s mask, not really to peel it off but to feel and smell the rubber schnoz, to know how it’s made before making sure it’s still snugly set. With a stylistic blend of arthouse suavity and B-movie chic,  This Young Monster considers how monsters in culture are made. Aren’t the scariest things made in post-production? Isn’t the creature just duplicity, like a looping choir or a dubbed scream? –Aaron Robertson, Assistant Editor

Elena Passarello, Animals Strike Curious Poses (2017)

Elena Passarello’s collection of essays Animals Strike Curious Poses picks out infamous animals and grants them the voice, narrative, and history they deserve. Not only is a collection like this relevant during the sixth extinction but it is an ambitious historical and anthropological undertaking, which Passarello has tackled with thorough research and a playful tone that rather than compromise her subject, complicates and humanizes it. Passarello’s intention is to investigate the role of animals across the span of human civilization and in doing so, to construct a timeline of humanity as told through people’s interactions with said animals. “Of all the images that make our world, animal images are particularly buried inside us,” Passarello writes in her first essay, to introduce us to the object of the book and also to the oldest of her chosen characters: Yuka, a 39,000-year-old mummified woolly mammoth discovered in the Siberian permafrost in 2010. It was an occasion so remarkable and so unfathomable given the span of human civilization that Passarello says of Yuka: “Since language is epically younger than both thought and experience, ‘woolly mammoth’ means, to a human brain, something more like time.” The essay ends with a character placing a hand on a cave drawing of a woolly mammoth, accompanied by a phrase which encapsulates the author’s vision for the book: “And he becomes the mammoth so he can envision the mammoth.” In Passarello’s hands the imagined boundaries between the animal, natural, and human world disintegrate and what emerges is a cohesive if baffling integrated history of life. With the accuracy and tenacity of a journalist and the spirit of a storyteller, Elena Passarello has assembled a modern bestiary worthy of contemplation and awe. –Eleni Theodoropoulos, Editorial Fellow

Esmé Weijun Wang, The Collected Schizophrenias (2019)

Esmé Weijun Wang’s collection of essays is a kaleidoscopic look at mental health and the lives affected by the schizophrenias. Each essay takes on a different aspect of the topic, but you’ll want to read them together for a holistic perspective. Esmé Weijun Wang generously begins The Collected Schizophrenias by acknowledging the stereotype, “Schizophrenia terrifies. It is the archetypal disorder of lunacy.” From there, she walks us through the technical language, breaks down the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual ( DSM-5 )’s clinical definition. And then she gets very personal, telling us about how she came to her own diagnosis and the way it’s touched her daily life (her relationships, her ideas about motherhood). Esmé Weijun Wang is uniquely situated to write about this topic. As a former lab researcher at Stanford, she turns a precise, analytical eye to her experience while simultaneously unfolding everything with great patience for her reader. Throughout, she brilliantly dissects the language around mental health. (On saying “a person living with bipolar disorder” instead of using “bipolar” as the sole subject: “…we are not our diseases. We are instead individuals with disorders and malfunctions. Our conditions lie over us like smallpox blankets; we are one thing and the illness is another.”) She pinpoints the ways she arms herself against anticipated reactions to the schizophrenias: high fashion, having attended an Ivy League institution. In a particularly piercing essay, she traces mental illness back through her family tree. She also places her story within more mainstream cultural contexts, calling on groundbreaking exposés about the dangerous of institutionalization and depictions of mental illness in television and film (like the infamous Slender Man case, in which two young girls stab their best friend because an invented Internet figure told them to). At once intimate and far-reaching, The Collected Schizophrenias is an informative and important (and let’s not forget artful) work. I’ve never read a collection quite so beautifully-written and laid-bare as this. –Katie Yee, Book Marks Assistant Editor

Ross Gay, The Book of Delights (2019)

When Ross Gay began writing what would become The Book of Delights, he envisioned it as a project of daily essays, each focused on a moment or point of delight in his day. This plan quickly disintegrated; on day four, he skipped his self-imposed assignment and decided to “in honor and love, delight in blowing it off.” (Clearly, “blowing it off” is a relative term here, as he still produced the book.) Ross Gay is a generous teacher of how to live, and this moment of reveling in self-compassion is one lesson among many in The Book of Delights , which wanders from moments of connection with strangers to a shade of “red I don’t think I actually have words for,” a text from a friend reading “I love you breadfruit,” and “the sun like a guiding hand on my back, saying everything is possible. Everything .”

Gay does not linger on any one subject for long, creating the sense that delight is a product not of extenuating circumstances, but of our attention; his attunement to the possibilities of a single day, and awareness of all the small moments that produce delight, are a model for life amid the warring factions of the attention economy. These small moments range from the physical–hugging a stranger, transplanting fig cuttings–to the spiritual and philosophical, giving the impression of sitting beside Gay in his garden as he thinks out loud in real time. It’s a privilege to listen. –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Honorable Mentions

A selection of other books that we seriously considered for both lists—just to be extra about it (and because decisions are hard).

Terry Castle, The Professor and Other Writings (2010) · Joyce Carol Oates, In Rough Country (2010) · Geoff Dyer, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition (2011) · Christopher Hitchens, Arguably (2011) ·  Roberto Bolaño, tr. Natasha Wimmer, Between Parentheses (2011) · Dubravka Ugresic, tr. David Williams, Karaoke Culture (2011) · Tom Bissell, Magic Hours (2012)  · Kevin Young, The Grey Album (2012) · William H. Gass, Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts (2012) · Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey (2012) · Herta Müller, tr. Geoffrey Mulligan, Cristina and Her Double (2013) · Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams (2014)  · Meghan Daum, The Unspeakable (2014)  · Daphne Merkin, The Fame Lunches (2014)  · Charles D’Ambrosio, Loitering (2015) · Wendy Walters, Multiply/Divide (2015) · Colm Tóibín, On Elizabeth Bishop (2015) ·  Renee Gladman, Calamities (2016)  · Jesmyn Ward, ed. The Fire This Time (2016)  · Lindy West, Shrill (2016)  · Mary Oliver, Upstream (2016)  · Emily Witt, Future Sex (2016)  · Olivia Laing, The Lonely City (2016)  · Mark Greif, Against Everything (2016)  · Durga Chew-Bose, Too Much and Not the Mood (2017)  · Sarah Gerard, Sunshine State (2017)  · Jim Harrison, A Really Big Lunch (2017)  · J.M. Coetzee, Late Essays: 2006-2017 (2017) · Melissa Febos, Abandon Me (2017)  · Louise Glück, American Originality (2017)  · Joan Didion, South and West (2017)  · Tom McCarthy, Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish (2017)  · Hanif Abdurraqib, They Can’t Kill Us Until they Kill Us (2017)  · Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power (2017)  ·  Samantha Irby, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life (2017)  · Alexander Chee, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel (2018)  · Alice Bolin, Dead Girls (2018)  · Marilynne Robinson, What Are We Doing Here? (2018)  · Lorrie Moore, See What Can Be Done (2018)  · Maggie O’Farrell, I Am I Am I Am (2018)  · Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race (2018)  · Rachel Cusk, Coventry (2019)  · Jia Tolentino, Trick Mirror (2019)  · Emily Bernard, Black is the Body (2019)  · Toni Morrison, The Source of Self-Regard (2019)  · Margaret Renkl, Late Migrations (2019)  ·  Rachel Munroe, Savage Appetites (2019)  · Robert A. Caro,  Working  (2019) · Arundhati Roy, My Seditious Heart (2019).

Emily Temple

Emily Temple

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Best of 2023: Personal Essays

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best new yorker essays of all time

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Personal essays are as much about the readers as the writers. While all the essays in this list demonstrate exceptional writing—each piece struck a distinct chord with the editor who chose it. For Seyward, it was an essay on grief. For Krista, a piece on community experience. Peter was drawn to video game writing ( Red Dead Redemption 2 !), Cheri to the immigrant experience and caring for loved ones, and Carolyn to the fear of missed opportunities as we age (and a vicious jungle tick).

We hope you find a piece to resonate with you as you read these beautiful personal stories.

Ahead of Time

Kamran Javadizadeh | The Yale Review | June 12, 2023 | 3,285 words    

Grief is unpredictable. Sometimes it stabs you, sometimes it suffocates you; when it isn’t making you weep or scream, it’s leaving you numb. Grief is also unfathomable: we cannot see, much less reach, the edges of the permanent absence of someone we love. “Grief may be the knowledge … that the future won’t be like the past,” Kamran Javadizadeh writes in this exquisite essay about the death of his sister, Bita. “Like water to the page, it spreads in all directions, it thins the surface, it touches what you cannot touch.” Javadizadeh reflects on his grief through the lens of poetry he encountered during the experience of losing Bita: a volume of Langston Hughes he located in their shared childhood bedroom; a copy of  The Dead and the Living  by Sharon Olds, filled with Bita’s notes from college; a Hafez verse that Bita texted to him one day. The best poetry is not unlike grief: it is vast, complex, elusive. And in reading verse, Javadizadeh shows, we can find lessons for mourning. I’ve thought about this essay countless times since I read it last summer, and I suspect I will reread it many times in the years to come. — SD

The Butchering

Jake Skeets | Emergence Magazine | June 22, 2023 | 3,901 words

Consider what it means to truly feel full—with a full stomach and a full heart—when your physical and spiritual hungers are satiated for a time. Diné poet Jake Skeets mulls these layers of resonance in his beautiful essay “The Butchering,” in which he prepares to kill a sheep for “the Kinaałda. . . .loosely translated as the Diné puberty ceremony.” For Skeets and members of his Indigenous community, story is wonderfully entangled with preparing the food that will nourish his family both physically and spiritually. Community members teach and learn interchangeably, switching roles naturally in a space of safety, free from shame. Skeets meditates on the open mindset needed to fully participate; sometimes he is a child, earning knowledge passed on from family and sometimes he is an uncle, offering an example for others. There’s a slowness to savor in Skeets’ writing, a gentle quickening you observe in the essay as he educates you on what it takes to sustain his community and their Indigenous way of life. “The next time I butcher I’ll have my own story to tell, my own memory to share, knowledge to offer. One more voice to add to the chorus on those nights when you’re out in the desert under the night sky, no sound for miles, just the moon and the ground beneath you, reminding you it’s all real. That and your full stomach. Generations heard through wind, the air, the stirring gleaming stars. All that knowledge, all that story, all that beauty,” he writes. Be sure to make time for this piece; it will ignite your sense of wonder and spark your curiosity, feeding you in a way that’s truly satisfying. — KS

We’re More Ghosts Than People

Hanif Abdurraqib  |  The Paris Review  |  October 16, 2023  |  3,922 words

Not long after I started at  Longreads , I put together a reading list  detailing some of my favorite pieces of video game writing  over the previous decade. If people could enjoy reviews of movies they haven’t seen, I reasoned, then they could do the same with gaming criticism and journalism—even if they’d never held a controller. That conviction hasn’t wavered in the years since; however, this year brought a piece powerful enough to vault back through time and land on that list. Hanif Abdurraqib’s  Paris Review  essay (which also appears in the newly published collection  Critical Hits ) is nominally about the experience of playing  Red Dead Redemption 2 , Rockstar Games’ critically acclaimed title set in the American West in 1899. The word “nominally” carries more weight than usual, though. In Abdurraqib’s able hands, the game instead becomes a portal to grief and salvation, futility and loss. Some characters can’t be redeemed by virtue of their programming. Others can. The trajectory of the character of  you  is another story altogether. “If there is a place of judgment where I must stand and plead my case for a glorious and abundant afterlife, I hope that whoever hears me out is interested in nuances, but who’s to say,” Abdurraqib writes. “I don’t think about it, until I do.” As with the very best of arts writing, this meditation teases apart its medium’s limitations to find the universal truths and questions embedded within. No virtual revolver necessary. — PR

A Mother’s Exchange for Her Daughter’s Future

Jiayang Fan | The New Yorker | June 5, 2023 | 6,197 words

Jiayang Fan was 25 when her mother was diagnosed with ALS. She writes: “The child became the mother’s future, and the mother became the child’s present, taking up residence in her brain, blood, and bones.” This was the first personal piece Fan wrote after her mother’s death; it’s a devastating tale of the immigrant experience in America, of illness, of the intimate and complicated relationship between a mother and daughter. Fan’s descriptions of her bedridden mother range from exquisite to grim to satisfyingly peculiar. She is “shipwrecked in her own body,” with skin like “rice paper” that will inevitably tear. Even a line detailing how literal shit excretes out of her mother’s body—a “rivulet” down the “limp marble of her thigh”—manages to read beautifully. Fan writes with vulnerability about caring for an elderly loved one, love and sacrifice, the intertwining of two lives, and the story about them that’s ultimately written. I had to pause and collect myself a number of times as I thought about my own aging mother, and the decisions made over the course of our lives that have made us who we are. “One creature, disassembled into two bodies,” Fan writes of their shared life. This is extraordinary writing that hit me in a spot deep within. — CLR

How I Survived a Wedding in a Jungle That Tried to Eat Me Alive

Melissa Johnson | Outside | July 18, 2023 | 4,273 words

A key sentence in this essay goes as follows, “Behold my nightmare: a tick has bitten my vagina.” The incident—relayed with “the gravitas of Obi-Wan Kenobi describing the destruction of planet Alderaan”—occurs in 2017, while Melissa Johnson is enduring a five-day trek in northern Guatemala to attend the wedding of two ex-military women. (She reflects on how during the days of Trump America, the middle of the jungle felt a safer spot for such nuptials.) Johnson embarks on this quest fresh from harvesting her eggs. Single at the age of 39, she is not only wrestling ticks from her “holy garden” but with her fear of missing out on love and motherhood. Trudging along the soggy trails, Johnson dwells on her cloudy future with trepidation. But, by the time she is released from the jungle’s insect-infested innards, she has come to terms with the fact that she is an adventurer—someone comfortable with the unknown. This piece has many layers: an adventure story, a character study of people with names such as “Tent Dawg,” and a thoughtful take on aging and motherhood. It’s also just plain funny. I loved going through the jungle with Johnson, and I also loved the last sentence of her bio:  She had a baby girl in March.  — CW

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best new yorker essays of all time

The Top 10 Essays Since 1950

Robert Atwan, the founder of The Best American Essays series, picks the 10 best essays of the postwar period. Links to the essays are provided when available.

Fortunately, when I worked with Joyce Carol Oates on The Best American Essays of the Century (that’s the last century, by the way), we weren’t restricted to ten selections. So to make my list of the top ten essays since 1950 less impossible, I decided to exclude all the great examples of New Journalism--Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Michael Herr, and many others can be reserved for another list. I also decided to include only American writers, so such outstanding English-language essayists as Chris Arthur and Tim Robinson are missing, though they have appeared in The Best American Essays series. And I selected essays , not essayists . A list of the top ten essayists since 1950 would feature some different writers.

To my mind, the best essays are deeply personal (that doesn’t necessarily mean autobiographical) and deeply engaged with issues and ideas. And the best essays show that the name of the genre is also a verb, so they demonstrate a mind in process--reflecting, trying-out, essaying.

James Baldwin, "Notes of a Native Son" (originally appeared in Harper’s , 1955)

“I had never thought of myself as an essayist,” wrote James Baldwin, who was finishing his novel Giovanni’s Room while he worked on what would become one of the great American essays. Against a violent historical background, Baldwin recalls his deeply troubled relationship with his father and explores his growing awareness of himself as a black American. Some today may question the relevance of the essay in our brave new “post-racial” world, though Baldwin considered the essay still relevant in 1984 and, had he lived to see it, the election of Barak Obama may not have changed his mind. However you view the racial politics, the prose is undeniably hypnotic, beautifully modulated and yet full of urgency. Langston Hughes nailed it when he described Baldwin’s “illuminating intensity.” The essay was collected in Notes of a Native Son courageously (at the time) published by Beacon Press in 1955.

Norman Mailer, "The White Negro" (originally appeared in Dissent , 1957)

An essay that packed an enormous wallop at the time may make some of us cringe today with its hyperbolic dialectics and hyperventilated metaphysics. But Mailer’s attempt to define the “hipster”–in what reads in part like a prose version of Ginsberg’s “Howl”–is suddenly relevant again, as new essays keep appearing with a similar definitional purpose, though no one would mistake Mailer’s hipster (“a philosophical psychopath”) for the ones we now find in Mailer’s old Brooklyn neighborhoods. Odd, how terms can bounce back into life with an entirely different set of connotations. What might Mailer call the new hipsters? Squares?

Read the essay here .

Susan Sontag, "Notes on 'Camp'" (originally appeared in Partisan Review , 1964)

Like Mailer’s “White Negro,” Sontag’s groundbreaking essay was an ambitious attempt to define a modern sensibility, in this case “camp,” a word that was then almost exclusively associated with the gay world. I was familiar with it as an undergraduate, hearing it used often by a set of friends, department store window decorators in Manhattan. Before I heard Sontag—thirty-one, glamorous, dressed entirely in black-- read the essay on publication at a Partisan Review gathering, I had simply interpreted “campy” as an exaggerated style or over-the-top behavior. But after Sontag unpacked the concept, with the help of Oscar Wilde, I began to see the cultural world in a different light. “The whole point of camp,” she writes, “is to dethrone the serious.” Her essay, collected in Against Interpretation (1966), is not in itself an example of camp.

John McPhee, "The Search for Marvin Gardens" (originally appeared in The New Yorker , 1972)

“Go. I roll the dice—a six and a two. Through the air I move my token, the flatiron, to Vermont Avenue, where dog packs range.” And so we move, in this brilliantly conceived essay, from a series of Monopoly games to a decaying Atlantic City, the once renowned resort town that inspired America’s most popular board game. As the games progress and as properties are rapidly snapped up, McPhee juxtaposes the well-known sites on the board—Atlantic Avenue, Park Place—with actual visits to their crumbling locations. He goes to jail, not just in the game but in fact, portraying what life has now become in a city that in better days was a Boardwalk Empire. At essay’s end, he finds the elusive Marvin Gardens. The essay was collected in Pieces of the Frame (1975).

Read the essay here (subscription required).

Joan Didion, "The White Album" (originally appeared in New West , 1979)

Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and the Black Panthers, a recording session with Jim Morrison and the Doors, the San Francisco State riots, the Manson murders—all of these, and much more, figure prominently in Didion’s brilliant mosaic distillation (or phantasmagoric album) of California life in the late 1960s. Yet despite a cast of characters larger than most Hollywood epics, “The White Album” is a highly personal essay, right down to Didion’s report of her psychiatric tests as an outpatient in a Santa Monica hospital in the summer of 1968. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” the essay famously begins, and as it progresses nervously through cuts and flashes of reportage, with transcripts, interviews, and testimonies, we realize that all of our stories are questionable, “the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images.” Portions of the essay appeared in installments in 1968-69 but it wasn’t until 1979 that Didion published the complete essay in New West magazine; it then became the lead essay of her book, The White Album (1979).

Annie Dillard, "Total Eclipse" (originally appeared in Antaeus , 1982)

In her introduction to The Best American Essays 1988 , Annie Dillard claims that “The essay can do everything a poem can do, and everything a short story can do—everything but fake it.” Her essay “Total Eclipse” easily makes her case for the imaginative power of a genre that is still undervalued as a branch of imaginative literature. “Total Eclipse” has it all—the climactic intensity of short fiction, the interwoven imagery of poetry, and the meditative dynamics of the personal essay: “This was the universe about which we have read so much and never before felt: the universe as a clockwork of loose spheres flung at stupefying, unauthorized speeds.” The essay, which first appeared in Antaeus in 1982 was collected in Teaching a Stone to Talk (1982), a slim volume that ranks among the best essay collections of the past fifty years.

Phillip Lopate, "Against Joie de Vivre" (originally appeared in Ploughshares , 1986)

This is an essay that made me glad I’d started The Best American Essays the year before. I’d been looking for essays that grew out of a vibrant Montaignean spirit—personal essays that were witty, conversational, reflective, confessional, and yet always about something worth discussing. And here was exactly what I’d been looking for. I might have found such writing several decades earlier but in the 80s it was relatively rare; Lopate had found a creative way to insert the old familiar essay into the contemporary world: “Over the years,” Lopate begins, “I have developed a distaste for the spectacle of joie de vivre , the knack of knowing how to live.” He goes on to dissect in comic yet astute detail the rituals of the modern dinner party. The essay was selected by Gay Talese for The Best American Essays 1987 and collected in Against Joie de Vivre in 1989 .

Edward Hoagland, "Heaven and Nature" (originally appeared in Harper’s, 1988)

“The best essayist of my generation,” is how John Updike described Edward Hoagland, who must be one of the most prolific essayists of our time as well. “Essays,” Hoagland wrote, “are how we speak to one another in print—caroming thoughts not merely in order to convey a certain packet of information, but with a special edge or bounce of personal character in a kind of public letter.” I could easily have selected many other Hoagland essays for this list (such as “The Courage of Turtles”), but I’m especially fond of “Heaven and Nature,” which shows Hoagland at his best, balancing the public and private, the well-crafted general observation with the clinching vivid example. The essay, selected by Geoffrey Wolff for The Best American Essays 1989 and collected in Heart’s Desire (1988), is an unforgettable meditation not so much on suicide as on how we remarkably manage to stay alive.

Jo Ann Beard, "The Fourth State of Matter" (originally appeared in The New Yorker , 1996)

A question for nonfiction writing students: When writing a true story based on actual events, how does the narrator create dramatic tension when most readers can be expected to know what happens in the end? To see how skillfully this can be done turn to Jo Ann Beard’s astonishing personal story about a graduate student’s murderous rampage on the University of Iowa campus in 1991. “Plasma is the fourth state of matter,” writes Beard, who worked in the U of I’s physics department at the time of the incident, “You’ve got your solid, your liquid, your gas, and there’s your plasma. In outer space there’s the plasmasphere and the plasmapause.” Besides plasma, in this emotion-packed essay you will find entangled in all the tension a lovable, dying collie, invasive squirrels, an estranged husband, the seriously disturbed gunman, and his victims, one of them among the author’s dearest friends. Selected by Ian Frazier for The Best American Essays 1997 , the essay was collected in Beard’s award-winning volume, The Boys of My Youth (1998).

David Foster Wallace, "Consider the Lobster" (originally appeared in Gourmet , 2004)

They may at first look like magazine articles—those factually-driven, expansive pieces on the Illinois State Fair, a luxury cruise ship, the adult video awards, or John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign—but once you uncover the disguise and get inside them you are in the midst of essayistic genius. One of David Foster Wallace’s shortest and most essayistic is his “coverage” of the annual Maine Lobster Festival, “Consider the Lobster.” The Festival becomes much more than an occasion to observe “the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker” in action as Wallace poses an uncomfortable question to readers of the upscale food magazine: “Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?” Don’t gloss over the footnotes. Susan Orlean selected the essay for The Best American Essays 2004 and Wallace collected it in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (2005).

Read the essay here . (Note: the electronic version from Gourmet magazine’s archives differs from the essay that appears in The Best American Essays and in his book, Consider the Lobster. )

I wish I could include twenty more essays but these ten in themselves comprise a wonderful and wide-ranging mini-anthology, one that showcases some of the most outstanding literary voices of our time. Readers who’d like to see more of the best essays since 1950 should take a look at The Best American Essays of the Century (2000).

best new yorker essays of all time

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40 Best Essays of All Time (Including Links & Writing Tips)

Author: Rafal Reyzer

I wanted to improve my writing skills. I thought that reading the forty best essays of all time would bring me closer to my goal.

I had little money (buying forty collections of essays was out of the question) so I’ve found them online instead. I’ve hacked through piles of them, and finally, I’ve found the great ones. Now I want to share the whole list with you (with the addition of my notes about writing). Each item on the list has a direct link to the essay, so please click away and indulge yourself. Also, next to each essay, there’s an image of the book that contains the original work.

About this essay list:

Reading essays is like indulging in candy; once you start, it’s hard to stop. I sought out essays that were not only well-crafted but also impactful. These pieces genuinely shifted my perspective. Whether you’re diving in for enjoyment or to hone your writing, these essays promise to leave an imprint. It’s fascinating how an essay can resonate with you, and even if details fade, its essence remains. I haven’t ranked them in any way; they’re all stellar. Skim through, explore the summaries, and pick up some writing tips along the way. For more essay gems, consider “Best American Essays” by Joyce Carol Oates or “101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think” curated by Brianna Wiest.

George Orwell Typing

40 Best Essays of All Time (With Links And Writing Tips)

1. david sedaris – laugh, kookaburra.

david sedaris - the best of me essay collection

A great family drama takes place against the backdrop of the Australian wilderness. And the Kookaburra laughs… This is one of the top essays of the lot. It’s a great mixture of family reminiscences, travel writing, and advice on what’s most important in life. You’ll also learn an awful lot about the curious culture of the Aussies.

Writing tips from the essay:

  • Use analogies (you can make it funny or dramatic to achieve a better effect): “Don’t be afraid,” the waiter said, and he talked to the kookaburra in a soothing, respectful voice, the way you might to a child with a switchblade in his hand”.
  • You can touch a few cognate stories in one piece of writing . Reveal the layers gradually. Intertwine them and arrange for a grand finale where everything is finally clear.
  • Be on the side of the reader. Become their friend and tell the story naturally, like around the dinner table.
  • Use short, punchy sentences. Tell only as much as is required to make your point vivid.
  • Conjure sentences that create actual feelings: “I had on a sweater and a jacket, but they weren’t quite enough, and I shivered as we walked toward the body, and saw that it was a . . . what, exactly?”
  • You may ask a few tough questions in a row to provoke interest and let the reader think.

2. Charles D’Ambrosio – Documents

Charles D'Ambrosio - Loitering - New and Collected Essays

Do you think your life punches you in the face all too often? After reading this essay, you will change your mind. Reading about loss and hardships often makes us sad at first, but then enables us to feel grateful for our lives . D’Ambrosio shares his documents (poems, letters) that had a major impact on his life, and brilliantly shows how not to let go of the past.

  • The most powerful stories are about your family and the childhood moments that shaped your life.
  • You don’t need to build up tension and pussyfoot around the crux of the matter. Instead, surprise the reader by telling it like it is: “The poem was an allegory about his desire to leave our family.” Or: “My father had three sons. I’m the eldest; Danny, the youngest, killed himself sixteen years ago”.
  • You can use real documents and quotes from your family and friends. It makes it so much more personal and relatable.
  • Don’t cringe before the long sentence if you know it’s a strong one.
  • At the end of the essay, you may come back to the first theme to close the circuit.
  • Using slightly poetic language is acceptable, as long as it improves the story.

3. E. B. White – Once more to the lake

E.B. White - Essays

What does it mean to be a father? Can you see your younger self, reflected in your child? This beautiful essay tells the story of the author, his son, and their traditional stay at a placid lake hidden within the forests of Maine. This place of nature is filled with sunshine and childhood memories. It also provides for one of the greatest meditations on nature and the passing of time.

  • Use sophisticated language, but not at the expense of readability.
  • Use vivid language to trigger the mirror neurons in the reader’s brain: “I took along my son, who had never had any fresh water up his nose and who had seen lily pads only from train windows”.
  • It’s important to mention universal feelings that are rarely talked about (it helps to create a bond between two minds): “You remember one thing, and that suddenly reminds you of another thing. I guess I remembered clearest of all the early mornings when the lake was cool and motionless”.
  • Animate the inanimate: “this constant and trustworthy body of water”.
  • Mentioning tales of yore is a good way to add some mystery and timelessness to your piece.
  • Using double, or even triple “and” in one sentence is fine. It can make the sentence sing.

4. Zadie Smith – Fail Better

Zadie Smith - Changing My Mind

Aspiring writers feel tremendous pressure to perform. The daily quota of words often turns out to be nothing more than gibberish. What then? Also, should the writer please the reader or should she be fully independent? What does it mean to be a writer, anyway? This essay is an attempt to answer these questions, but its contents are not only meant for scribblers. Within it, you’ll find some great notes about literary criticism, how we treat art , and the responsibility of the reader.

  • A perfect novel ? There’s no such thing.
  • The novel always reflects the inner world of the writer. That’s why we’re fascinated with writers.
  • Writing is not simply about craftsmanship, but about taking your reader to the unknown lands. In the words of Christopher Hitchens: “Your ideal authors ought to pull you from the foundering of your previous existence, not smilingly guide you into a friendly and peaceable harbor.”
  • Style comes from your unique personality and the perception of the world. It takes time to develop it.
  • Never try to tell it all. “All” can never be put into language. Take a part of it and tell it the best you can.
  • Avoid being cliché. Try to infuse new life into your writing .
  • Writing is about your way of being. It’s your game. Paradoxically, if you try to please everyone, your writing will become less appealing. You’ll lose the interest of the readers. This rule doesn’t apply in the business world where you have to write for a specific person (a target audience).
  • As a reader, you have responsibilities too. According to the critics, every thirty years, there’s just a handful of great novels. Maybe it’s true. But there’s also an element of personal connection between the reader and the writer. That’s why for one person a novel is a marvel, while for the other, nothing special at all. That’s why you have to search and find the author who will touch you.

5. Virginia Woolf – Death of the Moth

Virginia Woolf - Essays

Amid an ordinary day, sitting in a room of her own, Virginia Woolf tells about the epic struggle for survival and the evanescence of life. This short essay is truly powerful. In the beginning, the atmosphere is happy. Life is in full force. And then, suddenly, it fades away. This sense of melancholy would mark the last years of Woolf’s life.

  • The melody of language… A good sentence is like music: “Moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths; they do not excite that pleasant sense of dark autumn nights and ivy-blossom which the commonest yellow- underwing asleep in the shadow of the curtain never fails to rouse in us”.
  • You can show the grandest in the mundane (for example, the moth at your window and the drama of life and death).
  • Using simple comparisons makes the style more lucid: “Being intent on other matters I watched these futile attempts for a time without thinking, unconsciously waiting for him to resume his flight, as one waits for a machine, that has stopped momentarily, to start again without considering the reason of its failure”.

6. Meghan Daum – My Misspent Youth

Meghan Daum - My Misspent Youth - Essays

Many of us, at some point or another, dream about living in New York. Meghan Daum’s take on the subject differs slightly from what you might expect. There’s no glamour, no Broadway shows, and no fancy restaurants. Instead, there’s the sullen reality of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. You’ll get all the juicy details about credit cards, overdue payments, and scrambling for survival. It’s a word of warning. But it’s also a great story about shattered fantasies of living in a big city. Word on the street is: “You ain’t promised mañana in the rotten manzana.”

  • You can paint a picture of your former self. What did that person believe in? What kind of world did he or she live in?
  • “The day that turned your life around” is a good theme you may use in a story. Memories of a special day are filled with emotions. Strong emotions often breed strong writing.
  • Use cultural references and relevant slang to create a context for your story.
  • You can tell all the details of the story, even if in some people’s eyes you’ll look like the dumbest motherfucker that ever lived. It adds to the originality.
  • Say it in a new way: “In this mindset, the dollars spent, like the mechanics of a machine no one bothers to understand, become an abstraction, an intangible avenue toward self-expression, a mere vehicle of style”.
  • You can mix your personal story with the zeitgeist or the ethos of the time.

7. Roger Ebert – Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Roger Ebert - The Great Movies

Probably the greatest film critic of all time, Roger Ebert, tells us not to rage against the dying of the light. This essay is full of courage, erudition, and humanism. From it, we learn about what it means to be dying (Hitchens’ “Mortality” is another great work on that theme). But there’s so much more. It’s a great celebration of life too. It’s about not giving up, and sticking to your principles until the very end. It brings to mind the famous scene from Dead Poets Society where John Keating (Robin Williams) tells his students: “Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary”.

  • Start with a powerful sentence: “I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear.”
  • Use quotes to prove your point -”‘Ask someone how they feel about death’, he said, ‘and they’ll tell you everyone’s gonna die’. Ask them, ‘In the next 30 seconds?’ No, no, no, that’s not gonna happen”.
  • Admit the basic truths about reality in a childlike way (especially after pondering quantum physics) – “I believe my wristwatch exists, and even when I am unconscious, it is ticking all the same. You have to start somewhere”.
  • Let other thinkers prove your point. Use quotes and ideas from your favorite authors and friends.

8. George Orwell – Shooting an Elephant

George Orwell - A collection of Essays

Even after one reading, you’ll remember this one for years. The story, set in British Burma, is about shooting an elephant (it’s not for the squeamish). It’s also the most powerful denunciation of colonialism ever put into writing. Orwell, apparently a free representative of British rule, feels to be nothing more than a puppet succumbing to the whim of the mob.

  • The first sentence is the most important one: “In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people — the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me”.
  • You can use just the first paragraph to set the stage for the whole piece of prose.
  • Use beautiful language that stirs the imagination: “I remember that it was a cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains.” Or: “I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have.”
  • If you’ve ever been to war, you will have a story to tell: “(Never tell me, by the way, that the dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen looked devilish.)”
  • Use simple words, and admit the sad truth only you can perceive: “They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching”.
  • Share words of wisdom to add texture to the writing: “I perceived at this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his freedom that he destroys.”
  • I highly recommend reading everything written by Orwell, especially if you’re looking for the best essay collections on Amazon or Goodreads.

9. George Orwell – A Hanging

George Orwell - Essays

It’s just another day in Burma – time to hang a man. Without much ado, Orwell recounts the grim reality of taking another person’s life. A man is taken from his cage and in a few minutes, he’s going to be hanged. The most horrible thing is the normality of it. It’s a powerful story about human nature. Also, there’s an extraordinary incident with the dog, but I won’t get ahead of myself.

  • Create brilliant, yet short descriptions of characters: “He was a Hindu, a puny wisp of a man, with a shaven head and vague liquid eyes. He had a thick, sprouting mustache, absurdly too big for his body, rather like the mustache of a comic man on the films”.
  • Understand and share the felt presence of a unique experience: “It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man”.
  • Make your readers hear the sound that will stay with them forever: “And then when the noose was fixed, the prisoner began crying out on his god. It was a high, reiterated cry of “Ram! Ram! Ram! Ram!”
  • Make the ending original by refusing the tendency to seek closure or summing it up.

10. Christopher Hitchens – Assassins of The Mind

Christopher Hitchens - Arguably - Essays

In one of the greatest essays written in defense of free speech, Christopher Hitchens shares many examples of how modern media kneel to the explicit threats of violence posed by Islamic extremists. He recounts the story of his friend, Salman Rushdie, author of Satanic Verses who, for many years, had to watch over his shoulder because of the fatwa of Ayatollah Khomeini. With his usual wit, Hitchens shares various examples of people who died because of their opinions and of editors who refuse to publish anything related to Islam because of fear (and it was written long before the Charlie Hebdo massacre). After reading the essay, you realize that freedom of expression is one of the most precious things we have and that we have to fight for it. I highly recommend all essay collections penned by Hitchens, especially the ones written for Vanity Fair.

  • Assume that the readers will know the cultural references. When they do, their self-esteem goes up – they are a part of an insider group.
  • When proving your point, give a variety of real-life examples from eclectic sources. Leave no room for ambiguity or vagueness. Research and overall knowledge are essential here.
  • Use italics to emphasize a specific word or phrase (here I use the underlining): “We live now in a climate where every publisher and editor and politician has to weigh in advance the possibility of violent Muslim reprisal. In consequence, several things have not happened.”
  • Think about how to make it sound more original: “So there is now a hidden partner in our cultural and academic and publishing and the broadcasting world: a shadowy figure that has, uninvited, drawn up a chair to the table.”

11. Christopher Hitchens – The New Commandments

Christopher Hitchens - Essays

It’s high time to shatter the tablets and amend the biblical rules of conduct. Watch, as Christopher Hitchens slays one commandment after the other on moral, as well as historical grounds. For example, did you know that there are many versions of the divine law dictated by God to Moses which you can find in the Bible? Aren’t we thus empowered to write our version of a proper moral code? If you approach it with an open mind, this essay may change the way you think about the Bible and religion.

  • Take the iconoclastic approach. Have a party on the hallowed soil.
  • Use humor to undermine orthodox ideas (it seems to be the best way to deal with an established authority).
  • Use sarcasm and irony when appropriate (or not): “Nobody is opposed to a day of rest. The international Communist movement got its start by proclaiming a strike for an eight-hour day on May 1, 1886, against Christian employers who used child labor seven days a week”.
  • Defeat God on legal grounds: “Wise lawmakers know that it is a mistake to promulgate legislation that is impossible to obey”.
  • Be ruthless in the logic of your argument. Provide evidence.

12. Phillip Lopate – Against Joie de Vivre

Philip Lopate - The Art Of Personal Essay

While reading this fantastic essay, this quote from Slavoj Žižek kept coming back to me: “I think that the only life of deep satisfaction is a life of eternal struggle, especially struggle with oneself. If you want to remain happy, just remain stupid. Authentic masters are never happy; happiness is a category of slaves”. I can bear the onus of happiness or joie de vivre for some time. But this force enables me to get free and wallow in the sweet feelings of melancholy and nostalgia. By reading this work of Lopate, you’ll enter into the world of an intelligent man who finds most social rituals a drag. It’s worth exploring.

  • Go against the grain. Be flamboyant and controversial (if you can handle it).
  • Treat the paragraph like a group of thoughts on one theme. Next paragraph, next theme.
  • Use references to other artists to set the context and enrich the prose: “These sunny little canvases with their talented innocence, the third-generation spirit of Montmartre, bore testimony to a love of life so unbending as to leave an impression of rigid narrow-mindedness as extreme as any Savonarola. Their rejection of sorrow was total”.
  • Capture the emotions in life that are universal, yet remain unspoken.
  • Don’t be afraid to share your intimate experiences.

13. Philip Larkin – The Pleasure Principle

Philip Larkin - Jazz Writings, and other essays

This piece comes from the Required Writing collection of personal essays. Larkin argues that reading in verse should be a source of intimate pleasure – not a medley of unintelligible thoughts that only the author can (or can’t?) decipher. It’s a sobering take on modern poetry and a great call to action for all those involved in it. Well worth a read.

  • Write about complicated ideas (such as poetry) simply. You can change how people look at things if you express yourself enough.
  • Go boldly. The reader wants a bold writer: “We seem to be producing a new kind of bad poetry, not the old kind that tries to move the reader and fails, but one that does not even try”.
  • Play with words and sentence length. Create music: “It is time some of you playboys realized, says the judge, that reading a poem is hard work. Fourteen days in stir. Next case”.
  • Persuade the reader to take action. Here, direct language is the most effective.

14. Sigmund Freud – Thoughts for the Times on War and Death

Sigmund Freud - On Murder, Mourning and Melancholia

This essay reveals Freud’s disillusionment with the whole project of Western civilization. How the peaceful European countries could engage in a war that would eventually cost over 17 million lives? What stirs people to kill each other? Is it their nature, or are they puppets of imperial forces with agendas of their own? From the perspective of time, this work by Freud doesn’t seem to be fully accurate. Even so, it’s well worth your time.

  • Commence with long words derived from Latin. Get grandiloquent, make your argument incontrovertible, and leave your audience discombobulated.
  • Use unending sentences, so that the reader feels confused, yet impressed.
  • Say it well: “In this way, he enjoyed the blue sea and the grey; the beauty of snow-covered mountains and green meadowlands; the magic of northern forests and the splendor of southern vegetation; the mood evoked by landscapes that recall great historical events, and the silence of untouched nature”.
  • Human nature is a subject that never gets dry.

15. Zadie Smith – Some Notes on Attunement

“You are privy to a great becoming, but you recognize nothing” – Francis Dolarhyde. This one is about the elusiveness of change occurring within you. For Zadie, it was hard to attune to the vibes of Joni Mitchell – especially her Blue album. But eventually, she grew up to appreciate her genius, and all the other things changed as well. This top essay is all about the relationship between humans, and art. We shouldn’t like art because we’re supposed to. We should like it because it has an instantaneous, emotional effect on us. Although, according to Stansfield (Gary Oldman) in Léon, liking Beethoven is rather mandatory.

  • Build an expectation of what’s coming: “The first time I heard her I didn’t hear her at all”.
  • Don’t be afraid of repetition if it feels good.
  • Psychedelic drugs let you appreciate things you never appreciated.
  • Intertwine a personal journey with philosophical musings.
  • Show rather than tell: “My friends pitied their eyes. The same look the faithful give you as you hand them back their “literature” and close the door in their faces”.
  • Let the poets speak for you: “That time is past, / And all its aching joys are now no
  • more, / And all its dizzy raptures”.
  • By voicing your anxieties, you can heal the anxieties of the reader. In that way, you say: “I’m just like you. I’m your friend in this struggle”.
  • Admit your flaws to make your persona more relatable.

16. Annie Dillard – Total Eclipse

Annie Dillard - Teaching A stone to talk

My imagination was always stirred by the scene of the solar eclipse in Pharaoh, by Boleslaw Prus. I wondered about the shock of the disoriented crowd when they saw how their ruler could switch off the light. Getting immersed in this essay by Annie Dillard has a similar effect. It produces amazement and some kind of primeval fear. It’s not only the environment that changes; it’s your mind and the perception of the world. After the eclipse, nothing is going to be the same again.

  • Yet again, the power of the first sentence draws you in: “It had been like dying, that sliding down the mountain pass”.
  • Don’t miss the extraordinary scene. Then describe it: “Up in the sky, like a crater from some distant cataclysm, was a hollow ring”.
  • Use colloquial language. Write as you talk. Short sentences often win.
  • Contrast the numinous with the mundane to enthrall the reader.

17. Édouard Levé – When I Look at a Strawberry, I Think of a Tongue

Édouard Levé - Suicide

This suicidally beautiful essay will teach you a lot about the appreciation of life and the struggle with mental illness. It’s a collection of personal, apparently unrelated thoughts that show us the rich interior of the author. You look at the real-time thoughts of another person, and then recognize the same patterns within yourself… It sounds like a confession of a person who’s about to take their life, and it’s striking in its originality.

  • Use the stream-of-consciousness technique and put random thoughts on paper. Then, polish them: “I have attempted suicide once, I’ve been tempted four times to attempt it”.
  • Place the treasure deep within the story: “When I look at a strawberry, I think of a tongue, when I lick one, of a kiss”.
  • Don’t worry about what people might think. The more you expose, the more powerful the writing. Readers also take part in the great drama. They experience universal emotions that mostly stay inside.  You can translate them into writing.

18. Gloria E. Anzaldúa – How to Tame a Wild Tongue

Gloria Anzaldúa - Reader

Anzaldúa, who was born in south Texas, had to struggle to find her true identity. She was American, but her culture was grounded in Mexico. In this way, she and her people were not fully respected in either of the countries. This essay is an account of her journey of becoming the ambassador of the Chicano (Mexican-American) culture. It’s full of anecdotes, interesting references, and different shades of Spanish. It’s a window into a new cultural dimension that you’ve never experienced before.

  • If your mother tongue is not English, but you write in English, use some of your unique homeland vocabulary.
  • You come from a rich cultural heritage. You can share it with people who never heard about it, and are not even looking for it, but it is of immense value to them when they discover it.
  • Never forget about your identity. It is precious. It is a part of who you are. Even if you migrate, try to preserve it. Use it to your best advantage and become the voice of other people in the same situation.
  • Tell them what’s really on your mind: “So if you want to hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity – I am my language”.

19. Kurt Vonnegut – Dispatch From A Man Without a Country

Kurt Vonnegut - A man without a country

In terms of style, this essay is flawless. It’s simple, conversational, humorous, and yet, full of wisdom. And when Vonnegut becomes a teacher and draws an axis of “beginning – end”, and, “good fortune – bad fortune” to explain literature, it becomes outright hilarious. It’s hard to find an author with such a down-to-earth approach. He doesn’t need to get intellectual to prove a point. And the point could be summed up by the quote from Great Expectations – “On the Rampage, Pip, and off the Rampage, Pip – such is Life!”

  • Start with a curious question: “Do you know what a twerp is?”
  • Surprise your readers with uncanny analogies: “I am from a family of artists. Here I am, making a living in the arts. It has not been a rebellion. It’s as though I had taken over the family Esso station.”
  • Use your natural language without too many special effects. In time, the style will crystalize.
  • An amusing lesson in writing from Mr. Vonnegut: “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college”.
  • You can put actual images or vignettes between the paragraphs to illustrate something.

20. Mary Ruefle – On Fear

Mary Ruefle - Madness, rack and honey

Most psychologists and gurus agree that fear is the greatest enemy of success or any creative activity. It’s programmed into our minds to keep us away from imaginary harm. Mary Ruefle takes on this basic human emotion with flair. She explores fear from so many angles (especially in the world of poetry-writing) that at the end of this personal essay, you will look at it, dissect it, untangle it, and hopefully be able to say “f**k you” the next time your brain is trying to stop you.

  • Research your subject thoroughly. Ask people, have interviews, get expert opinions, and gather as much information as possible. Then scavenge through the fields of data, and pull out the golden bits that will let your prose shine.
  • Use powerful quotes to add color to your story: “The poet who embarks on the creation of the poem (as I know by experience), begins with the aimless sensation of a hunter about to embark on a night hunt through the remotest of forests. Unaccountable dread stirs in his heart”. – Lorca.
  • Writing advice from the essay: “One of the fears a young writer has is not being able to write as well as he or she wants to, the fear of not being able to sound like X or Y, a favorite author. But out of fear, hopefully, is born a young writer’s voice”.

21. Susan Sontag – Against Interpretation

Susan Sontag - Against Interpretation

In this highly intellectual essay, Sontag fights for art and its interpretation. It’s a great lesson, especially for critics and interpreters who endlessly chew on works that simply defy interpretation. Why don’t we just leave the art alone? I always hated it when at school they asked me: “What did the author have in mind when he did X or Y?” Iēsous Pantocrator! Hell if I know! I will judge it through my subjective experience!

  • Leave the art alone: “Today is such a time, when the project of interpretation is reactionary, stifling. Like the fumes of the automobile and heavy industry which befoul the urban atmosphere, the effusion of interpretations of art today poisons our sensibilities”.
  • When you have something really important to say, style matters less.
  • There’s no use in creating a second meaning or inviting interpretation of our art. Just leave it be and let it speak for itself.

22. Nora Ephron – A Few Words About Breasts

Nora Ephron - The most of Nora Ephron

This is a heartwarming, coming-of-age story about a young girl who waits in vain for her breasts to grow. It’s simply a humorous and pleasurable read. The size of breasts is a big deal for women. If you’re a man, you may peek into the mind of a woman and learn many interesting things. If you’re a woman, maybe you’ll be able to relate and at last, be at peace with your bosom.

  • Touch an interesting subject and establish a strong connection with the readers (in that case, women with small breasts). Let your personality shine through the written piece. If you are lighthearted, show it.
  • Use hyphens to create an impression of real talk: “My house was full of apples and peaches and milk and homemade chocolate chip cookies – which were nice, and good for you, but-not-right-before-dinner-or-you’ll-spoil-your-appetite.”
  • Use present tense when you tell a story to add more life to it.
  • Share the pronounced, memorable traits of characters: “A previous girlfriend named Solange, who was famous throughout Beverly Hills High School for having no pigment in her right eyebrow, had knitted them for him (angora dice)”.

23. Carl Sagan – Does Truth Matter – Science, Pseudoscience, and Civilization

Carl Sagan - The Demon Haunted World

Carl Sagan was one of the greatest proponents of skepticism, and an author of numerous books, including one of my all-time favorites – The Demon-Haunted World . He was also a renowned physicist and the host of the fantastic Cosmos: A Personal Voyage series, which inspired a whole generation to uncover the mysteries of the cosmos. He was also a dedicated weed smoker – clearly ahead of his time. The essay that you’re about to read is a crystallization of his views about true science, and why you should check the evidence before believing in UFOs or similar sorts of crap.

  • Tell people the brutal truth they need to hear. Be the one who spells it out for them.
  • Give a multitude of examples to prove your point. Giving hard facts helps to establish trust with the readers and show the veracity of your arguments.
  • Recommend a good book that will change your reader’s minds – How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life

24. Paul Graham – How To Do What You Love

Paul Graham - Hackers and Painters

How To Do What You Love should be read by every college student and young adult. The Internet is flooded with a large number of articles and videos that are supposed to tell you what to do with your life. Most of them are worthless, but this one is different. It’s sincere, and there’s no hidden agenda behind it. There’s so much we take for granted – what we study, where we work, what we do in our free time… Surely we have another two hundred years to figure it out, right? Life’s too short to be so naïve. Please, read the essay and let it help you gain fulfillment from your work.

  • Ask simple, yet thought-provoking questions (especially at the beginning of the paragraph) to engage the reader: “How much are you supposed to like what you do?”
  • Let the readers question their basic assumptions: “Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like”.
  • If you’re writing for a younger audience, you can act as a mentor. It’s beneficial for younger people to read a few words of advice from a person with experience.

25. John Jeremiah Sullivan – Mister Lytle

John Jeremiah Sullivan - Pulphead

A young, aspiring writer is about to become a nurse of a fading writer – Mister Lytle (Andrew Nelson Lytle), and there will be trouble. This essay by Sullivan is probably my favorite one from the whole list. The amount of beautiful sentences it contains is just overwhelming. But that’s just a part of its charm. It also takes you to the Old South which has an incredible atmosphere. It’s grim and tawny but you want to stay there for a while.

  • Short, distinct sentences are often the most powerful ones: “He had a deathbed, in other words. He didn’t go suddenly”.
  • Stay consistent with the mood of the story. When reading Mister Lytle you are immersed in that southern, forsaken, gloomy world, and it’s a pleasure.
  • The spectacular language that captures it all: “His French was superb, but his accent in English was best—that extinct mid-Southern, land-grant pioneer speech, with its tinges of the abandoned Celtic urban Northeast (“boned” for burned) and its raw gentility”.
  • This essay is just too good. You have to read it.

26. Joan Didion – On Self Respect

Joan Didion - The white album

Normally, with that title, you would expect some straightforward advice about how to improve your character and get on with your goddamn life – but not from Joan Didion. From the very beginning, you can feel the depth of her thinking, and the unmistakable style of a true woman who’s been hurt. You can learn more from this essay than from whole books about self-improvement . It reminds me of the scene from True Detective, where Frank Semyon tells Ray Velcoro to “own it” after he realizes he killed the wrong man all these years ago. I guess we all have to “own it”, recognize our mistakes, and move forward sometimes.

  • Share your moral advice: “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs”.
  • It’s worth exploring the subject further from a different angle. It doesn’t matter how many people have already written on self-respect or self-reliance – you can still write passionately about it.
  • Whatever happens, you must take responsibility for it. Brave the storms of discontent.

27. Susan Sontag – Notes on Camp

Susan Sontag - Essays of the 1960 and 1970

I’ve never read anything so thorough and lucid about an artistic current. After reading this essay, you will know what camp is. But not only that – you will learn about so many artists you’ve never heard of. You will follow their traces and go to places where you’ve never been before. You will vastly increase your appreciation of art. It’s interesting how something written as a list could be so amazing. All the listicles we usually see on the web simply cannot compare with it.

  • Talking about artistic sensibilities is a tough job. When you read the essay, you will see how much research, thought and raw intellect came into it. But that’s one of the reasons why people still read it today, even though it was written in 1964.
  • You can choose an unorthodox way of expression in the medium for which you produce. For example, Notes on Camp is a listicle – one of the most popular content formats on the web. But in the olden days, it was uncommon to see it in print form.
  • Just think about what is camp: “And third among the great creative sensibilities is Camp: the sensibility of failed seriousness, of the theatricalization of experience. Camp refuses both the harmonies of traditional seriousness and the risks of fully identifying with extreme states of feeling”.

28. Ralph Waldo Emerson – Self-Reliance

Ralph Waldo Emerson - Self Reliance and other essays

That’s the oldest one from the lot. Written in 1841, it still inspires generations of people. It will let you understand what it means to be self-made. It contains some of the most memorable quotes of all time. I don’t know why, but this one especially touched me: “Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design, and posterity seems to follow his steps as a train of clients”. Now isn’t it purely individualistic, American thought? Emerson told me (and he will tell you) to do something amazing with my life. The language it contains is a bit archaic, but that just adds to the weight of the argument. You can consider it to be a meeting with a great philosopher who shaped the ethos of the modern United States.

  • You can start with a powerful poem that will set the stage for your work.
  • Be free in your creative flow. Do not wait for the approval of others: “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness”.
  • Use rhetorical questions to strengthen your argument: “I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic the expediency of one of the institutions of his church. Do I not know beforehand that not possibly say a new and spontaneous word?”

29. David Foster Wallace – Consider The Lobster

David Foster Wallece - Consider the lobster and other essays

When you want simple field notes about a food festival, you needn’t send there the formidable David Foster Wallace. He sees right through the hypocrisy and cruelty behind killing hundreds of thousands of innocent lobsters – by boiling them alive. This essay uncovers some of the worst traits of modern American people. There are no apologies or hedging one’s bets. There’s just plain truth that stabs you in the eye like a lobster claw. After reading this essay, you may reconsider the whole animal-eating business.

  • When it’s important, say it plainly and stagger the reader: “[Lobsters] survive right up until they’re boiled. Most of us have been in supermarkets or restaurants that feature tanks of live lobster, from which you can pick out your supper while it watches you point”.
  • In your writing, put exact quotes of the people you’ve been interviewing (including slang and grammatical errors). It makes it more vivid, and interesting.
  • You can use humor in serious situations to make your story grotesque.
  • Use captions to expound on interesting points of your essay.

30. David Foster Wallace – The Nature of the Fun

David Foster Wallece - a supposedly fun thing I'll never do again

The famous novelist and author of the most powerful commencement speech ever done is going to tell you about the joys and sorrows of writing a work of fiction. It’s like taking care of a mutant child that constantly oozes smelly liquids. But you love that child and you want others to love it too. It’s a very humorous account of what it means to be an author. If you ever plan to write a novel, you should read that one. And the story about the Chinese farmer is just priceless.

  • Base your point on a chimerical analogy. Here, the writer’s unfinished work is a “hideously damaged infant”.
  • Even in expository writing, you may share an interesting story to keep things lively.
  • Share your true emotions (even when you think they won’t interest anyone). Often, that’s exactly what will interest the reader.
  • Read the whole essay for marvelous advice on writing fiction.

31. Margaret Atwood – Attitude

Margaret Atwood - Writing with Intent - Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose 1983-2005

This is not an essay per se, but I included it on the list for the sake of variety. It was delivered as a commencement speech at The University of Toronto, and it’s about keeping the right attitude. Soon after leaving university, most graduates have to forget about safety, parties, and travel and start a new life – one filled with a painful routine that will last until they drop. Atwood says that you don’t have to accept that. You can choose how you react to everything that happens to you (and you don’t have to stay in that dead-end job for the rest of your days).

  • At times, we are all too eager to persuade, but the strongest persuasion is not forceful. It’s subtle. It speaks to the heart. It affects you gradually.
  • You may be tempted to talk about a subject by first stating what it is not, rather than what it is. Try to avoid that.
  • Simple advice for writers (and life in general): “When faced with the inevitable, you always have a choice. You may not be able to alter reality, but you can alter your attitude towards it”.

32. Jo Ann Beard – The Fourth State of Matter

Jo Ann Beard - The boys of my youth

Read that one as soon as possible. It’s one of the most masterful and impactful essays you’ll ever read. It’s like a good horror – a slow build-up, and then your jaw drops to the ground. To summarize the story would be to spoil it, so I recommend that you just dig in and devour this essay in one sitting. It’s a perfect example of “show, don’t tell” writing, where the actions of characters are enough to create the right effect. No need for flowery adjectives here.

  • The best story you will tell is going to come from your personal experience.
  • Use mysteries that will nag the reader. For example, at the beginning of the essay, we learn about the “vanished husband” but there’s no explanation. We have to keep reading to get the answer.
  • Explain it in simple terms: “You’ve got your solid, your liquid, your gas, and then your plasma”. Why complicate?

33. Terence McKenna – Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness

Terrence McKenna - Food of gods

To me, Terence McKenna was one of the most interesting thinkers of the twentieth century. His many lectures (now available on YouTube) attracted millions of people who suspect that consciousness holds secrets yet to be unveiled. McKenna consumed psychedelic drugs for most of his life and it shows (in a positive way). Many people consider him a looney, and a hippie, but he was so much more than that. He dared to go into the abyss of his psyche and come back to tell the tale. He also wrote many books (the most famous being Food Of The Gods ), built a huge botanical garden in Hawaii , lived with shamans, and was a connoisseur of all things enigmatic and obscure. Take a look at this essay, and learn more about the explorations of the subconscious mind.

  • Become the original thinker, but remember that it may require extraordinary measures: “I call myself an explorer rather than a scientist because the area that I’m looking at contains insufficient data to support even the dream of being a science”.
  • Learn new words every day to make your thoughts lucid.
  • Come up with the most outlandish ideas to push the envelope of what’s possible. Don’t take things for granted or become intellectually lazy. Question everything.

34. Eudora Welty – The Little Store

Eudora Welty - The eye of the story

By reading this little-known essay, you will be transported into the world of the old American South. It’s a remembrance of trips to the little store in a little town. It’s warm and straightforward, and when you read it, you feel like a child once more. All these beautiful memories live inside of us. They lay somewhere deep in our minds, hidden from sight. The work by Eudora Welty is an attempt to uncover some of them and let you get reacquainted with some smells and tastes of the past.

  • When you’re from the South, flaunt it. It’s still good old English but sometimes it sounds so foreign. I can hear the Southern accent too: “There were almost tangible smells – licorice recently sucked in a child’s cheek, dill-pickle brine that had leaked through a paper sack in a fresh trail across the wooden floor, ammonia-loaded ice that had been hoisted from wet Croker sacks and slammed into the icebox with its sweet butter at the door, and perhaps the smell of still-untrapped mice”.
  • Yet again, never forget your roots.
  • Childhood stories can be the most powerful ones. You can write about how they shaped you.

35. John McPhee – The Search for Marvin Gardens

John Mc Phee - The John Mc Phee reader

The Search for Marvin Gardens contains many layers of meaning. It’s a story about a Monopoly championship, but also, it’s the author’s search for the lost streets visible on the board of the famous board game. It also presents a historical perspective on the rise and fall of civilizations, and on Atlantic City, which once was a lively place, and then, slowly declined, the streets filled with dirt and broken windows.

  • There’s nothing like irony: “A sign- ‘Slow, Children at Play’- has been bent backward by an automobile”.
  • Telling the story in apparently unrelated fragments is sometimes better than telling the whole thing in a logical order.
  • Creativity is everything. The best writing may come just from connecting two ideas and mixing them to achieve a great effect. Shush! The muse is whispering.

36. Maxine Hong Kingston – No Name Woman

Maxine Hong Kingston - Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston

A dead body at the bottom of the well makes for a beautiful literary device. The first line of Orhan Pamuk’s novel My Name Is Red delivers it perfectly: “I am nothing but a corpse now, a body at the bottom of a well”. There’s something creepy about the idea of the well. Just think about the “It puts the lotion in the basket” scene from The Silence of the Lambs. In the first paragraph of Kingston’s essay, we learn about a suicide committed by uncommon means of jumping into the well. But this time it’s a real story. Who was this woman? Why did she do it? Read the essay.

  • Mysterious death always gets attention. The macabre details are like daiquiris on a hot day – you savor them – you don’t let them spill.
  • One sentence can speak volumes: “But the rare urge west had fixed upon our family, and so my aunt crossed boundaries not delineated in space”.
  • It’s interesting to write about cultural differences – especially if you have the relevant experience. Something normal for us is unthinkable for others. Show this different world.
  • The subject of sex is never boring.

37. Joan Didion – On Keeping A Notebook

Joan Didion - We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live

Slouching Towards Bethlehem is one of the most famous collections of essays of all time. In it, you will find a curious piece called On Keeping A Notebook. It’s not only a meditation about keeping a journal. It’s also Didion’s reconciliation with her past self. After reading it, you will seriously reconsider your life’s choices and look at your life from a wider perspective.

  • When you write things down in your journal, be more specific – unless you want to write a deep essay about it years later.
  • Use the beauty of the language to relate to the past: “I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be; one of them, a seventeen-year-old, presents little threat, although it would be of some interest to me to know again what it feels like to sit on a river levee drinking vodka-and-orange-juice and listening to Les Paul and Mary Ford and their echoes sing ‘How High the Moon’ on the car radio”.
  • Drop some brand names if you want to feel posh.

38. Joan Didion – Goodbye To All That

Joan Didion - Slouching Towards Bethlehem

This one touched me because I also lived in New York City for a while. I don’t know why, but stories about life in NYC are so often full of charm and this eerie-melancholy-jazz feeling. They are powerful. They go like this: “There was a hard blizzard in NYC. As the sound of sirens faded, Tony descended into the dark world of hustlers and pimps.” That’s pulp literature but in the context of NYC, it always sounds cool. Anyway, this essay is amazing in too many ways. You just have to read it.

  • Talk about New York City. They will read it.
  • Talk about the human experience: “It did occur to me to call the desk and ask that the air conditioner be turned off, I never called, because I did not know how much to tip whoever might come—was anyone ever so young?”
  • Look back at your life and reexamine it. Draw lessons from it.

39. George Orwell – Reflections on Gandhi

George Orwell could see things as they were. No exaggeration, no romanticism – just facts. He recognized totalitarianism and communism for what they were and shared his worries through books like 1984 and Animal Farm . He took the same sober approach when dealing with saints and sages. Today, we regard Gandhi as one of the greatest political leaders of the twentieth century – and rightfully so. But did you know that when asked about the Jews during World War II, Gandhi said that they should commit collective suicide and that it: “would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler’s violence.” He also recommended utter pacifism in 1942, during the Japanese invasion, even though he knew it would cost millions of lives. But overall he was a good guy. Read the essay and broaden your perspective on the Bapu of the Indian Nation.

  • Share a philosophical thought that stops the reader for a moment: “No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid”.
  • Be straightforward in your writing – no mannerisms, no attempts to create ‘style’, and no invocations of the numinous – unless you feel the mystical vibe.

40. George Orwell – Politics and the English Language

Let Mr. Orwell give you some writing tips. Written in 1946, this essay is still one of the most helpful documents on writing in English. Orwell was probably the first person who exposed the deliberate vagueness of political language. He was very serious about it and I admire his efforts to slay all unclear sentences (including ones written by distinguished professors). But it’s good to make it humorous too from time to time. My favorite examples of that would be the immortal Soft Language sketch by George Carlin or the “Romans Go Home” scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Overall, it’s a great essay filled with examples from many written materials. It’s a must-read for any writer.

  • Listen to the master: “This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose.” Do something about it.
  • This essay is all about writing better, so go to the source if you want the goodies.

The thinker

Other Essays You May Find Interesting

The list that I’ve prepared is by no means complete. The literary world is full of exciting essays and you’ll never know which one is going to change your life. I’ve found reading essays very rewarding because sometimes, a single one means more than reading a whole book. It’s almost like wandering around and peeking into the minds of the greatest writers and thinkers that ever lived. To make this list more comprehensive, below I included more essays you may find interesting.

Oliver Sacks – On Libraries

One of the greatest contributors to the knowledge about the human mind, Oliver Sacks meditates on the value of libraries and his love of books.

Noam Chomsky – The Responsibility of Intellectuals

Chomsky did probably more than anyone else to define the role of the intelligentsia in the modern world . There is a war of ideas over there – good and bad – intellectuals are going to be those who ought to be fighting for the former.

Sam Harris – The Riddle of The Gun

Sam Harris, now a famous philosopher and neuroscientist, takes on the problem of gun control in the United States. His thoughts are clear of prejudice. After reading this, you’ll appreciate the value of logical discourse overheated, irrational debate that more often than not has real implications on policy.

Tim Ferriss – Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide

This piece was written as a blog post , but it’s worth your time. The author of the NYT bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek shares an emotional story about how he almost killed himself, and what can you do to save yourself or your friends from suicide.

Edward Said – Reflections on Exile

The life of Edward Said was a truly fascinating one. Born in Jerusalem, he lived between Palestine and Egypt and finally settled down in the United States, where he completed his most famous work – Orientalism. In this essay, he shares his thoughts about what it means to be in exile.

Richard Feynman – It’s as Simple as One, Two, Three…

Richard Feynman is one of the most interesting minds of the twentieth century. He was a brilliant physicist, but also an undeniably great communicator of science, an artist, and a traveler. By reading this essay, you can observe his thought process when he tries to figure out what affects our perception of time. It’s a truly fascinating read.

Rabindranath Tagore – The Religion of The Forest

I like to think about Tagore as my spiritual Friend. His poems are just marvelous. They are like some of the Persian verses that praise love, nature, and the unity of all things. By reading this short essay, you will learn a lot about Indian philosophy and its relation to its Western counterpart.

Richard Dawkins – Letter To His 10-Year-Old Daughter

Every father should be able to articulate his philosophy of life to his children. With this letter that’s similar to what you find in the Paris Review essays , the famed atheist and defender of reason, Richard Dawkins, does exactly that. It’s beautifully written and stresses the importance of looking at evidence when we’re trying to make sense of the world.

Albert Camus – The Minotaur (or, The Stop In Oran)

Each person requires a period of solitude – a period when one’s able to gather thoughts and make sense of life. There are many places where you may attempt to find quietude. Albert Camus tells about his favorite one.

Koty Neelis – 21 Incredible Life Lessons From Anthony Bourdain

I included it as the last one because it’s not really an essay, but I just had to put it somewhere. In this listicle, you’ll find the 21 most original thoughts of the high-profile cook, writer, and TV host, Anthony Bourdain. Some of them are shocking, others are funny, but they’re all worth checking out.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca – On the Shortness of Life

It’s similar to the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam because it praises life. Seneca shares some of his stoic philosophy and tells you not to waste your time on stupidities. Drink! – for once dead you shall never return.

Bertrand Russell – In Praise of Idleness

This old essay is a must-read for modern humans. We are so preoccupied with our work, our phones, and all the media input we drown in our business. Bertrand Russell tells you to chill out a bit – maybe it will do you some good.

James Baldwin – Stranger in the Village

It’s an essay on the author’s experiences as an African-American in a Swiss village, exploring race, identity, and alienation while highlighting the complexities of racial dynamics and the quest for belonging.

Bonus – More writing tips from two great books

The mission to improve my writing skills took me further than just going through the essays. I’ve come across some great books on writing too. I highly recommend you read them in their entirety. They’re written beautifully and contain lots of useful knowledge. Below you’ll find random (but useful) notes that I took from The Sense of Style and On Writing.

The Sense of Style – By Steven Pinker

  • Style manuals are full of inconsistencies. Following their advice might not be the best idea. They might make your prose boring.
  • Grammarians from all eras condemn students for not knowing grammar. But it just evolves. It cannot be rigid.
  • “Nothing worth learning can be taught” – Oscar Wilde. It’s hard to learn to write from a manual – you have to read, write, and analyze.
  • Good writing makes you imagine things and feel them for yourself – use word pictures.
  • Don’t fear using voluptuous words.
  • Phonesthetics – or how the words sound.
  • Use parallel language (consistency of tense).
  • Good writing finishes strong.
  • Write to someone. Never write for no one in mind. Try to show people your view of the world.
  • Don’t tell everything you are going to say in summary (signposting) – be logical, but be conversational.
  • Don’t be pompous.
  • Don’t use quotation marks where they don’t “belong”. Be confident about your style.
  • Don’t hedge your claims (research first, and then tell it like it is).
  • Avoid clichés and meta-concepts (concepts about concepts). Be more straightforward!
  • Not prevention – but prevents or prevented – don’t use dead nouns.
  • Be more vivid while using your mother tongue – don’t use passive where it’s not needed. Direct the reader’s gaze to something in the world.
  • The curse of knowledge – the reader doesn’t know what you know – beware of that.
  • Explain technical terms.
  • Use examples when you explain a difficult term.
  • If you ever say “I think I understand this” it probably means you don’t.
  • It’s better to underestimate the lingo of your readers than to overestimate it.
  • Functional fixedness – if we know some object (or idea) well, we tend to see it in terms of usage, not just as an object.
  • Use concrete language instead of an abstraction.
  • Show your work to people before you publish (get feedback!).
  • Wait for a few days and then revise, revise, revise. Think about clarity and the sound of sentences. Then show it to someone. Then revise one more time. Then publish (if it’s to be serious work).
  • Look at it from the perspective of other people.
  • Omit needless words.
  • Put the heaviest words at the end of the sentence.
  • It’s good to use the passive, but only when appropriate.
  • Check all text for cohesion. Make sure that the sentences flow gently.
  • In expository work, go from general to more specific. But in journalism start from the big news and then give more details.
  • Use the paragraph break to give the reader a moment to take a breath.
  • Use the verb instead of a noun (make it more active) – not “cancellation”, but “canceled”. But after you introduce the action, you can refer to it with a noun.
  • Avoid too many negations.
  • If you write about why something is so, don’t spend too much time writing about why it is not.

On Writing Well – By William Zinsser

  • Writing is a craft. You need to sit down every day and practice your craft.
  • You should re-write and polish your prose a lot.
  • Throw out all the clutter. Don’t keep it because you like it. Aim for readability.
  • Look at the best examples of English literature . There’s hardly any needless garbage there.
  • Use shorter expressions. Don’t add extra words that don’t bring any value to your work.
  • Don’t use pompous language. Use simple language and say plainly what’s going on (“because” equals “because”).
  • The media and politics are full of cluttered prose (because it helps them to cover up for their mistakes).
  • You can’t add style to your work (and especially, don’t add fancy words to create an illusion of style). That will look fake. You need to develop a style.
  • Write in the “I” mode. Write to a friend or just for yourself. Show your personality. There is a person behind the writing.
  • Choose your words carefully. Use the dictionary to learn different shades of meaning.
  • Remember about phonology. Make music with words .
  • The lead is essential. Pull the reader in. Otherwise, your article is dead.
  • You don’t have to make the final judgment on any topic. Just pick the right angle.
  • Do your research. Not just obvious research, but a deep one.
  • When it’s time to stop, stop. And finish strong. Think about the last sentence. Surprise them.
  • Use quotations. Ask people. Get them talking.
  • If you write about travel, it must be significant to the reader. Don’t bother with the obvious. Choose your words with special care. Avoid travel clichés at all costs. Don’t tell that the sand was white and there were rocks on the beach. Look for the right detail.
  • If you want to learn how to write about art, travel, science, etc. – read the best examples available. Learn from the masters.
  • Concentrate on one big idea (“Let’s not go peeing down both legs”).
  • “The reader has to feel that the writer is feeling good.”
  • One very helpful question: “What is the piece really about?” (Not just “What the piece is about?”)

Now immerse yourself in the world of essays

By reading the essays from the list above, you’ll become a better writer , a better reader, but also a better person. An essay is a special form of writing. It is the only literary form that I know of that is an absolute requirement for career or educational advancement. Nowadays, you can use an AI essay writer or an AI essay generator that will get the writing done for you, but if you have personal integrity and strong moral principles, avoid doing this at all costs. For me as a writer, the effect of these authors’ masterpieces is often deeply personal. You won’t be able to find the beautiful thoughts they contain in any other literary form. I hope you enjoy the read and that it will inspire you to do your writing. This list is only an attempt to share some of the best essays available online. Next up, you may want to check the list of magazines and websites that accept personal essays .

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best new yorker essays of all time

The 25 Greatest Essay Collections of All Time

Today marks the release of Aleksandar Hemon’s excellent book of personal essays, The Book of My Lives , which we loved, and which we’re convinced deserves a place in the literary canon. To that end, we were inspired to put together our list of the greatest essay collections of all time, from the classic to the contemporary, from the personal to the critical. In making our choices, we’ve steered away from posthumous omnibuses (Michel de Montaigne’s Complete Essays , the collected Orwell, etc.) and multi-author compilations, and given what might be undue weight to our favorite writers (as one does). After the jump, our picks for the 25 greatest essay collections of all time. Feel free to disagree with us, praise our intellect, or create an entirely new list in the comments.

best new yorker essays of all time

The Book of My Lives , Aleksandar Hemon

Hemon’s memoir in essays is in turns wryly hilarious, intellectually searching, and deeply troubling. It’s the life story of a fascinating, quietly brilliant man, and it reads as such. For fans of chess and ill-advised theme parties and growing up more than once.

best new yorker essays of all time

Slouching Towards Bethlehem , Joan Didion

Well, obviously. Didion’s extraordinary book of essays, expertly surveying both her native California in the 1960s and her own internal landscape with clear eyes and one eyebrow raised ever so slightly. This collection, her first, helped establish the idea of journalism as art, and continues to put wind in the sails of many writers after her, hoping to move in that Didion direction.

best new yorker essays of all time

Pulphead , John Jeremiah Sullivan

This was one of those books that this writer deemed required reading for all immediate family and friends. Sullivan’s sharply observed essays take us from Christian rock festivals to underground caves to his own home, and introduce us to 19-century geniuses, imagined professors and Axl Rose. Smart, curious, and humane, this is everything an essay collection should be.

best new yorker essays of all time

The Boys of My Youth , Jo Ann Beard

Another memoir-in-essays, or perhaps just a collection of personal narratives, Jo Ann Beard’s award-winning volume is a masterpiece. Not only does it include the luminous, emotionally destructive “The Fourth State of the Matter,” which we’ve already implored you to read , but also the incredible “Bulldozing the Baby,” which takes on a smaller tragedy: a three-year-old Beard’s separation from her doll Hal. “The gorgeous thing about Hal,” she tells us, “was that not only was he my friend, he was also my slave. I made the majority of our decisions, including the bathtub one, which in retrospect was the beginning of the end.”

best new yorker essays of all time

Consider the Lobster , David Foster Wallace

This one’s another “duh” moment, at least if you’re a fan of the literary essay. One of the most brilliant essayists of all time, Wallace pushes the boundaries (of the form, of our patience, of his own brain) and comes back with a classic collection of writing on everything from John Updike to, well, lobsters. You’ll laugh out loud right before you rethink your whole life. And then repeat.

best new yorker essays of all time

Notes of a Native Son , James Baldwin

Baldwin’s most influential work is a witty, passionate portrait of black life and social change in America in the 1940s and early 1950s. His essays, like so many of the greats’, are both incisive social critiques and rigorous investigations into the self, told with a perfect tension between humor and righteous fury.

best new yorker essays of all time

Naked , David Sedaris

His essays often read more like short stories than they do social criticism (though there’s a healthy, if perhaps implied, dose of that slippery subject), but no one makes us laugh harder or longer. A genius of the form.

best new yorker essays of all time

Against Interpretation , Susan Sontag

This collection, Sontag’s first, is a dazzling feat of intellectualism. Her essays dissect not only art but the way we think about art, imploring us to “reveal the sensuous surface of art without mucking about in it.” It also contains the brilliant “Notes on ‘Camp,'” one of our all-time favorites.

best new yorker essays of all time

The Common Reader , Virginia Woolf

Woolf is a literary giant for a reason — she was as incisive and brilliant a critic as she was a novelist. These witty essays, written for the common reader (“He is worse educated, and nature has not gifted him so generously. He reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole- a portrait of a man, a sketch of an age, a theory of the art of writing”), are as illuminating and engrossing as they were when they were written.

best new yorker essays of all time

Teaching a Stone to Talk , Annie Dillard

This is Dillard’s only book of essays, but boy is it a blazingly good one. The slender volume, filled with examinations of nature both human and not, is deft of thought and tongue, and well worth anyone’s time. As the Chicago Sun-Times ‘s Edward Abbey gushed, “This little book is haloed and informed throughout by Dillard’s distinctive passion and intensity, a sort of intellectual radiance that reminds me both Thoreau and Emily Dickinson.”

best new yorker essays of all time

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man , Henry Louis Gates Jr.

In this eloquent volume of essays, all but one of which were originally published in the New Yorker , Gates argues against the notion of the singularly representable “black man,” preferring to represent him in a myriad of diverse profiles, from James Baldwin to Colin Powell. Humane, incisive, and satisfyingly journalistic, Gates cobbles together the ultimate portrait of the 20th-century African-American male by refusing to cobble it together, and raises important questions about race and identity even as he entertains.

best new yorker essays of all time

Otherwise Known As the Human Condition , Geoff Dyer

This book of essays, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year of its publication, covers 25 years of the uncategorizable, inimitable Geoff Dyer’s work — casually erudite and yet liable to fascinate anyone wandering in the door, witty and breathing and full of truth. As Sam Lipsyte said, “You read Dyer for his caustic wit, of course, his exquisite and perceptive crankiness, and his deep and exciting intellectual connections, but from these enthralling rants and cultural investigations there finally emerges another Dyer, a generous seeker of human feeling and experience, a man perhaps closer than he thinks to what he believes his hero Camus achieved: ‘a heart free of bitterness.'”

best new yorker essays of all time

Art and Ardor , Cynthia Ozick

Look, Cynthia Ozick is a genius. One of David Foster Wallace’s favorite writers, and one of ours, Ozick has no less than seven essay collections to her name, and we could have chosen any one of them, each sharper and more perfectly self-conscious than the last. This one, however, includes her stunner “A Drugstore in Winter,” which was chosen by Joyce Carol Oates for The Best American Essays of the Century , so we’ll go with it.

best new yorker essays of all time

No More Nice Girls , Ellen Willis

The venerable Ellen Willis was the first pop music critic for The New Yorker , and a rollicking anti-authoritarian, feminist, all-around bad-ass woman who had a hell of a way with words. This collection examines the women’s movement, the plight of the aging radical, race relations, cultural politics, drugs, and Picasso. Among other things.

best new yorker essays of all time

The War Against Cliché , Martin Amis

As you know if you’ve ever heard him talk , Martin Amis is not only a notorious grouch but a sharp critical mind, particularly when it comes to literature. That quality is on full display in this collection, which spans nearly 30 years and twice as many subjects, from Vladimir Nabokov (his hero) to chess to writing about sex. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that he’s a brilliant old grump.

best new yorker essays of all time

Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories From History and the Arts , Clive James

James’s collection is a strange beast, not like any other essay collection on this list but its own breed. An encyclopedia of modern culture, the book collects 110 new biographical essays, which provide more than enough room for James to flex his formidable intellect and curiosity, as he wanders off on tangents, anecdotes, and cultural criticism. It’s not the only who’s who you need, but it’s a who’s who you need.

best new yorker essays of all time

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman , Nora Ephron

Oh Nora, we miss you. Again, we could have picked any of her collections here — candid, hilarious, and willing to give it to you straight, she’s like a best friend and mentor in one, only much more interesting than any of either you’ve ever had.

best new yorker essays of all time

Arguably , Christopher Hitchens

No matter what you think of his politics (or his rhetorical strategies), there’s no denying that Christopher Hitchens was one of the most brilliant minds — and one of the most brilliant debaters — of the century. In this collection, packed with cultural commentary, literary journalism, and political writing, he is at his liveliest, his funniest, his exactingly wittiest. He’s also just as caustic as ever.

best new yorker essays of all time

The Solace of Open Spaces , Gretel Ehrlich

Gretel Ehrlich is a poet, and in this collection, you’ll know it. In 1976, she moved to Wyoming and became a cowherd, and nearly a decade later, she published this lovely, funny set of essays about rural life in the American West.”Keenly observed the world is transformed,” she writes. “The landscape is engorged with detail, every movement on it chillingly sharp. The air between people is charged. Days unfold, bathed in their own music. Nights become hallucinatory; dreams, prescient.”

best new yorker essays of all time

The Braindead Megaphone , George Saunders

Saunders may be the man of the moment, but he’s been at work for a long while, and not only on his celebrated short stories. His single collection of essays applies the same humor and deliciously slant view to the real world — which manages to display nearly as much absurdity as one of his trademark stories.

best new yorker essays of all time

Against Joie de Vivre , Phillip Lopate

“Over the years,” the title essay begins, “I have developed a distaste for the spectacle of joie de vivre , the knack of knowing how to live.” Lopate goes on to dissect, in pleasantly sardonic terms, the modern dinner party. Smart and thought-provoking throughout (and not as crotchety as all that), this collection is conversational but weighty, something to be discussed at length with friends at your next — oh well, you know.

best new yorker essays of all time

Sex and the River Styx , Edward Hoagland

Edward Hoagland, who John Updike deemed “the best essayist of my generation,” has a long and storied career and a fat bibliography, so we hesitate to choose such a recent installment in the writer’s canon. Then again, Garrison Keillor thinks it’s his best yet , so perhaps we’re not far off. Hoagland is a great nature writer (name checked by many as the modern Thoreau) but in truth, he’s just as fascinated by humanity, musing that “human nature is interstitial with nature, and not to be shunned by a naturalist.” Elegant and thoughtful, Hoagland may warn us that he’s heading towards the River Styx, but we’ll hang on to him a while longer.

best new yorker essays of all time

Changing My Mind , Zadie Smith

Smith may be best known for her novels (and she should be), but to our eyes she is also emerging as an excellent essayist in her own right, passionate and thoughtful. Plus, any essay collection that talks about Barack Obama via Pygmalion is a winner in our book.

best new yorker essays of all time

My Misspent Youth , Meghan Daum

Like so many other writers on this list, Daum dives head first into the culture and comes up with meat in her mouth. Her voice is fresh and her narratives daring, honest and endlessly entertaining.

best new yorker essays of all time

The White Album , Joan Didion

Yes, Joan Didion is on this list twice, because Joan Didion is the master of the modern essay, tearing at our assumptions and building our world in brisk, clever strokes. Deal.

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best new yorker essays of all time

The best NYC authors of all time

NYC has been the literary landscape to countless authors. From novelists to journalists, these are the ones you must know.

Numerous writers have penned  books about New York . If you feel like you’ve spotted characters from J.D Salinger’s  Catcher in the Rye  walking the streets or were charmed by the perennial Upper East Side explorer depicted in Harriet the Spy or the single ladies struggling in 1940s in the cult classic Valley of the Dolls , you’re among the many who feed on great tales of this bustling city. But the writers on this list didn’t just write the great New York City novels, they define the city in both their writing and their lifestyles. From activists to journalists, these authors and their books have shaped and added flavor to the greatest city in the world .

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The best NYC authors

James Baldwin

James Baldwin

Okay, he might have lived a large portion of his life in France, but James Baldwin was a native New Yorker at heart. Baldwin crafted a body of literature depicting life in 1930s Harlem, including his powerful semi-autobiographical first novel, Go Tell it on the Mountain , and the highly anthologized short story "Sonny’s Blues." Growing up in the city, Baldwin was influenced by the Harlem Renaissance. In fact, his NYC public Junior High School teacher was Countee Cullen, a Harlem Renaissance poet who was at the epicenter of the vibrant literary scene along with legendary writers Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.

Joan Didion

Joan Didion

She might have penned the famed essay, "Goodbye to All of That," about ditching NYC for California, but she did return to the city and currently lives here. Written in 1967, her essay still attracts media attention. It was recently optioned as a film and was the inspiration for the 2013 collection of essays   about authors fleeing the city. Didion isn’t just a one-trick pony—her collection of work includes a National Book Award–winning memoir The Year of Magical Thinking  and numerous other essays and books.

Oscar Hijuelos

Oscar Hijuelos

Instead of watching  The Mambo Kings , pick up a copy of  Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love , which landed Oscar Hijuelos the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, making him the first Latino writer to receive the award. Set in the 1950s, the novel tells the story of two Cuban immigrant musician brothers. His first novel, Our House in the Last World , also captures NYC’s immigrant community. 

Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem

Yes, he left NYC to move West for a stint at Pomona College, but Jonathan Lethem can live anywhere in the world and still be called a New Yorker. Lethem paid his dues by penning a laundry list of books that will forever remain classic stories of city life. Fill your bookshelf (or your Kindle or iPad) with these poetic masterpieces overflowing with memorable characters who navigate life during various time periods in New York, including Motherless Brooklyn, Fortress of Solitude , Dissident Gardens  and Chronic City .

Herman Melville

Herman Melville

NYC office workers will appreciate and most likely quote the protagonist in Melville’s "Bartleby, the Scrivener." The short story about a Wall Street law office worker who one day decides to shrug off his responsibilities by replying, “I would prefer not to," has been studied in high schools throughout the country (along with many of the author’s other novels). One would think after  Moby Dick , Melville would've been able to relax for the rest of his life. Yet, his career tanked and when he couldn’t support himself as a writer in NYC, he got a job as a customs agent. This is a cautionary tale to all NYC writers: Despite early success, you might end up serving lattes as a barista (so tip them well).

Joseph Mitchell

Joseph Mitchell

As a journalist, Joseph Mitchell worked at the New Yorker for more than 50 years. Peruse his collection of New Yorker pieces in the classic book Up in the Old Hotel for journalistic tales of life at McSorley’s bar in the East Village. The eccentric Joe Gould and many other colorful characters and places around the city evoke images of a transitional period in NYC, when city dwellers bruised through wars and financial crises. Mitchell’s humor and sharp writing create hope for the New Yorkers who traipse through his pieces.

Grace Paley

Grace Paley

Women’s rights, economic inequality, single parenting and the Vietnam War are just a few topics that loom in the background of Grace Paley’s powerful short stories about NYC. A master of storytelling, her short fiction is more substantial than most novels. The Collected Stories , many written in the 1950s through the 1980s, center around Faith, a semi-autobiographical character. A poet and activist, the late Paley’s intoxicating love of this city propelled her to stage protests and make life better for New Yorkers. 

Patti Smith

Patti Smith

The eternally cool artist, singer, songwriter and poet also crafted a National Book Award–winning memoir, Just Kids , a poetic tale of her early years in the city and relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Her new memoir, M Train , uses a West Village café as a launching pad for her tale of travels and navigating life in this chaotic city. Patti Smith’s two memoirs should be required reading for all New Yorkers. 

Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton

The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth were on your high school reading list for a reason. Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for capturing 19th-century upper class life in NYC. Stop waiting for the new season of Downton Abbey to satiate your thirst for period dramas and pick up one of Edith Wharton’s thoughtful and readable classics to school yourself in some New York history. After you've read Wharton’s novels, consider bingeing on those of Henry James.

Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead

The opening sentence of  The Colossus of New York will win you over with the awful truth about being a Native New Yorker, which leaves them “ruined for anywhere else.” Whitehead’s tribute to his city is a literary masterpiece and should be required reading for all New Yorkers (perhaps along with E.B. White’s Here is New York ). After you’ve digested The Colossus of New York, crack open copies of Whitehead’s fiction: The Intuitionist, set in an unnamed city similar to New York, and Sag Harbor , an absorbing tale about upper class African Americans summering in the quaint and elite Long Island whaling village in the 1980s.

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100 Best Essays Books of All Time

We've researched and ranked the best essays books in the world, based on recommendations from world experts, sales data, and millions of reader ratings. Learn more

best new yorker essays of all time

Men Explain Things to Me

Rebecca Solnit | 5.00

best new yorker essays of all time

Chelsea Handler Goes deep with statistics, personal stories, and others’ accounts of how brutal this world can be for women, the history of how we've been treated, and what it will take to change the conversation: MEN. We need them to be as outraged as we are and join our fight. (Source)

See more recommendations for this book...

best new yorker essays of all time

Me Talk Pretty One Day

David Sedaris | 4.96

best new yorker essays of all time

Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates | 4.94

best new yorker essays of all time

Barack Obama The president also released a list of his summer favorites back in 2015: All That Is, James Salter The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr (Source)

Jack Dorsey Q: What are the books that had a major influence on you? Or simply the ones you like the most. : Tao te Ching, score takes care of itself, between the world and me, the four agreements, the old man and the sea...I love reading! (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Doug McMillon Here are some of my favorite reads from 2017. Lots of friends and colleagues send me book suggestions and it's impossible to squeeze them all in. I continue to be super curious about how digital and tech are enabling people to transform our lives but I try to read a good mix of books that apply to a variety of areas and stretch my thinking more broadly. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Joan Didion | 4.94

best new yorker essays of all time

Peter Hessler I like Didion for her writing style and her control over her material, but also for the way in which she captures a historical moment. (Source)

Liz Lambert I love [this book] so much. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

We Should All Be Feminists

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | 4.92

best new yorker essays of all time

Bad Feminist

Roxane Gay | 4.88

best new yorker essays of all time

Irina Nica It’s hard to pick an all-time favorite because, as time goes by and I grow older, my reading list becomes more “mature” and I find myself interested in new things. I probably have a personal favorite book for each stage of my life. Right now I’m absolutely blown away by everything Roxane Gay wrote, especially Bad Feminist. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Trick Mirror

Reflections on Self-Delusion

Jia Tolentino | 4.86

best new yorker essays of all time

Lydia Polgreen This book is amazing and you should read it. https://t.co/pcbmYUR4QP (Source)

Maryanne Hobbs ⁦@jiatolentino⁩ hello Jia :) finding your perspectives in the new book fascinating and so resonant.. thank you 🌹 m/a..x https://t.co/BoNzB1BuDf (Source)

Yashar Ali . @jiatolentino’s fabulous book is one of President Obama’s favorite books of 2019 https://t.co/QHzZsHl2rF (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Consider the Lobster

And Other Essays

David Foster Wallace | 4.85

best new yorker essays of all time

A Room of One's Own

Virginia Woolf | 4.75

best new yorker essays of all time

Dress Your Family in Corduroy & Denim

David Sedaris | 4.73

best new yorker essays of all time

Adam Kay @penceyprepmemes How about David Sedaris, for starters - "Dress your family in corduroy and denim" is an amazing book. (Source)

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best new yorker essays of all time

The Fire Next Time

James Baldwin | 4.69

Barack Obama Fact or fiction, the president knows that reading keeps the mind sharp. He also delved into these non-fiction reads: Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Evan Osnos Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman Moral Man And Immoral Society, Reinhold Niebuhr A Kind And Just Parent, William Ayers The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria Lessons in Disaster, Gordon Goldstein Sapiens: A Brief History of... (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

When You Are Engulfed in Flames

David Sedaris | 4.67

best new yorker essays of all time

David Sedaris | 4.63

best new yorker essays of all time

David Blaine It’s hilarious. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

The White Album

Joan Didion | 4.62

best new yorker essays of all time

Dan Richards I feel Joan Didion is the patron saint of a maelstrom of culture and environment of a particular time. She is the great American road-trip writer, to my mind. She has that great widescreen filmic quality to her work. (Source)

Steven Amsterdam With her gaze on California of the late 60s and early 70s, Didion gives us the Black Panthers, Janis Joplin, Nancy Reagan, and the Manson follower Linda Kasabian. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

Essays and Arguments

David Foster Wallace | 4.61

best new yorker essays of all time

Tressie McMillan Cottom | 4.60

best new yorker essays of all time

Melissa Moore The best book I read this year was Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom. I read it twice and both times found it challenging and revelatory. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

David Sedaris and Hachette Audi | 4.60

best new yorker essays of all time

Sister Outsider

Essays and Speeches

Audre Lorde, Cheryl Clarke | 4.60

best new yorker essays of all time

Bianca Belair For #BHM  I will be sharing some of my favorite books by Black Authors 26th Book: Sister Outsider By: Audre Lorde My first time reading anything by Audre Lorde. I am now really looking forward to reading more of her poems/writings. What she writes is important & timeless. https://t.co/dUDMcaAAbx (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls

David Sedaris | 4.58

Austin Kleon I read this one, then I read his collected diaries, Theft By Finding, and then I read the visual compendium, which might have even been the most interesting of the three books, but I’m listing this one because it’s hilarious, although with the interstitial fiction bits, it’s sort of like one of those classic 90s hip-hop albums where you skip the “skit” tracks. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Notes from a Loud Woman

Lindy West | 4.56

best new yorker essays of all time

Matt Mcgorry "Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman" by Lindy West @TheLindyWest # Lovvvvveeedddd, loved, loved, loved this book!!!  West is a truly remarkable writer and her stories are beautifully poignant while dosed with her… https://t.co/nzJtXtOGTn (Source)

Shannon Coulter @JennLHaglund @tomi_adeyemi I love that feeling! Just finished the audiobook version of Shrill by Lindy West after _years_ of meaning to read it and that's the exact feeling it gave me. Give me your book recommendations! (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

The Collected Schizophrenias

Esmé Weijun Wang | 4.52

best new yorker essays of all time

Tiny Beautiful Things

Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Cheryl Strayed | 4.49

best new yorker essays of all time

Ryan Holiday It was wonderful to read these two provocative books of essays by two incredibly wise and compassionate women. Cheryl Strayed, also the author of Wild, was the anonymous columnist behind the online column, Dear Sugar and boy, are we better off for it. This is not a random smattering of advice. This book contains some of the most cogent insights on life, pain, loss, love, success, youth that I... (Source)

James Altucher Cheryl had an advice column called “Dear Sugar”. I was reading the column long before Oprah recommended “Wild” by Cheryl and then Wild became a movie and “Tiny Beautiful Things” (the collection of her advice column) became a book. She is so wise and compassionate. A modern saint. I used to do Q&A sessions on Twitter. I’d read her book beforehand to get inspiration about what true advice is. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

We Were Eight Years in Power

An American Tragedy

Ta-Nehisi Coates | 4.47

best new yorker essays of all time

The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

Albert Camu | 4.47

best new yorker essays of all time

David Heinemeier Hansson Camus’ philosophical exposition of absurdity, suicide in the face of meaninglessness, and other cherry topics that continue on from his fictional work in novels like The Stranger. It’s surprisingly readable, unlike many other mid 20th century philosophers, yet no less deep or pointy. It’s a great follow-up, as an original text, to that book The Age of Absurdity, I recommended last year. Still... (Source)

Kenan Malik The Myth of Sisyphus is a small work, but Camus’s meditation on faith and fate has personally been hugely important in developing my ideas. Writing in the embers of World War II, Camus confronts in The Myth of Sisyphus both the tragedy of recent history and what he sees as the absurdity of the human condition. There is, he observes, a chasm between the human need for meaning and what he calls... (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

The Penguin Essays Of George Orwell

George Orwell, Bernard Crick | 4.46

best new yorker essays of all time

Peter Kellner George Orwell was not only an extraordinary writer but he also hated any form of cant. Some of his most widely read works such as 1984 and Animal Farm are an assault on the nastier, narrow-minded, dictatorial tendencies of the left, although Orwell was himself on the left. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

The Opposite of Loneliness

Essays and Stories

Marina Keegan, Anne Fadiman | 4.46

best new yorker essays of all time

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | 4.45

best new yorker essays of all time

The Tipping Point

How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Malcolm Gladwell | 4.45

best new yorker essays of all time

Kevin Rose Bunch of really good information in here on how to make ideas go viral. This could be good to apply to any kind of products or ideas you may have. Definitely, check out The Tipping Point, which is one of my favorites. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Seth Godin Malcolm Gladwell's breakthrough insight was to focus on the micro-relationships between individuals, which helped organizations realize that it's not about the big ads and the huge charity balls... it's about setting the stage for the buzz to start. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Andy Stern I think that when we talk about making change, it is much more about macro change, like in policy. This book reminds you that at times when you're building big movements, or trying to elect significant decision-makers in politics, sometimes it's the little things that make a difference. Ever since the book was written, we've become very used to the idea of things going viral unexpectedly and then... (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Selected Essays

Mary Oliver | 4.44

best new yorker essays of all time

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.

Samantha Irby | 4.44

best new yorker essays of all time

Complete Essays

Michel de Montaigne, Charles Cotton | 4.42

best new yorker essays of all time

Ryan Holiday There is plenty to study and see simply by looking inwards — maybe even an alarming amount. (Source)

Alain de Botton I’ve given quite a lot of copies of [this book] to people down the years. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Mindy Kaling | 4.42

best new yorker essays of all time

Angela Kinsey .@mindykaling I am rereading your book and cracking up. I appreciate your chapter on The Office so much more now. But all of it is fantastic. Thanks for starting my day with laughter. You know I loves ya. ❤️ https://t.co/EB99xnyt0p (Source)

Yashar Ali Reminds me of one of my favorite lines from @mindykaling's book (even though I'm an early riser): “There is no sunrise so beautiful that it is worth waking me up to see it.” https://t.co/pS56bmyYjS (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Not That Bad

Dispatches from Rape Culture

Roxane Gay, Brandon Taylor, et al | 4.40

best new yorker essays of all time

Henry David Thoreau | 4.40

best new yorker essays of all time

Laura Dassow Walls The book that we love as Walden began in the journal entries that he wrote starting with his first day at the pond. (Source)

Roman Krznaric In 1845 the American naturalist went out to live in the woods of Western Massachusetts. Thoreau was one of the great masters of the art of simple living. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

John Kaag There’s this idea that philosophy can blend into memoir and that, ideally, philosophy, at its best, is to help us through the business of living with people, within communities. This is a point that Thoreau’s Walden gave to me, as a writer, and why I consider it so valuable for today. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Confessions of a Common Reader

Anne Fadiman | 4.40

best new yorker essays of all time

I Feel Bad About My Neck

And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

Nora Ephron | 4.39

best new yorker essays of all time

Holidays on Ice

David Sedaris | 4.37

best new yorker essays of all time

An American Lyric

Claudia Rankine | 4.36

best new yorker essays of all time

Cheryl Strayed A really important book for us to be reading right now. (Source)

Jeremy Noel-Tod Obviously, it’s been admired and acclaimed, but I do feel the general reception of it has underplayed its artfulness. Its technical subtlety and overall arrangement has been neglected, because it has been classified as a kind of documentary work. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Christopher Hitchens | 4.36

best new yorker essays of all time

Le Grove @billysubway Hitchens book under your arm. I’m reading Arguably. When he’s at his best, he is a savage. Unbelievable prose. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Notes of a Native Son

James Baldwin | 4.35

best new yorker essays of all time

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales

Oliver Sacks | 4.34

best new yorker essays of all time

Suzanne O'Sullivan I didn’t choose neurology because of it but the way Oliver Sacks writes about neurology is very compelling. (Source)

Tanya Byron This is a seminal book that anyone who wants to work in mental health should read. It is a charming and gentle and also an honest exposé of what can happen to us when our mental health is compromised for whatever reason. (Source)

Bradley Voytek I can’t imagine one day waking up and not knowing who my wife is, or seeing my wife and thinking that she was replaced by some sort of clone or robot. But that could happen to any of us. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

The Empathy Exams

Leslie Jamison | 4.33

best new yorker essays of all time

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

Ann Patchett | 4.31

best new yorker essays of all time

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

A Low Culture Manifesto

Chuck Klosterman | 4.30

Karen Pfaff Manganillo Never have I read a book that I said “this is so perfect, amazing, hilarious, he’s thinking what I’m thinking (in a much more thought out and cool way)”. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Bird By Bird

Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Anne Lamott | 4.29

best new yorker essays of all time

Susan Cain I love [this book]. Such a good book. (Source)

Timothy Ferriss Bird by Bird is one of my absolute favorite books, and I gift it to everybody, which I should probably also give to startup founders, quite frankly. A lot of the lessons are the same. But you can get to your destination, even though you can only see 20 feet in front of you. (Source)

Ryan Holiday It was wonderful to read these two provocative books of essays by two incredibly wise and compassionate women. [...] Anne Lamott’s book is ostensibly about the art of writing, but really it too is about life and how to tackle the problems, temptations and opportunities life throws at us. Both will make you think and both made me a better person this year. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Zadie Smith | 4.29

Barack Obama As 2018 draws to a close, I’m continuing a favorite tradition of mine and sharing my year-end lists. It gives me a moment to pause and reflect on the year through the books I found most thought-provoking, inspiring, or just plain loved. It also gives me a chance to highlight talented authors – some who are household names and others who you may not have heard of before. Here’s my best of 2018... (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures

Malcolm Gladwell | 4.28

best new yorker essays of all time

Sam Freedman @mrianleslie (Also I agree What the Dog Saw is his best book). (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

The Witches Are Coming

Lindy West | 4.27

best new yorker essays of all time

Against Interpretation and Other Essays

Susan Sontag | 4.25

best new yorker essays of all time

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel

Alexander Chee | 4.25

Eula Biss Alex Chee explores the realm of the real with extraordinarily beautiful essays. Being real here is an ambition, a haunting, an impossibility, and an illusion. What passes for real, his essays suggest, becomes real, just as life becomes art and art, pursued this fully, becomes a life. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Changing My Mind

Occasional Essays

Zadie Smith | 4.25

best new yorker essays of all time

Barrel Fever

David Sedaris | 4.24

Chelsea Handler [The author] is fucking hilarious and there's nothing I prefer to do more than laugh. If this book doesn't make you laugh, I'll refund you the money. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

The Fire This Time

A New Generation Speaks About Race

Jesmyn Ward | 4.24

best new yorker essays of all time

Why Not Me?

Mindy Kaling | 4.24

best new yorker essays of all time

The View from the Cheap Seats

Selected Nonfiction

Neil Gaiman | 4.24

best new yorker essays of all time

I Was Told There'd Be Cake

Sloane Crosley | 4.24

best new yorker essays of all time

The Intelligent Investor

The Classic Text on Value Investing

Benjamin Graham | 4.23

best new yorker essays of all time

Warren Buffett To invest successfully over a lifetime does not require a stratospheric IQ, unusual business insights, or inside information. What's needed is a sound intellectual framework for making decisions and the ability to keep emotions from corroding that framework. This book precisely and clearly prescribes the proper framework. You must provide the emotional discipline. (Source)

Kevin Rose The foundation for investing. A lot of people have used this as their guide to getting into investment, basic strategies. Actually Warren Buffett cites this as the book that got him into investing and he says that principles he learned here helped him to become a great investor. Highly recommend this book. It’s a great way understand what’s going on and how to evaluate different companies out... (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

John Kay The idea is that you look at the underlying value of the company’s activities instead of relying on market gossip. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Tell Me How It Ends

An Essay in Forty Questions

Valeria Luiselli | 4.23

best new yorker essays of all time

Tina Fey | 4.22

Sheryl Sandberg I absolutely loved Tina Fey's "Bossypants" and didn't want it to end. It's hilarious as well as important. Not only was I laughing on every page, but I was nodding along, highlighting and dog-earing like crazy. [...] It is so, so good. As a young girl, I was labeled bossy, too, so as a former - O.K., current - bossypants, I am grateful to Tina for being outspoken, unapologetic and hysterically... (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us

Hanif Abdurraqib, Dr. Eve L. Ewing | 4.22

best new yorker essays of all time

Saadia Muzaffar Man, this is such an amazing book of essays. Meditations on music and musicians and their moments and meaning-making. @NifMuhammad's mindworks are a gift. Go find it. (thank you @asad_ch!) https://t.co/htSueYYBUT (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

This Is Water

Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life

David Foster Wallace | 4.21

best new yorker essays of all time

John Jeremiah Sullivan | 4.21

best new yorker essays of all time

Greil Marcus This is a new book by a writer in his mid-thirties, about all kinds of things. A lot of it is about the South, some of it is autobiographical, there is a long and quite wonderful piece about going to a Christian music camp. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

The Mother of All Questions

Rebecca Solnit | 4.20

best new yorker essays of all time

The Partly Cloudy Patriot

Sarah Vowell, Katherine Streeter | 4.20

best new yorker essays of all time

Essays of E.B. White

E. B. White | 4.19

best new yorker essays of all time

Adam Gopnik White, for me, is the great maker of the New Yorker style. Though it seems self-serving for me to say it, I think that style was the next step in the creation of the essay tone. One of the things White does is use a lot of the habits of the American newspaper in his essays. He is a genuinely simple, spare, understated writer. In the presence of White, even writers as inspired as Woolf and... (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Rebecca Solnit | 4.19

best new yorker essays of all time

A Man Without a Country

Kurt Vonnegut | 4.18

best new yorker essays of all time

No Time to Spare

Thinking About What Matters

Ursula K. Le Guin, Karen Joy Fowler | 4.17

best new yorker essays of all time

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Annie Dillard | 4.16

best new yorker essays of all time

Laura Dassow Walls She’s enacting Thoreau, but in a 20th-century context: she takes on quantum physics, the latest research on DNA and the nature of life. (Source)

Sara Maitland This book, which won the Pulitzer literature prize when it was released, is the most beautiful book about the wild. (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Maggie Nelson | 4.14

best new yorker essays of all time

Furiously Happy

A Funny Book About Horrible Things

Jenny Lawson | 4.13

best new yorker essays of all time

Women & Power

A Manifesto

Mary Beard | 4.13

best new yorker essays of all time

Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

Timothy Snyder | 4.12

best new yorker essays of all time

George Saunders Please read this book. So smart, so timely. (Source)

Tom Holland "There isn’t a page of this magnificent book that does not contain some fascinating detail and the narrative is held together with a novelist’s eye for character and theme." #Dominion https://t.co/FESSNxVDLC (Source)

Maya Wiley Prof. Tim Snyder, author of “In Tyranny” reminded us in that important little book that we must protect our institutions. #DOJ is one of our most important in gov’t for the rule of law. This is our collective house & #Barr should be evicted. https://t.co/PPxM9IMQUm (Source)

best new yorker essays of all time

Small Wonder

Barbara Kingsolver | 4.11

best new yorker essays of all time

The Source of Self-Regard

Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations

Toni Morrison | 4.11

best new yorker essays of all time

Hyperbole and a Half

Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened

Allie Brosh | 4.11

best new yorker essays of all time

Bill Gates While she self-deprecatingly depicts herself in words and art as an odd outsider, we can all relate to her struggles. Rather than laughing at her, you laugh with her. It is no hyperbole to say I love her approach -- looking, listening, and describing with the observational skills of a scientist, the creativity of an artist, and the wit of a comedian. (Source)

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Samantha Irby | 4.10

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Both Flesh and Not

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So Sad Today

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Hope in the Dark

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Prem Panicker @sanjayen This is from an essay Solnit wrote to introduce the updated version of her book Hope In The Dark. Anything Solnit is brilliant; at times like these, she is the North Star. (Source)

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The Faraway Nearby

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How to Be Alone

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Barack Obama According to the president’s Facebook page and a 2008 interview with the New York Times, these titles are among his most influential forever favorites: Moby Dick, Herman Melville Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson Song Of Solomon, Toni Morrison Parting The Waters, Taylor Branch Gilead, Marylinne Robinson Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton Souls of Black... (Source)

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  • Israel-Hamas War

Palestine and the Power of Language

A protester's painted hand during a march to demand a ceasefire in response to the ongoing Israel–Hamas conflict on Dec. 28, 2023 in Berlin, Germany.

I n today’s near-constant news cycle on Gaza, Palestinians seem to die at the hands of an invisible executioner. Palestinians are shot dead. Palestinians starve . Palestinian children are found dead . But where is there accountability? Palestinians die, they aren’t killed , as if their death is a fault of their own. 

The obfuscation of responsibility is facilitated by a structure often overlooked since grade school: grammar. At this moment, grammar has the indelible power to become a tool of the oppressor, with the passive voice the most relied-upon weapon of all.

When I was young, teachers scolded me for using the passive voice—they wanted my writing to be precise and direct. Instead, my sentences always seemed to protect those who performed the actions. Back then, the fact that my sentence structure obscured accountability didn’t bother me. But I know better now. As a Palestinian American, with refugee grandparents who survived the Nakba, I’m confronting the occupation back home from the safety of my apartment in America. Over the years,  I’ve combed through headlines searching for the active voice in a sea of passivity. I need those who commit actions, those who hold agency, to be named. I need Israel and its occupational forces to be named.  

The passive voice often focuses on the recipient of the event, not the doer. In the news today, I see only the passive voice: “ A group of Palestinian men waving a white flag are shot at ,” and I can’t help but hear the voices of my past English teachers ask, “But who ‘shot’ these men?” Accountability is not just vague; it’s altogether missing.

Mohammad Shouman carries the body of his daughter, Masa, who was killed in an Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, during her funeral in Rafah, southern Gaza, on Jan. 17.

I learned most acutely about the power of language to silence and erase in graduate school while auditing an undergraduate course on Israel. In a class of 25 people, I was one of two Palestinians. The rest of the class consisted of students who either self-identified as proud Zionists or Zionists who felt confused.

The professor, a Jewish Israeli, reminded me of my grandfather with his bushy eyebrows and thick accent—a soothing familiarity at first.

But that familiarity didn’t last. By the end of the first month, the class was split on the definition of “ethnic cleansing”—not only how to define it but who, in terms of the subject doing the action, can be charged with this human rights violation. 

The professor called our attention to his use of the term “ethnic cleansing” in his own writing. He wrote that around 750,000 Palestinians were displaced in 1948, an act that today would be considered ethnic cleansing. At first read, this statement seemed bold—he may not have named the Nakba , but his writing gestured toward violence. Even so, his examination felt sanitized. Palestinians “were displaced,” he wrote. But there was no mention of who did the displacing.

After reading part of the article out loud, a girl who had been fidgeting in her seat said it couldn’t be. 

“What couldn’t be?” my professor asked. 

“Ethnic cleansing. Because it’s what happened in the Holocaust, so we can’t be charged with this,” she replied. Another student cut in. He qualified by referring to himself as a critic of Israel. “There’s a distinction between occupation and ethnic cleansing,” he announced. “It’s an issue of structural power and systematic violence—what happened in 1948 was not ethnic cleansing.”

“By whom?” I finally asked, interrupting the flow of conversation.

“By whom, what?” the professor said.

“Who displaced 750,000 Palestinians?” Silence.

Palestinians leave their Jerusalem neighborhood during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

A boy behind me got the last word. “ Intent is what makes it ethnic cleansing,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like this was intentional. It might look like it, but it’s different.” The professor nodded, mumbling, “intent” to himself. 

In a 2023 interview with Palestinian scholar Rashid Khalidi published in The Intercept , Khalidi shared that although Israel’s recent military assault on Gaza may seem unprecedented it, unfortunately, aligns with Israel’s long-standing doctrine rooted in colonial, British counterinsurgency strategies. Khalidi said that this doctrine is characterized by an “absolute merciless attack on the enemy, delivering crushing blows.”

Read More: Hamas Built Tunnels Beneath My Family’s Home in Gaza. Now It Lies in Ruin

“This is how Britain ruled the world,” Khalidi went on to explain. “It was an empire of violence. And that strategy of overwhelming violence, when challenged, has been Israel’s strategy ever since.” This history of violence can easily be traced back to the foundation of the Zionist movement. The first Israeli prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, wrote to his son in 1937: “The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war.” 

I saw intent in these words, but others in my class did not. So I kept searching, looking through the archive to help me piece together what parts of history I was missing. I found Joseph Weitz, director of the Jewish National Fund’s Lands Department, who wrote that there was no solution other than to transfer all Arabs from Palestine—who were the overwhelming majority in the region—into neighboring countries so that no Palestinian villages would remain. But when I shared these findings in class, they were brushed aside. “This isn’t intent,” a student said. “You can’t prove intent with a few peoples’ letters and actions.”

By the second month of class, I spent most of my time picking at my cuticles, fiddling with them until they drew blood, as students argued over when the words “Palestine” and “Palestinian” came into existence. Finally, the professor changed the subject, unable to convince some in class that “Palestine” was a place before Israel’s existence. He went on to discuss how Zionism could be considered a colonial project. A student behind me interrupted the lecture and said, “It’s not like they were coming in like other imperial powers and raping and killing immediately.”

My hand with its bloody cuticles shot up, eager to call out the absurdity of the comment. But my professor had started calling on me less and less, avoiding eye contact when possible and acknowledging me only in nods. My consistent stream of comments and questions perhaps disturbed the delicate balance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that he so cautiously wanted to maintain. He had become passive; I had been forced into passivity in turn. 

Anti-war protesters raise painted hands behind U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on President Biden's $106 billion national security supplemental funding request to support Israel and Ukraine, as well as bolster border security, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., on Oct. 31, 2023.

“Who started it first?” another student asked in my row, ignoring my raised hand. 

“Which time did ‘who start what?’” The professor asked. 

“In 1947,” she said, “if Zionism really is a ‘colonial project,’ who started it first?” 

“In 1947, the Arabs were upset by the U.N. partition lines. There were Palestinian uprisings,” he said. 

“They retaliated,” I interjected, angry again at the empty spaces left in the professor’s response—as if Zionism and its goals had no role in why there were Palestinian uprisings. In a 2002 report completed by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), researchers found that during the Second Intifada the word “retaliation” was used 79% of the time to describe Israeli violence against Palestinians in American news outlets. Meanwhile, Palestinian violence was characterized as “retaliation” only 9% of the time. Palestinians “attacked” or “threw rocks” or, at best, there were Palestinian “uprisings” that seemed to spring from the ground without any explanation of the pressure that premeditated why the surface cracked in the first place. 

“Retaliation” suggests a need to defend oneself because safety is on the line. “Retaliation” empowers some in their violence while reprimanding others.

I wanted to say all this, but the professor put his palm in the air, a visible stop sign in my direction, and asked me to raise my hand if I wanted to engage. So I continued to raise my hand, which remained raised until the end of class. And I wondered, if there were a stone nearby, would I have thrown it?

Read More: The Power of Changing Your Mind

After class, the professor pulled me aside and told me, “As an auditor, it’s best you don’t participate. I sympathize with the Palestinians, but it’s necessary you don’t add to the discussion.” He followed up this conversation with an email, reaffirming his desire for me to remain silent. Perhaps he didn’t intend to silence me, one of two Palestinians in the course. Perhaps he intended only to follow university policy, a policy I later learned was up to the discretion of each professor. Perhaps intent didn’t apply here at all, just as it couldn’t be applied to those who ethnically cleansed Palestinians during the Nakba.

While writing tedious essays in high school, I didn’t care that I used the passive voice. I didn’t care because our writing assignments were often divorced from broader socio-political contexts. The violence of protecting those accountable versus those left bearing the burden of the violence didn’t yet touch me or my body. A privilege, I know. The calculated use of language against Palestinians didn’t yet anger me, either, even though blatant anti-Arab racism happened in front of me with growing frequency after 9/11. It felt as though this version of racism was acceptable, even expected.

I learned history as if its problems were a thing of the past. This was purposeful. History preserved in textbooks relies on meticulous and insidious language to shape narratives. In the same month I sat in class and listened to students negotiate accountability and qualify their feelings toward ethnic cleansing, a seven-year-old Palestinian boy, Rayan, died in the West Bank. Did he die or was he killed? It depends on which headline you read—some headlines stated that he was simply “mourned” by his community.

Israeli flags flutter in Gaza amid the ongoing conflict on Jan. 12.

As I searched for accountability for Rayan, I heard my teachers’ voices echo from the past: “Who did the action?” Paramedics say he had a heart attack though pediatric specialist, Dr. Mohamed Ismail, claimed Rayan had no previous medical conditions that would point to an early cardiac arrest. “The most probable scenario of what happened is that under stress, he had excess adrenaline secretion, which caused the increase of his heartbeat, ” Ismail said. 

We do know this: right before he died, Israeli occupation forces chased the boys home, banged on their door, and threatened to come back at night and arrest the boys, ages 7, 8, and 10. When Rayan saw the soldiers at his door, he tried to run away but, instead, dropped dead. Times of Israel published the headline , “Palestinian boy, 7, dies in disputed circumstances amid IDF activity near Bethlehem.”

“What are the disputed circumstances?” I hear my English teachers press on in my mind.  

There were rocks. No, stones. They say stones. They were being thrown. 

“Who did the action? Who started it?” 

One of Rayan’s older brothers threw a stone at a soldier. 

In the active voice, “A seven-year-old Palestinian boy’s heart killed him” is how the headlines could have read. 

“The heart is not to blame,” I hear my teachers say. 

What does it matter when language can minimize suffering at its best and erase it altogether at its worst?

As my graduate studies progressed, professors repeatedly told me that no one’s hands were clean in this “complicated” history. They felt my writing and my questions were too exacting in ways that perhaps made them uncomfortable. “This history is full of gray areas,” they’d say. They wanted my writing to be vague, passive. They wanted my writing to speak to the “complicated” nature of this conflict—but Palestine has never been that complicated to me. 

The word “complicated” is often used to describe the occupation in Palestine, a word that insists that occupation is untouchable—Palestine’s history is too complex, there are too many moving parts, it’s a puzzle that can never be solved. But this word is condescending—a distraction. It wants us to feel small, worthless, and petty in our investigation. It demands power structures remain in place, allowing some to speak while requiring others to stay quiet. But what’s happening today in Palestine against the Palestinian people is not complicated. It’s a revolting violation of human rights. It is active and precise. Palestinians are killed or, if they’re lucky, violently evicted from their homes. The question— by whom? —is often never raised. Palestinian schools, hospitals, community centers, historic holy spaces, safe zones are bombed; their resources depleted; people are starving—as if all of this happened devoid of context or responsibility for those who hold power.

So let me amend the above statements, as my former English teachers would have requested, and put them into the active voice: Israel bombs Palestinian schools that house sacred archives. Israel bombs hospitals with necessary aid. Israel bombs community centers and historic holy spaces that have stood for centuries. Israel depletes Palestinian resources. Israel bombs Rafah , housing over 1 million displaced Palestinians, after claiming it a safe zone. Israel is starving Gaza.

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Poll Ranks Biden as 14th-Best President, With Trump Last

President Biden may owe his place in the top third to his predecessor: Mr. Biden’s signature accomplishment, according to the historians, was evicting Donald J. Trump from the Oval Office.

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President Biden standing at the top of the steps leading to Air Force One.

By Peter Baker

Peter Baker has covered the past five presidents, ranked seventh, 12th, 14th, 32nd and 45th in the survey.

President Biden has not had a lot of fun perusing polls lately. He has a lower approval rating than every president going back to Dwight D. Eisenhower at this stage of their tenures, and he trails former President Donald J. Trump in a fall rematch. But Mr. Biden can take solace from one survey in which he is way out in front of Mr. Trump.

A new poll of historians coming out on Presidents’ Day weekend ranks Mr. Biden as the 14th-best president in American history, just ahead of Woodrow Wilson, Ronald Reagan and Ulysses S. Grant. While that may not get Mr. Biden a spot on Mount Rushmore, it certainly puts him well ahead of Mr. Trump, who places dead last as the worst president ever.

Indeed, Mr. Biden may owe his place in the top third in part to Mr. Trump. Although he has claims to a historical legacy by managing the end of the Covid pandemic; rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure; and leading an international coalition against Russian aggression, Mr. Biden’s signature accomplishment, according to the historians, was evicting Mr. Trump from the Oval Office.

“Biden’s most important achievements may be that he rescued the presidency from Trump, resumed a more traditional style of presidential leadership and is gearing up to keep the office out of his predecessor’s hands this fall,” wrote Justin Vaughn and Brandon Rottinghaus, the college professors who conducted the survey and announced the results in The Los Angeles Times .

Mr. Trump might not care much what a bunch of academics think, but for what it’s worth he fares badly even among the self-identified Republican historians. Finishing 45th overall, Mr. Trump trails even the mid-19th-century failures who blundered the country into a civil war or botched its aftermath like James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce and Andrew Johnson.

Judging modern-day presidents, of course, is a hazardous exercise, one shaped by the politics of the moment and not necessarily reflective of how history will look a century from now. Even long-ago presidents can move up or down such polls depending on the changing cultural mores of the times the surveys are conducted.

For instance, Barack Obama, finishing at No. 7 this year, is up nine places since 2015, as is Grant, now ranked 17th. On the other hand, Andrew Jackson has fallen 12 places to 21st while Wilson (15th) and Reagan (16th) have each fallen five places.

At least some of that may owe to the increasing contemporary focus on racial justice. Mr. Obama, of course, was the nation’s first Black president, and Grant’s war against the Ku Klux Klan has come to balance out the corruption of his administration. But more attention today has focused on Jackson’s brutal campaigns against Native Americans and his “Trail of Tears” forced removal of Indigenous communities, and Wilson’s racist views and resegregation of parts of the federal government.

As usual, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson top the list, and historians generally share similar views of many presidents regardless of their own personal ideology or partisan affiliation. But some modern presidents generate more splits among the historians along party lines.

Among Republican scholars, for instance, Reagan finishes fifth, George H.W. Bush 11th, Mr. Obama 15th and Mr. Biden 30th, while among Democratic historians, Reagan is 18th, Mr. Bush 19th, Mr. Obama sixth and Mr. Biden 13th. Other than Grant and Mr. Biden, the biggest disparity is over George W. Bush, who is ranked 19th among Republicans and 33rd among Democrats.

Intriguingly, one modern president who generates little partisan difference is Bill Clinton. In fact, Republicans rank him slightly higher, at 10th, than Democrats do, at 12th, perhaps reflecting some #MeToo era rethinking and liberal unease over his centrist politics.

The survey, conducted by Mr. Vaughn, an associate professor of political science at Coastal Carolina University, and Mr. Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston, was based on 154 responses from scholars across the country.

Peter Baker is the chief White House correspondent for The Times. He has covered the last five presidents and sometimes writes analytical pieces that place presidents and their administrations in a larger context and historical framework. More about Peter Baker

Our Coverage of the 2024 Presidential Election

News and Analysis

Anger within the Democratic Party over President Biden’s support for Israel in the war in Gaza has been building for months. Michigan’s upcoming primary will put that discontent on the ballot for the first time .

Nikki Haley’s struggles to gain traction ahead of South Carolina’s Republican primary stem in part from a demographic fact : Nearly 10% of the state’s voters were not there when she left the governor’s mansion in 2017, and many of the newcomers have an affection for former President Donald Trump.

Biden’s re-election campaign ended January with nearly $56 million on hand , extending his cash advantage over Trump, whose campaign had about $30 million available at the end of the month.

Not Dropping Out, Yet: Haley, who has dismissed speculation about her motives behind staying in the presidential race, has encouraged supporters to stick with her until the end, whenever that may be .

Fact-Checking Biden: During campaign and public events in recent weeks, Biden has made some misleading statements  about taxes, industry, jobs and more.

A Right-Wing Nerve Center:  The Conservative Partnership Institute has become a breeding ground for the next generation of Trump loyalists and an incubator for policies he might pursue. Its fast growth is raising questions .

 On Wall Street:  Investors are already thinking about how financial markets might respond to the outcome of a Biden-Trump rematch , and how they should trade to prepare for it.

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best new yorker essays of all time

New York City's all-time greatest high school basketball players

Trying to pick the 25 best high school basketball players to come out of the five boroughs of New York City is pretty daunting. There are several Hall-of-Famers worthy of the honor, but we have our list. Feel free to disagree.

Listed in chronological order with graduation year as noted.

Dolph Schayes, DeWitt Clinton (Bronx), 1944

The first true New York City high school basketball legend. Schayes was 6-foot-1 while still in grade school. He then starred at Clinton High in the Bronx. At the time, Schayes' 30 points against Christopher Columbus was a Bronx Public School system record. By the time he graduated from Clinton, and suited up as a 16-year-old freshman at nearby New York University, Schayes was 6-7. Of course, the rest was the stuff legends are made from. An NBA champion and 12-time All-Star, Schayes totaled more than 18,000 points and 11,000 rebounds as a professional. He's a member of both the College Basketball and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fames.

Bob Cousy, Jackson (Queens), 1946

Born a few months after the aforementioned Dolph Schayes in 1928, Cousy was actually cut from the team twice at Queens' Andrew Jackson High in the St. Albans neighborhood. But after breaking his right hand, Cousy learned to use both, which helped his basketball skills. He eventually earned a spot on Jackson's junior varsity squad, and by the time he was a senior, led the varsity squad to the Queens County Division Championship in 1946. That led to a college hoops career at Holy Cross, where the Hall of Famer helped the Crusaders to the 1947 NCAA national title. From there, Cousy won six NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, made 13 All-Star teams and claimed league MVP honors in 1957.

Richie Guerin, Mount Saint Michael (Bronx), 1950

A playground star growing up in the Bronx, it seemed Guerin was destined to make a living in and around the game of basketball. While starring on the Mount Saint Michael basketball team, Guerin was also a member of the Marine Corps Reserve. Known as one of the last great, two-handed set shooters, Guerin took his talent to Iona College, where he scored more than 1,300 career points. After returning from active duty with the Marines, Guerin was honored with six NBA All-Star nods, notably with the hometown New York Knicks. The Hall-of-Famer then enjoyed a successful coaching career with the St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks.

Lenny Wilkens, Boys High School (Brooklyn), 1956

Hailing from Brooklyn's Bedford–Stuyvesant   neighborhood, aka "Bed-Stuy" Wilkens, a three-time inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and one of the greatest players and coaches in NBA history, was briefly a prep teammate of two-time NL batting champion Tommy Davis at Brooklyn's famed Boys High School (which, after the merge and location change, is known now as Boys and Girls High School). According to legend, Wilkens played in less than 10 varsity basketball games, despite making the squad as a freshman. However, Wilkens starred in local Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) leagues during his high school years. Showing off his lightning quickness, exemplary defense and stellar ball-handling skills, Wilkens earned a basketball scholarship to Providence College, where he was an All-American and set the stage for his many NBA accolades as a player and coach.

Roger Brown, Wingate (Brooklyn), 1960

A two-time third-team Parade   All-American (1959, '60), Brown was an exceptional high school basketball product from Brooklyn . In 1960, Brown scored 37 points during the semifinals of the New York City Public Schools Athletic League tournament. Then it was off to the University of Dayton, where he was the star of his freshman team. However, that proved to be the extent of his college career, as Brown was banned by the NCAA for his association with Jack Molinas, who was part of the infamous 1961 college basketball point-shaving scandal . Brown was not directly involved, but he never played in the NBA because of just knowing Molinas. He did make four All-Star teams and win three championships in the ABA.

Connie Hawkins, Boys High School (Brooklyn), 1960

Simply one of the greatest high school players of all time, regardless of location. Hawkins was an All-City pick as a junior (when his Boys team won the Public Schools Athletic League title) and senior (while averaging more than 25 points and again leading boys to the PSAL championship). Though Hawkins was honored as a first-team Parade   All-American and Mr. Basketball USA in 1960, he never played college basketball due to his association with the aforementioned Jack Molinas. Unlike Roger Brown, Hawkins did make it to the NBA after playing in the ABL, for the Harlem Globetrotters and winning ABA MVP and a league title in 1968. He was a four-time NBA All-Star and his No. 42 was retired by the Phoenix Suns.

Billy Cunningham, Erasmus Hall (Brooklyn), 1961

Cunningham honed his Hall of Fame college and NBA careers at St. Rose of Lima, before heading to Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn's Flatbush neighborhood. Cunningham played all four of his prep seasons on the varsity , and was an All-City selection for the 1960-61 campaign. That same season, Cunningham — known for his tremendous leaping ability that earned him the nickname of "Kangaroo Kid" — led his school to the PSAL championship, while also receiving Parade   All-American honors. He would go on to star at North Carolina, and then later  with the Philadelphia 76ers during his pro career.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Power Memorial (New York), 1965

It's no stretch to say that Kareem is the greatest high school player in American history. Then known as Lew Alcindor, he lost just six games during his prep career — five of which came during his freshman campaign when he checked in a 6-foot-10. A three-time, first-team Parade All-American, Alcindor led mighty Manhattan Power Memorial , which during his time won three New York City Catholic titles, two CHSAA championships (1963, '64) and won 71 consecutive games. The NCAA and NBA legend's height and overall stature led to his dominance as both a scorer and defender while registering more than 2,000 career points and rebounds.

Earl Manigault, Franklin (New York)

To many in the know, "The Goat" might have been the best playground/high school in New York City, at least for one of his stature: 6-foot-1. Facing the likes of future legends Lew Alcindor and Connie Hawkins, Manigault starred on what would become the famed concrete courts of Harlem's Rucker Park and 99th Street and Amsterdam Ave. — aka "Goat Park." Legend has it, Manigault scored 57 points in a grade-school game. When Manigault attended high school during the 1960s, he was a standout, averaging more than 23 points and 10 rebounds for Harlem's Benjamin Franklin (known now as Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics). However, he was kicked off the team as a senior for smoking marijuana. Manigault landed at a North Carolina prep school, then a small black college in the state before returning to New York City, where he battled substance abuse and eventually died at age 53 from congestive heart failure. The 1996 HBO film " Rebound: The Legend of Earl "The Goat" Manigault, " starring Don Cheadle, chronicled his life.

Nate "Tiny" Archibald, DeWitt Clinton (Bronx), 1966

Hailing from the South Bronx, Archibald was playground basketball royalty in New York City. Though he didn't make the varsity squad at Clinton as a sophomore, come his junior season, the seeds were sewn for Archibald to succeed. As a senior, Archibald became the team's undisputed star, and blossomed into one of the great players in New York. Basketball proved to be sort of a salvation for Archibald, who struggled academically most of his high school career, and flirted with dropping out. He eventually made it to the NBA, where in an interesting twist, this six-time All-Star from New York City was a standout for the rival Boston Celtics. The gymnasium at DeWitt Clinton was named in Archibald's honor.

Kevin Joyce, Archbishop Molloy (Queens), 1969

Considered one of the hardest working prep players in New York City history, the 6-foot-3 Joyce averaged 32 points and 18 rebounds as senior for the Catholic powerhouse. In his three varsity seasons at Molloy, the program went 68-5. He was a first-team Parade All-American as a senior in 1969, before taking his talent to the University of South Carolina. Joyce was a member of the 1972 United States Olympic men's basketball team that lost its controversial gold medal game to the Soviet Union.

George Johnson, New Utrecht (Brooklyn), 1974

Another Brooklyn basketball legend, Johnson might be somewhat of a forgotten star when comparing against the other more prominent household basketball names from the borough. A lanky, but impactful talent from New Utrecht High, Johnson had the ability to dominate on both ends of the floor. Legendary St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca considered Johnson one of the best players to come out of the city. And Johnson proved that for the Queens university by scoring 1,763 career points and pulling down a school-record 1,240  rebounds before embarking on a nine-year NBA career.

Bernard King, Fort Hamilton (Brooklyn), 1974

It wasn't an easy rise to greatness for the Hall of Famer. King enjoyed a successful prep career and showed flashes of dominance more times than not. However, his accomplishments at Tennessee (three-time SEC Player of the Year, consensus All-American) and in the NBA (four-time All-Star) tend to overshadow just how good of a high school player he was for the Brooklyn school. King, who grew up in the rough Fort Greene neighborhood, essentially put Bay Ridge's Fort Hamilton High on the map when it came to basketball notoriety. Yet, he wasn't even the best King to attend the school.

Albert King, Fort Hamilton (Brooklyn), 1977

The best basketball player with the last name of King to attend Fort Hamilton goes to Bernard's younger brother, Albert. Truly one of the legendary NYC high school stars, Albert King was a two-time, first-team Parade   All-American and Mr. Basketball USA in 1977, besting Magic Johnson for the honor, though both were part of the inaugural McDonald's All-American team. For his high school career, King amassed 2,071 points. His most memorable prep performance came against Canarsie High, when he totaled 48 points, 22 rebounds, 12 assists and six blocks. The ACC Player of the Year at Maryland in 1980, King played nine seasons in the NBA.

Chris Mullin, Xavierian (Brooklyn), 1981

Mullin began his prep career at the aforementioned Power Memorial, where some issues with the coaching staff prompted a transfer to fellow Catholic powerhouse Xavierian in Bay Ridge. Mullins was respected as a young player for his desire to improve by heading up to Harlem and the Bronx to join some of the best playground talent at the time. At Xavierian, the hot-shooting Mullin helped his team win a state championship and was named New York's Mr. Basketball as a senior — as well as a McDonald's All-American. From there, it's all well-documented history as Mullin became College and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, who also won Olympic gold with the 1992 "Dream Team ," while exorcising some demons along the way.

Walter Berry, Franklin (New York)

Nicknamed "The Truth," Berry was a star of the playgrounds in NYC. A dominant force that seemed destined for stardom. And, in many ways he did achieve a high level of acclaim. But it wasn't easy. The 6-foot-8, 210-pound Berry  dropped out of Franklin High in 1982 because of poor grades, but rebounded to earn his high school equivalency. He ended up going the junior college route before landing at St. John's, where he helped the 1985 team to the Final Four, and was national player of the year in '86, when he averaged 23.1 points and 11.1 rebounds.

Mark Jackson, Bishop Loughlin (Brooklyn), 1983

Another product from Brooklyn's St. Albans neighborhood, Jackson is one of the great ballhandlers to come out of NYC. Brooklyn pride still runs deep with Jackson, who helped Loughlin to a state championship in 1983. During that 102-89 victory over North Babylon in the title game, Jackson scored 38 points and set a state-tournament record by making 15 straight free throws. From there, Jackson was a two-time first-team All-Big East pick at St. John's, the 1988 NBA Rookie of the Year, an NBA All-Star and eventually coach of the Golden State Warriors before pivoting to a broadcasting career.

Kenny Smith, Archbishop Molloy (Queens), 1983

Kenny "The Jet." When it came to handling the ball, Smith was a true wizard at the high school level. While dunking the basketball still reigned supreme on the playgrounds and organized courts, another way to drop jaws was possessing ridiculous handles — ankle-breaking dribbling that created legends overnight. Smith was a master of the latter, earning Parade   All-American and McDonald's All-American recognition at powerhouse Molloy. He then went to North Carolina, playing with Michael Jordan, earning All-American honors before winning two NBA titles and becoming a popular analyst.

Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, Boys and Girls High School (Brooklyn), 1983

While Mark Jackson was leading Bishop Loughlin to a state title and Smith was running circles around the competition at Molloy during the 1982-83 season, Washington was arguably the best player in the country, starring at the nearby consolidated Boys and Girls High in Bed-Stuy. Of course, Washington  had already earned legendary status as a playground basketball star, nicknamed after Earl "The Pearl" Monroe. A McDonald's All-American and two-time Parade   All-American (first team in '83), Washington then starred at Syracuse, where he was a three-time first-team All-Big East performer and an All-American.

Malik Sealy, St. Nicholas of Tolentine (Bronx), 1988

Another Catholic school star, Sealy helped lead Tolentine to a 30-1 record and both city and state championships as a senior. He was a do-it-all talent who earned both McDonald's All-American and first-team Parade All-American honors for his final prep campaign. From there, Sealy stayed close to home while playing for St. John's, where he was twice named a first-team All-Big East performer and remains among the school's all-time scoring leaders with 2,401 points. Sadly, Sealy was killed by a drunk driver in 2000 at age 30 following his eighth NBA season.

Kenny Anderson, Archbishop Molloy (Queens), 1991

We've already touched on the kind of special talent Archbishop Molloy has produced through the years, but Anderson has long been considered the best to come out of the powerhouse program. The first player to be named All-City each of his four prep seasons, Anderson was the state of New York's all-time leading scorer when he left Molloy with 2,621 points. As a senior, Anderson was not only named New York's Mr. Basketball, but a McDonald's All-American, the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year, Naismith Player of the Year and honored as a three-time Parade All-American. A consensus All-American at Georgia Tech, Anderson played parts of 14 seasons in the NBA.

Felipe Lopez, Rice (New York), 1994

Born in the Dominican Republic, Lopez and his family came to America when he was a teenager. He landed at Harlem's Rice High School, where he blossomed to legendary prep status. By the time his high school career ended, Lopez totaled more than 2,400 points. As a senior, he averaged nearly 27 points and just over 10 rebounds while leading Rice to the Catholic High Schools Athletic Association championship. The two-time, first-team Parade All-American was named Mr. Basketball USA and Gatorade National Player of the Year, while also claiming MVP honors at the McDonald's All-American Game. Lopez didn't veer far from home, attending St. John's, where he was a first-team All-Big East pick in 1998 and ranks within the school's top 10 in career scoring (1,927 points). 

Stephon Marbury, Lincoln (Brooklyn), 1995

The first mention of Coney Island's mighty Abraham Lincoln High. And, when it comes to talking about the greatest basketball players the school has produced, "Starbury" should be at the top of the list. A two-time first-team Parade All-American, Marbury averaged more than 27 points and eight assists as a senior, when he was named Gatorade National Player of the Year and a McDonald's All-American, while also garnering New York Mr. Basketball honors. Marbury, a two-time NBA All-Star who played for both the Nets and Knicks, and three-time CBA champion, totaled 2,078 points during his high school career.

Sebastian Telfair, Lincoln (Brooklyn), 2004

Stephon Marbury's cousin, Telfair, a playground phenom as a grade schooler, was destined for greatness post-high school. However, that never happened, even though he played parts of the 10 NBA seasons without going to college. Telfair's off-court issues overshadowed anything he did on the court  after leaving Lincoln High as the state of New York's all-time leading scorer with 2,785 points — at the time. He was a McDonald's All-American and two-time Parade   All-American, including a first-teamer in 2004, when he averaged 33.2 points and 9.2 assists, and led Lincoln to three consecutive PSAL championships.

Lance Stephenson, Lincoln (Brooklyn), 2009

Stephenson wasn't necessarily a legend before stepping on the high school court, but he's obviously more than worthy to be included with Marbury and Telfair when talking about the Lincoln all-time greats. His 2,946 career points are a PSAL record, as of 2020, and second-most in state history. As a senior, Stephenson averaged 28.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists while earning New York Mr. Basketball, McDonald's American and first-time Parade All-American honors. After a strong lone season at the University of Cincinnati, Stephenson jumped to the NBA, where he had his moments for parts of 10 seasons.

A Chicago native, Jeff Mezydlo has professionally written about sports, entertainment and pop culture for nearly 30 years. If he could do it again, he'd attend Degrassi Junior High, Ampipe High and Grand Lakes University.

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