The Best American Magazine Writing 2014

The Best American Magazine Writing 2014

Compiled by Sid Holt
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 528
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  • Book Info
    The Best American Magazine Writing 2014
    Book Description:

    Our annual anthology of finalists and winners of the National Magazine Awards 2014 includes Jonathan Franzen's eloquent rumination inNational Geographicon the damage we continue to inflict on the environment and its long-lasting consequences; William T. Vollman's blackly comic reflections inHarper'smagazine on being the target of an extensive FBI investigation into whether he could be the Unabomber, an anthrax mailer, or a jihadi terrorist; and Ariel Levy's account of extreme travel and great escape to a remote land--while pregnant--in theNew Yorker.

    Other essays include Wright Thompson's bittersweet profile of Michael Jordan's fifty-something second act (ESPN); Jean M. Twenge's revealing look at fertility myths and baby politics (The Atlantic); David Kamp's poignant portrait of a small town recovering from one of the nation's worst mass shootings (Vanity Fair); Janet Reitman's controversial study of the Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Rolling Stone); Ted Conover's eye-opening account of working undercover in a commercial slaughterhouse (Harper's); and Wells Tower's wild tale of bonding with his father at a notorious art and music festival (GQ). The collection also features a short story by the critically acclaimed author Zadie Smith (The New Yorker).

    Other contributors:Steven Brill (Time)Emily DePrang (Texas Observer)Kyle Dickman (Outside)Steve Friedman (Runner's World)J. Hoberman (Tablet Magazine)Stephen Rodrick (New York Times Magazine)Witold Rybczynski (Architect)Matthew Shaer (The Atavist)

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53951-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    Mark Jannot

    Well, this is an odd little exercise, isn’t it?

    I mean, you’ve bought (or are considering buying—in which case, what the hell? Pull the trigger!) a collection of great writing that is defined, in the very title of this book, by its relation to the aggregated, issue-based format for which it was commissioned and in which it was originally published.


    Which is … what, exactly?

    Magazine writing is, I guess we can all agree, writing that is published between the covers of a magazine. But. But when you remove it from the magazine, and from the...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-1)
    Sid Holt
  5. The Second Biggest Star in a Remote Little Burg Somewhere in Germany
    (pp. 3-23)
    Tom Junod

    Let’s face it, the guy is ridiculous.

    He’s ridiculously handsome. He’s ridiculously accomplished. He’s ridiculously smart. He’s ridiculously kind to those in need of his kindness. He’s ridiculously funny. He’s ridiculously magnetic, with a ridiculously white movie-star smile and a ridiculously resonant voice-talent voice. Despite his ridiculous sense of ease and casual aplomb, he cannot go anywhere without making an entrance for the simple reason that people who feel ridiculous staring at him feel even more ridiculousnotstaring at him. All he has to do is smile and open his mouth and he switches on an inner light that...

  6. Apple Breaks the Mold: An Oral History
    (pp. 25-47)
    Max Chafkin

    This is our signature,” Apple’s gauzy television ads proclaim, referring to the familiar words that the company stamps on the undersides of its products: DESIGNED BY APPLE IN CALIFORNIA. The ads fall in the grand Apple tradition—beginning with the “1984” Super Bowl spot—of seeming to say a great deal while revealing little. The singular Cupertino computer company is one of the most intensely competitive, pathologically secretive organizations in the world.

    If there is one thing that CEO Tim Cook doesn’t want people to know, it’s what dwells behind his company’s “signature.” As a result, most efforts to explain...

  7. The Dream Boat
    (pp. 49-79)
    Luke Mogelson

    It’s about a two-and-a-half-hour drive, normally, from Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta, to the southern coast of Java. In one of the many trucks that make the trip each month, loaded with asylum seekers from the Middle East and Central Asia, it takes a little longer. From the bed of the truck, the view is limited to a night sky punctuated by fleeting glimpses of high-rise buildings, overpasses, traffic signs, and tollbooths. It is difficult to make out, among the human cargo, much more than the vague shapes of bodies, the floating tips of cigarettes. When you pass beneath a street...

  8. Orders of Grief
    (pp. 81-99)
    Lisa Miller

    For weeks, nobody slept. On the first night after the shootings in December, Raul Arguello lay awake in his bed in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, listening to the sirens coming from the direction of his daughters’ school. His children, thank God, were warm and breathing under his roof, but the sirens reminded him that bodies—twenty of them first-graders—were being taken from the building under the cover of darkness and brought somewhere, maybe the morgue. The next day, in their large, comfortable house on a high hill, Robert and Debora Accomando made meatballs and spaghetti sauce for all the families,...

  9. Jahar’s World
    (pp. 101-133)
    Janet Reitman

    Peter Payack awoke around four a.m. on April 19, 2013, and saw on his TV the grainy surveillance photo of the kid walking out of the minimart. The boy, identified as “Suspect #2” in the Boston bombing, looked familiar, thought Payack, a wrestling coach at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. On the other hand, there were a million skinny kids with vaguely ethnic features and light-gray hoodies in the Boston area, and half the city was probably thinking they recognized the suspect. Payack, who’d been near the marathon finish line on the day of the bombing and had lost...

  10. Thanksgiving in Mongolia
    (pp. 135-145)
    Ariel Levy

    My favorite game when I was a child was Mummy and Explorer. My father and I would trade off roles: one of us had to lie very still with eyes closed and arms crossed over the chest, and the other had to complain, “I’ve been searching these pyramids for so many years. When will I ever find the tomb of Tutankhamen?” (This was in the late seventies, when Tut was at the Met, and we came in from the suburbs to visit him frequently.) At the climax of the game, the explorer stumbles on the embalmed pharaoh and—brace yourself—...

  11. Shark Week and Difficult Women and Private Practice
    (pp. 147-163)
    Emily Nussbaum

    House of Cardsis an original release from Netflix, a DVD-distribution and streaming company that has decided, after several years of selling tickets to the circus, to jump into the ring. Adapted from a British political thriller and produced by David Fincher, the series stars Kevin Spacey as a mercenary Democratic House majority whip and Robin Wright as his wife. This prestigious résumé has turnedHouse of Cardsinto big news—not least because Netflix has cleverly released all thirteen episodes at once. As a model of TV production, it’s an exciting experiment, with the potential to liberate showrunners from...

  12. Overexposed and Radical Revival and Behind the Façade
    (pp. 165-187)
    Witold Rybczynski

    I recently visited two civic buildings in Seattle that are now almost a decade old: Central Library, designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus of OMA, and City Hall, designed by Peter Q. Bohlin of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. Why bother to write about these buildings now? When the library opened in 2004, theNew York Timescritic Herbert Muschamp called it “the most exciting building it has been my honor to review.” City Hall, just a few blocks away, earned no such acclaim when it opened the following year, and to this day it remains a well-kept secret.

    Has the...

  13. Sliver of Sky
    (pp. 189-211)
    Barry Lopez

    One day in the fall of 1938, a man named Harry Shier entered the operating room of a Toronto hospital and began an appendectomy procedure on a prepubescent boy. He was not a trained surgeon; he nearly botched the operation, and the boy’s parents reacted angrily. Suspicions about Shier’s medical credentials had already surfaced among operating-room nurses, and the hospital, aware of other complaints related to Shier’s groin-area operations on young boys, opened a formal investigation. By the time the hospital board determined that both his medical degree, from a European university, and his European letters of reference were fraudulent,...

  14. Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us
    (pp. 213-287)
    Steven Brill

    When Sean Recchi, a forty-two-year-old from Lancaster, Ohio, was told last March that he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, his wife Stephanie knew she had to get him to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Stephanie’s father had been treated there ten years earlier, and she and her family credited the doctors and nurses at MD Anderson with extending his life by at least eight years.

    Because Stephanie and her husband had recently started their own small technology business, they were unable to buy comprehensive health insurance. For $469 a month, or about 20 percent of their income, they had been able...

  15. How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?
    (pp. 289-301)
    Jean M. Twenge

    In the tentative, post-9/11 spring of 2002, I was, at thirty, in the midst of extricating myself from my first marriage. My husband and I had met in graduate school but couldn’t find two academic jobs in the same place, so we spent the three years of our marriage living in different states. After I accepted a tenure-track position in California and he turned down a post doctoral research position nearby—the job wasn’t good enough, he said—it seemed clear that our living situation was not going to change.

    I put off telling my parents about the split for...

  16. Michael Jordan Has Not Left the Building
    (pp. 303-325)
    Wright Thompson

    Five weeks before his fiftieth birthday, Michael Jordan sits behind his desk, overlooking a parking garage in downtown Charlotte. The cell phone in front of him buzzes with potential trades and league proposals about placing ads on jerseys. A rival wants his best players and wants to give him nothing in return. Jordan bristles. He holds a Cuban cigar in his hand. Smoking is allowed.

    “Well, s———, being as I own the building,” he says, laughing.

    Back in the office after his vacation on a 154-foot rented yacht namedMister Terrible, he feels that relaxation slipping away. He feels...

  17. Bret, Unbroken
    (pp. 327-351)
    Steve Friedman

    You know what people think. They see jeans too short and winter coat too shiny, too grimy, and think,homeless. They watch a credit card emerge from those jeans and think,grifter. They behold a frozen grin, hear a string of strangled, tortured pauses, and think,slow. Stupid.

    You learned too young about cruelty and pity. You learned too young that explaining yourself didn’t help, that it made things worse. People laughed. Made remarks. Backed away. So you stopped explaining. You got a job, got a cat, got an apartment, and people can think what they want to think. You...

  18. Dangerous
    (pp. 353-379)
    Joshua Davis

    On November 12, 2012, Belizean police announced that they were seeking John McAfee for questioning in connection with the murder of his neighbor. Six months earlier, I began an in-depth investigation into McAfee’s life. This is the chronicle of that investigation.

    Twelve weeks before the murder, John McAfee flicks open the cylinder of his Smith & Wesson revolver and empties the bullets, letting them clatter onto the table between us. A few tumble to the floor. McAfee is sixty-six, lean and fit, with veins bulging out of his forearms. His hair is bleached blond in patches, like a cheetah, and tattoos...

  19. The Sinking of the Bounty
    (pp. 381-429)
    Matthew Shaer

    Five hundred feet over the Atlantic Ocean, Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class Randy Haba jammed himself into the rear bucket seat of the Jayhawk helicopter and waited for the doomed ship to come into view. Through the window he could see the crests of the waves and a flotilla of detritus that seemed to spread out in every direction toward the horizon—wormy coils of rope, sharp splinters of yard, tatters of sailcloth. The phosphor screens of his ANVIS-9 night-vision goggles rendered the ocean neon green—a flat, unceasing green that bled into the gray-green of the clouds and...

  20. Nineteen: The Yarnell Hill Fire
    (pp. 431-461)
    Kyle Dickman

    Yarnell, Arizona, a former gold-mining town of 650 people, sits on a precipice at the western edge of the Colorado Plateau. Rising above it are the 6,000-foot peaks of the Weaver Mountains, and nearly 2,000 feet below are the flatlands and cactus of the Sonoran Desert. An hour and a half northwest of Phoenix and an hour south of Prescott, Yarnell is, according to the town’s slogan, “Where the desert breeze meets the mountain air.”

    Weekend drivers coming into Yarnell from the south know they’ve hit town when they see the Ranch House Restaurant, a greasy spoon where the waitresses...

  21. Elegies
    (pp. 463-465)
    Kathleen Ossip
  22. The Embassy of Cambodia
    (pp. 467-492)
    Zadie Smith

    Who would expect the Embassy of Cambodia? Nobody. Nobody could have expected it, or be expecting it. It’s a surprise, to us all. The Embassy of Cambodia!

    Next door to the embassy is a health center. On the other side, a row of private residences, most of them belonging to wealthy Arabs (or so we, the people of Willesden, contend). They have Corinthian pillars on either side of their front doors, and—it’s widely believed—swimming pools out back. The embassy, by contrast, is not very grand. It is only a four- or five-bedroom North London suburban villa, built at...

  23. Permissions
    (pp. 493-496)
  24. List of Contributors
    (pp. 497-502)