The 100 best magazine articles ever

 Images 00Ralph Kyderby Kyderby1 Kevin Kelly has compiled a list of the 100 greatest long-form magazine articles ever published. He has found links to the text of each article, and says: "I'd like to have folks start to vote up the best (although they can still add). There's a Top Five that has emerged. Maybe we can get a top 10."

Here are the top 5 (based on the number of people who have recommended them to Kevin):

David Foster Wallace, "Federer As Religious Experience." The New York Times, Play Magazine, August 20, 2006.

David Foster Wallace, "Consider the Lobster." Gourmet Magazine, Aug 2004.

Neal Stephenson, "Mother Earth, Mother Board: Wiring the Planet." Wired, December 1996. On laying trans-oceanic fiber optic cable.

Gay Talese, "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold." Esquire, April 1966.

Ron Rosenbaum, "Secrets of the Little Blue Box." Esquire, October 1971. The first and best account of telephone hackers, more amazing than you might believe.

My contribution to the list is Susan Orlean, "Orchid Fever." The New Yorker, January 23, 1995.

The Best Magazine Articles Ever


  1. There’s a site I saw on here (or VSL) of long-form only articles. But I’ve lost the link… Anyone?

  2. If I remember right, “Orchid Fever” was the basis of the trippy film “Adaptation.”

  3. I know best-ofs are never going to please everyone, but there’s a serious lack of women on this list. Interesting too to see “men’s magazines” like Playboy (admittedly before it became purely a skin-mag), GQ and Esquire represented, whereas women’s magazines aren’t…

      1. It’s not my obligation to provide/improve such a list. The role of the critic, as I understand it, is not necessarily to provide alternatives, but to point out absences. Just because I’m not going to provide alternatives, does not undercut my argument – none of you who’ve asked me to do that has actually addressed the substance of my point, and I would suggest it’s because you can’t claim the breadth of knowledge necessary to do so. Nor do you necessarily want this to be the “100 Best Magazine Articles Written Mostly By Men, Ever.” The point is, as Flying_Monkey has already said, the “Best Ever” moniker places the burden of proof on the author to prove that the coverage is representative – you can’t simply throw superlatives around, or else they’re meaningless.

    1. Do womens’ magazines even have those kind of articles? Playboy and Esquire are known for having actual articles. Playgirl et. al. tend to balance their photos with smut stories instead.

      Female magazine article writers probably target gender-neutral rags instead. Look for good female authors in Harper’s, The New Yorker, or stuff like that.

  4. Really great stuff. While journalism as the AP thinks of it is on its way out, this sort of well-crafted, long form article will (hopefully) always have a place in the world. Blogs handle newsbites and opinion better than the syndicates ever could, but short-story-length investigative pieces like this can only be written by professionals.

    Note to the magazine conglomerates: There is not much I am willing to pay for on the everything-is-free intarwub, but I would pay a regular subscription fee for access to collections of current, long form articles like this. Stick all the one-off, in-depth articles from your various magazines in one place, and you’ll have my money.

  5. after a quick look at the list (many wonderful authors!) there seems to be no worthy articles printed outside the USA? none in Canada or England or Ireland or…

    1. Of course not. This is about _newspapers_ and _magazines_. You need to look at _international newspapers_ if you want stuff from Britain or SriLanka or… . International papers are somewhat like the Paralympics, though, and you need to explicitly ask for _international and US papers_ if you want a truly global overview.

  6. “I understand you’re pretty funny as a dee-jay and, well, comedy is kind of a hobby of mine. Well, actually, it’s a little more than just a hobby, Reader’s Digest is considering publishing two of my jokes.”

  7. “Kevin Kelly has compiled a list of the 100 greatest long-form magazine articles ever published.” Shouldn’t this read “Kevin Kelly has compiled a list of his 100 favorited long-form magazine articles ever published.”?

  8. Sorry. “Kevin Kelly has compiled a list of the 100 greatest long-form magazine articles ever published.” Shouldn’t this read “Kevin Kelly has compiled a list of his 100 favorite long-form magazine articles ever published.”?

  9. Gorgeous list, albeit parochially U.S. and exclusively post-Second War (no Janet Flanner, no Alexander Woollcott, no…).

    My addition would have to be Kenneth Tynan’s New Yorker profile of Louise Brooks, “The Girl in the Black Helmet”, a piece that not only helped place Brooks as a rediscovered phenomenon, but rekindled interest in G.W. Pabst, early German films, and silent movies in general.

  10. The fact that Hunter Thomson’s (brilliant) Kentucky Derby piece is not in the top five is a shame. The fact that you bastards use it as an illustration for your little “post” (or whatever you wonks call them) is a goddamn crime! Having read everything on this list I would have to say that the top five should consist entirely of Hunter S. Thomson and DFW (though the Susan Orlean piece was quite good). To be more specific, I would nominate Hunter’s beautiful elegy written on the occasion of Nixon’s death.

  11. Glad to see he included DFW’s “Host,” Wallace’s profile of conservative radio talk show host John Ziegler. It’s a fascinating look at both a certain mindset and the talk-radio business in general.

  12. I don’t really have much in interest in the mechanics of things, but that Neal Stephenson article about laying cable – whoa!! – couldn’t put it down in 1996, actually kept that copy of Wired for eons. It is a creation story for the brave new world…

  13. As several people have mentioned, this is an extraordinarily blinkered list. It claims to be the best magazine articles published in English, when what it actually is, is a very limited list of a small groups’s favourite post-war US magazine articles, also markedly skewed towards mainstream and largely male magazines.

    Apart from the fact that there is nothing from the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean, Africa, India or any other places with significant English-language publications including English-language publications in non-English speaking countries, there’s no underground or alternative press (Ramparts, Mother Jones?), no black or minority press (Ebony?) no women’s magazines (yes, they do run articles – Spare Rib, Ms, Cosmopolitan once had a lot more, and Marie Claire was known for its investigative reporting concerning women… jeez, can we be more patronising?), hardly any specialist press (apart from Wired – which suggests an element of geek bias) – what about The Architectural Record or even Wallpaper? There’s not even many from literary magazines: whether they be major ones like The Paris Review (how the hell can they have not a single thing from The Paris Review???) the New York or London Review of Books, Granta (perhaps the most influential literary magazine of the last 20 years with amazing reportage), no satirical mags (Punch, Spy, Private Eye – Paul Foot’s investigations into the Lockerbie Bombing are worth ten of the articles on this list…) and no geographical stuff at all either – National Geographic even for a US start. And no newspaper magazines outside the US – have they never even heard of The Times, The Guardian (it only has the most successful and best-designed newspaper website in the world) or The Observer?

    Sorry this is a rant, but frankly, it amazes me that people have the nerve to make parochial lists like this and call them anything more than ‘articles me and my friends have heard of and like’… whatever happened to humility and admitting the limits of one’s experience?

    1. Excellent points. I never meant to defend the list of “best” articles, just point out that quality female (and male) authors are published in rags that may not have even been considered.

      So yeah, there’s a strong male geek bias to the list. This is the internets, after all.

    2. Jeez..nice rant.

      I’ll make it simple. If you don’t like the list, make your own with all of your snubbed genres

      Why stop at other countries, specialty mags and international Non-English reading before WWII?

      I betcha there’s some great article in Cuneiform or ancient Hebrew somewhere that someone could find to make a list of.

      Yes, I’m grumpy. I get a treasure trove link of some great articles and of course someone has to piss on the parade.

  14. The list has no articles before 1945. Here is the breakdown by complete decades:

    1940’s: 4
    1950’s: None
    1960’s: 11
    1970’s: 9
    1980’s: 9
    1990’s: 25
    2000’s: 47

    They may be readers’ all-time favorites, but are they really the best of all time? Was magazine writing before the Internet era really that mediocre?

  15. Flying Monkey, calm down. Lists like this can’t be definitive; like the Commandments or homicide laws, they’re for discussion purposes only and probably limited to mainstream publications for that reason: can’t go obscure since his audience wouldn’t have read them and can’t discuss them.

    Can you give me a list of links to sponge-worthy Mother Jones, Ebony, Highlight, Cosmopolitan, etc. articles? I’ll give them a try, seriously.

  16. First article that came to my mind when I was thinking of long form magazine articles was Neal Stephenson’s “Mother Earth, Mother Board: Wiring the Planet” . Glad to see it there.

    As far as the list being limited… is there a person who’s read every long form article from around the world since Gutenburg? Let’s ask that poor soul then and be done with it.

  17. Sadly, it doesn’t appear to be available online, but Alice Walker’s “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” (Ms. March 1975 and reprinted in a few anthologies) is just brilliant.

  18. DoctorDoak and Flying_Monkey put it nicely – Superlatives are to be handled with care, BB has enough literacy to come up with a headline that is both enticing and correct.

  19. This list really is a work in progress. Now the earliest article is one by William Hazlitt, from 1816, which has been anthologized and is accessible through Google Books.

    I’m saving the Web page from time to time in order to keep the citations that have been dropped.

  20. As with most others here, I’m glad to see Neal Stephenson’s epic piece about the laying of cable included in this list. It was the first article that occurred to me.

    The second article that occurred to me was something from Vanity Fair; Nick Tosches’ tale of high and low adventure “Confessions of an Opium-Seeker.” Imagine a hugely literate Indiana Jones relating his quest for the last opium den, and you’ll be somewhere close to how amazing this article reads.

  21. The creator of the list clearly states that it is a “work in progress.” Did you expect him to have read every single article ever written before attempting to compile the list? In the time you spent whining you could have actually contributed and sent him a couple amazing articles and made the list more complete. You only live once. Why not make yourself useful?

    1. Of course we know that Kevin Kelly and his readers can’t read all the magazine articles ever published. That’s why we’re advising caution in using the words “best” and “ever.”

  22. Great list, but you missed a great one.

    Climbing the Redwoods, Richard Preston, The New Yorker, February 14 & 21, 2005.

Comments are closed.