For those of us who enjoy long-form narrative journalism, the Longreads phenomenon has been one of the most delightful developments of 2010. (Get the backstory here.) In the spirit of year-end lists being published by longread fans across the Internet this week, here are my picks for 2010. (I deliberately avoided selecting any stories from my own magazine — otherwise, they’d fill up slots No. 1-10, of course!)
As the World Burns (Ryan Lizza, New Yorker,October 11, 2010)
Decades from now, when sweaty, heat-cursing historians want to understand how we allowed the climate crisis to get past the point of no return despite our knowledge of the potential dangers, this will be Exhibit No. 1 from what could and should have been a critical year in the climate fight. A sad, depressing, but incredibly illuminating look at how our government completely fails to work.
The Dark Lord of Coal Country (Jeff Goddell, Rolling Stone, November 29, 2010)
Was this the story that finally forced the ouster of notoriously evil Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, described as “a man who pursues naked self-interest and calls it patriotism, who buys judges like cheap hookers, treats workers like dogs, blasts mountains to get at a few inches of coal and uses his money and influence to ensure that America remains enslaved to the 19th-century idea that burning coal equals progress?” Either way, you gotta love that nut graf.
The Concrete Jungle (Robert Sullivan, New York, September 12, 2010)
When red-tailed hawks were nesting in Riverside Park along my bike route to work, I stopped to watch almost every day. There’s just something about experiencing nature in the midst of the urban environment that makes the experience even more special. Sullivan captures that perfectly.
The Domino’s Effect (Frederick Kaufman, Men’s Health, November 9, 2010)
As an environmentalist, I already feel guilty every time I indulge my worst vice and bite into a juicy, delicious cheeseburger (well, not guilty enough to stop). Now I’ve got to worry about ordering pizza, too? Damn Frederick Kaufman for convincing me that the military-industrial pizza complex causes world hunger! (On a positive note, see Kaufman’s equally engaging — and far less guilt-inducing — OnEarth piece about a promising effort to make industrial agriculture more sustainable.)
Mirror-Image Cells Could Transform Science — or Kill Us All (John Bohannon, Wired, November 29, 2010)
Who needs science fiction when you’ve got Wired’s constant stream of truth-is-stranger-than-science fiction stories? My favorite from this year — so incredibly complicated, so well explained.
The Danger of Cosmic Genius (Kenneth Brower, The Atlantic, December 2010)
How can bona fide genius Freeman Dyson (the British physicist, not the British vacuum cleaner guy — although I read a great story about James Dyson this year, too) also be a climate change skeptic? Brower provides a great analysis of why super smart does not always equal right.
Covert Operations (Jane Mayer, New Yorker, August 30, 2010)
Remember what I was saying up above about historians and the climate crisis and point of no return? This will be Exhibit No. 2 from 2010 — perhaps the most important piece of investigative reporting this year, showing how the billionaire Koch brothers are pumping money from their polluting industries into right-wing causes, funding the Tea Party, and fighting environmental safeguards and climate regulations.
What a Hundred Million Calls to 311 Reveal About New York (Steven Johnson, Wired, November 1, 2010)
Just the graphics on this one are enough to get you. But keep reading — if only for the inside story of how New York solved the mystery of the maple syrup smell.
A Force for Nature: The Story of NRDC and the Fight to Save Our Planet (John H. Adams and Patricia Adams, with George Black, Chronicle Books)
This one’s mostly personal — I work for the magazine published by NRDC, after all, so the history of my organization has a certain fascination that might not translate to someone who doesn’t work down the hall from our founder, John Adams. But for anyone who is interested in the growth of the environmental movement and its accomplishments over the past four decades, there’s a lot of insight here.
Subway on the Street (Robert Sullivan, New York, July 4, 2010)
Yeah, Sullivan makes the list twice. Sue me, it’s my list. Besides, you’ve got to love a writer who can not only make the Bronx’s “Bx12 Select Bus Service” sound fascinating but also convince you that it’s the future of urban transportation — and that there might actually be hope for unclogging New York City’s gridlock after all.