Who are the best feature writers out there?
April 8, 2009 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Who are the best magazine and newspaper feature writers, past and present?

I've been on a magazine and newspaper kick lately. I've gotten tons of articles by Michael Lewis, William Langewiesche and Jack Hitt. For sports, I love Gary Smith. I also like to read the in-depth articles put out by ProPublica.

Could you suggest others who write deep, delving pieces about a subject? The subject itself doesn't matter; I care more that the writer have the ability to engage a reader and explain a situation or subject in an interesting way.

posted by reenum to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Scientific American ran Mathematical Games by Martin Gardner and Metamagical Themas by Douglas Hofstadter 1953-1983. The former is one of those new searchable CD-ROMs—the entire 15-volume collection of articles—and the latter fits into one rather thick book.
posted by carsonb at 9:29 AM on April 8, 2009

Gene Weingarten at the Washington Post. This piece was the most emotionally devastating piece of journalism I've read in years. I can't hardly think of the first paragraph without choking up.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:33 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Jon Lee Anderson, Elizabeth Kolbert, Adam Gopnick, Ken Auletta, Atul Gawande, Roger Angell, Kenneth Tynan, Calvin Trillin
posted by KokuRyu at 9:41 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm a big William Langewiesche fan and would recommend Tom Chiarella from Esquire as well . . .
posted by eggman at 9:46 AM on April 8, 2009

Tad Friend. And Peter Hessler, whose nonfiction about China is fantastic.

But if this is the kind of writing you like, you should just get the New Yorker.
posted by janet lynn at 10:35 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lillian Ross. There are some great collections of her stuff.

And Joseph Mitchell's Up in the Old Hotel is one of the most amazing books you'll ever come across.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:36 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

The late David Foster Wallace was a fantastic nonfiction writer. If you haven't already you should try his nonfiction collections, Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.

He also edited the Best American Essays of 2007. I tend to pick this up every year because I love nonfiction, so Foster's intro was just a bonus. There's an essay in there, "Shakers" by Daniel Orozco that's pretty remarkable.

There was an essay in the New Yorker some weeks ago called "The Ponzi State," by George Packer that was the best thing I read in that magazine in the year that I had a subscription to it. Here's the link. Unfortunately it's not free online but maybe you know someone who has a subscription.

If you're into shorter pieces as well, you could do worse than to read everything John F. Burns writes for the NY Times.

Finally, George Orwell. He wrote some great nonfiction.
posted by thebergfather at 10:56 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: John McPhee is the old master of deep narrative about an odd subject. He's written dozens of very long pieces about geology, for example. They're good.

Lawrence Weschler writes magazine pieces and books that are interested in just about everything, that follow connections excitedly and fascinatingly.

Katherine Boo, who writes mostly about poverty, mixes skillful narrative, empathetic observation, and a sense of larger social consequences better than anyone else I've read.
posted by vachement at 11:02 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I suggest you pick up the Best American Essays and Best American Magazine Writing anthologies to discover a wide range of authors and determine who you like. The New Yorker, Harpers, and the Atlantic consistently have essays selected for those anthologies. I recently read an article about chocolate by Bill Buford in the Best American Travel Writing that blew me away, it was like a novel in 24 pages.
posted by matildaben at 11:03 AM on April 8, 2009

Chris Heath, in his Details days of the 90s, was awesome. He does some of the most insightfully entertaining and sticky-detailed celebrity profiles ever. Old Christopher Hitchens work, from this same period, earned him the right to be a cranky old man churning out pap now in Vanity Fair fifteen years later - definitely worth reading is his shorter piece on Mother Theresa, which became a book. Also: Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, and seconding David Foster Wallace, who was amazing.
posted by Mrs Hilksom at 11:08 AM on April 8, 2009

If you're going back that far, G. K. Chesterton.
posted by bricoleur at 11:09 AM on April 8, 2009

Tad Friend. And Peter Hessler, whose nonfiction about China is fantastic.

But if this is the kind of writing you like, you should just get the New Yorker.

Tad Friend is awesome.

Peter Hessler is super duper awesome.

Yeah, the New Yorker is what you should get. That magazine could publish a non-fiction piece about paint drying and it would be interesting.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:10 AM on April 8, 2009

Also by Weingarten, Pearls Before Breakfast.

Steve Coll is writing a blog for The New Yorker these days but still does in-depth pieces occasionally.
posted by mlis at 11:12 AM on April 8, 2009

That magazine could publish a non-fiction piece about paint drying and it would be interesting.

I wouldn't be surprised if Gladwell has already written one on the subject. He's written about diapers and ketchup.
posted by kindall at 11:22 AM on April 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

Seconding Atul Gawande.

The last sentence of the first section of The Itch affected me as much as any piece of writing ever has, and The Checklist also hits pretty hard.
posted by martens at 11:47 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I thought this article was very moving and made Esquire a contender against the New Yorker.
posted by jadepearl at 12:10 PM on April 8, 2009

Matt Taibbi at the The Rolling Stone.
posted by roxie5 at 12:24 PM on April 8, 2009

Susan Orlean. Her Web page offers sneak peeks at some of her stuff, but pick up her books for more.
posted by GaelFC at 2:07 PM on April 8, 2009

Best answer: Anthologies from the Library of America:
Reporting Viet Nam (2 Vol.'s)

Reporting World War II
( 2 Vol.'s)

Susan Faludi's Pulitzer-Prize winning series on the human cost of the leveraged buy-out of Safeway (1991)
posted by doncoyote at 4:01 PM on April 9, 2009

A little late to the conversation, I know, but I found this via MeFi's suggestion while asking a question of my own.

I'd like to chip in George Saunders, who did a travel piece on Dubai for GQ -- it's called "The New Mecca" in his collection "The Braindead Megaphone," but I'm not really sure what it was called in the original issue. He's an excellent travel writer (he did another piece about a boy meditating in Nepal? also in TBM), and pretty good at society and culture writing as well. But "The New Mecca" is, in my eyes, his best work and a good starting point.
posted by the NATURAL at 3:08 AM on August 11, 2009

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