Some stories just take 10,000 words to tell
February 14, 2012 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Help me find some riveting long-form journalism to read! I love thoughtful, explanatory, intelligent, slightly investigative single-topic pieces of writing. Can you help me find more? What are your all-time favorite pieces of long-form journalism?

I'm particularly interested in stories that I think of as dinner party fodder: creative, unexpected, illuminating, a little esoteric, but with a hook that allows me to talk about it with friends without having to presume too much foreknowledge on their part. (Just as presumably I had no foreknowledge before going into the article.) Topic doesn't matter: for a well-written story, I'll read about anything from NASCAR to the gardens of Versailles to Lady Gaga. (Though I do tend to avoid anything political, unless it's about completely over-and-done-with historical politics. Not so into current events, me.) Also, in my experience, this kind of writing holds up over decades, and I'm just as happy to read something published 30 years ago as something published last week.

For some context, here are my touchstones:

I've read the Atlantic's 1982 article Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond? probably a dozen times.
Last week I re-re-re-read Salon's 2006 profile of Abercrombie & Fitch's creepy CEO.
Reading Wired's incredible (like, almost not believable) account of a real-life international jewel thief counted for one of the most enjoyable diversions of my life.
Yesterday's link on the blue to a story about the nascent sport of freediving completely captivated me.

I'm sure questions exactly like this one have been asked here before, but for some reason my google-fu is failing me. Apologies.
posted by firstbest to Writing & Language (37 answers total) 120 users marked this as a favorite
Forgive me if this is obvious, but are you familiar with
posted by Nelson at 1:06 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have you seen
posted by headnsouth at 1:07 PM on February 14, 2012

Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell. In fact, everything he ever wrote.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:07 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

LongReads on Twitter or the Browser.
posted by k8t at 1:08 PM on February 14, 2012

Response by poster: suggesters: I am already familiar with it, yes! I should have mentioned that. I'm an avid follower of the site. But that tends to highlight really recent stories, and I'm looking for people's all-time favorites, or ones that might have missed Longform's radar. /end of threadsit
posted by firstbest at 1:09 PM on February 14, 2012

Mother Earth Mother Board

The hacker tourist ventures forth across the wide and wondrous meatspace of three continents, chronicling the laying of the longest wire on Earth.

By Neal Stephenson

Page 1 of 56.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:10 PM on February 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Any of David Foster Wallace's nonfiction fits the bill, I'd say. I'm rereading "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again", and it's just. Jesus. It's good.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 1:11 PM on February 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Consider the Lobster, and seconding the quicker fingers of guybrush_threepwood.
posted by carsonb at 1:11 PM on February 14, 2012

It's been in my Instapaper and haven't read it yet, but I'm looking forward to reading that New Yorker story from last year about Paul Haggis's experience with Scientology ("Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology."). I'm not familiar with so I'm not sure if it hit that, but it piece might be of interest to you.
posted by jroybal at 1:13 PM on February 14, 2012

Atchafalaya, by John McPhee.
Columbia's Last Flight, by William Langewische.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:15 PM on February 14, 2012

Two favorites are John McPhee's The Survival of the Bark Canoe (originally published in the New Yorker) and Edward Hoagland's Notes from the Century Before (expanded from a Paris Review article).

More recently, I've been following Alex Wilkinson, Burkhard Bilger and Elif Batuman. Wilkinson's 2010 New Yorker article on S.A. Andrée has just been expanded into a book.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:20 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was enraptured by James McManus's 2000 article in Harper's, "Fortune's Smile: Betting Big on the World Series of Poker," which predated the big online poker rush (and the author's full-length Positively Fifth Street). It's still a great read.
posted by argonauta at 1:22 PM on February 14, 2012

Well, I'm not sure if this meets your criteria, and I know for many people he's a taste they'll never acquire, but the piece Will Self wrote last year about his polycythaemia vera was the best newspaper article I've read for a very long time.
posted by spectrevsrector at 1:30 PM on February 14, 2012

Great question. I suspect you would really like the first four I've listed here. The last two are a bit different, but represent really hilarious and thorough take-downs of two of the New York Times' most annoying op-ed columnists.

• Kid Cannabis: How a Chubby Pizza-Delivery Boy from Idaho Became a Drug Kingpin (Rolling Stone)

Too Weird for The Wire: How black Baltimore drug dealers are using white supremacist legal theories to confound the Feds (Washington Monthly)

Publish and Perish: The mysterious death of Lyndon LaRouche's printer (Washington Monthly)

The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology (New Yorker)

Boo-Boos in Paradise: Wayne-bred David Brooks is the public intellectual of the moment. But our writer found out he doesn't check his facts (Philadelphia Magazine)

Flathead: The peculiar genius of Thomas L. Friedman (New York Press)
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 1:53 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

From a long time ago (and I was reminded of it because I saw it had made it into publication), but Frank Sinatra has a cold is a classic. And I see it was on last week. Ah well.
posted by ambrosen at 1:55 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Secret History Of Lead really stuck with me over the years, for some reason.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:23 PM on February 14, 2012

I always recommend Gene Weingarten, the only two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. His "Fatal Distraction" is a heartbreaker and made me cry shamelessly, and "The Great Zucchini," is my favorite piece of long form journalism anywhere. All of his best are compiled here.

I marked this a favorite and I'm looking forward to checking out the other contributions, starting with "Art of the Steal" listed as one of your examples.
posted by love is a murderer at 2:26 PM on February 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Maybe I was in college at just the right time, but this piece on Girls Gone Wild from 2006 stays with me (trigger warning for sure though)- it's called Baby, Give Me A Kiss.
posted by shes_ajar at 3:12 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Bullfighter Checks her Makeup by Susan Orlean is a fun collection.

Best American Crime Reporting series has some really good articles in it (this is a annual book series)
posted by wurly at 4:12 PM on February 14, 2012

Hi, I'm one of the guys behind Longform. These sorts on the site might be helpful in your search:

Our short list of our all-time favorite stories

A somewhat longer list of other all-time favorites

Famous stories

Stories published before 1960

Also, here's a link to the full text of Mitchell's aforementioned "Up in the Old Hotel"
posted by 2t at 4:19 PM on February 14, 2012 [13 favorites]

Angels & Demons (nothing to do with Dan Brown or Tom Hanks) ...just incredible journalism.
posted by AlliKat75 at 4:26 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Rolling Stone generally has at least one excellent article a month. Like this one on gay teens in a crappy town in Minnesota. Typically great stuff on politics in general.
posted by clone boulevard at 7:15 PM on February 14, 2012

Sorry, somehow missed the whole "no politics" part of your request!
posted by clone boulevard at 7:16 PM on February 14, 2012

I thought The Big Business of Breast Cancer from the October 2011 issue of Marie Claire was a very eye-opening piece of journalism.

You might want to pick up a copy of Literary Journalism. It has fifteen excellent examples of what you are looking for.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:22 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Longform list is missing this crucial story, my single favorite piece of long form writing:

The Kingdom of Silence
posted by shii at 10:47 PM on February 14, 2012

You might want a subscription to Granta. You get a paperback of essays, fiction and reporting, usually around a theme. I pick them up if I see them in a secondhand bookstore, because there's always at least one great piece among good writing. Check out the journalism section at your library - there are several annual anthologies released for technology, crime and financial journalism, usually either peer-selected or related to an annual prize.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:49 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you seen this previous (not *quite* the same) question?
posted by segatakai at 5:18 AM on February 15, 2012

And, do you know about Longform's sister sites?
posted by segatakai at 5:24 AM on February 15, 2012

And I knew there was another one out there somewhere.
posted by segatakai at 5:41 AM on February 15, 2012

Also, check out
posted by chevyvan at 11:34 AM on February 15, 2012

Planet Slade, longform pieces from MetaFilter's own Paul Slade. He posts new things to Projects every so often, and a few have made it to the blue. He splits his site into three parts: Secret London, Murder Ballads, and Miscellany.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:18 PM on February 15, 2012

This may have already been posted but I asked a similar question many moons ago and found some great stuff.
posted by tumid dahlia at 7:06 PM on February 16, 2012

Apologies, I see segataki already linked it.
posted by tumid dahlia at 7:25 PM on February 16, 2012

"A Brevard woman disappeared, but never left home"

From this thread. Heartbreaking.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:11 AM on February 19, 2012

My own solution is to buy the New Yorker every week. It runs articles like those you describe in every issue, plus a load of excellent 3,000-5,000 word pieces too.

It was reading these which got me started on producing the PlanetSlade essays Filthy Light Thief mentions above, and I can report that they're a very satisfying form for the writer too.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:55 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sebastian Junger's Fire is a collection of his work in the manner you describe.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:14 PM on May 10, 2012

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