Best New Yorker profiles
July 5, 2012 5:39 PM   Subscribe

Best profiles in The New Yorker?

I'm a subscriber so I have access to the archives. I love The New Yorker's profiles like I love my own mother and would be curious to know any from the past that would be worth my time digging back to find. I'm interested in any and all subjects. It could be anyone at all.
posted by fso to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
John McPhee's profile of Bill Bradley is generally presented as a prototype of the genre.
posted by one_bean at 5:44 PM on July 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

The historian Adam Hochshield, when he taught a class at UC Berkeley, used as an example of a great New Yorker profile the one on Johnny Carson.
posted by steinsaltz at 5:46 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Alex Ross' profile of Bob Dylan in 1999 is really good. I still look it up every couple of years or so in the bound copies of the New Yorker in the stacks of my local public library.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:55 PM on July 5, 2012

This 1993 profile of Ricky Jay remains one of the best articles I have ever read, ever. Fantastic subject, fantastic prose — this article changed the way I think about writing.
posted by Charity Garfein at 5:55 PM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

This book has a great collection of profiles from the 1920s to the 1990s. Click the "Look Inside"/Table of Contents to see who's in it.
posted by beagle at 6:03 PM on July 5, 2012

I remember enjoying the profiles of Shigeru Miyamoto and Lord Dunsany.
posted by 23 at 6:03 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the archives there's a long profile of open water swimmer Lynne Cox that was one of the most interesting things I've read in the New Yorker (and the kind of thing they don't do anymore since Cox is neither a media or political celebrity).

If you have any interest in athletics or women breaking barriers, it'll be of interest...
posted by Jon44 at 6:06 PM on July 5, 2012

Jeffrey Toobin's profile of Roman Polanski is just brutal while absolutely not a hatchet piece.

I also liked the Ian Parker's profile of Zahi Hawass because he's a character.

Also seconding Miyamoto, Dunsany and Turkmenbashi.
posted by griphus at 6:09 PM on July 5, 2012

2nding the Johnny Carson interview from '78. Notorious theater critic Kenneth Tynan wrote it.
posted by doncoyote at 6:12 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lawrence Weschler's profile of Nicolas Slonimsky, 11/17/86 and 11/24/86.
posted by zompist at 6:16 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

This piece on Karl Lagerfeld greatly interested me when I first read it, and it was because of it that I started getting interested in fashion.
posted by bookwibble at 6:19 PM on July 5, 2012

If you like old time Hollywood, read Truman Capote on Marlon Brando, and Lillian Ross's 5-part profile of John Huston, later published as the book Picture. 60 years later, Ross still writes for the magazine.
posted by doncoyote at 6:20 PM on July 5, 2012

"Mister Eight Eighty" by St. Clair McKelway is a favorite of mine.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:28 PM on July 5, 2012

Enthusiastically seconding Weschler on Slonimsky, as well as Weschler on anybody else (Robert Irwin, David Hockney, Art Spiegelman, etc.). The 12/16/85 piece on forgotten abstract expressionist Harold Shapinsky (which is really about a guy named Akumal Ramachander) is one of my favorite things ever. Weschler is this amazing, almost ego-less writer, and it take a while to figure out how good he actually is.

And the 1978 George W.S. Trow piece on Ahmet Ertegun (previously on MeFi) is an incredible, sui generis thing. Whatever Weschler does, Trow did pretty much the opposite, but it's equally fascinating.
posted by neroli at 6:29 PM on July 5, 2012

Also: you don't need access to the archives for this, but Peter Hessler's recent profile of a Colorado pharmacist is one my favorite things they've published lately.
posted by neroli at 6:33 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I loved connie Brucks's 1994 profile of Hillary Clinton.
posted by Dolley at 6:45 PM on July 5, 2012

Susan Orlean's profile of the Florida orchid poacher became a wonderful book called The Orchid Thief, and was, of course, the basis of Charlie Kaufman's film adaptation -- called, um, Adaptation.
posted by thinkpiece at 7:36 PM on July 5, 2012

The profile of British ethicist Derek Parfit (September 2011, around when On What Matters came out) struck me as the kind of thing one wouldn't see anywhere else. Fascinating.
posted by wdenton at 7:40 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Philip Gourevitch: Mr. Brown
posted by lilboo at 7:44 PM on July 5, 2012

I loved the Nick Paumgarten profile of designer Hedi Slimane.

And Adam Gopnik's piece on Disraeli, although it is more of a book review.

(Yeah, I'm fond of my dandies.)
posted by so much modern time at 8:33 PM on July 5, 2012

I don't pay much attention to sports, much less boxing, But I remember having my mind blown many years back by a David Remnick profile of Muhammad Ali.
posted by matildaben at 8:40 PM on July 5, 2012

Macfarquhar on the Churchlands. She also wrote the Parfit piece that wdenton mentions; she seems to be the New Yorker's go-to person for profiles of philosophers.
posted by painquale at 11:14 PM on July 5, 2012

David Remnick's profile of Elaine Pagels is a fine piece of writing. I also admired Honor Moore's portrait of her father, Bishop Paul Moore, though strictly speaking this is a personal memoir rather than a profile.

And John McPhee on Thomas Hoving is a piece I return to quite often. The fact that McPhee uncritically swallows a lot of Hoving's tall stories doesn't make it any less interesting, to my mind; the more you know about Hoving the more fascinating it becomes to try and disentangle truth from fiction.
posted by verstegan at 2:36 AM on July 6, 2012

Response by poster: These are all fantastic! Looks like I'm going to be using up plenty of paper at the office printer today.

Also, for those interested, my favourite happens to be the March 13, 2000, profile of Simpson's writer George Meyer.
posted by fso at 5:55 AM on July 6, 2012

"Joe Gould's Secret", (Google Books preview) by Joseph Mitchell (who Salman Rushdie called "the buried secret of American writing" and to whom Calvin Trillin dedicated his best book) is canonical.

Trillin himself writes a pretty good profile, like this one on legendary crime reporter Edna Buchanan (that piece may have the best lede-about-ledes ever written).
posted by AceRock at 6:56 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh and here are links to Mitchell's pieces at the NYer site.
posted by AceRock at 6:58 AM on July 6, 2012

I really enjoyed this profile of Manny Ramirez. (free to non-subscribers)
posted by ElCuadrangular at 7:13 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Macfarquhar on the Churchlands. She also wrote the Parfit piece that wdenton mentions; she seems to be the New Yorker's go-to person for profiles of philosophers.

And is married to Gourevitch!
posted by thinkpiece at 9:07 AM on July 6, 2012

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