I Like To Read Things
May 1, 2008 4:21 PM   Subscribe

What are some of your absolute favourite online essays, articles and other pieces of non-fiction writing?

Pursuant to this post and the excellent linked essay, I have found my appetite whetted for some more fine pieces of journalism, reportage, history, criticism, review, everything and anything. I have trawled the online archives of The Atlantic and The New Yorker because I love to have something fresh and interesting to print out and read on my lunch break.

Basically I'm after singular examples of quality online writing (no fiction, thanks, I have more than enough of that), not necessarily for the beauty of the prose or even for the content of the story - I just want one of those (preferably big) articles you can't stop reading, and at the end you want to show it to everybody you know because it's just so amazing, and you wish you had read it sooner.

For reference, one of my favourites is the wonderful B.R. Myer's piece A Reader's Manifesto, from The Atlantic Monthly.

First AskMe, please be gentle.
posted by turgid dahlia to Media & Arts (54 answers total) 459 users marked this as a favorite

Best answer: Jonathan Lebed's Extracurricular Activities by Michael Lewis.
posted by Airhen at 4:38 PM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Check out the MIT's open courses on essays and their reading lists/materials for some good leads:

Writing and Reading the Essay (Fall 2005)
Advanced Essay Workshop (Spring 2005)
The Science Essay (Spring 2004)

Also, yeah, Michael Lewis is great. The Ballad of Big Mike is excellent, and basically a condensed version of his book The Blind Side.
posted by AceRock at 4:49 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

It is from 1960, and about baseball, but if that doesn't stop you, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" by John Updike is considered by many to be the finest piece of sports journalism ever.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:50 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: George Orwell's Politics and the English Language
posted by Zonker at 5:35 PM on May 1, 2008 [10 favorites]

When Pigs Fly: The Death of OiNK, The Birth Of Dissent, and a Brief History of the Record Industry Suicide
okay, not the best essay I've ever read but it summed up the topic of the time pretty darn well when OiNK went down.

The Problem With Music - Steve Albini
a little outdated, but still oh so relevant
posted by rooftop secrets at 5:46 PM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Neal Stephenson's "In the Beginning was the Command Line."
posted by ldenneau at 5:56 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I know you're asking about material available online, but I must recommend the compilation The New Kings of Nonfiction, edited by Ira Glass. Some of the stories may be familiar to you, but many of them were new to me and fulfill exactly the criteria you're describing. Most of them are probably available online if you do some digging. A list of the included pieces is here. I would make a list of my favorites, but I think I would have to list almost every one of them. I bought the book in hopes that it would be creatively inspirational and get me excited about nonfiction writing again, and it served that purpose quite well.
posted by iamisaid at 5:58 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I really like Shalom Auslander's essays, many of which are available at his website. I particularly enjoyed this article he wrote for Nerve, "Where's the Sin?: An Anti-Sermon." He was raised strictly Orthodox (Jewish) and is now a very edgy, secular (from what I understand) guy. I find him interesting and incisive. His observations about religion and Judaism are fascinating to me.
posted by sneakin at 6:01 PM on May 1, 2008

Martin Amis on porn: A Rough Trade
posted by farmdoggie at 6:05 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Michael Pollan is one of my non-fiction gods and wrote this article , which seems to be the basis for his new book "In Defense of Food" (this book as well as "Omnivore's Dilemna" are fan.tastic. But they aren't online.) - 12 pages

If you have children, or actually, even if you don't, this article brings together lots of interesting psychology and sociology to look at the the culture of praise and entitlement that surrounds the youth of America. - 5 pages

Hope you find these interesting enough.

....Oh and thank you for asking this question!
posted by Eudaimonia at 6:16 PM on May 1, 2008

Best answer: Most of Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker Archive, like Blowing Up.

Can you say hero? (Tom Junod's Esquire profile on Fred Rogers)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 6:21 PM on May 1, 2008

Response by poster: These are fantastic, guys. Some, like the Orwell and the Weingarten piece from The Washington Post, I am already familiar with (and they are precisely the sort of thing I'm after), but I've printed out a dozen others so far and am looking forward to a very illuminating 45 minutes in the lovely Botanical Gardens, just down the road from the office. Please keep them coming!
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:23 PM on May 1, 2008

Classic: Notes on "Camp"

More recent: In the Sonora
posted by Cucurbit at 6:51 PM on May 1, 2008

open letters
posted by grumblebee at 6:55 PM on May 1, 2008

Best answer: Stolen from my blogroll of individual articles/essays:

WaPo - A Body and Spirit Broken by the Taliban. Falsely Charged as a Christian, Afghan Suffered Ruthless Torture.

NYT - A Woman's Work - about the woman who ordered mass rapes in the Rwandan genocide

Slate - Blogging the Bible

Peter Beinart - Fault Lines - essay from a few days after the Sept. 11 attacks

Jon Chait - Maverick vs. Iceman - a history of McCain's reinvention of himself

Mrs. X - One Woman's Abortion (anonymous article from before Roe v. Wade was decided)

Mark Schmitt - The "Theory of Change" Primary. ("Hope and bipartisanship are not things that Obama naively believes are present and possible -- they are a tactic, a method of subverting and breaking the unified conservative power structure.")

Robert Kagan - Power and Weakness. Why the United States and Europe see the world differently.

Eric Schlosser - The Chain Never Stops. ("American slaughterhouses are grinding out meat faster than ever -- and the production line keeps moving, even when the workers are maimed by the machinery.")

Jonah Goldberg - The tyranny of cliches. ("I think some people assume clichés are akin to mathematical proofs; some Pythagoras did all of the heavy lifting ages ago, proving that this or that cliché is true and therefore nobody needs to re-check his math.")

Jon Cohn - The best case against universal health care

interview with the philosopher John Searle (video and transcript)

Ebert's Movie Glossary

John McWhorter - Dying Languages

Edge - What questions have disappeared?
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:57 PM on May 1, 2008 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I second Malcolm Gladwell's entire New Yorker output, but these two are some of my favorite articles ever:
The Trouble With Fries: Fast food is killing us. Can it be fixed?
Big and Bad: How the S.U.V. ran over automotive safety.

I also loved this 2003 NY Times feature on Jon Brion (record producer/composer of the scores for Punchdrunk Love, I Heart Huckabees, etc....)
posted by bah213 at 7:24 PM on May 1, 2008

Best answer: Classic: Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?

More recent: It's Britney Bitch (a virtuosic reading of Britney Spears's "Piece of Me")
posted by Cucurbit at 7:43 PM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

A lot of these come up on the blue, you just have to be patient and wait for them - many I see above I first found on the blue myself.

One that I don't see above, which I think the one that you were inspired by, OP, is quite similar to, is a piece that ran in the Rocky Mountain News a couple of years back - forget the name, and its late here, but it was a pulitzer winning piece and was all about the soldiers who have to deliver the toughest news there is. Its late and I can't find the link but you should be able to find it with a little more googling than I just did.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:57 PM on May 1, 2008

Brand new - from Vanity Fair - you'll love it:
The Last Campaign: Bobby Kennedy...The Hope The Tragedy And Why He Still Matters.

Vanity Fair often has excellent articles and many are online.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 8:13 PM on May 1, 2008

allkindsoftime, I was trying to remember that piece earlier today - I couldn't even remember the newspaper that did it.

I think it's this: Final Salute

The photographer for the article won a Pulitzer for it.
posted by rtha at 8:13 PM on May 1, 2008

Response by poster: Well, while we're all here, I thought I'd throw in another that I quite enjoyed: John Taylor Gatto's Against School, from Harper's. I take no responsibility whatsoever for the unutterably awful formatting.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:36 PM on May 1, 2008

Anything by Atul Gawande gives me that "Wow I want to tell everyone about this!!!" feeling. Too bad I suck at retelling them. I would suggest a subscription to the New Yorker, if you don't already have one; long form non-fiction is kinda their thing. Others to check out (although I have no personal history with them) would be the Atlantic Monthly and Harper's.
posted by MadamM at 8:50 PM on May 1, 2008

Best answer: Bagdad year zero is probably the most prescient deconstruction of the motives behind the war in Iraq. Naomi Klein absolutely nails it back in 2004 when most were still scratching their heads.
posted by any major dude at 9:08 PM on May 1, 2008

Matthew Crawford: Shop Class and Soulcraft
posted by odragul at 9:15 PM on May 1, 2008

Seconding the New Yorker. Until your subscription kicks in, their recent nonfiction articles are online here.
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:21 PM on May 1, 2008

A Rape In Cyberspace. It's sort of pathologically overwritten, but it's always stuck with me.
posted by Skot at 12:13 AM on May 2, 2008

The People Own Ideas!
posted by PueExMachina at 12:34 AM on May 2, 2008

The collected film criticism of Chris Fujiwara. The selected reviews, columns, and essays of Scott McLemee.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:41 AM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Almost anything from the London Review of Books, in particular essays by John Lanchester, Anatol Lieven and Jenny Diski.
posted by claudius at 2:35 AM on May 2, 2008

A Person Paper on Purity in Language by Douglas Hofstadter. Probably one of the most eye-opening things you'll read all year, if not ever.
posted by Tamanna at 5:44 AM on May 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Crowding People’s Market for Cabbage: The Price Is Right. One of the best slice-of-life pieces I've ever read.
posted by awenner at 7:45 AM on May 2, 2008

Best answer: Henry Mitchell, pretty much anything.
Sedaris on smoking.
Arts and Letters Daily will yield you at least 1 or 2 excellent essays a week.
And while I don't care for the man, and loathe the beer, Jonah Goldberg's Buds for Life strikes me as a nearly perfect piece of writing.
There are so many, but one more, Douglas Hofstadter on Purity in Language.
posted by dawson at 10:19 AM on May 2, 2008

What if it's all been a big fat lie? by Gary Taubes in the NY Times.
posted by peacheater at 2:18 PM on May 2, 2008

I know you're looking for things you can print out at work but if you're ever looking for a book full of great magazine articles, you may like the Best American Magazine Writing books that come out every year.
posted by triggerfinger at 4:51 PM on May 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Elaine Scarry's 'On Beauty and Being Just' lecture is linked from here.
posted by of strange foe at 9:19 PM on May 2, 2008

check out the doors of perception, aldous huxley's awesome recounting of his experience with mescaline.
posted by jblu at 8:23 AM on May 3, 2008

William Langewiesche at Atlantic, Vanity Fair. Seconding London Review of Books and New York Review of Books. Virginia Quarterly Review on Pat Robertson.
posted by lukemeister at 9:32 AM on May 3, 2008

The Median Isn't the Message by Stephen Jay Gould.
The Accidental Entrepreneur by Gordon Moore. One of many great Nobel Prize essays.
Richard Feynman and the Connection Machine by Danny Hillis.
Mother Earth Mother Board by Neal Stephenson.
posted by Mapes at 3:05 PM on May 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Gregg Easterbrook is an excellent author of many magazine articles. A classic example is this prescient piece, written in 1980, about NASA's space shuttle programme. Easterbrook writes also about environmental issues, but is perhaps mostly widely known for his extended musings on the NFL.
posted by gstone at 8:42 AM on May 4, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you, Metafilter!
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:11 PM on May 5, 2008

Let me second Mapes' link to Neal Stephenson's "Mother Earth, Mother Board." Phenomenal non-fiction.
posted by gen at 8:43 AM on May 10, 2008

I'll add Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage, by David Foster Wallace, from Harper's, 2001. The hypertexted footnotes might be ideal for those who usually loathe DFW's style.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 10:13 AM on May 11, 2008

Best answer: Book Forum is another good place to find interesting articles online (same idea as aldaily)
posted by mosessis at 12:39 PM on May 17, 2008

No-Man's-Land: Fear, Racism, and the Historically Troubling Attitude of American Pioneers, by Eula Biss.

DISCUSSED: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Kansas, Bonnets, “A Great Many Colored People,” Copper Gutters, Martin Luther King Jr., People Who Know Nothing about Gangs, Scalping, South Africa, Unprovoked Stabbing Sprees, Alarming Mass Pathologies, Chicago, Haunted Hot Dog Factories, Gangrene, Creatures from the Black Lagoon, Tree Saws, Headless Torsos, Quilts, Cheerleaders, Pet Grooming Stores, God
posted by hippugeek at 8:17 AM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish. Bertrand Russell's essay still stands up after all these years. It's a pointed yet humorous look at human folly.
posted by storybored at 11:17 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Richard Feynman's lucid explanation of pseudoscience vs the scientific method. "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself -- and you are the easiest person to fool. " Cargo Cult Science.
posted by storybored at 11:22 AM on July 27, 2008

Best answer: I really enjoyed reading this article about air traffic controllers:

Something's Got To Give

These are such extraordinary people with so much weight on their shoulders. It's fascinating to see what a day in their lives is like.
posted by keep it under cover at 2:20 PM on February 24, 2009

Metamagical Themas contains most or all of Douglas Hofstadter's columns from Scientific American, including the Person Paper linked upthread.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:01 PM on March 9, 2009

Soon to be published in book form as This is water, David Foster Wallace's 2005 Kenyon College Commencement Address.

posted by songfromme at 1:27 PM on March 10, 2009

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