Best articles of the 1980s

This is a subsection of the larger Best Magazine Articles Ever list. The list introduction, top 25, and links to other decades are here.

* Sydney Schanberg, “The Death and Life of Dith Pran: A Story of Cambodia” The New York Times Magazine, Sunday Magazine Special Section, January 20, 1980. [Ed.’s note: This article led to a book and then made into a movie “The Killing Fields.” Dith Pran also deserved his own page under Times Topics on the New York Times website.]

* John McPhee, “Basin and Range (Part I).” The New Yorker, October 20, 1980. Clear and interesting explanations about geology and plate tectonics for the layperson.

* George W.S. Trow, “Within the Context of No Context.” The New Yorker, November 17, 1980. Brilliant, eccentric, apocalyptic writing about the nature of the cultural devastation television has wrought. [Ed.’s not: Republished as a book under the same title.]

* Paul Nelson, “The Crackup and Resurrection of Warren Zevon.” Rolling Stone, March 19, 1981. Tough, fearless and a very memorable look at Zevon’s alcoholism and his attempt at recovery.

* Rene Ricard, “The Radiant Child.” ArtForum Magazine, December 1981. The first big article to cover the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Bits of it were used as voiceovers in the film Basquiat.

**** Edward Jay Epstein, “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?” Atlantic Magazine, February 1982. Diamonds, De Beers, monopoly & marketing.

* Kenny Moore, “You Oughta Be in Pictures.” Sports Illustrated, February 1, 1982.

* Marcelle Clements, “The Dog is Us.” Rolling Stone, September 2, 1982.

* Tom Wolfe, “The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce: How the Sun Rose on the Silicon Valley.” Esquire Magazine, December, 1983.

* Roger Angell, “In the Fire.” The New Yorker, March 12, 1984.

* George W. S. Trow, Annals of Discourse, “The Harvard Black Rock Forest.” The New Yorker, June 11, 1984.

* William Broyles, Jr., “Why Men Love War.” Esquire, November 1984.

**** George Plimpton, “The Curious Case Of Sidd Finch.” Sports Illustrated, April 1, 1985. I remember being extremely angry (for a few minutes) that the Mets were going to get this guy instead of my A’s. I was an honest kid and man, it just seemed so unfair. When I realized it was a prank, I wasn’t as upset. Because I always thought this guy, in some form, would someday show up and blow away the Twins, the Angels, and the Giants wearing an A’s uniform. I’m still waiting!

* Frank Deford, “The Boxer and the Blonde.” Sports Illustrated, June 17, 1985. Story of a hard Pittsburgh boxer and the woman who captured his heart.

* E.B. White, “One Man’s Meat.” Harper’s Magazine, December 1985. I think the series of essays that E.B. White wrote for Harper’s Magazine in the mid-twentieth century stands as some of the best writing to appear in a magazine. I had a copy of the collected One Man’s Meat essays with me in college, and I would always read a couple before starting any class papers. I loved getting White’s effortless, graceful prose in my mind before starting any writing assignment.

* James Fenton, “The Snap Revolution.” Granta, 1986. What happened in Manila, and in Malacanang Palace, when the Marcoses fell.

* Calvin Trillin, “Covering the Cops.” The New Yorker, February 17, 1986. Terrific profile of Edna Buchanan

* Calvin Trillin, “Black or White.” The New Yorker, April 14, 1986.

***** Richard Ben Cramer, “What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?” Esquire, June 1986.

** Nicholas Lemann, “The Origins of the Underclass, Part I and II.” Atlantic Magazine, June and July 1986.

* Lester Bangs, “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies.” [Ed.’s note: This article was published in Greil Marcus’ “Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung” by Random House, and later made into a parody film in 1963. The original article cannot be found.]

* Carlos M. Cipolia, “Basic Laws of Human Stupidity.” Whole Earth Review, Spring 1987. A serious meditation on stupidity that will probably resonate today.

** John McPhee, “The Control of Nature: Atchafalaya.” The New Yorker, February 23, 1987.

* Jared Diamond,”The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race.” Discover, May 1987.

* Bill Barol, “I Stayed Up With Jerry.” Newsweek, September 1987.

* Dan Katz, “The King of the Ferret Leggers.” Outside Magazine, October 1987. [Ed.’s note: Appears in the travel writing anthology, “Not So Funny When It Happened,” which can be read via Google Books here.]

** Richard Rhodes, “Cupcake Land. Requiem for the Midwest in the key of vanilla.” Harper’s Magazine, November 1987.

* Paul Hoffman, “The Man Who Loved Only Numbers.” The Atlantic, November 1987.

* Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History?” The National Interest, 1989. proposes “Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”

* Joel Agee, “A Fury of Symbols.” Harper’s Magazine, January 1989.

* Richard Rosen, “Bullcrit: The Reading Disorder of the Literary Fast Lane.” New York, February 6, 1989.

* Paul Rudnick and Kurt Andersen, “The Irony Epidemic.” Spy, March 1989.

* Janet Malcolm, “The Journalist and the Murderer, The Journalist-I” and “The Journalist and the Murderer, The Murderer-II. The New Yorker, March 13 and March 20, 1989.

* Steve Silberman, “Who was Cowboy Neal: The Life and Myth of Neal Cassady.” The Golden Road #19, Spring 1989.

* William McKibben, “The End of Nature.” The New Yorker, September 11, 1989. Reflections on the greenhouse effect and global warming. It brought home to me the enormity of the threat. I’ve never gotten over it.

* Davis Miller, “My Dinner With Ali.” Louisville Courier-Journal, 1989. [Ed.’s note: Republished in Miller’s The Zen of Muhammad Ali, Harrington’s The Beholder’s Eye, and elsewhere.

back to the Top 25