Best articles of the 1990s

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

* William Nack, “Pure Heart.” Sport’s Illustrated, June 4, 1990.

* Paul Tough and Jack Hitt, “Terminal Delinquents.” Esquire, December 1990.

* Gary Smith, “Shadow of a Nation.” Sports Illustrated, February 18, 1991. Feature on the Crow Indians — the story that won him his first National Magazine Award.

* Richard Behar, “The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power.” TIME Magazine, May 6, 1991. A groundbreaking piece that ripped the lid off Scientology.

* William Langewiesche, “The World in its Extreme.” The Atlantic, November 1991. Amazing, thoroughly absorbing article about survival in the Sahara Desert. Langewiesche has done a lot of good stuff but this is the best. (Possibly his first.)

** Richard Preston, “The Mountains of Pi.” The New Yorker, March 2, 1992. Two brothers build a supercomputer from mailorder parts in the New York apartment. All it does is compute new digits of Pi.

** Tom Curtis, “The Origin of AIDS.” Rolling Stone, March 19, 1992. A controversial article discussing theories about the origin of the AIDS virus. [Ed.’s note: A republication of the article is available here.]

* Russ Rymer, “A Silent Childhood.” The New Yorker. Part 1: April 13, 1992; Part II: April 20, 1992. The two-part article was later reworked into the book, Genie: a Scientific Tragedy, the story of a feral child discovered in LA in 1970, and how she was used as a guinea pig to test linguistic theories.

* Richard Preston, “Crisis in the Hot Zone.” The New Yorker, October 26, 1992.  “If there were any significant airborne transmissibility to the disease, the situation would be much different.” “How so?” “There would be a lot fewer of us.

**** Susan Orlean, “The American Man at Age Ten.” Esquire, December 1992. [Ed.’s note: Not available in Esquire’s online archive, but you’ll find it with a little searching. Also republished in Orlean’s The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup and Glass’s The New Kings of Nonfiction.]

* Louis de Bernieres, “The Brass Bar.” Granta, 1993. Callow writer and recently-graduated English major decides to expose himself to the rich language of the working class by taking a job as a mechanic, and discovers a brass bar that’s so fucking pukka you’d want to spunk yourself.

* Vernor Vinge, “The Technological Singularity.” The Whole Earth Review, 1993.

**** Jon Krakauer, “Death of an Innocent: How Christopher McCandless Lost His Way in the Wilds.” Outside Magazine, January 1993. Article that became Into the Wild.

* Karl Taro Greenfeld, “The Incredibly Strange Mutant Creatures who Rule the Universe of Alienated Japanese Zombie Computer Nerds (Otaku to You).” Wired, March/April 1993.

*** Mark Singer, “Secrets of Magus.” The New Yorker, April 5, 1993. A mind-bendingly great profile of the great Ricky Jay.

* Darcy Frey, “The last shot: At Abraham Lincoln High School, black kids play basketball for love, a college scholarship, and–if they can beat the odds–a way out.” Harper’s Magazine, April 1993.

* Mark Blackwell, “Cream of the Crap.” Spin Magazine, May 1993.

* Martin Amis, “The Truth of El Mozote.” The New Yorker, Dec 6, 1993.

* Julian Dibbell, “A Rape in Cyberspace.” The Village Voice, December 21, 1993.

* Steve Rushin, “How We Got Here.” Sports Illustrated, August 16, 1994. Written for the magazine’s 40th anniversary, it’s the longest piece ever in SI, and it examines sport not just by focusing on athletes, but on external forces – especially TV and our evolving commerce – that has shaped them.

* Oliver Sacks, A Neurologist’s Notebook, “An Anthropologist on Mars.” The New Yorker, December 27, 1993. Became the book, An Anthropologist From Mars, published in 1995.

** David Foster Wallace, “Ticket to the Fair.” Harper’s Magazine, July 1994.

* Lawrence Weschler, “Inhaling the Spore:  David Wilson’s Museum of Jurassic Technology.” Harper’s Magazine, September 1994.  The first and best detailed treatment of the most interesting place in North America.

* Peter F. Drucker, “The Age of Social Transformation.” The Atlantic Monthly, November 1994.

* James R. Kincaid, “Tom the Misunderstood.” The New York Times, Books, December 18, 1994.

* Michael O’Donoghue, columnist, “Not My Fault!” SPIN Magazine, 1995.

** Gary Wolf, “The Curse of Xanadu.” Wired, June 1995. The story of Ted’s Nelson attempt to heal his personality with his invention of hypertext.

** Susan Orlean, “Orchid Fever.” The New Yorker, January 23, 1995.

** Hunter S. Thompson, “Song of the Sausage Creature.” Cycle World, March 1995. Unfortunately the magazine’s web site doesn’t include the article, but it’s available on various other sites without permission; just Google the title. [Ed.’s note: Also republished in Thompson’s Kingdom of Fear and Klancher’s The Devil Can Ride.]

* George McKeena, “On Abortion: A Lincolnian Position.” The Atlantic Monthly, September 1995. I don’t agree with the political position, but I do recall it as one of the most rational, thoughtful articles I’ve read on the subject.

* Barry Lopez, “On the Wings of Commerce.” Harper’s, October 1995. An excellent view inside the hidden world of commercial air freight, which powers a big chunk of the global economy.  Think Neal Stevenson’s glass necklace (see below), but airborne.

* Ebner Undercover, “Scientology.” Spy Magazine, 1996.

**** David Foster Wallace, “Shipping Out: On the (Nearly Lethal) Comforts of a Luxury Cruise.” Harper’s Magazine, January 1996.

* Gary Wolf, “The Wisdom of Saint Marshall, the Holy Fool.” Wired, January 1996.

* John McPhee, Annals of Crime, “THE GRAVEL PAGE THE GRAVEL PAGE=BALLOONS OF WAR=DEATH OF AN AGENT.” The New Yorker, January 29, 1996.

* Edwin Dobb, “A Kiss is Still a Kiss (Even if the Sex is Postmodern and the Romance Problematic).” Harper’s Magazine, February 1996.

* Jonathan Franzen, “Perchance to Dream: In the age of images, a reason to write novels.” Harper’s Magazine, April 1996.

*** David Foster Wallace, “The String Theory.” Esquire, July 1996.

**** Jon Krakauer, “Into Thin Air.” Outside Magazine, September 1996.

********* Neal Stephenson, “Mother Earth, Mother Board: Wiring the Planet.” Wired, December 1996. On laying trans-oceanic fiber optic cable.

* John Gregory Dunne, “The Humboldt Murders.” The New Yorker, January 13, 1997.

* Katie Hafner, “The Epic Saga of The Well.” Wired, May 1997.

* Ron Rosenbaum, “J.D. Salinger: The Man in the Glass House.” Esquire, June 1997. This, in my mind, is the best piece on Salinger’s reclusive life.

* Derrick Jensen, “The Plants Respond: An Interview With Cleve Backster.” The Sun, July 1997 (Issue 259).

** Michael Paterniti, “Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain.” Harper’s Magazine, October 1997.

** Gary Smith, “Damned Yankee. Sports Illustrated, October 13, 1997.

* Ian Frazier, “Typewriter Man.” The Atlantic, November 1997.

* Michael Paterniti, “The Last Meal.” Esquire, May 1, 1998. One of the greatest pieces of food writing ever published.

**** Tom Junod, “Can you say…”Hero”?” Esquire, November 1998. A profile of Mr. Rogers. [Ed.’s note: This article was also quoted in “Esquire’s 70 Greatest Sentences” published October 1, 2003.]

* Tamara Jones, “The Other American Dream.” Washington Post Magazine, November 15, 1998.

* Adam Gopnik, Annals of Psychoanalysis, “Man Goes to See a Doctor.” The New Yorkers, August 24, 1998. [Ed.’s note: also available in the “Life Stories: Profiles from the New Yorker” via Google Books here.”

* John Jeremiah Sullivan, “Feet in Smoke.” Oxford American, 1999. [Ed.’s note: also available in the “Best of the Oxford American: Ten Years from the Southern Magazine of Good Writing“]

* Harvey Cox, “The Market as God.” The Atlantic, March 1999. A theologian looks at the omnipresent secular religion.

* Greg Beato, “Lords of Dogtown.” SPIN Magazine, March 1999. The article that made me understand what it means to be at the epicenter of something. Great first line too, still remember it — “Twenty years ago, you did not drop in on Tony Alva.” [Ed.’s note: A republished version can be found here.]

* Peter Landesman, “A 20th Century Master Scam,” New York Times Magazine, July 18, 1999.

** Susan Orlean, “Meet the Shaggs.” The New Yorker, September 27, 1999. Full text available on Orlean’s website” and in her collection, “The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters With Extraordinary People.”

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