The New Yorker relaunched its website today with a complete makeover, signaling the first step in the magazine’s new focus on the web.
Part of that initiative is the magazine’s decision to open up its archives to the general public for the rest of the summer. Until the website puts up its metered paywall sometime in the fall, the New Yorker editors will be releasing curated collections of stories periodically.
We pulled out a selection of our favourite stories from the archives that you should definitely check out while they’re free.
German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt examined nothing short of the nature of evil in her 1961 reporting on the trial of Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann. In her dispatches — which many have called a “masterpiece” — Arendt coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe Eichmann, who she contended was not a “monster” but “terribly and terrifyingly normal.” While some have since criticised her conclusions about Eichmann, her work still forms the basis for much of our understanding of the Nazi apparatus.
From the first dispatch:
Half a dozen psychiatrists had certified Eichmann as “normal.” “More normal at any rate, than I am after having examined him,” one of them was said to have exclaimed, while another had found that Eichmann’s whole psychological outlook, including his relationship with his wife and children, his mother and father, his brothers and sisters and friends, was “not only normal, but most desirable … Behind the comedy of the soul, experts lay the hard fact that Eichmann’s was obviously no case of moral insanity.
A little more than one year after the United States dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, the New Yorker dedicated an entire issue to a single article. It was a startling choice necessitated by one of the most monumentous acts of destruction in history. In a bid to force its readers to consider “the terrible implications” of the atomic bomb, the New Yorker’s John Hershey followed the stories of six survivors immediately prior to the bombing until one year after the bombing. The issue was an unrivalled success. It sold out of newsstands in hours, radio networks broadcast readings of the story using well-known actors, and it became an instant best-seller.
A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb and these six were among the survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so many others died. Each of them counts many small items of chance or volition — a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next — that spared him. And now each knows that in the act of survival, he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time, none of them knew anything.
Few books have had the kind of impact that Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had when it was first released in 1962. The book, which documented the deleterious effect that widespread use of pesticides have on the environment, was actually first serialized in The New Yorker in June 1962. Carson’s work directly led to the modern environmental movement in the United States as well the ban of the destructive insecticide DDT. Carson’s work played a large role in the creation of the Environmental Defence Fund in 1967 and the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.
Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species — man — acquired significant power to alter the nature of the world.
Though abuses at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq were reported by the media as early as November 2003, it wasn’t until dueling reports came out from 60 Minutes and the New Yorker in 2004 that the scandal was blown wide open. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh (who made his career by recording another major abuse by the U.S. military) went deep into Abu Ghraib to uncover just how far up the chain of command the abuses went. Hersh revealed that the scandal wasn’t an isolated incident (as the Army wanted to portray), but an example of an interrogation program (“Copper Green”) that was an official and systemic use of torture.
As the international furor grew, senior military officers, and President Bush, insisted that the actions of a few did not reflect the conduct of the military as a whole. Taguba’s report, however, amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority.
Though many in the international community knew about the devastation wrought by the Hutus on the Tutsis in Rwanda, New Yorker journalist Philip Gourevitch brought the tragedy into full focus. A year after the Rwandan genocide ended, Gourevitch began travelling to Rwanda for months at a time to try to understand the genocide. He eventually filed eight lengthy articles that covered the story from nearly every angle — Tutsi survivors, imprisoned Hutu killers, the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, and Major General Paul Kagame, who later became president. Though Gourevitch has more recently been criticised for his supposedly easy treatment of Kagame, his early dispatches are incredibly revealing stories about how a country begins to heal after a genocide.
From the first dispatch:
As I travelled around the country, collecting accounts of the killing, it almost seemed as if, with the machete, the nail-studded club, a few well-placed grenades, and a few bursts of automatic-rifle fire, the quiet orders of Hutu Power had made the neutron bomb obsolete. Then I came across a man in a market butchering a cow with a machete, and I saw that it was hard work. His big, precise strokes made a sharp hacking noise, and it took many hacks — two, three, four, five hard hacks — to chop through the cow’s leg. How many hacks to dismember a person?
The New Yorker’s best known story form is perhaps the profile. While there are certainly any number of excellent pieces to choose from, New Yorker editor David Remnick’s 1998 profile of a middle-aged Muhammad Ali may be his most memorable. Riddled with Parkinson’s, the older Ali tries to make sense of his early years to figure out how “a gangly kid from segregated Lousville willed himself to become one of the great original improvisers in American History…”
Ali still walked well. He was still powerful in the arms and across the chest; it was obvious, just from shaking his hand, that he still possessed a knockout punch. For him, the special torture was speech and expression, as if the disease had intentionally struck first at what had once please him — and had pleased (or annoyed) the world — most. He hated the effort that speech now cost him.
Jane Mayer’s 2009 expose of the CIA’s increasing use of drones to kill terrorist suspects in Pakistan revealed that, while many in the American public were aware of the drones, few understood that there are actually two drone programs. The first is a conventional U.S. military program. The second is a clandestine C.I.A.-run targeted-killing program that represents an unprecedented expansion of force in sovereign nations like Pakistan, Yemen, and Libya. Mayer’s account revealed how the drone program has become a “radically new and geographically unbounded use of state-sanctioned lethal force,” that ultimately signals an endless state of war.
At first, some intelligence experts were uneasy about drone attacks. In 2002, Jeffrey Smith, a former C.I.A. general counsel, told Seymour M. Hersh, for an article in this magazine, “If they’re dead, they’re not talking to you, and you create more martyrs.” And, in an interview with the Washington Post, Smith said that ongoing drone attacks could “suggest that it’s acceptable behaviour to assassinate people. . . . Assassination as a norm of international conduct exposes American leaders and Americans overseas.”
Seven years later, there is no longer any doubt that targeted killing has become official U.S. policy. “The things we were complaining about from Israel a few years ago we now embrace,” Solis says. Now, he notes, nobody in the government calls it assassination.
In November 1957, the New Yorker presented a profile that featured one of the most interesting pairings in American media. Legendary writer Truman Capote was contracted to interview actor Marlon Brando, both of whom were just entering their respective primes. The result is a candid portrait that many consider to be a textbook example of how to reveal the inner life of a notoriously guarded figure.
The voice went on, as though speaking to hear itself, an effect Brando’s speech often has, for, like many persons who are intensely self-absorbed, he is something of a monologuist — a fact that he recognises and for which he offers his own explanation. “People around me never say anything,” he says. “They just seem to want to hear what I have to say. That’s why I do all the talking.”
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