America is not kind to the heir. He is a stereotypical figure in our literature, and not an appealing one at that. He tends to be depicted as weak, pampered, flawed, a diluted strain of the hardy founding stock. America celebrates the self-made. Unless an heir veers sharply from his father’s path, he is not taken seriously. Even in middle age he seems costumed, a pretender draped in oversize clothes, a boy who has raided his father’s closet. The depiction may be unfair, but it is what it is.
But Arthur wasn’t just born to his position—the story is more complicated. He may have been the firstborn son in the line of succession, but he also staked his claim to the crown deliberately and dramatically, when he was only 14 years old. His mother, Barbara Grant, and Punch Sulzberger divorced when Arthur was just five. He lived throughout his early childhood on the Upper East Side with his mother and her new husband, David Christy, a warm and supportive stepfather. Punch is nominally Jewish, although not at all religious, while his son was raised Episcopalian. Arthur senior and Arthur junior were not close: Punch was generally aloof, even when Arthur was around. Yet, understanding what his famous name meant, and who his distant father actually was in the world, he packed up his things and moved himself the half-mile to his father’s home on Fifth Avenue, to live with Punch and his stepmother and their daughters. He was not pulled by any strong emotional connection. It seemed more like a career move. His biological father and his stepmother were wealthy, socially connected, and powerful; his biological mother and his stepfather were not. Arthur opted for privilege and opportunity. That his stepmother, Carol Sulzberger, despised Arthur—she would stick out her tongue at pictures of him—did not seem to matter. He was Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., and showing up on his father’s doorstep was a way of asserting, consciously or not, that when Punch changed wives he had not washed his hands of an obligation to his son. While the inheritance was his by birth, it was also very much Arthur’s choice.
–From Mark Bowden’s 2009 Vanity Fair profile of fourth-generation New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.
Below, six syllabi from journalism professors on what you should be reading.
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1. Journalism 494: Pollner Seminar In Narrative Non-Fiction With Esquire’s Chris Jones (University of Montana)
“The purpose of this course is to teach students how to write publishable magazine-length narrative non-fiction: In other words, my aim is to help you learn how to write good, long, true stories. The course outline will mirror a typical writer’s progress through the birth of an idea to a finished, polished piece, including reporting, writing, editing, and fact-checking. In addition to classroom discussion, course readings will help students understand the difference between good and bad work. My hope is that by the end of the semester, you will have written the Best Story of Your Life So Far (BSOYLSF) and it will help you reach your future potential as an award-winning literary journalist.”
2. Journalism 141: Professional Problems and Ethics in Journalism (by Philip Meyer, University of North Carolina)
“The subculture of journalism is no longer as confident of its success. Its old values are increasingly under question. The topic of this course is therefore a moving target. We shall approach it with two organizing principles:
“A critical study of traditional journalistic values, the historical forces that created them. An evaluation of social and technological changes that threaten that subculture – and possibly its value system.”
“The goal of this course is to help you create a distinctive body of work and, eventually, a capstone piece of literary reportage. It has three basic components. First, it will guide you through the research, reporting and thinking to refine and focus the project you will begin in Portfolio I. Second, it will introduce you to some of the authors, editors and publications of the genre. Third, it will familiarize you with some of the journalistic strategies you will use in your own work.”
“I’m happy to share a syllabus, although they’ve gotten more and more abbreviated over the last few years. That’s because, as you know, investigations never seem to follow a planned path. Basically these days, I just do an oral presentation and assignments and we build deadlines, etc. in to the semester, depending on where we are. We do a lot of oral reports and feedback in this class and in the last month of the semester, we start writing/fact-checking/filling in gaps based on the information we’ve assembled.”
5. Syllabus for Telling Stories: the Art of Narrative Non-Fiction (by Alex Kotlowitz, Dartmouth) (PDF)
“This course will explore the art of telling stories – true stories. The craft is often called Literary Journalism or Creative Nonfiction. The writer John McPhee calls it The Literature of Fact, which I prefer for its lack of pretention and for its lack of ambiguity. In this class, we’ll talk about finding story, about reporting and of course about writing, about how one goes about making sense of the tale at hand. I want to push people to find stories outside of the familiar. “It’s what makes this craft so exhilarating, to find yourself in places you’d never have reason to be or with people you’d never have reason to meet. What could be more exciting. More challenging.”
“This course lies at the crossroads of journalism and literature. During the next 15 weeks we will explore the journalistic, historical and critical tangents that make up the notion of literary journalism as we read and analyze some of the best reportage ever written. In the process of reading the works of many fine journalists, we will weigh how form and content work together to create great factual literature.
“This course has a six-pronged approach. It is a smorgasbord of delectables – all, or any one of which, I hope, you will find tasty. We will explore:
“1. Literary journalism’s historical antecedents – or should we say founders?
“2. Literary journalism’s future in the age of the connected computer.
“3. The criticism literary journalism has received from friend and foe alike.
“4. The theory behind this genre.
“5. The techniques that comprise and define this genre.
“6. Ways of toppling the inverted pyramid in developing our own individual writing styles using the techniques of literary journalism.”
Featuring Jacqui Banaszynski, Mark Bowden, Madeleine Blais, Robert Boynton, Jeff Sharlet and Rebecca Skloot.
Best story about a monkey that’s really about the role of government that’s really about nature’s place in the modern world that’s actually, maybe, really just about a monkey.
This is the story I’ve linked and forward more than any other this year. I just loved this damn funny, poignant narrative about a renegade macaque monkey on the loose in Tampa, the people trying to catch him, and the others who want to let him remain wild and free, if lonely, among the billboards and greenways of Tampa.
The citizenry of Tampa Bay was adamantly pro-monkey. People had long been abetting the animal, leaving fruit plates on their patios. A few people, one F.W.C. officer told me, called the agency’s monkey hot line to report that they’d seen the macaque several hours or even a couple of days earlier—offering totally useless intelligence, in other words, presumably just to stick their thumbs in the government’s eye. The Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay, as people called it, had very quickly become a celebrity.
Best Adventure Story That Descends into Madness
I continue to be fascinated by the John McAfee train wreck. I’ve known the McAfee antivirus founder casually online for several years, and wrote about him when his compound was raided by the Belize Gang Suppression Unit this past Spring. But that was just the carrot top. My colleague Josh Davis spent the five months this year interviewing McAfee to file this amazing report on a millionaire gone South.
McAfee picks a bullet off the floor and fixes me with a wide-eyed, manic intensity, his light blue eyes sparkling. “This is a bullet, right?” he says in the congenial Southern accent that has stuck with him since his boyhood in Virginia. “Let’s put the gun down,” I tell him. I’d come here to investigate why the government of Belize was accusing him of assembling a private army and entering the drug trade. It seemed implausible that a wildly successful tech entrepreneur would disappear into the Central American jungle and become a narco-trafficker. Now I’m not so sure. But he explains that the accusations are a fabrication. “Maybe what happened didn’t actually happen,” he says, staring hard at me. “Can I do a demonstration?” He loads the bullet into the gleaming silver revolver and spins the cylinder. “This scares you, right?” he says. Then he puts the gun to his head. My heart rate kicks up; it takes me a second to respond. “Yeah, I’m scared,” I admit. “We don’t have to do this.” “I know we don’t,” he says, the muzzle pressed against his temple. And then he pulls the trigger.
Best Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man
I’m not sure what to say about this other than it’s a great read and BRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE!!!
Springsteen came to glory in the age of Letterman, but he is anti-ironical. Keith Richards works at seeming not to give a shit. He makes you wonder if it is harder to play the riffs for “Street Fighting Man” or to dangle a cigarette from his lips by a single thread of spit. Springsteen is the opposite. He is all about flagrant exertion. There always comes a moment in a Springsteen concert, as there always did with James Brown, when he plays out a dumb show of the conflict between exhaustion and the urge to go on. Brown enacted it by dropping to his knees, awash in sweat, unable to dance another step, yet shooing away his cape bearer, the aide who would enrobe him and hustle him offstage. Springsteen slumps against the mike stand, spent and still, then, regaining consciousness, shakes off the sweat—No! It can’t be!—and calls on the band for another verse, another song. He leaves the stage soaked, as if he had swum around the arena in his clothes while being chased by barracudas. “I want an extreme experience,” he says. He wants his audience to leave the arena, as he commands them, “with your hands hurting, your feet hurting, your back hurting, your voice sore, and your sexual organs stimulated!”
Best Story About Math
Everyone has a fantasy about beating the house at a casino. (No? Just me? Okay, then.) And that’s because it basically never happens. Except to this guy. Don Johnson. (No. Not that Don Johnson.) Johnson beat not just one house, but three—The Tropicana, Ceaser’s and Borgata in Atlantic City, taking home $15 million from the blackjack tables in the process. Mark Bowden has the story of how he pulled it off.
But two years ago, Johnson says, the casinos started getting desperate. With their table-game revenues tanking and the number of whales diminishing, casino marketers began to compete more aggressively for the big spenders. After all, one high But two years ago, Johnson says, the casinos started getting desperate. With their table-game revenues tanking and the number of whales diminishing, casino marketers began to compete more aggressively for the big spenders. After all, one high roller who has a bad night can determine whether a casino’s table games finish a month in the red or in the black. Inside the casinos, this heightened the natural tension between the marketers, who are always pushing to sweeten the discounts, and the gaming managers, who want to maximize the house’s statistical edge. But month after month of declining revenues strengthened the marketers’ position. By late 2010, the discounts at some of the strapped Atlantic City casinos began creeping upward, as high as 20 percent.
Best Story About Race in Modern America
I’m aware of the disconnect of a well-off, culturally elite, Left coast-dwelling, white guy picking a “best” story about race relations in modern America. So let me say, in a year when Trayvon Martin was needlessly shot dead and when race was an oft-used political poison during the election, this was the story (along with Kiese Laymon’s “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America”) that made me pause and think about race. “Fear of a Black President” is a brutal and depressing read and yet also a vital one. It’s also story that I think will stand the test of time. Ta-Nehisi Coates essay will be one that we look back on, in years to come, to understand where we were as a culture in 2012. And finally from a purely stylistic point, I found the deft touch with which he lands the closing paragraphs, after such a sprawling essay, both inspiring and intimidating. If only I could write so well.
In a democracy, so the saying goes, the people get the government they deserve. Part of Obama’s genius is a remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites. Any black person who’s worked in the professional world is well acquainted with this trick. But never has it been practiced at such a high level, and never have its limits been so obviously exposed. This need to talk in dulcet tones, to never be angry regardless of the offense, bespeaks a strange and compromised integration indeed, revealing a country so infantile that it can countenance white acceptance of blacks only when they meet an Al Roker standard.
(Photo: Jon Snyder)
An adaptation of Mark Bowden’s new book on the hunt for Osama bin Laden:
Everyone else favored sending in the SEALs. Clinton, who had faulted Obama during the primary campaign for asserting that he would send forces to Pakistan unilaterally if there was a good chance of getting bin Laden, now said that she favored the raid. She delivered this opinion after a typically lengthy review of the pros and cons. She noted that the raid would pose a diplomatic nightmare for the State Department. But because the U.S.-Pakistani relationship was built more on mutual dependence than friendship and trust, it would likely survive the crisis. Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, gave a detailed PowerPoint presentation before delivering his endorsement. Mullen had witnessed McRaven’s rehearsals at Fort Bragg and in Nevada. He had high confidence in the SEAL team.
Brennan, Donilon, Clapper, Panetta, and Morell all agreed. The C.I.A. director felt strongly about it, which was not surprising. This had been his project all along, and the analysts who worked for him would have felt betrayed if their boss had changed his mind. Panetta told Obama that he ought to ask himself this question: ‘What would the average American say if he knew we had the best chance of getting bin Laden since Tora Bora and we didn’t take a shot?’
An adaptation of Mark Bowden’s new book on the hunt for Osama bin Laden:
“Everyone else favored sending in the SEALs. Clinton, who had faulted Obama during the primary campaign for asserting that he would send forces to Pakistan unilaterally if there was a good chance of getting bin Laden, now said that she favored the raid. She delivered this opinion after a typically lengthy review of the pros and cons. She noted that the raid would pose a diplomatic nightmare for the State Department. But because the U.S.-Pakistani relationship was built more on mutual dependence than friendship and trust, it would likely survive the crisis. Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, gave a detailed PowerPoint presentation before delivering his endorsement. Mullen had witnessed McRaven’s rehearsals at Fort Bragg and in Nevada. He had high confidence in the SEAL team.
“Brennan, Donilon, Clapper, Panetta, and Morell all agreed. The C.I.A. director felt strongly about it, which was not surprising. This had been his project all along, and the analysts who worked for him would have felt betrayed if their boss had changed his mind. Panetta told Obama that he ought to ask himself this question: ‘What would the average American say if he knew we had the best chance of getting bin Laden since Tora Bora and we didn’t take a shot?'”
A murder of a young newlywed went unsolved for 23 years, until a cold case homicide unit picked up the file and found a missing clue.
Sherri’s file perplexed Francis. The crime report stated that a swab had been taken from the bite mark on Sherri’s arm, but it was not listed in evidence and was not among the forensic samples that had been signed out by Moritt in 1993. It apparently had been misplaced sometime earlier. Where might it be?
Francis knew well the steps in the evidence chain. Evidence recovered from the victim’s body would be held for a time in the coroner’s freezer, while the case was still active, and at some point would be gathered up and stored under the file number. What if the swab hadn’t made it from the freezer to the file? Francis called the coroner’s office. The swab was not on file, so they searched the freezers by hand.
How did a blackjack player manage to win $15 million from Atlantic City casinos over the course of several months?
As Johnson remembers it, the $800,000 hand started with him betting $100,000 and being dealt two eights. If a player is dealt two of a kind, he can choose to “split” the hand, which means he can play each of the cards as a separate hand and ask for two more cards, in effect doubling his bet. That’s what Johnson did. His next two cards, surprisingly, were also both eights, so he split each again. Getting four cards of the same number in a row doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Johnson says he was once dealt six consecutive aces at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. He was now playing four hands, each consisting of a single eight-card, with $400,000 in the balance.
He was neither nervous nor excited. Johnson plays a long game, so the ups and downs of individual hands, even big swings like this one, don’t matter that much to him. He is a veteran player. Little interferes with his concentration. He doesn’t get rattled. With him, it’s all about the math, and he knows it cold.
The battlefield honor, which he knew his son would have cherished, did nothing to ease Dave Brostrom’s anguish. Beyond the grief, he felt a heart-crushing mix of anger, guilt, and betrayal. The anger was unfocused but rooted in his earlier suspicions that his son’s platoon had been inadequately supported and directed. The guilt was more insidious and ran deep. He felt terrible for how the lifetime of competition between himself and Jonathan had fed his son’s ambition. He felt guilty about having pulled strings to get Jonathan into the 173rd. That was where the sense of betrayal was rooted. He had done his homework before approaching Preysler. In 2007 all of the official reports from Afghanistan had been rosy. The fighting was all but over, the assessments read; the work was all humanitarian projects and nation building. Brostrom now saw that as propaganda, and he had fallen for it.