Media

The 2013 Jealousy List: The 41 Best Stories (and One Book) We Didn't Write


The 2013 Jealousy List: The 41 Best Stories (and One Book) We Didn't Write

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In this season of relentless kindness, envy is often sadly neglected. Which is why we bring you the First Annual Jealousy List, a compilation of the great pieces of journalism in 2013 that left Bloomberg Businessweek’s staff sick with resentment. Besides functioning as a very long “Bah, humbug,” it’s also a useful guide to the best work of the year by our peers at other news organizations. May they all receive a lump of coal—along with the satisfaction of a job well done. —Josh Tyrangiel

“Blood Spore”
Hamilton Morris’s great murder whodunit and character sketch for Harper’s includes great paragraphs like this: “Undeterred, I moved on to Pollock’s girlfriend Mitzi, but her exact location was difficult to ascertain as she had just been released from prison after serving a ten-year sentence for intoxication manslaughter. Following Pollock’s death she had succumbed to opioid addiction, lost a suit against Pollock’s estate to recover kitchen utensils and stereo equipment she claimed were her rightful property as his common-law wife, and finally, while driving her Saturn under the influence of methadone and Xanax, decapitated a pedestrian.” Evan Applegate

“Arendt & Eichmann: The New Truth”
“The Defense of a Jewish Collaborator”
One of my favorite writers is Mark Lilla, a Columbia professor of the humanities, who writes for the New York Review of Books, among other outlets. His understated brilliance makes me jealous every time. His most recent pair of articles, on Hannah Arendt, Adolf Eichmann, Jewish collaborators, and the nature of evil, are typical envy-provokers. How can one guy know so much about so many different things and write about them with such confidence, verve, and common sense? Paul M. Barrett

“Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie”
Stephen Rodrick’s New York Times Magazine story about the making of a trashy, microbudget film noir by writer Bret Easton Ellis, director Paul Schrader, and human train wreck Lindsay Lohan promises plenty of drama and dysfunction, and this story certainly delivers that. Schrader’s desperate ingenuity in dealing with disaster after disaster also, however, makes it read like a demented and particularly affecting entertainment-industry management case study. Drake Bennett [+1 from Jim Aley: "Shooting fish in a barrel so memorably and flawlessly is no small accomplishment."]

“Harper High School, Part One and Part Two”
In February, This American Life devoted two episodes to Chicago’s Harper High School, where 29 kids were shot last year—not in one mass shooting, but in a steady stream of violence. Three reporters spent five months inside the school, recording the lives of students and staff as they pay tribute to deceased friends, attend pep rallies, and explain why they try to stay inside as much as possible. It is a feat of immersive reporting. Emily Biuso

“Nick Saban: Sympathy for the Devil”
Warren St. John’s September profile of Alabama football coach Nick Saban in GQ is a case of great access granted to the right person. The details are funny and sharp—”For breakfast, he eats two Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies”—and expertly arranged into a convincing, human portrait of a man usually painted as a cartoon hero or villain. Ira Boudway

“Rob Ford in ‘Crack Cocaine’ Video Scandal”
I’m jealous of Robyn Doolittle and Kevin Donovan, who broke the Rob Ford story for the Toronto Star. Back in May, Ford was just a hard-drinking mayor who was prone to gaffes. Then they got the video of Ford smoking crack. That’s the kind of tip that should bring down a politician. The fact that it hasn’t is a story in itself. —Diane Brady

“Merchants of Meth: How Big Pharma Keeps the Cooks in Business”
Drug industry lobbyists are undercutting efforts by law enforcement and prosecutors in 25 states to make pseudoephedrine—a cold-and-allergy-medicine decongestant and key ingredient used by small-time shake-and-bake meth lab operators—a prescription drug. This is a great and richly reported dispatch from the war on meth addiction in Appalachia and the rural Midwest—and I resent Jonah Engle and Mother Jones for telling it. Brian Bremner

“Top Reviewers on Amazon Get Tons of Free Stuff”
Lisa Chow investigates the world of Amazon consumer reviews for Planet Money and finds that the top reviewers aren’t quite normal consumers: They are mini industries unto themselves, plied with small amounts of glory and tons of free merchandise. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Maybe. Joshua Brustein

“How Janet Yellen Should Embrace the Fed’s Dissenters”
I love almost everything Reuters’s Felix Salmon writes, so it was hard to pick just one. I chose this because it was on my beat and about the length of one of our posts, making it enviable for its content and its discipline. Peter Coy

“America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead”
Kevin Drum’s remarkable piece of reporting for Mother Jones makes a very persuasive case that lead is the “hidden villain behind violent crime and lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic.” Drum builds his case diligently, without hype, and addresses many possible objections to his argument. Eric Gelman

“Scandal at Clinton Inc.”
By Alec MacGillis in the New Republic, this is a mesmerizing story about Teneo—a corporate advisory firm run by Bill Clinton’s former body man Doug Band—that is causing much agitation within Clintonland on the eve of Hillary’s presumed presidential run. Along the way, we learn about the messy, lucrative connections between private money and public charity inside the “billionaire boys club that was Clinton’s post-presidential social circle,” and how one close aide to Clinton has made a fortune capitalizing on the business opportunities therein. Felix Gillette

“He Who Makes the Rules”
Hayley Sweetland Edwards’s story for Washington Monthly did a better job of explaining how Washington actually works, far away from Congress, than anything else I read this year. I constantly link back to it in blog posts and return to it for reference. Brendan Greeley

“Elizabeth Warren Is Hillary Clinton’s Nightmare”
It’s been clear all year that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s brand of populism has lit a flame in the hearts of liberal voters and that this could interfere with Hillary Clinton’s glide path to the White House in 2016. I’m kicking myself that the New Republic’s Noam Scheiber wrote this before I did. Joshua Green

“Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt”
This five-part series on the making of a T-shirt, from the raw cotton it was made from, to the machines and people who made it, to how it was shipped back to the U.S., aired on the radio and as a podcast, but what they were able to do on the Web was singularly, rage-inducingly great: a mosaic of text, video, audio, and infographics that was comprehensive, engaging, and delightful. It did the one thing I want most from any media I encounter: It made me smarter in the fastest, most enjoyable way possible. We must kill Planet Money and consume their bodies so as to absorb their power. Sam Grobart

“Bay Watched: How San Francisco’s Entrepreneurial Culture Is Changing the Country”
It took me two subway commutes to finish this story by Nathan Heller for the New Yorker, and the morning I did, I ran over to Bryant Urstadt’s desk and said, “I’m soooo jealous of this story.” It unfolds from the ground up and the reader absorbs the characters as the author encounters them, creating a sense that people are thinking and doing differently. In a perfectly placed moment, a third-generation VC draws and then talks through a chart (described as a row of shark’s teeth) as he explains the venture capital/private equity cycle. You don’t even have to see the chart, you’re there. Cynthia Hoffman

“Jimmy Wales Is Not an Internet Billionaire”
His wardrobe is snazzier. His travel itinerary is busier than ever. And his wife is one of the most connected and wealthy women in London. But in Amy Chozick’s New York Times Magazine profile, the Wikipedia co-founder says underneath it all he’s still a working stiff whose business needs your donations. Dimitra Kessenides

“The Miner’s Daughter”
It killed me to read William Finnegan’s New Yorker story about Gina Rinehart, the heir to an iron ore empire, the richest person in Australia, and the richest woman in the world. It has everything: an incredible business story, family drama, scandal and controversy, and serious questions about environmental issues and income inequality and the rising influence of China. “The sheer distorting weight of Rinehart’s wealth is perhaps best understood in relative terms … roughly the combined net worth of the four richest Americans.” Sheelah Kolhatkar

“The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden … Is Screwed”
This one has stuck with me the whole year. Phil Bronstein’s story for Esquire is a minutely detailed account of the mission to kill bin Laden. But it’s also a deglamorizing portrait of the lives of Navy SEALs, and what happens when they come home. Wes Kosova

“A Save-the-World Field Trip for Millionaire Tech Moguls”
I’m always interested in entrepreneurs trying to solve big social problems with new approaches. Max Chafkin’s New York Times Magazine profile of a former nightclub promoter raising millions from Silicon Valley big shots to improve access to clean drinking water is a revealing look at how philanthropy is changing. Nick Leiber

“The Imperial Presidency”
I’m generally jealous of Rachel Aviv for being such a good writer, but I wish I had written this particular piece, a wonderfully nuanced New Yorker profile of John Sexton, president of New York University, in which she even traveled with him for five days to Abu Dhabi. It’s a story that speaks volumes about a very complicated guy and the future of higher education. Devin Leonard

“Big Med”
Though I consistently find Atul Gawande’s dispatches on health care for the New Yorker absorbing, this story grabbed me for another reason: its fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at the Cheesecake Factory—everything from how the restaurant chain introduces new menu items, to its science of guest forecasting, to how it manages waste. Cristina Lindblad

“When a 10-Year-Old Kills His Nazi Father, Who’s to Blame?”
I felt so many things while reading Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s BuzzFeed story—sadness, anger, disappointment—over the legal and ethical implications of sending a neglected and abused child to prison for killing his father. Some of the major shortcomings of the juvenile justice system were eye-opening, but at the end I still had no idea how we’re supposed to fix it. Allison McCann

“Which Way Did the Taliban Go?”
For this New York Times Magazine story, Luke Mogelson embedded with an Afghan National Army unit that was hunting insurgents on its own. What the war increasingly looks like without international troops and materiel, and how some Afghan troops reconcile government corruption with their stated goals. (See also: Mogelson’s incredible November story on the wave of Mideast refugees desperately trying to make their way to Australia.) Jeff Muskus

“We Must Build an Enormous McWorld in Times Square, a Xanadu Representing a McDonald’s From Every Nation”
Like Jeb Boniakowski, I am fascinated by the different food served at McDonald’s around the world. But he turned his fascination into a logical if feverish public demand for a McWorld in Times Square. Had he simply mixed a litany of McDonald’s international delicacies with his God-is-in-the-details vision, his story for The Awl would have been fantastic. It’s the surprising observations about food, culture, and New York City on top of all the rest that make me want to kick him in the shins. Janet Paskin

“Did Goldman Sachs Overstep in Criminally Charging Its Ex-Programmer?”
I’m never not jealous of a Michael Lewis piece, though I was particularly envious of his article for Vanity Fair on Sergey Aleynikov, an embattled computer programmer who’s been sued by Goldman Sachs, not once, but twice, for stealing the bank’s super-secret trading code. The story opens a window into the algorithm-based trading factories that investment banks have morphed into over the past decade, and the clout these banks have with federal authorities. Matthew Philips

“Russell Brand on Margaret Thatcher: ‘I Always Felt Sorry for Her Children’ ”
Amid the eulogizing for Thatcher, Russell Brand delivered this surprising, thoughtful, and wonderfully written piece for the Guardian. —Kristin Powers

“The Love App”
Lauren Collins’s New Yorker feature on Between, the popular relationship app in South Korea, focuses on one specific couple, telling the story of their love through the app, and in doing so reveals so much about the country’s culture (and its tech scene). It’s like a romantic comedy, but one that makes you smarter. Emma Rosenblum

“Michael Jordan Has Not Left the Building”
I grew up in Chicagoland at the height of the Bulls championship era, and I have long come to terms with the fact that the sports hero of my boyhood was then and continues to be a hard-hearted jerk. Still, I wasn’t quite prepared for the sorrow and darkness in Wright Thompson’s ESPN The Magazine profile of Michael Jordan at 50—let alone the confounding athlete’s impeccable taste in westerns. Constructing a piercing portrait of an exhaustively profiled figure is a subtle kind of writerly magic, a feat of perception more uncanny than the more comprehensible feats of investigation and reporting. Aaron Rutkoff [+1 from Romesh Ratnesar: "This was the rare piece that was difficult to read and impossible to put down."]

“Kim Gordon Sounds Off”
There was a very strange media debate this year about whether women’s magazines could produce quality journalism. Oh, but they can, and Lizzy Goodman’s profile of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon in Elle is proof. She also scored the best quote of the year, from Gordon on the end of her marriage to Thurston Moore, who shacked up with a groupie: “And in fact, it ended in a kind of normal way—midlife crisis, starstruck woman.” Kurt Soller

“The Union Forever: Hard Times and Hockey on the Nashville Highway”
David Hill’s story for Grantland has cars, hockey, labor-market heartbreak, and economic redemption. Sports are often stretched into portraits of socioeconomic forces, but not always this effectively. Kyle Stock

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
Can I pick a book? Lawrence Wright wove a compelling history of the bizarre life and times of L. Ron Hubbard with a deep exploration of modern-day Scientology and the reasons it continues to beguile celebrities like Tom Cruise. Brad Stone

“The Doctor Is In”
Lukasz Gottwald—Dr. Luke—is the 21st century’s Phil Spector. He’s the in-house hitmaker for a number of major pop stars and the man responsible for getting Katy Perry’s Roar stuck in your head earlier this year. The New Yorker profile by John Seabrook explains how he does what he does, and why he’s unlike anybody else in the business. Claire Suddath

“And Then Steve Said, ‘Let There Be an iPhone’ ”
With Apple seeming more and more mundane since Steve Jobs’s death, Fred Vogelstein’s story for the New York Times Magazine shows, in tasty detail, how the magical unveiling of the iPhone came to be. Jobs, at the height of his monster/genius powers, terrorized his engineers into producing the best work of their careers against impossible deadlines, creating a device that juuuuuuuust barely worked on demo day. We all bought it. Nick Summers

“Imagining the Post-Antibiotics Future”
In this post on Medium, Maryn McKenna taught me a lot about the science of antibiotics and consequences of resistance. It predated the FDA announcement. And it’s a pretty good read. John Tozzi

“Kepler’s Tally of Planets”
Jonathan Corum, the science graphics editor at the New York Times, illustrates the harmonious rhythms of some of the earliest alien worlds we’ve discovered. It’s beautiful and awe-inspiring. Christopher Tucker

Wonkblog on Health Care
Ezra Klein and his Wonkblog team delivered precise, analytical, and often funny journalism on the politics and implementation of the Affordable Care Act all year long. I don’t always remember the individual contributors—they’re like the Wu-Tang Clan of Obamacare—but collectively the Wonkbloggers had me seething with admiration. Josh Tyrangiel

“The Boys of Lancaster”
I thought I’d read everything I ever wanted to read on the Amish, and I know I didn’t want to read about baseball, but Kent Russell’s piece in the New Republic changed my mind on both. Bryant Urstadt

“I Bought Fake Job References on the Internet—and It Worked”
Honestly, I was most envious this year of Jeanne Marie Laskas’s story for GQ about a special agent who poses as an assassin in order to bust would-be killers for intent. But in an effort to distinguish myself from my magazine-obsessed colleagues, I’ll also admit that Aaron Sankin’s clever article for the Daily Dot delivered an undiluted pang of “Damn, I wish we’d done this!” The deadline impulse might have been to report it straight, but what makes it so effective is that Sankin went ahead and used the service. Brad Wieners

“A Tale of Two Londons”
In this Vanity Fair story, Nicholas Shaxson explains how a small part of the city, known as “the Square Mile,” is jurisdictionally independent from the rest of the metropolis. The Queen enters the area only after being greeted by its mayor, and, more important, the area has become a huge tax haven, where former Soviet resource barons park their ill-gotten riches in elaborate, empty apartments. I read aloud large swaths of this story to my husband because the facts were so irresistible, I couldn’t help but share. Karen Weise

“Taken: The Use and Abuse of Civil Forfeiture”
Sarah Stillman’s New Yorker piece exposes widespread police corruption incentivized by a law that allows cops to seize cash and property from ordinary people who have not been charged with crimes. It’s beautifully written and thorough, and Stillman does an amazing job of getting comments from police, while showing how difficult it is for citizens to fight back. Caroline Winter

“The 2013 Hater’s Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog”
In my favorite piece of snarcasm by far, Drew Magary writes, “The Williams-Sonoma universe is a magical pristine alternate dimension where every room has crown molding and your wife can fart out a perfect red velvet bundt cake in nine seconds flat from her Wolf oven and you are f-‍-‍-ing RICH.” This sequel lives up to Deadspin’s also hilarious 2012 guide to this store—like an iron brand to burn your initials onto a steak. Have fun with that. The rest of us will be reheating the takeout. Venessa Wong

The full 2013 Jealousy List is available on Flipboard, too. 


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