This may already be well known to many of you, but I learned recently that David Brooks of the New York Times issues annual "Sidney Awards" for the best magazine essays of the year. As Brooks says it, "the idea is to celebrate (and provide online links to) long-form articles that have narrative drive and social impact." See his Christmas Day Op Ed, with said links, here.
His Op Ed caught me eye, because I had read two of the pieces Brooks mentions -- both on health care issues - and thought they were fabulous. These pieces are great not only for the masterful selection of the topics covered, but also for their brilliant prose. The first is what Brooks describes as "the most influential essay of 2009." I agree. It is "The Cost Conundrum" by Surgeon and writer Atul Gawande and appears in the New Yorker. The second is “How American Health Care Killed My Father” by David Goldhill and appeared in The Atlantic. If you haven't read them, and seek a fuller understanding of health care issues, you should. I highly recommend them.
Finding some unexpected time on Christmas Day, I decided I would try a few of the non-health care articles Brooks recommends. They too were great. One was what Brooks describes as " the most powerful essay" of the year. It is “Trial by Fire” by David Grann in The New Yorker and discusses Grann's investigation of the circumstances around the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for murdering his three children by setting their house on fire. It is an amazing, and highly disturbing, story and very well researched and written. You should especially read this if you happen to be in favor of the death penalty (which I am not).
Finally, I also read Matt Labash's article in the The Weekly Standard called “A Rake’s Progress” -- a "sympathetic and gripping profile of Marion Barry, the former Washington, D.C., mayor, crack-smoker and recent girlfriend-stalker." Barry is truly an enigma and Labash does a beautiful job of bringing his many colors to life.
So, if you happen to be lucky and find yourself with a few extra minutes (or perhaps hours, if you are as slow a reader as I am) over this New Year's weekend, I am sure you will not be disappointed by these great reads. Enjoy and Happy New Year!