Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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Top Longform of 2012

Last year I listed out my five favorite pieces of longform writing and it seemed to go over pretty well, so I figured I’d do the same again this year. It was harder to compile the list this year, as my reading took me outside just Instapaper (especially to the fantastic Longform app for iPad), but I’ve done my best to pull these together based on what I most enjoyed/found most interesting/struck me the most.

One additional note before I start my list: To make this process slightly more simple next year I’ve decided to start a Twitter feed that pulls from my Instapaper and Readability favorites. You can find it at @HeyItsInstafavs. Okay, onto the list.

  1. The Yankee Comandante (New Yorker): Last year David Grann took my top spot with A Murder Foretold and this year he again takes it with an incredible piece on William Morgan, an American soldier in the Cuban revolution. The article was impressive enough that George Clooney bought up the rights and is apparently planning to direct a film about the story. The thing about David Grann is that beyond being an incredible reporter and storyteller, he’s also just an amazing writer. I’m not really a reader who sits there and examines sentences, I read for story and ideas. But a few sentences, and even paragraphs, in this piece made me take notice. While we’re on David Grann, I also read his excellent book of essays this year (most of which come from the New Yorker), The Devil & Sherlock Holmes. He is, without a doubt, my favorite non-fiction writer working right now.
  2. Raise the Crime Rate (n+1): This article couldn’t be more different than the first. Rather than narrative non-fiction, this is an interesting, and well-presented, arguments towards abolishing the prison system. The basic thesis of the piece is that we’ve made a terrible ethical decision in the US to offload crime from our cities to our prisions, where we let people get raped and stabbed with little-to-no recourse. The solution presented is to abolish the prison system (while also increasing capital punishment). Rare is an article that you don’t necessarily agree with, but walk away talking and thinking about. That’s why this piece made my list. I read it again last week and still don’t know where I stand, but I know it’s worthy of reading and thinking about. (While I was trying to get through my Instapaper backlog I also came across this Atul Gawande piece from 2009 on solitary confinement and its effects on humans.)
  3. Open Your Mouth & You’re Dead (Outside): A look at the totally insane “sport” of freediving, where athletes swim hundreds of feet underwater on a single breath (and often come back to the surface passed out). This is scary and crazy and exciting and that’s reason enough to read something, right?
  4. Jerry Seinfeld Intends to Die Standing Up (New York Times): I’ve been meaning to write about this but haven’t had a chance yet. Last year HBO had this amazing special called Talking Funny in which Ricky Gervais, Chris Rock, Louis CK and Jerry Seinfeld sit around and chat about what it’s like to be the four funniest men in the world. The format was amazing: Take the four people who are at the top of their profession and see what happens. But what was especially interesting, to me at least, was the deference the other three showed to Seinfeld. I knew he was accomplished, but I didn’t know that he commanded the sort of respect amongst his peers that he does. Well, this Times article expands on that special and explains what makes Seinfeld such a unique comedian and such a careful crafter of jokes. (For more Seinfeld stuff make sure to check out his new online video series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which is just that.)
  5. The Malice at the Palace (Grantland): I would say as a publication Grantland outperformed just about every other site on the web this year and so this pick is part acknowledgement of that and part praise for a pretty amazing piece of reporting (I guess you could call an oral history that, right?). Anyway, this particular oral history is about the giant fight that broke out in Detroit at a Pacers v. Pistons game that spilled into a fight between the Pistons and the Detroit fans. It was an ugly mark for basketball and an incredibly memorable (and insane) TV event. As a sort of aside on this, I’ve been casually reading Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball and in it he obviously talks about this game/fight. In fact, he calls it one of his six biggest TV moments, which he judges using the following criteria: “How you know an event qualifies: Will you always remember where you watched it? (Check.) Did you know history was being made? (Check.) Would you have fought anyone who tried to change the channel? (Check.) Did your head start to ache after a while? (Check.) Did your stomach feel funny? (Check.) Did you end up watching about four hours too long? (Check.) Were there a few ‘can you believe this’–type phone calls along the way? (Check.) Did you say ‘I can’t believe this’ at least fifty times?” I agree with that.

And, like last year, there are a few that were great but didn’t make the cut. Here’s two more:

  • Snow Fall (New York Times): Everyone is going crazy about this because of the crazy multimedia experience that went along with it, but I actually bought the Kindle single and read it in plain old black and white and it was still pretty amazing. Also, John Branch deserves to be on this list because he wrote something that would have made my list last year had it not come out in December: Punched Out is the amazing and sad story of Derek Boogaard and what it’s like to be a hockey enforcer.
  • Marathon Man (New Yorker): A very odd, but intriguing, “expose” on a dentist who liked to chat at marathons.

That’s it. I’ve made a Readlist with these seven selections which makes it easy to send them all to your Kindle or Readability. Good reading.

January 4, 2013 // This post is about: , , , , ,

Top Longform of 2011

Last week James asked me for my top 5 articles of last year (he posted his) and so I spent an hour or so going through as much as I could find from last year (Instapaper archive is helpful) to come up with my list (which includes a few extra that didn’t make the top 5 cut, but were great). Here it is (I’m not necessarily sure the order is right, but it’s close):

  1. A Murder Foretold (New Yorker) – Here’s what I wrote about this when I first read it: “Clocking in at just under 15,000 words, the New Yorker article on the murder of a Guatemalan named Rodrigo Rosenberg is long even by their standards. It’s so worth it though. I don’t even want to say anything about it so that you can go and enjoy it yourself. Let’s just say if I could get my hands on the movie rights I definitely would.”
  2. The Shame of College Sports (The Atlantic) – I’ve read a few things that said this is the best piece of sportswriting in history. I haven’t read enough to say whether I agree or not, but this epic look at the NCAA was amazing. To cover something we’re all so aware of, but know so little about was a brilliant move and added a ton of nuance to the conversation around whether college athletes should be paid.
  3. The Information (New Yorker) – A good way to judge writing (for me at least) is how much it sticks in my head. Adam Gopnik’s discussion around the current state of internet discourse was probably the idea I talked about most. His breakdown of never-betters, better-nevers and ever-wassers gave a framework for understanding how people view the web (and technology generally).
  4. When Irish Eyes are Crying (Vanity Fair) – I almost didn’t include this because I’m sure it’s on everyone’s list. Michael Lewis breaking down what went wrong in Ireland. You read it already.
  5. The Shot That Nearly Killed Me (Guardian) – I debated back-and-forth (with myself) about whether this should make the list or not. It’s not a classic piece of journalism in that it’s not written by a single person about a single topic. However, the idea of getting the best conflict photojournalists in the world and asking them to talk about the most dangerous shot they ever took was breathtaking.

Okay, so those are my five. The last two I’m not totally comfortable with, but a list is a list …

Here are a few others that could/should be on there:

  • Getting Bin Laden (New Yorker) – Somebody was going to get this story and it went to the New Yorker. There was some controversy around the amount of truth in it, but no matter what reading a blow-by-blow account of the capturing of the most wanted fugitive in the world is a pretty compelling read.
  • A Conspiracy of Hogs: The McRib as Arbitrage (The Awl) – This is the only non-mainstream publication on my list and I so wanted to put it in the top five. I’m not sure there was another article this year that I enjoyed reading more. This crazy look/theory about why McDonald’s runs the McRib promotion in the way it does was totally insane.
  • The Assassin in the Vineyard (Vanity Fair) – Again, part of how I judge what I read is how much I repeat it. I must have told a dozen people about this story this year. Some crazy dude holds a vineyard hostage and poisons some of the most expensive wine vines in the world. (I won’t give away the ending.)

Awesome, hope you enjoy.

January 4, 2012 // This post is about: , , ,