For the Love of Longform

A writers' guide to the greatest magazine articles ever.

By The Caret

Is there anything more intellectually indulgent than curling up with an eight thousand-word treatise on diamond mining in Botswana, or how the Pam Anderson and Tommy Lee sex tape scandal foreshadowed Internet privacy laws? Magazine digital archives put these (mostly free) gems at our fingertips. And, one could argue, there’s never been a better time to dive in. We asked some of our favorite writers, many of whom have done stints on a masthead or two themselves, for their all-time favorite longform pieces. Their recommendations, below.

mom120528 560

Photo via New York Magazine.

"A Life Worth Ending" by Michael Wolff in New York Magazine, 2012

“One of the most brutally candid yet fiercely loving accounts I’ve ever read about the tyranny of longevity and the impossibility of getting end-of-life care right no matter how good your intentions or how deep your resources. Wolff's description of his dementia-stricken mother’s apartment as a “pre-coffin” is permanently grafted onto my brain. Even re-reading the story today, in the time of so many sudden deaths from coronavirus, his observations about the slow march of illness and death seem especially poignant. "The traditional exits, of a sudden heart attack, of dying in one’s sleep, of unreasonably dropping dead in the street, of even a terminal illness, are now exotic ways of going,” Wolff writes. "The longer you live the longer it will take to die." - Meghan Daum, writer and author of "The Problem with Everything"

Tommy and Pamela

Photo via Rolling Stone.

"Pam and Tommy: The Untold Story of the World's Most Infamous Sex Tape" by Amanda Chicago Lewis in Rolling Stone, 2014

"So, disclaimer: Amanda is one of my closest friends, but that's not why I'm recommending this story. First of all, it's a wild and fascinating piece of investigative journalism, with plenty of celebrity, sex and scandal to keep things interesting. But it also has a ton to say about the evolution of the Internet as well as privacy laws and celebrity (because Pamela Anderson had posed nude, her sex life was legally considered a matter of "public interest"). 'Everyone laughed derisively at the tacky rock star and his blonde bimbo when the tape came out, but over the next two decades we all faced the same loss of control,' Lewis writes. 'The tape’s slippery path into the public realm is a product of its unfortunate place at the fulcrum of two eras, before and after the Internet came to dominate commerce and communication, and its popularity demonstrated what rules our new, hyper-connected world might demand.'" - Zan Romanoff, writer and author of "Look"


Photo via HuffPost Highline.

"The Lottery Hackers" by Jason Fagone in HuffPost Highline, 2018

“What I want from a long magazine article is for it to be almost exactly like a movie: well-developed characters, huge stakes, unseen twists, and a comment on what it's like to live in this crazy world of ours. There are few that have them all like this amazing story about Jerry and Marge Selbee, a retired couple in rural Michigan who figured out a statistical flaw in the state lottery which they exploited to make millions for themselves and their friends and family. Full of amazing, tiny details, you can see this whole story playing out, the pair getting deeper and deeper in morally questionable waters as they avoid lottery regulators and are pushed to keep engaging in this strange ritual that gives their lives meaning. I can't wait for Matt Damon to finally turn 65 so that he can win an Oscar playing Jerry.” - Brian Moylan, writer and reality tv bard


Photograph by Max Pinckers for The New Yorker.

"Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?" by Edward Jay Epstein in The Atlantic, 1982

“Stories about diamonds! My mind was blown back when I first read this article (originally published in 1982), and I thought of it again while reading the recent New Yorker story from Ed Caesar about diamond mining. The Atlantic story made me never want to own a diamond ring, and the New Yorker one made me want to gaze deeply into a gigantic diamond (that I own) for the rest of my life. (I loved Caesar's description of diamonds as "vessels of deep time.") Can I also mention that I'm enjoying a novel about a diamond, read day by day in a podcast? (The book is "The Moonstone," by Wilkie Collins, read by Phoebe Judge in "Phoebe Reads a Mystery.") And then for pretty pictures of freaky/historic diamonds, I will recommend with my dying breath the antique jewelry newsletter Dearest.” - Edith Zimmerman, writer and cartoonist (with the illustrated newsletter Drawing Links)

10414426256 8e2df64ff2 o

Postcard image via Flickr user Rob.

"The Legion Lonely" by Stephen Thomas in Hazlitt, 2017

“It's hard to write about a problem with consequences as destructive as male loneliness, extending empathy to those suffering in silence without excusing the pain some extreme cases have passed on to others. Thomas pulls it off, making the case for antisocial isolation as a deeply social issue. The essay makes the same points as many paint-by-numbers opinion pieces across the feminist Internet: men are socialized to avoid emotional openness with other men; because of that, they put an unfair burden on their female friends and partners. But it does so from the inside, combining careful research with clear personal investment. I don't know if there's a solution to the mass alienation Thomas describes, but after reading 'The Legion Lonely,' I understand the problem.” - Alison Herman, writer at The Ringer


Photo by Tim Flach for GQ.

"18 Tigers, 17 Lions, 8 Bears, 3 Cougars, 2 Wolves, 1 Baboon, 1 Macaque, and 1 Man Dead in Ohio" by Chris Heath in GQ, 2012

“Sometimes you just skip a pop culture moment. You read the Tweets, you're familiar with the talking points, but you just opt out. That was me and 'Tiger King.' Even in the midst of a pandemic I couldn't bring myself to watch 10 minutes of that thing, let alone seven hours. I feel fine about it. Actually, it's quite freeing and I highly recommend just skipping shit sometimes. Anyway, the Zanesville Massacre -- where a depressed man set a bunch of exotic animals loose in Ohio—is apparently referenced in the Netflix documentary. Why not go back to the source and read Chris Heath's award-winning story of just what the hell went down that day. I just re-read it for the first time in years. Still great. Roar!” - Mickey Rapkin, writer and author of "Pitch Perfect"