As 2019 draws to a close, we’re proud to present our top-ten most-read print essays of the year, listed below in reverse order. Although their subject-matter ranges from millennial burnout, to motherhood, to Left Straussianism, to a historic experiment in reparations, to the history of new Atheism, the articles are united by the qualities of thoughtfulness, curiosity, and open-ended exploration that we hope have always been the magazine’s hallmarks. If you enjoy them, we encourage you to look deeper into the year’s issues (most popular should not be equated with best!), and to consider subscribing for 2020.
10. “Half a Person” by Agnes Callard [Issue 20]
I suspect that few humans have had the experience I had that day: communing with an artistic visionary while miscarrying a baby you would never know whether you wanted.
9. “The Souls of Yellow Folk” by Ben Jeffery [Issue 18]
The flipside to the terrible centrality of this need is that the price of being starved of recognition isn’t just loneliness or frustration or sadness—it’s a kind of annihilation.
8. “This, Too, Was History” by Peter C. Baker [Issue 18]
I came to feel that this atmosphere was history itself—not the professional intellectual enterprise regulated by peer review and professional standards, not the subject of polished magazine articles, but the living tangle of connections between past and present that is always available to us, sometimes as inspiration or solace, sometimes a burden, most often both at once. This sense of history, of course, will be central to any serious attempt at reparations.
7. “Treat Yourself” by Apoorva Tadepalli [Issue 20]
“Capitalism!” I say, thinking, ridiculously, of that smallest sliver of the universe where a tramp is contentedly drinking a glass of wine, “I’m so fucking sick of talking about capitalism!”
6. “The Dictatorship of the Present” by John Michael Colón [Issue 19]
Everything I was surrounded by and everything I experienced seemed to be brainwashing me into believing a single truth: things had always been like this; they would go on like this; and they would be like this forever.
5. “Bad Infinity” by James Duesterberg [Issue 20]
To understand liberalism through literature is to stop asking how it works, or trying to show that it doesn’t. It is, rather, to understand how we could organize our lives around an ideology that we renounce.
4. “On Left Straussianism” by Jon Baskin & Anastasia Berg [Issue 19]
Should we attempt to publicly air disagreements with those who are, broadly speaking, on the same “side” of a political, social or spiritual debate as we are, or should we shelter those disagreements from public view in the name of some greater good?
3. “On Denialism” by Jon Baskin & Anastasia Berg [Issue 18]
What if, rather than pretending that such terms describe nothing we can recognize—an impulse that likely engorges conspiratorial thinking—we were to propose better ways of describing, discussing and critically evaluating our intellectual and political practices?
2. “What Was New Atheism?” by Jacob Hamburger [Issue 18]
Is “true” liberalism grounded on reason alone, or can it be, as some on the liberal left have insisted in recent years, made consistent with a politics of conviction?
1. “On Choosing Life” by Anastasia Berg & Rachel Wiseman [Issue 20]
How to affirm life in the face of suffering, sacrifice and likely failure may have the structure of a question, but, like the apparent questions of who we are and what we are here for, it is far from obvious that what we are meant to do with it is to search for an answer, let alone settle on one.