The first piece of gonzo journalism, annotated.
A profile of a previously unknown rookie pitcher for the Mets who dropped out of Harvard, made a spiritual quest to Tibet, and somewhere along the line figured out how to throw a baseball much, much faster than anyone else on Earth.
On heading home for Thanksgiving:
How I envy people who enjoy the company of their parents without the aid of pharmaceuticals.Reprinted from Home for the Holidays and Other Calamities.
There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
On JFK and the 1960 Democratic National Convention.
“I am talking here about a time when I began to doubt the premises of all the stories I had ever told myself, a common condition but one I found troubling.”
An exposé of extralegal killing.
Surfing San Francisco with a true believer.Part of our collection of stories on surfing for Slate.
On life in Los Angeles, and the specter of a second riot.
On June 4, 1989, the bodies of Jo, Michelle and Christe were found floating in Tampa Bay. This is the story of the murders, their aftermath, and the handful of people who kept faith amid the unthinkable.
“Robert Victor Sullivan, whom you’ve surely never heard of, was the toughest coach of them all. He was so tough he had to have two tough nicknames, Bull and Cyclone, and his name was usually recorded this way: coach Bob “Bull” “Cyclone” Sullivan or coach Bob (Bull) (Cyclone) Sullivan. Also, at times he was known as Big Bob or Shotgun. He was the most unique of men, and yet he remains utterly representative of a time that has vanished, from the gridiron and from these United States.”
Ostensibly straight black men who have sex with other men.
A profile of Colin Duffy: fifth-grader, suburban New Jersey resident, ruler of the backyard, player of video games, boy.
All violence is not like all other violence. Every Jewish death is not like every other Jewish death. To believe otherwise is to revive the old typological thinking about Jewish history, according to which every enemy of the Jews is the same enemy, and there is only one war, and it is a war against extinction, and it is a timeless war.
The landmark article that changed the way communities were policed:
This wish to "decriminalize" disreputable behavior that "harms no one"- and thus remove the ultimate sanction the police can employ to maintain neighborhood order—is, we think, a mistake. Arresting a single drunk or a single vagrant who has harmed no identifiable person seems unjust, and in a sense it is. But failing to do anything about a score of drunks or a hundred vagrants may destroy an entire community. A particular rule that seems to make sense in the individual case makes no sense when it is made a universal rule and applied to all cases. It makes no sense because it fails to take into account the connection between one broken window left untended and a thousand broken windows.
Joan Didion versus the boys on the bus:
American reporters “like” covering a presidential campaign (it gets them out on the road, it has balloons, it has music, it is viewed as a big story, one that leads to the respect of one’s peers, to the Sunday shows, to lecture fees and often to Washington), which is one reason why there has developed among those who do it so arresting an enthusiasm for overlooking the contradictions inherent in reporting that which occurs only in order to be reported.
The most dreadful men to live with are those who thus alternate between angel and devil.Not long before she died, Anne Isabella Noel Byron gave a wide-ranging interview to the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Most notoriously, she accused her husband, Lord Byron, of carrying on a "secret adulterous intrigue" with his half-sister. The Atlantic lost 15,000 subscribers in the months following publication of this article.
Tom Wicker was without a notebook on November 22, 1963. Instead, reported Gay Talese, he “scribbled his observations and facts across the back of a mimeographed itinerary of Kennedy’s two-day tour of Texas.”
Here’s the 3,700-word masterpiece he filed.
Ida Tarbell’s classic write-around of the world’s only billionaire:
He was a silent boy — a silent young man. With years the habit of silence became the habit of concealment. It was not long after the Standard Oil Company was founded, before it was said in Cleveland that its offices were the most difficult in the town to enter, Mr. Rockefeller the most difficult man to see. If a stranger got in to see any one he was anxious. "Who is that man?" he asked an associate nervously one day, calling him away when the latter was chatting with a stranger. "An old friend, Mr. Rockefeller." "What does he want here? Be careful. Don't let him find out anything." "But he is my friend, Mr. Rockefeller. He does not want to know anything. He has come to see me." "You never can tell. Be very careful, very careful." This caution gradually developed into a Chinese wall of seclusion. This suspicion extended, not only to all outsiders but most insiders. Nobody in the Standard Oil Company was allowed to know any more than was necessary for him to know to do his business. Men who have been officers in the Standard Oil Company say that they have been told, when asking for information about the condition of the business, "You'd better not know. If you know nothing you can tell nothing."
An investigative reporter goes undercover at a dealership to learn the tricks of the trade, of which there are many.
A prescient take on what the US invasion of Iraq would mean for both countries.
THEY SAY YOU never hear the one that hits you. That's true of bullets, because, if you hear them, they are already past. But your correspondent heard the last shell that hit this hotel. He heard it start from the battery, then come with a whistling incommg roar like a subway train to crash against the cornice and shower the room with broken glass and plaster. And while the glass still tinkled down and you listened for the next one to start, you realized that now finally you were back in Madrid.
Rick Barry has a problem. He would like people to regard him with love and affection, as they do Jerry West and John Havlicek. They do not.
An essay on Orson Welles’ (and/or Herman Mankiewicz’s) 1941 film Citizen Kane.
The Jews are happy in the United States. There are now two hundred congregations of them here, half of whom have arrived within the last twelve years. They are good citizens, firmly attached to those liberal principles to which they owe their deliverance from degrading and oppressive laws, and are rising in the esteem of the people among whom they dwell. Their attachment to the system of universal education is hereditary; it dates back three thousand years; and though their religious feelings are wounded by the opening exercises of many public schools, they would not for that reason destroy them.
A blow-by-blow account of Howard Unruh’s slow, deadly walk through Camden, New Jersey – written in two and a half hours:
James J. Hutton, 45, an insurance agent from Westmont, N.J., started out of the drug shop to see what the shooting was about. Like so many others he had figured at first that it was some car backfiring. He came face to face with Unruh. Unruh said quietly, “Excuse me, sir,” and started to push past him. Later, Unruh told the police: “That man didn’t act fast enough. He didn’t get out of my way.”
An ex-spook takes on the Warren Commission.
If you are young and you should write asking to see me and learn how to be a somber literary man writing pieces upon the state of emotional exhaustion that often overtakes writers in their prime -- if you should be so young and fatuous as to do this, I would not do so much as acknowledge your letter, unless you were related to someone very rich and important indeed. And if you were dying of starvation outside my window, I would go out quickly and give you the smile and the voice (if no longer the hand) and stick around till somebody raised a nickel to phone for the ambulance, that is if I thought there would be any copy in it for me.
A profile of a serial sex offender:
This is a story about how hard it is to be good—or, rather, how hard it is to be good once you’ve been bad; how hard it is to be fixed once you’ve been broken; how hard it is to be straight once you’ve been bent. It is about a scary man who is trying very hard not to be scary anymore and yet who still manages to scare not only the people who have good reason to be afraid of him but even occasionally himself. It is about sex, and how little we know about its mysteries; about the human heart, and how futilely we have responded—with silence, with therapy, with the law and even with the sacred Constitution—to its dark challenge. It is about what happens when we, as a society, no longer trust our futile responses and admit that we have no idea what to do with a guy like Mitchell Gaff.
On the start of the high school football season in Odessa, Texas. An adaptation published alongside the release of Bissinger’s 1990 book of the same name, which lead to the movie and the show.
As editor-in-chief of Variety, Peter Bart was one of the most powerful people in the entertainment industry. This piece got him suspended.
A profile of the Hell’s Angels following “front-page reports of a heinous gang rape in the moonlit sand dunes near the town of Seaside on the Monterey Peninsula.”
Slowly, Bobo pulled off his shoes, his socks. He stood up, unbuttoned his shirt, dropped his pants, his shorts. He stood there naked. It was Sunday morning, a little before 7.
Part one of W.T. Snead’s Victorian-era investigation into child prostitution.
A study of the Mississippi River, its history, and efforts by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hold it in place.
“It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism–the real motives for which despotic governments act.” Memories of a British soldier in Burma.
A newly minted, 34-year-old White House budget director gets a little too candid with a reporter profiling him during Ronald Reagan’s first year in office. Among Stockman’s many admissions: “None of us really understands what’s going on with all these numbers.”
A detailed account of the writer’s very brief stint as quarterback of the Detroit Lions. A participatory journalism classic.
A profile of then-First Lady Barbara Bush, published just before the 1992 presidential election. The lede: “Even Barbara Bush’s stepmother is afraid of her.”
The article that spawned a school of thought; an elegy for the age of the megahit and a primer for the niche-based future.
At 25, Stephen Glass was a reporter wunderkind, regularly filing incredible pieces for the largest magazines. When suspicion fell on his sources, things started to really get strange. It wasn’t just sources and organizations he was inventing, but whole stories.
Spilling to nearly book-length across two issues of Rolling Stone; a Manson-contemporary cult group rises out of a jug band, builds a fortress in the Boston ghetto, bullies control of a community newspaper, swallows a successful actor, fractures, splits for California, and attempts to describe to the reporter the enigma that is Mel Lyman.
A game called Spacewar is developed by early computer engineers in their spare time, improved in University comp-sci labs, and ultimately made available in coffeeshops for ten cents per game.
Fifty-four days after his group’s Everest climb turned tragic, Krakauer first told the story of what had gone wrong.
How phone phreakers, many of them blind, opened up Ma Bell to unlimited free international calling using a technical manual and a toy organ.
Inside the bleak world of Joe Francis, the man behind the “Girls Gone Wild” franchise.
A trip to a lobster festival leads to an examination of the culinary and ethical dimensions of cooking a live, possibly sentient, creature.