Consistent excellence distinguishes this annual series, and while all 20 selections are brilliant in their own right, the most contemporary ones steal the show.
The collection opens with “Everybody Sucks” (New York), Vanessa Grigoriadis’s clever analysis of the “weird fascination” exerted by the media-gossip blog gawker.com, which published derisive commentary about her and her husband the day after she was married. Several investigative pieces report from overseas: Peter Hessler scrutinizes the exploding economic consumerism of newly created “factory towns” in “China’s Instant Cities” (National Geographic), and William Langewiesche vets Brazil’s dubious state of governmental protection and general safety in “City of Fear” (Vanity Fair). Shards of irony tinge the humorous essays of social critic Caitlin Flanagan, who logs onto some young-adult, profile-based websites in “Babes in the Woods” (The Atlantic), and of Christopher Hitchens, who skewers the blatant hypocrisy marinating the Larry Craig foot-tapping scandal in his brief, brilliant commentary, “So Many Men’s Rooms, So Little Time” (Slate). Striking profiles include Steve Oney’s moving portrait of Marine Corps corporal Chris Leon, a young soldier serving in the war-ravaged city of Ramadi who perished at the hands of a sniper (“Casualties of War,” Los Angeles); “Pat Dollard’s War on Hollywood” (Vanity Fair), in which Evan Wright amusingly trails the eccentric man who abandoned Tinseltown in favor of a life producing documentaries; and Paige Williams’s touching portrayal of the tragic yet amazing spiritual journey of a fearless teenager (“You Have Thousands of Angels Around You,” Atlanta). Most disturbing is Thomas E. Kennedy’s harrowing “I Am Joe’s Prostate” (New Letters), a slice of real-life journalism that intimately describes the kind of invasive procedures that have been keeping men away from the doctor’s office for centuries.
Significance and relevance delivered by way of superlative prose and keen journalistic investigation.