The 2007 edition of the now-venerable series.
With characteristic humor and self-abasement, guest editor Wallace is an excellent guide to this year’s goodie bag of magazine-length nonfiction, noting up front that most series readers jump around in a nonlinear fashion. Although he promises a sharper political edge to this year’s selections—and no celebrity profiles—only a few fall into that category. Phillip Robertson’s “In the Mosque of the Imam Ali,” a breathless account of the author’s attempt to survive in an Iraq hurtling into Year Zero ultra-violence, ranks with Michael Herr’s exemplary Vietnam War reportage. Mark Danner’s “Iraq: The War of the Imagination” is an excellent summation of the stunning mix of incompetence and hubris that led to the current war. There is also “An Orgy of Power,” George Gessert’s passionate screed against the brutalization of the American mindset in the post-9/11 era, and Garret Keizer’s controversial “Loaded,” in which he breaks the domestic liberal code of silence on guns and political action: “Give me some people who are not so evolved that they have forgotten what it is to stand firm under fire…Give me an accountant who can still throw a rock.” Even among the lighter pieces, there’s a darkness scurrying around the edges, like in Richard Rodriguez’s “Disappointment,” an illuminating essay on the state’s illusory dreamlands, or Malcolm Gladwell’s sublime New Yorker piece on Cesar “The Dog Whisperer” Millan, in which tales of simple obedience training carry a cutting psychoanalytic edge. Remarkably, this year’s collection contains no outright duds, though a few pieces maunder a bit (e.g., Mark Greif’s foggy dissertation on the commercialized eroticization of youth, “Afternoon of the Sex Children”). Among all these impressive essays, though, the best is Daniel Orozco’s extraordinary “Shakers,” which merges an earthquake’s progress with a series of snapshot takes on American travelers and loneliness (“The middle of nowhere is always somewhere for somebody”).
Reliable and yet still surprising—the best of the best.