Atavist magazine editor Ratliff brings together 10 pieces of journalism selected from the site's five-year history.
The Atavist publishes nonfiction briefer than a book but lengthier than most long-form magazine features. Ratliff contributes a foreword explaining the origin and publication philosophy of the magazine, offers brief insights into how he selected the 10 pieces from a universe of about 50, and summarizes each. Susan Orlean contributes an introduction that brilliantly explains her discomfort with the term "long form" while parsing the shortcomings of other descriptions such as "creative nonfiction," "narrative nonfiction," and "new journalism." She coins the term "magpie journalism," using the metaphor of the bird that collects shiny items from a drab habitat. In “52 Blue,” Leslie Jamison discusses the scientists who are fascinated by a whale that emits noises at a frequency, 52 hertz, never before charted by humans. Cris Beam, David Dobbs, and Vanessa Veselka each contribute a mystery from highly personal family lore. In “When We Are Called to Part,” Brooke Jarvis chronicles her months inside the last existing leper colony in the United States. Matthew Shaer pieces together the final voyage of a ship and a quest by the Coast Guard to determine why it sank. Jon Mooallem digs into history to learn about a failed attempt to use hippopotamus farming to feed the appetites of Americans. Adam Higginbotham reports on the dramatic bombing of a Lake Tahoe casino. The title story, "Love and Ruin," is James Verini's account of an American woman's dedication to the culture of Afghanistan amid the destruction of tribal wars and foreign invasions. Ratliff also includes a piece of his own, about the quest of an adopted woman to determine if she is the biological child of an evasive, wealthy oilman.
An eclectic, never-boring collection.