Provoking, Informing, and Magazine Success

The Atlantic, March 2014



In a world in which magazines are closing their doors daily, a few have found the key to success, and The Atlantic seems to have that key firmly in its grasp. What makes its mojo work, then? Simple – find a way to entertain as it informs, and do so in a fairly concise fashion.  Sometimes this involves provocation for the sake of provoking. We all remember what makes our blood boil, it seems, as in the case of Jonathan Rauch’s brief, “The Case for Corruption.”

Did you know that WalMart claims that nearly half its purchases are made on smart phones? Neither did Alexis Madrigal, in a quickie interview with WalMart’s Gibu Thomas.

James Parker tries to overlay today’s polarized political TV talk shows over the film, Network.  He has a point, I think, but it’s a strained one.

This issue takes on hockey, of all things (a sport I liken to professional wrestling), but as Chris Koentges depicts the sport in “The Puck Stops Here,” a Finnish promoter has transformed it from a brawl on ice to  international prestige.

Paul Bloom, in “The War On Reason,” rings my bell loudly by explaining that philosophy, the bedrock of Enlightenment reason, has drifted away from logic and reason into a physiological abyss. In this semi-philosophical world, reason seems devoid of  worth, but Bloom seems to hold out hope: our human need for moral values will trump this straying and bring reason back in new clothes.

I remember how the KA fraternity partied till they puked in my college days. Those well-oiled frat rats even killed a famous horse in the process. In the lead article, “The Dark Power of Fraternities,” Caitlin Flanagan tells us things are even worse, many frat peccadilloes now ending in court.

I’m a Southerner, despite all attempts to be a one-worlder, and I’m compelled to say that Ron Rash’s story “Where The Map Ends,” the story of two escaping slaves in the Civil War South, is the finest piece of short fiction I’ve seen in a magazine in a long while.

These are but my highlights in another fine issue of The Atlantic.


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The New World Comin’ Atcha



The Atlantic, December 2012

Much talk transpired in the just-over election here in the U.S. about jobs, and James Fallows and Charles Fishman take up the post-election slack in this issue. Manufacturing jobs are returning to the U.S. for a handful of reasons, say these two. One being that the haul distance between raw materials and manufacturing plants has gotten long – and expensive. Too, there’s a lot lost in such outsourcing: inventiveness and efficiency. Jobs were originally outsourced largely for a single reason: lower pay for workers located elsewhere. But having the whole ball of wax near enough to home base more than makes up for the ensuing complications. And just to prove the point, I notice that Apple is moving some manufacturing back to the U.S.

Poor Jeffrey Goldberg. He can’t buy respect without taking on some Archie Bunker-like political positions. In this case that we’d be safer if everyone had more (and supposedly, even more) guns.

Another bit of election year fallout is the renewed social and political clout of women. Alexis Madrigal thinks women are at the technological forefront, that they use and adapt to technology quicker than men. And Ann Patchett, who some might see as a throwback after reading her article, The Bookstore Strikes Back, chronicles her attempts to bring indie bookstores back to her Nashville hometown.

It’s great that The Atlantic has begun to print regular fiction again, and it’s interesting that the editors seem to be favoring genre writers such as Walter Mosley, who has a story, Reply To A Dead Man, in this issue. I’ve been rather disappointed in this tack, since I’ve been expecting quality, readable literary fiction, but I certainly can’t quibble with giving U.S.-based writers their shot at such a magazine, even if they are genre writers. Mosley’s story seems a bit predictable, but it’s also a heart-warmer, and I guess that’s a good thing in this year-ending issue.

Altogether a stalwart, if not exceptional issue. But The Atlantic does seem to be learning some of the lessons I’ve been saying they should from Harper’s Monthly.