As editor of the WQ’s In Essence section, I flip through hundreds of magazines and journals each quarter in search of noteworthy articles. Most publications offer up a few satisfying bits from time to time, but some have been so consistent that discovering them in the WQ mailbox in the morning makes my day a good deal brighter. My 10 current favorites are below. These are publications that print interesting and well-honed arguments in elegant, if not always enlivening, prose.
P.S: I left many small magazines I admire off the list (Brick, The Michigan Quarterly Review, and The Paris Review, to name but a few) because they have a more distinctively literary focus.
The American Interest has many of the same virtues as the WQ: It runs pieces by scholars and policy practitioners written for the intelligent and curious general reader. Unlike the WQ, the AI has a rather specific bailiwick: America’s role in the world. (It also prints in color! We’re jealous.) I particularly enjoy Walter Russell Mead’s blog on the AI Web site—the man seems incapable of writing a frivolous post.
The American Scholar has long been heralded for its commitment to the world of ideas. What makes it so special is that it does not see personal essays, fiction, or poetry as antithetical to that mission. Eighty years after it put out its first issue, it is still serving the life of the mind in all its manifestations.
Cabinet, a beautiful quarterly magazine with an appetite for science, never fails to enlighten. Interest rather than topicality seems to be the editors’ main criterion for selecting essays. One recurring column has a different writer consider the virtues and demerits of a single color. (The Winter 2011 issue features the novelist Tom McCarthy on blue.) But Cabinet is not just quirk. Many of its writers and editors are in or refugees from academia, giving the magazine a more rigorous feel than most.
Democracy has some serious progressive bona fides: In its pages, contributing editor Ethan Porter outlined a vision for tax receipts that was later adopted by the White House, and Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, now a Massachusetts Senate candidate, introduced her blueprint for the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. A go-to for policy wonks, this quarterly doesn’t stiff literary-minded readers. Recent pieces from contributors David Rieff and Amy Wilentz have been delights to read.
If you want to know the concerns of young, intellectual New York, subscribe to n+1. Eight years after the editors pooled what little cash they had to bring out the first issue, n+1 is on its way to becoming a literary institution. And for good reason: Tremendous talents like essayist Elif Batuman got their start there. Don’t miss its Web site, which boasts standalone reviews of noteworthy books and film.
National Affairs could be called the conservative sibling of Democracy (and, to extend the metaphor further, the child of the now-defunct conservative magazine The Public Interest.) Like Democracy, National Affairs eschews policy minutiae for the big ideas animating discussions on its side of the aisle. If you want to know what conservatives are debating, read this magazine.
THE NBER DIGEST (Web)
The Digest is put out by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonpartisan think tank par excellence. Each monthly issue contains cogent summaries of some of the working papers produced by its hundreds of research associates, many of whom teach at leading universities. Recent issues have spotlighted research on the effectiveness of charter schools and the impact of ethnic and religious diversity on charitable giving. For those wary of the discipline’s intricacies, be assured The NBER Digest is eminently readable, and at four pages long, a slip of a publication.
The brainchild of a group of University of Chicago graduate students, The Point bares its connection to the academy proudly. But part of its mission is to insist that contemporary culture deserves the same deep scrutiny usually reserved for the canonical. Only in The Point would you find a 13,000 word essay that juxtaposes Stendhal and the notorious 1990s dating manual The Game.
Raritan, with its monotone covers and text-only interior, is something of a publishing throwback. The same could be said of its editorial mission, which clears space for meaty essays from many disciplines. One of my favorite Raritan pieces is Stanford anthropologist T. M. Lurhmann’s account of conducting an ethnography of women in halfway houses in Chicago. (It’s not available online, but we ran an In Essence item about it in the WQ.)
The Threepenny Review falls on the literary side of the small mag spectrum, but its interests within that space are wide: Its writers contemplate everything from film to architecture to the Flemish painter Bruegel with the same seriousness. Add to that a spare but boldly artistic design, with a nice helping of historical photos that render well in black and white.
WQ editors share their winter weather reads.
If football is harmful to players, is it ethical to be a fan?
Germans know how to enjoy themselves during the holidays, but don’t invade their Internet privacy.
Two new books illuminate politics high and low—the role of high principle and the urgency of land grabs around the world.
College football success upends boys’ grades, but girls may actually benefit.
One photographer's journey to trace his family roots yielded an image for our fall issue.
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