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As 2020 draws to a close, we’ve been looking back at the incredible range and volume of new pieces we published. From the pandemic to the protests and from politics to philosophy, these essays—our top twenty-one most read—brought clarity and moral urgency to a chaotic time.
They also won new levels of influence. Our readership increased an astonishing 25 percent over last year. Our first book of 2020, On Anger, was named as one of the best books of the year by The New Yorker. Our August essay on pulse oximetry—our most read piece of the year—prompted an urgent new medical study that was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine and covered last week in the New York Times. Our series on COVID-19, Thinking in a Pandemic, won so much attention that we published an important selection of essays in a fifth, supplemental book on top of our usual four. And so many of our important essays on race and history made it into influential newsletters, including New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie’s.
We look forward to keeping it up in 2021—and to a healthier, safer world.
The rage on display in Minneapolis is not only about police violence. It is also about the country’s utter disregard for the pain of black Americans.
Black Americans are dying of COVID-19 at much higher rates than whites, and nowhere more so than in St. Louis. This is the result of racist policies which collapsed the social safety net while setting blacks in the path of danger.
The black feminist Combahee River Collective manifesto and E. Franklin Frazier’s Black Bourgeoisie share the diagnosis that the wealthy and powerful will take every opportunity to hijack activist energies for their own ends.
History shows that outbreaks often have murky outcomes—including simply being forgotten about, or dismissed as someone else’s problem.
Victim anger can be useful to the political struggle, but it can also become excessive and obsessive, deforming the self.
Appeals to the biological facts conceal a deeper contest over political equality—and scientific authority itself.
Simone de Beauvoir’s relationship with her readers was a mutually demanding collaboration.
In his sweeping new history, the economist systematically demolishes the conceit that extreme inequality is our destiny, rather than our choice.
Decades of neoliberal austerity will make it harder to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, we must rebuild our social safety net and forge a New Deal for public health.
A proper understanding of urban rebellion depends on our ability to interpret it not as a wave of criminality, but as political violence.
There are two problems with anger: it is morally corrupting, and it is completely correct.
While existentialist thinking has much wisdom to offer about anxiety, contingency, and death, we must also think concretely about politics and institutions.
We should be wary of simplistic uses of history, but we can learn from the logic of social responses.
Prison and police abolition were key to the thinking of many midcentury civil rights activists. Understanding why can help us ask for change in our own time.
Seeking to discredit those who wish to explain the persistence of racism, critics of the New York Times’s 1619 Project insist the facts don’t support its proslavery reading of the American Revolution. But they obscure a longstanding debate within the field of U.S. history over that very issue—distorting the full case that can be made for it.
The popular new genre of antiracist nonfiction seeks to educate white readers about race, but it does not center more powerful critiques from the Black radical tradition.
The celebration of Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste reflects the continued priority of elite preferences over the needs and struggles of ordinary people.
With few restrictions and no tracing of the disease’s spread, the government is relying upon Swedish character and traditions to see it through the pandemic. But behind this exceptionalism lies a worrying social compact between state and citizen.
In a sweeping new history of Western philosophy, Jürgen Habermas narrates the progress of humanity through the unfolding of public reason. Missing from that story are the systems of violence and dispossession whose legacies are all too visible today.
Pandemic response is not a simple matter of listening to the science, as scientists themselves disagree. Three researchers debate the right path to tackle COVID-19—including why we must take seriously the harms of pandemic policies, not just their benefits.
Pulse oximeters give biased results for people with darker skin. The consequences could be serious.
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In her new book, Danish poet Olga Ravn writes with open love, pity, and compassion for her strange yet familiar creations.
Draconian individual punishment distracts from systemic change and reinforces the cruelest and most racist system of incarceration on the planet.
Our well-being depends on a better understanding of how the logic of labor has twisted our relationship with pleasure.