Rank #1: Martin Luther King Jr Is Still on the Case! by Garry Wills
In 1968, just hours after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the future Pulitzer Prize–winning author Garry Wills—then a young writer for Esquire—rushed to Memphis, Tennessee, where he watched as King’s body was embalmed at the mortuary; later, Wills traveled twelve hours by bus with mourners to King’s funeral in Atlanta. Nearly fifty years after its publication, Wills’s “Martin Luther King Jr. Is Still on the Case!” remains one of the most revealing and lasting portraits of King and his turbulent era ever written. Writer and director John Ridley—who won an Oscar for his screenplay for 12 Years a Slave—joins host David Brancaccio to discuss why Wills’s wrenching profile of King continues to resonate today, what has changed in America since it was written, and, most important, what still needs to change.
Nov 14 2016
Rank #2: The String Theory, by David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace’s unforgettable portrait of tennis player Michael Joyce is as much about the intricate physics of hitting a fuzzy yellow ball, as it is about the physical and emotional sacrifices it takes to be the best in the world at something—and how often even the greatest, most gifted, most hardworking among us are still miles away from perfection. Esquire editor in chief David Granger joins host David Brancaccio to discuss David Foster Wallace and why his 1996 story “The String Theory” remains one of the most exciting, salient, and honest stories about the game of tennis ever written.
Mar 21 2016
Rank #3: Frank Sinatra Has a Cold, by Gay Talese
Fifty years after it was first published, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” remains the most influential and talked-about magazine story of all time. Author Gay Talese joins host David Brancaccio to discuss how this groundbreaking work of New Journalism came about, the evolution of celebrity, and why his story remains as resonant as the day it was first published.
Sep 19 2016
Rank #4: The Crack-Up, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In 1936, F. Scott Fitzgerald, then a struggling writer battling depression and alcoholism, published “The Crack-Up,” a radical series of essays in Esquire about his mental breakdown. Celebrated poet and memoirist Nick Flynn discusses with host David Brancaccio Fitzgerald’s mindset at the time, the ridicule he faced from friends like Ernest Hemingway, and how his essays set off a genre of confessional writing that persists and thrives today.
Oct 17 2016
Rank #5: The American Male at Age Ten, by Susan Orlean
In 1992, writer Susan Orlean was sick of celebrity profiles. Instead, she wanted to do something bigger and much harder: She wanted to profile the inner life of an average American boy. After convincing her editor, Orlean spent more than a week going to fifth grade and hanging out with Colin Duffy, a ten-year-old from Glen Ridge, New Jersey. The resulting article—“The American Man at Age Ten”—stands as one of the most surprising and engaging portraits of what it’s like to be a boy in America. Orlean joins host David Brancaccio to discuss how the story came about, what it was like to shadow Colin, and how the piece continues to reverberate almost twenty-five years after it was first published.
Aug 29 2016
Rank #6: The Death of Patient Zero, by Tom Junod
“It was the moment we were waiting for and the moment we dreaded.” So begins “The Death of Patient Zero,” a story that broke all boundaries and preconceptions—about how we attack cancer; how the most advanced medical care, science, and hopes can fall short; how a writer can fast find himself testing the ethical limits of journalism; and how the love of a single, humble woman—Stephanie Lee—can change so many lives. Esquire writer at large Tom Junod and executive editor Mark Warren join host David Brancaccio to discuss what fueled “The Death of Patient Zero,” and how neither of them—or the nascent science behind genomic medicine—will ever be the same again.
Feb 08 2016
Rank #7: The Shooter, by Phil Bronstein
In March 2013, the man who shot and killed Osama bin Laden came forward to tell his story for the first time in “The Shooter,” by Phil Bronstein. It is a report of the celebrated mission by turns captivating, astonishing, and visceral, but also heart-breaking: The shooter decided to break his silence because, now a civilian, he feared for the safety of his family, was concerned about a life without a safety net, and he wanted to shine a light on a little-known and worrisome aspect of Special Forces service. Bronstein, the executive chair of the Center for Investigative Reporting, joins host David Brancaccio to discuss why the shooter decided to finally emerge and what he’s doing now.
May 16 2016
Rank #8: What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now? by Richard Ben Cramer
Richard Ben Cramer’s masterful profile of Ted Williams from 1986 is often cited as one of the greatest magazine stories of all time. It’s about a sports idol who wanted fame but hated celebrity, who shouted louder than anyone but demanded privacy, who wanted to be the best at everything, always, and thus wanted to be immortal. Former Esquire editor David Hirshey joins host David Brancaccio to discuss the enigmatic and bigger-than-life Teddy Ballgame and the journalist who finally uncovered his essence.
Apr 18 2016
Rank #9: Old, by Mike Sager
We will all get old one day. Mike Sager’s astonishingly intimate portrait of Glenn Sandberg, age ninety-two, is about what it actually feels like to be close to the end. It’s a story about mortality and love and companionship and the things in life that are most important—and how those things we once held as so important fall away. Longtime Esquire writer at large Mike Sager joins host David Brancaccio to discuss how and why he wrote “Old,” which was published in 1998, and how the story continues to ripple and shape his own views on work, death, and what matters most.
Apr 04 2016
Rank #10: America’s Most Powerful Lunch, by Lee Eisenberg
For two decades, the Four Seasons was the epicenter of culture in America. Jackie Onassis, Henry Kissinger, and Nora Ephron were just some of the regulars at the New York City restaurant, but the real stars were the creative power brokers in publishing, fashion, architecture, and advertising who convened in the massive, elegant bar room to make the decisions about what books we read, wine we drank, and clothes we wore. In his 1979 feature on the Four Seasons, former Esquire editor in chief Lee Eisenberg coined the phrase “power lunch”—to the everlasting envy of food critics. One such critic, the acclaimed Alan Richman, joins podcast host David Brancaccio this week to discuss the closing of what Richman considers the greatest restaurant in American history, what made it unique, and why it belonged to a vanishing world.
Jul 11 2016
Rank #11: My Father’s Life, by Raymond Carver
In Raymond Carver’s masterful short stories, what goes unspoken between characters—what can’t or won’t be articulated—carries more weight than what they say. In the 1984 essay “My Father’s Life,” Carver turns his unforgiving eye on his own life, and with heartbreaking frankness he examines the seemingly unbridgeable gap between him and his own father. The novelist Jay McInerney, who studied under Carver at Syracuse in the early eighties, joins host David Brancaccio to talk about his mentor’s approach to writing and teaching, and how there were things left unsaid between Carver and his father that would haunt both men all their lives.
Jul 25 2016
Rank #12: The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce, by Tom Wolfe
It was a meeting of two American masters: Robert Noyce, who, in inventing the integrated computer chip and founding Intel, willed Silicon Valley into being, and Tom Wolfe, who, in holding a magnifying glass over the social and class currents that shape America, rewrote the laws of what it meant to be a journalist. Their resulting Esquire story from 1983, “The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce,” remains one of the most revealing and entertaining portraits of early Silicon Valley and the personalities, imagination, and freewheeling moxie that triggered and continue to power the computer revolution. Kara Swisher, who spent two decades covering digital issues for The Wall Street Journal before cofounding the influential technology site Re/code, joins host David Brancaccio to discuss what both Noyce and Wolfe wrought, and how the influence of each—in computers and nonfiction writing, respectively—remains as powerful and mesmerizing as ever.
Oct 31 2016
Rank #13: What It Takes, by Richard Ben Cramer
Published in 1992, Richard Ben Cramer’s book What It Takes remains the richest and most detailed account of the personal price of running for president. The irony, as Cramer pointed out to C-SPANN when the book was first published, is that to become president a candidate must sacrifice the entire life that prepared him or her for office in the first place. Longtime Esquire political correspondent Charles P. Pierce joins host David Brancaccio to discuss how Cramer’s book—which was excerpted in three parts in Esquire in the 1990s—continues to shape how we understand presidential politics today and the psyches of those with the hubris to seek the highest office.
Aug 01 2016
Rank #14: Michael Bay, by Jeanne Marie Laskas
In 2001, director Michael Bay was one of Hollywood’s most successful commercial filmmakers when he took on the daunting task of directing an epic about Pearl Harbor. How would his testosterone-laden, explosive-style adapt to a serious subject? (Hint: the critics hated it but the movie made $450 million at the box office.) Jeanne Marie Laskas joins host David Brancaccio this week to discuss her sympathetic but piercing—and often hilarious—profile of Bay, who rages at his critics, complains about his agents and studio executives, and attempts, often unsuccessfully, to conduct life at the top without becoming a total…jerk.
Jun 27 2016
Rank #15: Superman Comes to the Supermarket, by Norman Mailer
Before anyone foresaw a time when a television celebrity could become president—hello, Cleveland—Norman Mailer wrote in Esquire that John F. Kennedy was a mythical hero who could finally unite the business of politics with the business of stardom. His legendary 1960 reported essay, “Superman Comes to the Supermart,” about J.F.K. and the Democratic political convention, changed the rules for how we understand our political candidates as brands, and how we’re allowed to write about them. Mailer archivist and biographer J. Michael Lennon joins host David Brancaccio to discuss Mailer’s legacy, what his essay wrought, and how it continues to ripple through our political culture and be proven prescient again and again.
Jul 18 2016
Rank #16: “I, Stalkerazzi” and “Angelina Jolie and the Torture of Fame,” by John H. Richardson
It’s hard to think of a profession more maligned than the paparazzi, but in 1998 Esquire writer at large John H. Richardson decided to find out for himself what it feels like to hunt celebrities for money in “I, Stalkerazzi.” Two years later, he learned what it was like to be the hunted when he profiled a still-rising and very vulnerable Angelina Jolie for “Angelina Jolie and the Torture of Fame.” Richardson joins the Esquire Classic Podcast to discuss our cultural infatuation with celebrity and the humanity that can be found on both sides of the camera lens.
Oct 03 2016
Rank #17: My Father, the Bachelor, by Martha Sherrill
Martha Sherrill’s father, Peter, rakish and handsome, was an irrepressible charmer and natural raconteur; when he died, she was flooded with calls from his ex-girlfriends who wanted to pay their respects and share their stories about this man who adored women. This week Sherrill joins host David Brancaccio to discuss her intimate 1999 Esquire essay, “My Father the Bachelor,” one of the most unusual and endearing tributes to fatherhood ever published.
Aug 22 2016
Rank #18: Edwin Moses, by Mark Kram
Between 1977 and 1987, Edwin Moses won 122 consecutive races in the men’s 400-meter hurdles—including his second Olympic gold—in a streak as fantastic and improbable as Joe DiMaggio’s fifty-six-game hitting streak. In his 1987 interview with Moses, Mark Kram, known for writing penetrating and lyrical boxing profiles, probes the champ’s cool, implacable exterior to discover what kind of person can sustain such excellence—and to measure the toll it took. With the Summer Olympics now under way in Rio, Sports Illustrated veteran Tim Layden joins host David Brancaccio to shed further insight on Moses, an enigmatic star who helped usher in the professionalization of what was previously an amateur sport, and who left a record that remains peerless.
Aug 08 2016
Rank #19: Styron’s Choices, by Philip Caputo
When journalist Philip Caputo set out to profile William Styron in 1985, it was something of a dream assignment: Styron, then at work on the novel The Way of the Warrior, was one of the towering figures in American letters. The two men’s shared experience as Marines—Styron himself praised Caputo’s 1977 Vietnam memoir, A Rumor of War—formed a connection far stronger than their common bond as writers. But when Styron fell into a clinical depression during the reporting of the story, the nature of Caputo’s profile changed radically. Styron never completed the novel, although his 1990 meditation on depression, Darkness Visible, remains one of the most lucid and illuminating accounts of the illness. Caputo joins host David Brancaccio to discuss Styron’s greatness as a writer and how his struggle against depression—and his ability to articulate it in print—stands, in some regards, as his ultimate literary achievement.
Sep 12 2016
Rank #20: The Falling Man, by Tom Junod
Do you remember this photograph? In the United States, people have taken pains to banish it from the record of September 11, 2001. The story behind it, though, and the search for the man pictured in it, are our most intimate connection to the horror of that day.
Thus begins Tom Junod’s “The Falling Man,” which over the past fourteen years has become one of the magazine’s most-read stories of all time. It’s a story that is as enthralling and complicated today as when it was first published in 2003. Inspired by the infamous photograph of one of the people forced to jump from the World Trade Center, captured by Richard Drew on 9/11, Junod reveals why he felt it was his responsibility to bring the photo—and the anonymous falling man pictured—to light.
Sep 06 2016