Best of narrative journalism (articles)

Interested in exploring narrative journalism by reading some of it? I’d call these the “classics” among essays and articles. They are listed chronologically, so that you can trace the evolution of the genre over three centuries. The first selection is a chronicle of a day in the life of the Sun King, Louis XIV. (Props to Adam Hochschild for that suggestion.) The last is a two-part series that marries the best of investigative grit with literary writing.

I will continue to add to this list and welcome your suggestions. Feel free to comment, too!

“The King’s Day,” by the Duc de Saint-Simon. Written in 1715.

(Find it in The Age of Magnificence: The Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon, selected, edited and translated by Sanche de Gramont. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1963.)

Servants—Society—Evening Parties,” by Fanny Trollope. First published in 1832.

(Find it in Trollope’s Domestic Manners of the Americans)

“The Execution of Troppman,” by Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev. Written in 1870.

(Find it in The Essential Turgenev, edited by Elizabeth Cheresh Allen. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1994. Available on Google Books.)

“Shooting an Elephant,” by George Orwell. First published in New Writing, First series No. 2, in 1936. (Find it in Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays. London: Secker and Warburg, 1950. It is also available online at, a site devoted to Orwell’s work.)

“The Third Winter,” by Martha Gellhorn. First published in Collier’s in 1939.

(Find it in The Face of War. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988.)

“Here is New York,” by E.B. White. First published in Holiday in 1949.

(Find it in Here is New York. New York: The Little Bookroom, 2000.

Dream of Glory on the Mound,” by George Plimpton, in Sports Illustrated, April 10, 1961.

“I Was a Playboy Bunny,” by Gloria Steinem. First published in Show in 1963.

(Find it in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1983.

Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” by Gay Talese. Esquire, April 1966.

Namath All Night Long,” Jimmy Breslin. New York, April 7, 1969.

The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” by Hunter S. Thompson.

Scanlan’s Monthly, vol. 1, no. 4, June 1970.

“Hizzoner,” by Mike Royko. Playboy, March 1971.

“Encounters with the Archdruid III: A River,” by John McPhee. The New Yorker on April 3, 1971.

(Find it at if you are a subscriber, or in The John McPhee Reader, edited by William L. Howarth. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976.

“The Ballad of the Urban Cowboy,” by Aaron Latham. Esquire, Sept. 1978.

Salvadoran Peasants Describe Mass Killing,” by Alma Guillermoprieto. Washington Post, Jan. 27, 1982.

Inhaling the Spore: Field trip to a museum of natural (un)history,” by Lawrence Weschler. Harper’s, Sept. 1994.

Enrique’s Journey,” by Sonia Nazario. Los Angeles Times, in six parts Sept. 29 to October 7,2002.

Learning the Story Behind a Father’s Deepest War Wound,” by Bruce DeSilva. The Associated Press, May 19, 2004.

After Life,” by Joan Didion. New York Times Magazine, September 25, 2005.

Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army’s Top Medical Facility,” by Dana Priest and Anne Hull. The Washington Post, February 18, 2007. (The three-part series ran on three consecutive days.)


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One Response to Best of narrative journalism (articles)

  1. Constance Hale January 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    My list focuses on the “narrative” or “literary” part of narrative journalism, but you might also be interested in two lists put together by NYU’s Carter Journalism Institute.

    The first is a list of the “Top Ten Works of U.S. Journalism” in the first decade of the 21st century:

    The second is a list of the “Top 100 Works of Journalism in the United States in the 20th Century”:

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