As The New Yorker continues to evolve and expand, particularly online, the editors here spend a not-insubstantial amount of time thinking about its identity. What makes The New Yorker, well, The New Yorker? As I look back on our most-read pieces of 2018, some core attributes come to mind: quality prose; depth of reporting and thought; a commitment to truth and accuracy; a desire to inform and enlighten. Beyond this, New Yorker stories aim to move readers and, when possible, surprise and delight them.
Each piece on this list manages to satisfy one of those ends—and, in many cases, several of them. Once again, we decided to use the amount of time readers spent on pieces as the metric for determining our “most popular” list. And, once again, the list is refreshingly varied. It features urgent investigative reporting, like the work Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow did uncovering allegations by four women that Eric Schneiderman, who was then New York State’s attorney general, had physically abused them; it also includes Farrow and Mayer’s investigation into an accusation of sexual misconduct by Brett Kavanaugh during his college years. Two other investigative pieces by Farrow also made it on the list: his report on women who said they were harassed and sexually assaulted by Les Moonves, the chairman and C.E.O. of CBS Corporation, and his examination of the elaborate system of payoffs and legal agreements that Trump and his allies used to conceal an extramarital affair with Karen McDougal.
There was, unsurprisingly, plenty of other Trump coverage, including features on Sarah Huckabee Sanders, by Paige Williams, and on Rudy Giuliani, by Jeffrey Toobin, as well as Adam Davidson’s column on Michael Cohen and the end stage of the Trump Presidency. On the pop-culture end of the spectrum, the list includes two pieces I’d put in the surprise-and-delight category: Naomi Fry’s disquisition on Ben Affleck’s back tattoo, and Anthony Lane’s dispatch from the Royal Wedding.
Under the rubric of stories that moved readers, Rachel Aviv’s thought-provoking piece, from the February 5th issue, about a teen-age girl who was ruled brain-dead by the hospital but whose family believed her to be alive, circulated among readers throughout the year. When David Grann’s remarkable tale of the polar explorer Henry Worsley was combined with photos, audio, and interactive maps for The New Yorker’s anniversary issue, it made for an immersive online reading experience unlike anything in our ninety-three-year history. Patrick Radden Keefe’s story on Astrid Holleeder, a Dutch criminal-defense lawyer forced to go into hiding after she agreed to become the star witness against her brother, a notorious crime boss, was another riveting read. And Helen Rosner’s remembrance of Anthony Bourdain perfectly captured him in the aftermath of his tragic death.
Elif Batuman’s fascinating magazine piece on Japan’s rent-a-family phenomenon is perhaps the hardest on the list to classify—it’s by turns moving, surprising, and delightful. Similarly, how to describe Atul Gawande’s piece on doctors’ visceral hate for their computers? Deeply informative; personal but also reported; rigorously thoughtful. It felt quintessentially New Yorker.
As for the most unexpected piece on the list, I’d nominate the short essay by the author Miranda Carter on Kaiser Wilhelm II, who ruled Germany from 1888 to 1918. Credit to Henry Finder, The New Yorker’s editorial director, who came up with the year’s best headline: “What Happens When a Bad-Tempered, Distractible Doofus Runs an Empire?”
1. “Senate Democrats Investigate a New Allegation of Sexual Misconduct, from Brett Kavanaugh’s College Years,” by Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer
A Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s describes a dormitory party gone awry and a drunken incident that she wants the F.B.I. to investigate. Read more.
2. “What Does It Mean to Die?,” by Rachel Aviv
When Jahi McMath was declared brain-dead by the hospital, her family disagreed. Her case challenges the very nature of existence. Read more.
3. “The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma,” by Junot Díaz
I never got any help, any kind of therapy. I never told anyone. Read more.
4. “Christopher Steele, the Man Behind the Trump Dossier,” by Jane Mayer
How the ex-spy tried to warn the world about Trump’s ties to Russia. Read more.
5. “Donald Trump, the Playboy Model Karen McDougal, and a System for Concealing Infidelity,” by Ronan Farrow
One woman’s account of clandestine meetings, financial transactions, and legal pacts designed to hide an extramarital affair. Read more.
6. “What About ‘The Breakfast Club’?,” by Molly Ringwald
Revisiting the movies of my youth in the age of #MeToo. Read more.
7. “Les Moonves and CBS Face Allegations of Sexual Misconduct,” by Ronan Farrow
Six women accuse the C.E.O. of harassment and intimidation, and dozens more describe abuse at his company. Read more.
8. “Four Women Accuse New York’s Attorney General of Physical Abuse,” by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow
Eric Schneiderman has raised his profile as a voice against sexual misconduct. Now, after suing Harvey Weinstein, he faces a #MeToo reckoning of his own. Read more.
9. “Michael Cohen and the End Stage of the Trump Presidency,” by Adam Davidson
The raid on the offices of President Trump’s personal lawyer makes clear that Trump’s battle with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is entering its final chapter. Read more.
10. “Donald Glover Can’t Save You,” by Tad Friend
The creator of “Atlanta” wants TV to tell hard truths. Is the audience ready? Read more.
11. “The White Darkness,” by David Grann
A solitary journey across Antarctica. Read more.
12. “The Great Sadness of Ben Affleck,” by Naomi Fry
Two years after Affleck denied its existence, his phoenix back tattoo returned to haunt the headlines, itself rising from the ashes of gossip rags past. Read more.
13. “As Leslie Moonves Negotiates His Exit from CBS, Six Women Raise New Assault and Harassment Claims,” by Ronan Farrow
The allegations include claims that Moonves forced them to perform oral sex on him, that he exposed himself to them without their consent, and that he used intimidation against them. Read more.
14. “Japan’s Rent-a-Family Industry,” by Elif Batuman
People who are short on relatives can hire a husband, a mother, a grandson. The resulting relationships can be more real than you’d expect. Read more.
15. “Why Doctors Hate Their Computers,” by Atul Gawande
Digitization promises to make medical care easier and more efficient. But are screens coming between doctors and patients? Read more.
16. “Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s Battering Ram,” by Paige Williams
What does the press secretary believe in—other than defending the President’s every word? Read more.
17. “Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Look to the Future, but Some Royals Never Change,” by Anthony Lane
Some aspects of the world remain unchangeable, and what lent such singular flavor to the royal wedding was its mashup of old and new. Read more.
18. “What Happens When a Bad-Tempered, Distractible Doofus Runs an Empire?,” by Miranda Carter
Donald Trump is reminiscent of Kaiser Wilhelm II, during whose reign the upper echelons of the German government began to unravel into a free-for-all. Read more.
19. “How a Notorious Gangster Was Exposed by His Own Sister,” by Patrick Radden Keefe
Astrid Holleeder secretly recorded her brother’s murderous confessions. Will he exact revenge? Read more.
20. “The Promise of Vaping and the Rise of Juul,” by Jia Tolentino
Teens have taken a technology that was supposed to help grownups stop smoking and invented a new kind of bad habit, molded in their own image. Read more.
21. “How Rudy Giuliani Turned Into Trump’s Clown,” by Jeffrey Toobin
The former mayor’s theatrical, combative style of politics anticipated—and perfectly aligns with—the President’s. Read more.
22. “Can Mark Zuckerberg Fix Facebook Before It Breaks Democracy?,” by Evan Osnos
The most famous entrepreneur of his generation is facing a public reckoning with the power of Big Tech. Read more.
23. “Michael Wolff’s Withering Portrait of President Donald Trump,” by John Cassidy
“Fire and Fury” describes a dysfunctional and bitterly divided White House, but its most consequential allegations focus on the firing of James Comey. Read more.
24. “Was There a Connection Between a Russian Bank and the Trump Campaign?,” by Dexter Filkins
A team of computer scientists sifted through records of unusual Web traffic in search of answers. Read more.
25. “Anthony Bourdain and the Power of Telling the Truth,” by Helen Rosner
In his final years, Bourdain attained a new sort of celebrity as an activist, a revered elder statesman, and an overt and uncompromising figure of moral authority. Read more.
We decided to limit this list to pieces originally published in 2018. Without that restriction, five older stories would have made the top twenty-five:
“Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” by Anthony Bourdain (2014)
A New York chef spills some trade secrets. Read more.
“Cat Person,” by Kristen Roupenian (2017)
“It was a terrible kiss, shockingly bad; Margot had trouble believing that a grown man could possibly be so bad at kissing.” Read more.
“The Really Big One,” by Kathryn Schulz (2015)
An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when. Read more.
“Why Aren’t You Laughing?,” by David Sedaris (2017)
The writer on reckoning with addiction. Read more.
“How the Elderly Lose Their Rights,” by Rachel Aviv (2017)
Guardians can sell the assets and control the lives of senior citizens without their consent—and reap a profit from it. Read more.