Top 100 works of 20th century American journalism
Top 100 works of 20th century American journalism
The idea of sharing pertinent information with other members of society is not a new one. Journalism can be tracked back to 59 BCE in ancient Rome: The “Acta Diurna” was published and presented daily to inform the public of daily events or speeches. Not every country has embraced a free press, however, and journalists in some countries put their lives on the line to share the facts with their communities.
Journalists are often criticized for their callousness, insensitivity, or perceived bias, but it’s likely the majority of people who choose the profession got into it for honorable reasons, especially considering pay is generally average, and hours can sometimes be inflexible. Regardless of their motivations—perceived or otherwise—journalists have shaped the national conversation time and time again through their efforts.
To examine the influence of journalism in the U.S., Stacker looked to New York University’s 1999 list of the top 100 works of journalism of the 20th century. To develop this list, 17 outside judges were chosen to work with the faculty of the university's department of journalism to determine each piece’s significance. Mitchell Stephens, acting chairman of the group, noted that the list was not intended to be the “last word on the subject.” Instead, the list is an opportunity to discuss excellence in journalism, especially “at a time when journalism’s failings receive most of the attention.”
Read on to learn of the top 100 works of American journalism in the 20th century.
#100. "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail"
Writer: Hunter S. Thompson
Year: Book, 1973
Hunter S. Thompson authored "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72," the pages of which are filled with Thompson’s observations regarding the 1972 presidential campaign that Richard Nixon ultimately won. More than four decades later, Thompson’s work “is still considered a kind of bible of political reporting.”
#99. "The Selling of the President 1968"
Writer: Joe McGinniss
Author Joe McGinniss’ work,"The Selling of the President, 1968," focused on how the advertising team of President Richard Nixon transformed his public image from “an ugly, boring, cold man,” to a “good and decent man.” This expose highlighted just how influential a well-crafted image can be in political campaigning.
#98. Crime reporting
Writer: Damon Runyon
Damon Runyon made a name for himself as a sportswriter for a Hearst-run publication when he moved from Denver to New York in 1910. He eventually became known for “his vivid accounts of the shady characters who haunted its streets, arenas, racetracks, and speakeasies,” according to The Denver Press Club. Runyon also covered the trial for Ruth Snyder and her lover, Henry Judd Gray, who together murdered Snyder’s husband on March 20, 1927. Runyon named the case the “Dumbbell Murders.”
#97. Columns on race during his tenure as editor of The Crisis
Writer: W.E.B. DuBois
While on leave from his teaching post at Atlanta University, from 1910 to 1934, W.E.B. DuBois worked as the founding editor for The Crisis, the official publication for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). DuBois, the only African-American on the NAACP’s original executive board, believed social science could help solve the civil rights crisis, and spent these years “sharing the intellectual and artistic work of people of color.”
#96. "Personal History"
Writer: Vincent Sheean
“Personal History” is the memoir of Vincent Sheean, who was hired by the Chicago Tribune in 1922 for a role now known as a foreign correspondent. The memoir, which journalist John Maxwell Hamilton called “a tutorial in world news,” is about the first decade Sheean spent stationed in Paris.
#95. "Angela's Ashes"
Writer: Frank McCourt
"Angela's Ashes" is the memoir of a man born to poverty-stricken Irish immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, during the Great Depression. Frank McCourt tells the story of his survival after he, at age 4, returned to Limerick, Ireland with his family. McCourt moved back to America at age 18, published his first book at 66 years old, and was awarded the 1997 Pulitzer Prize in Biography only one year later.
#94. "The Politics of Memory"
#93. "Notre Dame's 'Four Horsemen'"
Writer: Grantland Rice
Following a notable victory for the Notre Dame football team in 1924, New York Herald Tribune sports writer Grantland Rice penned “Four Horsemen,” a relatively short set of lines known as “the most famous passage in sports journalism.” Rice begins, “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again.” The iconic photograph shows the quartet of backfielders on an actual horse, which was coordinated after Rice’s words were published.
#92. Photograph of a Saigon execution
Writer: Eddie Adams and Vo Suu
Standing on the streets of Saigon in 1968, Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams pressed his shutter at the very second a South Vietnam police chief pulled the trigger and shot a Vietcong prisoner in the head. Time named this image one of history’s 100 most influential photos—it “showed the [Vietnam] war’s brutality in a way Americans hadn’t seen before.”
#91. "The Europeans"
Writer: Jane Kramer
Another collection of 30 essays by The New Yorker’s Jane Kramer, “Europeans” won the Prix Européen de l’Essai “Charles Veillon” and was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle nonfiction award. The essays were pulled from Kramer’s regular column, “Letter from Europe,” which she has written since 1981.
#90. "Rosa Lee's Story" in the Washington Post
Writer: Leon Dash
"Rosa Lee's Story" is an eight-day series published in the Washington Post from Sept. 18 to Sept. 25, 1994. Investigative new reporter Leon Dash created an intimate portrait of the daily lives of Rosa Lee Cunningham and her family. This series was Dash’s “investigation of the forces surrounding the black urban underclass as seen through the experience of one woman, her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.” The publication received more than 4,600 calls in response to the story.
#89. Coverage of the "Little Scottsboro" trial
Writer: Ted Poston
Ted Poston became the first African-American staff reporter at a mainstream daily newspaper when the New York Post brought him on in 1935. Poston gained recognition for his coverage of the retrial for the Scottsboro boys—nine black teenagers falsely accused of the 1931 rapes of two white women in Alabama. Poston had to cover the retrial in Decatur, Alabama, from a segregated balcony, because the court failed to recognize Poston’s press credentials.
#88. Report for CBS on atrocities committed by American soldiers on the hamlet of Cam Ne in Vietnam
Writer: Morley Safer
Reporting from Cam Ne, Vietnam, CBS News foreign correspondent Morley Safer brought the Vietnam War onto the screens of Americans’ television sets. According to CBS: “The footage showed U.S. Marines torching thatched huts—using flamethrowers, Zippo lighters, and matches—as villagers stumbled from their homes in shock.
#87. "Mystery Train"
Writer: Greil Marcus
Greil Marcus’ “Mystery Train” is a collection of essays about rock ‘n’ roll, featuring Elvis Presley, Sly Stone, and Randy Newman. “To deal with rock & roll not as youth culture, or counterculture, but simply as American culture,” Marcus wrote in 1975 of his objective. Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield said of Marcus’ work: “Generations of fans have gotten their minds blown by it, as I did at a tender age.”
#86. Series of articles on race for Harper's and Life magazines
Writer: Earl Brown
"American Negroes and the War" (Harper's, April, 1942) and "The Negro Vote, 1944: A Forecast" (Harper's, July, 1944) are memoirs by Harlem politician and journalist Earl Brown. The writings include Brown’s observations during his time as a public official, as well as “discussions about the way African Americans have voted in New York city and state elections [in the] 1970s.”
Writer: Lillian Ross
“Picture” by New Yorker journalist Lillian Ross is “a closely observed and completely absorbing story of how studio politics and misguided commercialism turn a promising movie into an all-around disaster.” Ross follows the director and actor John Huston as he sets out to rework “The Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane into a film.
#84. "McSorley's Wonderful Saloon"
Writer: Joseph Mitchell
Named for one of the oldest watering holes in New York City, Joseph Mitchell’s "McSorley's Wonderful Saloon" presents a collection of stories that first appeared in The New Yorker. “The stories in both books were written before World War II and they are as good now as they were when he wrote them,” said New York Times writer Jimmy Breslin.
#83. Report of the liberation of Buchenwald
Writer: Edward R. Murrow
Edward R. Murrow of CBS was the first on the scene after the Buchenwald concentration camp liberation on April 12, 1945 in Weimar, Germany. His chilling broadcast viscerally described what he saw at the concentration camp.
#82. "To an Anxious Friend"
Writer: William Allen White
“To an Anxious Friend,” published in The Emporia Gazette on July 27, 1922, won William Allen White the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. The editorial advocated for freedom of speech, with White writing, “you can have no wise laws nor free entertainment of wise laws unless there is free expression of the wisdom of the people.”
#81. "Klan Exposed"
Writer: Herbert Bayard Swope
Led by editor Herbert Bayard Swope, New York World won the 1922 Pulitzer Prize in Public Service for exposing the operations of the Ku Klux Klan. The front page of the paper read: “Secrets of the Ku Klux Klan exposed by the world; menace of this growing law-defying organization proved by its ritual and the record of its activities.”
#80. "The Two Worlds of Linda Fitzpatrick," in the New York Times
Writer: J. Anthony Lukas
“The Two Worlds of Linda Fitzpatrick,” about the life and death of an affluent Connecticut teenager who had a also led a drug-ridden life in New York City, brought J. Anthony Lukas his first Pulitzer Prize. Lukas’ work “brought the upheavals of the '60s into human focus on the front page of the Times.”
#79. "Praying for Sheetrock"
Writer: Melissa Fay Greene
In "Praying for Sheetrock" Melissa Fay Greene tells the story of McIntosh County, Georgia, an area that the Civil Rights Movement appeared to have no impact upon. American author, activist, civil rights leader, and the wife of Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King said of Greene’s work: “An inspiring and absorbing account of the struggle for human dignity and racial equality.”
#78. "City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles"
Writer: Mike Davis
"City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles" by Mike Davis “offers a dark, almost unrelievedly oppressive picture of life in a tough, hardhearted city where the ruling elite crushes the poor, whites exploit people of color, public space is turned into fortresses, police abuse the citizenry, and traffic, pollution and urban decay conquer all.” Davis calls Los Angeles “the city that American intellectuals love to hate.”
#77. "The Earl of Louisiana"
Writer: A.J. Liebling
A.J. Liebling’s "The Earl of Louisiana" was originally a three-part New Yorker profile of Gov. Earl Long, who experienced a mental breakdown. American writer Adam Gopnik wrote that Liebling’s work was the “best single piece ever to appear in these pages, or in pixels.”
#76. "Here To Stay"
Writer: John Hersey
"Here To Stay" is a collection of some of John Hersey’s journalistic works. In the preface, Hersey wrote of his hope that the volume “will give its readers a draught of adrenalin, that bitter elixer [sic], sufficient sips of which may help put us on our guard against blunderers, tyrants, madmen and ourselves.” A Kirkus Review reads: “The will to live is the connecting thread that holds together these dramatic and moving true stories of man's indomitability.”
#75. "All the President's Men"
Writer: Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
One of Time magazine’s All-Time 100 Best Nonfiction Books, "All the President's Men" details Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s breaking-open of the infamous Watergate scandal. It was published just months prior to President Nixon’s resignation. Time cites the book as “the work that brought down a presidency… perhaps the most influential piece of journalism in history.”
#74. "Notes on Camp"
Writer: Susan Sontag
Susan Sontag essay, "Notes on Camp," discusses ‘camp’ as a ‘sensibility,’ rather than a strict idea. Quartz writer Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz called Sontag’s essay “essential reading in 2018.” Sontag’s work is the inspiration for the 2018 Met exhibit: “Camp: Notes on Fashion.”
#73. Spanish Civil War photos for Life
Writer: Robert Capa
Robert Capa captured images that showed “brutal realities of combat” in the Spanish Civil War. “Capa’s strategy was to repersonalize war—to emphasize that those who suffer the effects of war are individuals with whom the viewer of the photographs cannot help but identify,” said author Richard Whelan in “Heart of Spain.”
#72. "The Executioner's Song"
#71. Report on killings of Howard Unruh in the New York Times
#70. "The New Yorker Book of War Pieces"
#69. "Go for Broke," in Carter's Delta Democrat-Times (Greenville, MS)
Writer: Hodding Carter, Jr.
Hodding Carter, Jr. was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1946 for his editorials speaking out against racial segregation in the South, including “Go for Broke.” Carter faced two violent and racially charged incidents in his childhood, which “left an indelible impression on the growing mind.”
#68. Photograph of Marines raising a U. S. flag on Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima
#67. "The Promised Land"
Writer: Nicholas Lemann
“The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America,” is a New York Times bestseller. Penguin Random House calls Nicholas Lemann’s work, “the groundbreaking authoritative history of the migration of African-Americans from the rural South to the urban North.”
#65. Photographs for Life magazine following the defeat of Germany
Writer: Margaret Bourke-White
Margaret Bourke-White was the first female staff photographer hired at Life magazine, the first photographer for Fortune magazine, and the first Western photographer allowed into the Soviet Union. It is believed that Bourke-White was the only photographer in 1941 Moscow during German raids of the Kremlin, giving her the opportunity to take a portrait of Josef Stalin.
#64. Early essays for the New Republic
Writer: Walter Lippmann
Walter Lippman, supporter of Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Party in the 1912 presidential elections, was one of the first hires for the New Republic magazine. Lippman helped form the League of Nations and was a U.S. delegate to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.
#63. Documentary on Vietnam
Writer: Walter Cronkite
Walter Cronkite, the anchor of “The CBS Evening News” during the Cold War, had “never taken a public position on the war”—until he returned home from Vietnam in a helicopter carrying the remains of 12 U.S. Marines. Cronkite finally shared his opinion with the public: “[I]t is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”
#62. Series of columns: "1001 Afternoons in Chicago"
#61. Account in the New York Herald-Tribune of being over Japan in a bomber when World War II came to an end
Writer: Homer Bigart
New York Herald-Tribune reporter Homer Bigart was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on Aug. 6, 1945. His article began: “We walked today through Hiroshima, where survivors of the first atomic-bomb explosion four weeks ago are still dying at the rate of about one hundred daily from burns and infections which the Japanese doctors seem unable to cure.”
#60. "Franks and Beans," in the New York Times
Writer: Russell Baker
“Francs and Beans,” by Russell Baker is “a devastating parody of gourmet cuisine first published on the Times' good, gray editorial page in 1975,” according to John Goodspeed in the Baltimore Sun. “The meal opened,” he writes as a just-folks gourmet, “with a 1975 Diet Pepsi served in a disposable bottle. Although its bouquet was negligible, its distinct metallic aftertaste evoked memories of tin cans one had licked experimentally in the first flush of childhood's curiosity."
#59. "The Fate of the Earth"
Writer: Jonathan Schell
"The Fate of the Earth" by Jonathan Schell, “painted a chilling picture of the planet in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust.” The New Republic’s Max Lerner said of Schell’s work: “There have been thousands of commentaries on what this new destructive power of man means; but my guess is that Schell's book ... will become the classic statement of the emerging consciousness."
#58. "What It Takes: The Way to the White House"
Writer: Richard Ben Cramer
Richard Ben Cramer’s 1,047-page book is on the six candidates of the 1988 presidential race: George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, D**k Gephardt, Joe Biden, Gary Hart, and Michael Dukakis. Politico’s Jonathan Martin wrote: “‘What It Takes: The Way to the White House,’ the full title, isn’t one of those pleasurable books you read once … It’s just as worthwhile to dip back in and read a few pages as it is to plow through the entire thing.”
#57. "Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire"
Writer: David Remnick
David Remnick’s work, "Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire," is his account of the Soviet Union’s collapse. “The book is a collection of these interviews as well as personal recollections of a Western journalist witnessing historical change in the former Soviet Union,” according to C-Span.
#56. "Titicut Follies"
Writer: Frederick Wiseman
Director Frederick Wiseman’s “controversial film portrays the wretched conditions at The Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane in Bridgewater, Massachusetts circa 1967.” The film was banned before it 1967 New York Film Festival premiere. Wiseman said of his own work: “I like to think the movie may have contributed to [Bridgewater closing], but I actually have no idea.”
#55. Live broadcast of Army-McCarthy hearings
ABC broadcast the live Army–McCarthy hearings, which have been called “the first great made-for-TV political spectacle,” according to the AP. This journalistic work also “marked the live-on-TV downfall of an era-defining demagogue, Sen. Joseph McCarthy.”
#53. Reporting from the Soviet Union for the New York Times
Writer: Harrison Salisbury
New York Times correspondent Harrison Salisbury was awarded a 1955 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting for his article series, "Russia Re-Viewed." Salisbury’s articles “made a valuable contribution to American understanding of what is going on inside Russia.”
#52. "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63"
Writer: Taylor Branch
Taylor Branch’s "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63" is a three-volume history of the Civil Rights Movement, including Martin Luther King Jr. Branch received the 1989 Pulitzer Prize in History as well as the Anisfield-Wolf Award that same year.
#51. Philadelphia Inquirer series: "America: What Went Wrong"
Writer: Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele
Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele’s 1991 nine-part series in The Philadelphia Inquirer “explained for the first time what had happened to working people in America, and why.” Also published in book form in 1992, “America: What Went Wrong,” exposed how public acts and private greed impacts everyone.
#50. "Part of Our Time: Some Ruins and Monuments of the Thirties"
Writer: Murray Kempton
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Murray Kempton brings the turbulent 1930s to life “through brilliant portraits of real persons.” A review for "Part of Our Time: Some Ruins and Monuments of the Thirties" published by The Nation said: “In presenting his segments of history Kempton uses the technique of the novelist—and it comes off brilliantly.”
#49. "America Comes of Middle Age: Columns 1950-1962"
Writer: Murray Kempton
Also written by Kempton, "America Comes of Middle Age: Columns 1950-1962" is a collection of his New York Post columns. A reviewer on Goodreads wrote of Kempton: “It’s a rare, rare gift to write journalism that stands as history and literature both. It is the gift Kempton had.”
#48. "The Right Stuff"
Writer: Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe’s book, “The Right Stuff,” is an account of the early days of the United States’ manned space program. Wolfe wrote the profiles of NASA’s first astronaut class—the Mercury Seven. The book also covered Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier in 1947.
#47. "The Wayward Pressman"
Writer: A. J. Liebling
A collection of articles, "The Wayward Pressman" takes its name from the regular The New Yorker column, which A.J. Liebling took over in the mid-1940s. “Liebling addresses his own affinity for newspapers, the differences between newspapers and other printed texts, and the role of the journalist in society, in addition to his evaluations of the priorities and performances of various American newspapers,” according to B&B Rare Books.
#46. "A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam"
Writer: Neil Sheehan
In “A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam,” author Neil Sheehan “orchestrates a great fugue evoking all the elements of the war,” said New York Times writer Ronald Steel. Sheehan focuses in on a man named Lt. Col. John Paul Vann, who perished in a helicopter crash in 1972 Vietnam.
#45. "Paris Journals" in The New Yorker
Writer: Janet Flanner (Genet)
American Janet Flanner used the pen-name "Genêt" to write her biweekly column for The New Yorker while living in Paris. Flanner was a part of the American expatriate community, which also included Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, E.E. Cummings, and Gertrude Stein. In a piece for the Paris Review, Natalia Danesi Murray said, “[Flanner’s] assignment from The New Yorker was to report merely ‘what the French thought was going on in France,’ but she slowly added her own insight and taut analysis to what she saw, heard, and read, giving birth to that special brand of essay-reporting that made her famous.”
#44. Reporting on AIDS
Writer: Randy Shilts
Randy Shilts was the first openly gay journalist to report for a mainstream daily once he was hired at The San Francisco Chronicle in 1981. “Initially assigned to cover the gay community, his articles about an alarming new disease striking gay men were among the first reports on AIDS in the mainstream press,” according to his biography.
#43. "Fame and Obscurity: Portraits by Gay Talese"
#42. "Trash, Art, and the Movies"
Writer: Pauline Kael
“Trash, Art, and the Movies,” published in the February 1969 issues of Harper’s Magazine, was written by New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael. “What Kael understood is that the American predilection for trash wasn’t a failing of taste so much as it was a deliberate resistance to it. We hate whatever you like. She knew that deep in the American psyche and soul was an implacable contrarianism—a desire to tear down the structures the elites had erected,” wrote author Neal Gabler.
#41. Photograph of a burning girl running from a napalm attack
Writer: Huỳnh Công Út
Professionally known as Nick Ut, Huỳnh Công Út is the American-Vietnamese photographer that captured 9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc naked, screaming, and running toward him and away from a napalm strike on June 8, 1972, 25 miles northwest of Saigon, Vietnam. Time magazine named Ut’s work, “The Terror of War,” as one of the 100 most iconic images that have changed the world.
#40. "Letter from the South: Nobody Knows My Name"
Writer: James Baldwin
James Baldwin recounts his first travels to the South in 1957 in "Letter from the South: Nobody Knows My Name.” Arriving in the Deep South following time spent in Europe, the author was “returning to a place he’d never been before,” according to Ed Pavlic.
#39. Political cartoons
Senator Joseph McCarthy was often the target of political cartoonist Herblock in the early 1950s. Herbert L. Block, known as Herblock, coined the widely used term, “McCarthyism,” in a March 29, 1950 cartoon. According to the Library of Congress, Herblock’s cartoons show “he inherently understood that the evils inflicted in the name of combating communism were not the work of McCarthy alone.”
#38. "Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile"
Writer: Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile” changed the auto industry forever by calling out car makers for producing unsafe vehicles. Robert A. Lutz, who was a top executive at BMW, Ford Motor, Chrysler, and General Motors, said of Nader’s work: “The book had a seminal effect … I don’t like Ralph Nader and I didn’t like the book, but there was definitely a role for government in automotive safety.”
#37. "The Feminine Mystique"
Writer: Betty Friedan
Betty Friedan coined the term “feminine mystique” to “describe the societal assumption that women could find fulfillment through housework, marriage, sexual passivity, and child rearing alone.” Friedan’s "The Feminine Mystique" was a catalyst for the second-wave feminist movement taking place from the 60s to the 80s.
#36. "Up in the Old Hotel and Other Stories"
Writer: Joseph Mitchell
"Up in the Old Hotel and Other Stories" includes a collection of Joseph Mitchell’s writing for the New Yorker from 1938 to 1965. This work “will cause another melancholy soul, someone possessed by what Mr. Mitchell calls his ‘graveyard humor,’ to look in the waste places of the present city, listen to its lunatic ravings and report back to us, as amply and as sympathetically as Mr. Mitchell has done,” wrote Verlyn Klinkenborg in The New York Times.
#35. "The Fire Next Time"
Writer: James Baldwin
James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time” was originally a letter to his nephew on what marked 100 years since slaves were emancipated. “This is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become,” wrote Baldwin—more than 50 years ago.
#34. "The Face of War"
Writer: Martha Gellhorn
From stories of Polish soldiers fighting on Italy’s mountain ranges to accounts of the Spanish Civil War, "The Face of War" presents Martha Gellhorn’s global reporting. Gellhorn “never had problems identifying both as a woman and with men at war,” noted Clancy Sigal, adding that “this full-heartedness is the main characteristic of her writing.”
#33. Journalistic reports on the Spanish Civil War
Writer: Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway contributed 30 journalistic reports, written for the North American Newspaper Alliance, on the Spanish Civil War. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor William Braasch Watson said of this collection: ''Together, they make one thing clear. He was not, as some have asserted, a voyeur, a mere tourist of the Spanish Civil War, but a hard-working, risk-taking correspondent who tried and largely succeeded in becoming the professional reporter and witness that the violence and complexity of the war demanded.”
#32. "The Road Back to Paris"
Writer: A. J. Liebling
"The Road Back to Paris" is a series of dispatches A.J. Liebling sent to The New Yorker while he was covering World War II from France, England, and North Africa. Liebling focused on telling the personal stories of soldiers while expressing the wish for France’s liberation.
#31. Reports on Okie migrant camp life for the San Francisco News
Writer: John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck spent months living in an “Okie” migrant camp during the Great Depression for a series, published by The San Francisco News, titled “Harvest Gypsies.” A term for Oklahomans, so-called Okies migrated to California during the Dust Bowl, hoping for work but facing more plight. Steinbeck’s documentary work served as the basis for his best-selling novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.”
#30. Reports on the rise of Hitler in Cosmopolitan and Saturday Evening Post
Writer: Dorothy Thompson
While working as a Cosmopolitan correspondent, Dorothy Thompson—after trying for seven years—finally scheduled an interview with Adolf Hitler, which was titled, “I Saw Hitler.” Thompson called him “the very prototype of the little man,” to which Hitler responded by giving Thompson 24 hours to get out of Germany.
#29. Coverage of German march into Belgium
Writer: Richard Harding Davis
A classic example of war reportage, Richard Harding Davis traveled to Brussels in 1914 to cover World War I, providing a play by play of the German Army’s advancements. Davis passed away only a couple of years later after suffering a heart attack in 1916.
#28. "Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families"
Writer: J. Anthony Lukas
“Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families" by J. Anthony Lukas was awarded the 1986 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the American Book Award. Publishers Weekly said Lukas’ work is “highly readable and brings us as close as we are likely to get to the average person's experiences of urban racial tensions.''
#27. Ten photographs from D-Day
Writer: Robert Capa
Life magazine’s photojournalist Robert Capa was assigned to photograph American troops as they landed on Omaha Beach on the Normandy coastline on June 6, 1944—also known as D-Day. Capa’s images showed the public the view of American soldiers at war. He was famous for saying: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
#26. "The Making of the President: 1960"
Writer: Theodore White
In "The Making of the President: 1960," Theodore White gave his account of the 1960 presidential election and John F. Kennedy’s win, for which White won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. White’s work is said to have set the standard for campaign reporting in modern day.
Writer: Michael Herr
“Dispatches” was written by Michael Herr and details his experiences on the front lines during the Vietnam War. Penguin Random House describes the work as “among the most blistering and compassionate accounts of war in our literature.” Herr also co-wrote the screenplay to Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.”
#24. "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby"
Writer: Tom Wolfe
"The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby" by Tom Wolfe was published in Esquire magazine on Nov. 1, 1963. Two years later, Wolfe published his first book by the same name, which presented as a collection of essays about the ‘60s. The work introduced readers to new styles that veered away from elitist culture.
#23. "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" (collected essays)
Writer: Joan Didion
Joan Didion’s essay collection "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" provides a picture of California in the 1960s. The New Yorker details the work as “a classic of what was later named The New Journalism.”
#22. "In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences"
Writer: Truman Capote
Truman Capote’s nonfiction novel, "In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences," tells the story of the murders of a Kansas family in 1959. Capote is comprehensive in his study of the murders, and focuses heavily on the two young killers. The novel offers insights into American violence.
#21. "Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondant, 1939-1941"
Writer: William Shirer
William Shirer was best known as a radio journalist for CBS, covering Germany up until the Nazi press censors made his objective approach increasingly tenuous. Fastidiously protecting the identities of his sources, he set out as the first major news figure to shine a light on to the goings on of Nazi Germany by publishing his work in 1941. He continued to chronicle and expose, bookending “Berlin Diary” in 1947 with coverage of the Nuremberg trials.
#20. "Eichmann in Jerusalem"
Writer: Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt, a Jew displaced by fear in the wake of the third Reich, should have no hesitation to loathe and vilify SS officer Eichmann as she examines him facing trial. Instead, the reader receives an even-handed and measured approach into the mind and motivations of a war criminal, finding him a mindless peon seeking an organization to adopt in place of a personality.
#19. "The Armies of the Night"
Writer: Norman Mailer
A unique third-hand account of his own first-hand experience, Norman Mailer's nonfictional foray into the march on the Pentagon in the wake of the Vietnam War culminates in his own imprisonment and personal debate of the conflict’s legitimacy. He finds himself in uncharted territory, neither for nor against—not seeing communism as the evil it was regarded at the time, and laying bare what he saw as American hypocrisy, of wanting to be the good man in search of God, and also of becoming a corporate computer.
#18. "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test"
Writer: Tom Wolfe
A nuanced exploration into the beginnings of the hippie movement, Tom Wolfe took three weeks of experience and transformed it into an exploratory reasoning of acid-fuelled misadventures in "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test." He chronicled collisions with figures of the beatnik movement, and referenced the people who inspired Kerouac's “On the Road.” Wolfe's own take stands as a perfect example of the New Journalism style.
#17. "Eyes on the Prize"
Writer: Henry Hampton
Henry Hampton's account of the Civil Rights movement, “Eyes on the Prize,” is considered to be the first black perspective to be given a voice. As a teenage polio sufferer, he limped along with the early marches, not seeing the disenfranchised, poor creatures the white writers of the time reported, but rather a community of strength and purpose.
#16. "I. F. Stones Weekly"
Writer: I.F. Stones
I.F. Stones lived through radical change as he witnessed the Depression, the devastation of World War II, and the establishment of Israel and the Korean war. His outspoken views lead to his marginalization, going from a mainstream media personality to being blacklisted from reporting. His self-published weekly newsletter became significant as he alone questioned President Lyndon B. Johnson’s account of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and further criticized the Vietnam war.
#15. "The Souls of Black Folk"
Writer: W.E.B. DuBois
W.E.B. DuBois is a famous activist in his own right and was the first black man to receive a Harvard doctorate. Through a thematically linked essay structure, DuBois dissects what it means to be black in America in “The Souls of Black Folk,” a work many regard as an important gift to the African-American community.
#14. "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men"
Writer: James Agee and Walker Evans
Grown from an article about sharecroppers in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, Agee is sensitive of his privilege in the face of poverty. He is backed by Walker Evans’ photos as the work in “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” moves between mundane observations and nontraditional journalism.
#13. Publication of the Pentagon Papers
Writer: The New York Times
The New York Times won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service when it produced its Pentagon Papers series. The Times “acquired, analyzed, and published the secret Pentagon Papers, describing deceptions that several presidential administrations had employed to keep Americans ignorant of U.S. policy in South Vietnam.”
#12. Investigation of massacre committed by American soldiers at My Lai in Vietnam
Writer: Seymour Hersh
In reports published in the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh writes about the investigation of the civilian massacre committed by U.S. Army soldiers in the coastal northeastern South Vietnam province of Quang Ngai on March 16, 1968. It was kept quiet until a year later, when an ex-G.I. wrote letters to government officials describing the murders.
#11. CBS Reports documentary "Harvest of Shame"
Writer: Edward R. Murrow, David Lowe, and Fred Friendly
"Harvest of Shame,” is a Peabody Award-winning documentary presented on CBS by Edward R. Murrow in 1960 on the day after Thanksgiving. The broadcast “is considered a milestone for its unflinching examination of the plight of migrant farmworkers in the United States,” according to NPR’s Elizabeth Blair.
#10. See It Now documentary taking on Senator Joseph McCarthy
Writer: Edward R. Murrow
Edward R. Murrow spoke out against Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist methods on March 9, 1954 on Murrow’s television show, “See It Now.” This broadcast “has been referred to as television’s finest hour.”
#9. Reports from Europe and the Pacific during World War II
Writer: Ernie Pyle
Ernie Pyle traveled abroad to report on the Battle of Britain during World War II in 1940. “Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, read his columns daily and commented enthusiastically on them in her newspaper column, ‘My Day,’” according to Warfare History Network.
#8. Coverage of the Scopes "monkey" trial
Writer: H.L. Mencken
H.L. Mencken’s coverage of the Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee, was published in The Baltimore Evening Sun in June through September of 1925. Mencken reported on the trial of John T. Scopes, who was prosecuted for teaching the theory of evolution to his students.
#7. "Ten Days That Shook the World"
Writer: John Reed
American journalist John Reed shared his account of Russia’s October Revolution in 1917 in "Ten Days That Shook the World." Publisher Penguin Random House calls Reed’s account “the product of passionate involvement” that remains “an unsurpassed classic of reporting.”
#6. "The Shame of the Cities"
Writer: Lincoln Steffens
Year: 1902–1904 (book 1904)
"The Shame of the Cities" by Lincoln Steffens helped expose corrupt municipal governments in St. Louis, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York. “In all cities, the better classes—the business men—are the sources of corruption,'' Steffens wrote.
#5. "The History of the Standard Oil Company" investigation
Writer: Ida Tarbell
Year: 1902–1904 (book 1904)
Ida Tarbell’s father was one of the small oil producers in Ohio and Western Pennsylvania affected when John D. Rockefeller, Sr. introduced Standard Oil Company—the oil war of 1872. Three decades later Ida Tarbell produced a 19-part series of investigative reports, bringing down Standard Oil’s monopoly, becoming “one of the most influential muckrakers of the Gilded Age.” She also published a two-volume book called “The History of the Standard Oil Company.”
#4. "This is London" radio reports for CBS on the German bombing of London. Also collected in book form.
Writer: Edward R. Murrow
CBS’s Edward R. Murrow reported on the daily London bombings by Nazi Germany in World War II’s Battle of Britain. Murrow’s reports were broadcasted to American listeners from a BBC facility in London, allowing listeners to hear the sounds of war.
#3. Watergate investigations for the Washington Post
Writer: Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
On Sunday, June 18, 1972, the Washington Post published the article, “5 Held in Plot to Bug Democrats’ Office Here”—the first report on the Watergate scandal, which led to the first U.S. presidential resignation. Along with the first report, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward also authored: “Part 1: The Post investigates;” “Part 2: The government acts;” “Part 3: Nixon resigns; and “Part 4: Deep Throat revealed.”
#2. "Silent Spring"
Writer: Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson’s "Silent Spring" is a documentation of the adverse impact of pesticides (DDT) on human life, as well as animals and insects. The three-part series, which was published in The New Yorker, “eloquently questioned humanity's faith in technological progress and helped set the stage for the environmental movement,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.