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The Best of 2021, Part I
Reporting and writing from the past year worth revisiting.
Let it be said first and foremost: Year-end lists are imperfect documents. A year is a long time, and in our current journalism landscape, with the sheer amount of content that’s created daily, a year provides a number of riches. Throw in the surreal, time-warping component of the COVID-19 pandemic that’s approaching its third year, and it’s an impossible task to highlight everything in a single list.
There are numerous formats that could have been used to tackle this task, and many of them would have worked well. A simple one for The Postscript hinges on the fact that it went live in July 2021, and that means there were six months of journalism that we never had a chance to share.
This format will look different from our usual Weekend Reading posts, but it’s in an effort to cover a lot of ground and give you a quick look back at the year that was and a one-stop shop to populate your year-end reading lists.
Do you remember…
The timely reporting and contextualizing from one of America’s darkest days. When The New Yorker unleashed one of its best writers with a simple (but massive) mandate: Tell the story of America during a year of a pandemic. When Representative Jamie Raskin wrote so lovingly about his son. When Anthony Fauci leaped at the opportunity to speak freely as President Donald Trump left office.
When we were reminded, upon his death, that Hank Aaron did so much more for baseball than simply hit home runs. What it took for Mitch McConnell to finally speak out against Trump. How Boeing got a sweetheart settlement deal. Alexi Navalny vs. Vladimir Putin. Stonks and GameStop going to the moon. America’s love affair with guns. America’s deep-seated loathing of scam calls. Tim Cook on Big Tech.
The 77 days after the presidential election when Trump tried his damnedest to steal it by saying it had been stolen from him first. How a mother of eight ended up storming the Capitol on January 6th. That time Jeff Bezos stepped down as CEO of Amazon. What it’s like to live upwards of 1,000 feet in the sky. A big league baseball player’s second chance at life. What it took to get votes cast and counted in Fulton County.
When COVID-19 came to Minot, North Dakota, the worst-hit county in the worst-hit state in the worst-hit country at the time. A too-little-discussed lunch counter sit-in in Kansas. How it’s more than jobs that are lost when local newspapers shutter. When Texas froze and utility prices skyrocketed. When Rush Limbaugh died and we reckoned with what hell he’d wrought. That time we got to hear what Mars sounds like. How the Duke and Duchess of Sussex surprised everyone when they said no more.
Climate activists who support the use of nuclear energy. How Facebook could have done more to combat misinformation from right-wing figures. When we realized just how deadly our first winter with COVID-19 actually was. What happened inside the forced labor prisons where China sent ethnic and religious minorities.
When the American withdrawal from Afghanistan wasn’t yet a reality. How 2021 was the year we were forced to learn what an NFT is. How COVID-19-related school closures disrupted the lives of students. What it felt like on March 11th, 2020, when the U.S. realized COVID-19 had found us. When we thought Cyrus Vance would be the one who filed criminal charges against Trump.
How polyamorists and polygamists are changing family norms. How Peloton became more than just exercise. How money and economic power didn’t necessarily equal success against COVID-19. When hatred and racism found workers in an Atlanta spa. The pandemic saw U.S. air quality improve and then wildfires erased all of those gains. That time America’s supply of nasopharyngeal swabs depended on feuding cousins.
When Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, organized an epic union fight. How a giant container ship got stuck in and finally escaped from the Suez Canal. An unimaginable travesty of so-called criminal justice that saw a young man spend almost two decades in solitary confinement. How the Kochs tried to block election reform. The history of working out. A witness to George Floyd’s murder refuses to be reduced to the trope of “angry Black man.”
How one man with 200,000 Twitter followers became a fount of COVID-19 misinformation. Alexey Navalny’s struggle in Russian prison. When we realized that 55 major corporations had zero federal tax liability in 2020. How the pandemic didn’t erase the opioid epidemic. Amazon beat back the Bessemer unionizing effort. How the longest war in American history not only cost more than 2,200 American lives but more than 100,000 Afghan lives.
When a 17-year-old witnessed the murder of George Floyd and had the awareness to hit record. European soccer had aspirations for a super league that didn’t last more than two days. By daring to go against Trump, stalwart conservative Liz Cheney suddenly wasn’t Republican enough for the base anymore.
Mark Zuckerberg vs. Tim Cook. That time lumber got super expensive, and a beetle didn’t help things. When we learned what it’s like to break out of a maximum security prison like in the movies. The Supreme Court considered whether a school could punish a student for things said off campus and on social media.
The pandemic created a showdown between landlords and tenants. Facebook’s Oversight Board upheld a decision to temporarily ban Trump from the social media platform. When the worst of COVID-19 was being seen in India’s massive population. While everyone else in the world wanted to disappear in 2021, the Brood X cicadas were just showing up.
The collapse of the Golden Globes and the corrupt Hollywood Foreign Press Association. How online groups for mothers became a massive vector of COVID-19 misinformation. The pandemic exacerbation of burnout. Behind the scenes of the Republican-led Arizona election audit. The mysterious spy thriller plot line known as Havana Syndrome reached the White House. UFOs. The lasting legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. How the pandemic benefited the fast food industry.
Credit card rewards aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. How the wealthiest avoid income taxes. What we gain when we commute to work. Rain refused to fall in the West. The birth of Southwest Airlines. What it was like to spend six months inside one of America’s most dangerous industries: a slaughterhouse.
Amazon proved to be a godsend during the worst days of the pandemic, but it strained an already strained workforce within the company. A prophetic profile of Senator Joe Manchin. The Delta variant vs. the unvaccinated. Retail workers leave the industry in droves. The ongoing search for the origins of the virus behind COVID-19. China remakes Hong Kong with new national security law.
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