One thing that often gets forgotten about FT Alphaville is our close association with the Financial Times, a visually-distinct b2b publication based in the world’s 18th-biggest IPO market.
Between us, we’d like to think we publish a fairly decent amount of interesting articles. Inexplicably, however, that isn’t enough to sate public demand, so other places also publish interesting articles.
Therefore, to mark the end of 2023, we asked our colleagues to submit their favourite articles published over the past year for a special edition of our daily Further Reading missive (2022’s round-up can be read here).
Their responses, and justifications of variable length, are below. Spoiler alert: if you don’t already have a subscription to The New Yorker, now would be a sensible time to get one.
Lightly edited, and in no particular order . . .
Kate Allen, weekend news editor
The New York Times’ Barbie piece, which (before it became clear just what a blockbuster it would be) managed to deliver both a profile of Greta Gerwig and an exploration of Mattel’s business strategy. This is how to do non-boring corporate coverage . ..
Murad Ahmed, technology news editor
Bit of recency bias, but enjoyed the latest from John Carreyrou in The New York Times on Netflix’s lost sci-fi series. In a similar vein, quite enjoyed this Hollywood Reporter story about Amazon’s non-strategy for its film and TV studios.
Mary McDougall, bonds and currencies reporter
This is quite random but I loved this — heartwarming and lovely amid all the doom and gloom: Richard E Grant: My lifelong infatuation with Barbra Streisand (The Times)
Anonymous editor + Michael O’Dwyer, chief UK business correspondent (duplicate entry)
Is David Solomon too big a jerk to run Goldman Sachs? (New York Magazine)
Anon — 6,000 words which don’t ask whether D-Sol is a jerk, just how big a one he is.
Michael — My choice is this revealing and damaging piece by Jen Wieczner about one of the world’s most powerful bankers. Worth reading for the quotes alone.
Isabel Berwick, Working It host
Not an easy read but this joint ProPublica/New York magazine investigation of decades-long abuse of patients by a senior obstetrician, Robert Hadden, at Columbia University is meticulous and enraging. Bianca Fortis and Laura Beil lay out how Columbia protected a predator and ignored women’s complaints for decades. The visual storytelling alongside the text — showcasing some of the women and their testimonies — is groundbreaking, in my opinion.
This is a sadly familiar story of how institutions protect their reputations above all other human considerations, but the reporting centres the women — it’s one of the best examples I’ve seen of a new way of presenting these difficult investigations, maintaining the dignity of women who have suffered indignity.
Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator
This is the most important article of the year: A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable. We should stop pretending. (The Washington Post)
Anjli Raval, management editor
Consultants tell me they get a bad rap. Articles like this don’t help their cause. A must read: Confessions of a McKinsey whistleblower.
Cordelia Jenkins, longform editor + Matt Vella, magazine editor (duplicate entry)
How Andrew Wylie turned serious literature into big business (The Guardian)
Cordelia — This profile of Andrew Wylie, the literary agent known as “the jackal”, by Alex Blasdel for the Guardian Long Read, is the one every reader needed and every editor wished they’d commissioned.
Matt — I’m sure somebody already suggested Andrew Wylie in the Guardian?
Robin Wigglesworth, Swedish fixed income reporter
I’m constantly seething with jealousy over some story someone else has written, but luckily for my mental wellbeing I rarely remember it for long (this goes for my own work as well, sadly).
However, Justina Lee’s Bloomberg piece on Universa’s stonkingly-high claimed headline returns and the blood it boils among rival tail-risk hedge fund managers stayed with me (partly because I’d started and aborted a similar story twice). Justina nailed it and, annoyingly, did a better job that I would have.
And while it’s not an article, Rob Copeland’s The Fund was the best thing I read in 2023 — even if I still don’t feel I have a good handle on how Bridgewater actually functions and manages money.
I’m sorry to say that mine sounds like a right old brown-nose job, but it is Bryce Elder’s piece on misery theatre — specifically A Little Life, which I would pay good money not to see. It made me laugh like the drain he says could be unblocked by Tanya Gold’s caustic prose — I’m still emailing it to friends when they complain about some dreary couple of hours spent being harangued by people shrieking and gurning on stage. Only yesterday I had someone on my sofa here absolutely furious about the book let alone the adaptation.
[We’re keeping this one in to shame those involved.]
Cristina Criddle, technology reporter
This one for me: A funeral for fish and chips: why are Britain’s chippies disappearing? (The Guardian)
Alistair Grey, law courts correspondent + Jonathan Eley, acting longform editor (duplicate entry)
Inside Rupert Murdoch’s Succession Drama (Vanity Fair)
Alistair — This was pretty great.
Jonathan — There’s nothing meeja types like better than reading about rivals. So by all means come to this Vanity Fair account of the Murdoch succession drama for the salacious detail (Jerry Hall feeding Rupes by spoon, only to then have her marriage to him ended by email), but do stick around for the meticulous reporting.
+ bonus Jonathan Eley
Why can’t Britain build enough houses? This piece by Samuel Watling, an economic historian at LSE, could certainly have been more concise. But it’s a hugely informative history of how well-meaning legislation and political reality created a system that virtually guarantees Britain will have small, mediocre and expensive housing for the foreseeable future
Josh Spero, associate arts editor
I love an (alleged) scam story, but one caught up with Tennessee Williams, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis and more was irresistible.
Miranda Green, deputy opinion editor
Writing about the really bad things is very hard — misery memoirs and confessional columns have become a genre with a bad name. But this year as The Spectator’s Low Life columnist Jeremy Clarke got closer and closer to his end in May, I started to live for updates even as he was dying. The incredible skill in very short pieces blending the moments of sublimity with the domestic, it was extraordinary. For a loyal reader, it was like waiting for Dickens instalments in the old days. Here’s one of the final ones, but you sort of had to be there week in week out to get it.
Sujeet Indap, Wall Street editor
“Years of low interest rates helped launch empires… and propped up plenty that would have gone by the wayside.”: How to hire a pop star for your private party (The New Yorker)
Katie Martin, markets editor
When I told one VC-adjacent person what I thought of this piece, he informed me my attitude was “unhelpful”.
Nonetheless, it is a cold dark heart that does not laugh out loud at several points of this absurd “techno-optimist manifesto“ written by SanFran overlord Marc Andreessen, he of a16z. The manifesto uses some 5,000 words to rant about “lies” and how failing to let AI run riot is a form of “murder”.
Next time, just say you don’t like higher interest rates, this is taking forever.
Helen Thomas, business columnist
You must have had this one already [we didn’t]: Millionaire’s ‘sex worker immigration scandal’ (The Times)
🥇 TOP PICK OF 2023
Antonia Cundy, special investigations reporter + Madison Marriage, special investigations editor + John Reed, South Asia bureau chief + Suzi Ring, legal correspondent + Arjun Neil Alim, asset management, retail investing and wealth reporter (duplicate entry)
The Fugitive Princesses of Dubai (The New Yorker)
Antonia — Heidi Blake’s story about Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum’s daughters and their attempts to escape him is a remarkable feat of reporting and writing.
Madison — I loved this piece by Heidi Blake in the New Yorker — bombshell reporting throughout, from the cinematic opening at sea, to the sordid intelligence she gleaned from British cabbies.
John — This piece on the captive princess of Dubai is the most extraordinary and moving longform piece I read this year. It’s a gripping human rights story whose alleged victims happen to be some of the richest people in the world!
Suzi — Heidi Blake’s exposé of the UAE Prime Minister’s abuse of his daughters is a tour de force in investigative reporting and a stand out piece of journalism for 2023 and beyond.
Arjun — A devastating insight into the golden cages occupied by some female members of the Emirates’ royal family.
[That’s right, no fewer than five people picked this article. Maybe that New Yorker magazine is on to something . . .]
+ bonus Madison Marriage
I thought this in the Guardian was brilliant — gripping, vivid storytelling: Dark waters: how the adventure of a lifetime turned to tragedy.
+ bonus Arjun Neil Alim
This CNET piece on how North Korea became a crypto superpower reinforced my previous instincts about cryptocurrencies — that the worst sorts of people benefit from their proliferation.
Soumaya Keynes, economics columnist
Catherine Nixey of The Economist reviews books by the shadow cabinet, and doesn’t sound like she enjoyed the task. She describes them as “heroically boring” and “like reading an aggrieved version of Wikipedia.” 😬
Elaine Moore, Lex deputy editor
I loved Katie Baker’s gossipy account of FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried’s trial in The Ringer, which includes a fun detour into old social media posts by his sometimes girlfriend and Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison: “There were posts about Taylor Swiftology and ‘cute boy things‘ she liked in a man (sample cute boy things: ‘controlling most major world governments’ and ‘low risk aversion’)…”
Emma Jacobs, work & careers editor
I love The Cut columnist Kathryn Jezer-Morton’s writing on parenting. There are so many of her newsletters I could pick — like the one praising The Road by Cormac McCarthy (who died earlier this year), as the best book about parenting. Her skill is to articulate a vague feeling.
My pick of her writing is this one on “camel mode”, she talks about the time of your life when your focus is on servicing your children’s needs. This is not about motherhood martyrdom (dads can feel it too). She writes: “When a co-worker idly asks if you ‘had a fun summer’ or “enjoyed the long weekend,’ you may feel a tug of awareness that you have no idea what they mean by that.”
Kadhim Shubber, UK news editor
Gabriel Pogrund of The Sunday Times is well known for regularly uncovering jaw-dropping stories about the British state. But his reporting in April about a man left broken by his work as a spy for MI6 was particularly stunning. The story was both tragic — the spy killed his own child — and startling. It included this line about the spy’s murder conviction: “The court now says it has “lost” all its papers on the case and is “unable to provide a reason as to why”.”
Aanu Adeoye, West Africa correspondent
I enjoyed this — The Inside Job (Toronto Life) — stories about scammers are incredibly interesting and this is no different. Even better because the law breaker here has a day job upholding the law.
Plus: Forbes’s descent into a zombie outlet has always fascinated me. This piece by Feven Merid (in the Columbia Journalism Review) digs into the how and why.
Bryce Elder, accessory
My pick of the year is a blog post about a bridge that goes from nowhere interesting to nowhere interesting. Author Tyler Vigen walks us through his research on why the bridge exists, building idle curiosity into a pleasantly undramatic bit of local history. The story, like the bridge, is pedestrian. Judged by professional measures it’s hard to imagine how it might be commissioned. But when everything is shouting for attention it’s nice sometimes to be invited on a slow walk between two points of uninterest.
Kate Duguid, US capital markets correspondent
A profile of the actress who plays Flo in the Progressive ads by Caity Weaver in New York Times gets at the nature of advertising, the insurance industry and the timeless problem of doing creative work vs. getting paid.
Ethan Wu, wunderkind
Evan Osnos masterfully captures the ennui among China’s professional class.
Neville Hawcock, project publishing commissioning editor
Have you ever wondered why cats are so much cooler than dogs, and for that matter a lot of humans? This New York Review of Books piece from June brings philosophy to bear on the question, marshalling its arguments with wit, rigour and, yes, feline grace.
And this New Yorker book review from October is a takedown of the happiness industry that — to steal one of its lines — left me feeling 24 per cent less sad after reading it.
Scheherazade Daneshkhu, director of editorial talent
If you thought innate artistic sensibility was needed to become master of the art world, think again. This fascinating profile of Larry Gagosian (in the New Yorker) is particularly good both for its detailed insights into how an aimless youth, who by his own admission could have ended up selling belt buckles, became the art world’s most powerful dealer and at chronicling shifts in an industry he has dominated for more than five decades.
Robert Smith, capital markets correspondent + Tony Tassell, financial opinion editor + Nikou Asgari, digital assets correspondent (duplicate entry)
Clarence Thomas and the Billionaire (ProPublica)
Rob — ProPublica’s “Friends of the Court” series stood out in 2023 for its depth, detail and impact. Exposing years of eyebrow-raising dealings at the US Supreme Court is one thing, but doing so in such forensic fashion is quite another. The highlight for me remains the first piece in the series — “Clarence Thomas and the Billionaire” — which boasted of lines that left me grinning from ear-to-ear marvelling at the lengths the reporters had gone to report out the story.
Tony — The most central cause of journalism is to hold power to account. That is why I nominate the investigatory series by ProPublica into the hitherto unrevealed ties of some US Supreme Court judges with some very wealthy individuals.
It is a team effort at ProPublica but thanks to the reporting by Justin Elliott, Joshua Kaplan, Alex Mierjeski, Brett Murphy and Andy Kroll we now have clearer rules and more transparency at the most powerful court in the world. As the court and US politics seem to grow ever more partisan, this is more important than ever before. Journalism with big impact. Bravo.
Nikou — A powerful story.
+ bonus Robert Smith
Whisper it cautiously, but we are arguably living through a new golden age of investigative reporting.
Perhaps the most amusing piece this year was James B. Stewart’s examination of the apparently dodgy goings-on at high-end New York wine seller Sherry-Lehmann. While not quite as famous as the other Jimmy Stewart, the author is without a doubt one of the most revered business journalists of his generation. This is where the deep vein of comedy in his latest exposé lies: Stewart’s interest in the case stemmed from his being a customer who got stiffed. Here’s a simple rule: if you’re going to (allegedly) rip someone off, try not to pick on one of the greatest investigative financial journalists of all time. The subsequent FBI raid on Sherry Lehman would attest to that.
Finally, outside of investigative journalism, John Herrman’s opus for NYMag on “The Junkification of Amazon” was one of the most incisive things I read all year. The enshittification of major internet platforms became an inescapable topic as the year wound on, but John’s piece was early in fully detailing the contours of a nagging feeling many of us will have had about the changing nature of The Everything Store.
+ bonus Nikou Asgari
A fun story about a weird place: A crypto micronation’s future hangs on a border dispute (Wired)
Marc Filippino, FT News briefing host
I absolutely loved Marianna Giusti’s look at how many Italian traditions surrounding food are wrong. I’m Italian-American — or, as Stanley Tucci likes to put it, “I am Italian on both sides.” — and I grew up with a bunch of weird food traditions that I never bothered to question until I was much older. Marianna’s piece is such a good reminder that traditions can be reworked, dropped and, most importantly, should not be viewed as an obligation. The main thing is that they make you feel good and help you remember the ones you love. Unless it’s the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Then it’s best to do what mom says.
Louis Ashworth, apparel designer
Vogue’s cover story about Lauren Sanchez, media personality and Mrs Jeff Bezos-to-be, was a perfect profile. The whole article feels like an absurd, extended joke — but it’s impossible to tell who’s in on it.
Laura Onita, retail correspondent
I thought this in-depth piece about bananas — the best selling product in UK supermarkets — in the Sunday Times was brilliant. It is a fine example of writing in an intelligent and engaging manner about a deceptively simple theme. It reminded me of The Ketchup Conundrum, a long read by Malcolm Gladwell from 2004.
Dan McCrum, man off the TV
What sticks in the mind this year are a trio of stories about men creating worlds. Mark O’Connell in Slate asked what it is to play with cliché in Blarney and put-on Irishness. Paul Murray tried to make friends in the Metaverse in a dispatch for New York Magazine that exposed Mark Zuckerberg’s grand folly. And at the Real Deal, Keith Larsen and Isabella Farr wrote a portrait of the corporation that defines its own narrative: “There are multiple versions of Brookfield staring back at you, and Brookfield gets to decide which one it wants to be at a given moment.”
Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, companies editor
Among many I remember this one, about the rise and fall of entrepreneurs in Xi’s China: She rose from poverty as China prospered. Then it made her poor again (New York Times)
Christopher Grimes, Los Angeles bureau chief
I loved this recent NY Mag piece on Erehwon, America’s most fashionable grocery store.
John Burn-Murdoch, chart guy
Early polling for next year’s US election has raised a lot of eyebrows, especially surveys showing young and non-white voters deserting the Democrats. Against that backdrop, I found this pair of podcasts [we’ll allow it] from FiveThirtyEight and the New York Times to be brilliant listens. They went out and interviewed swing voters from these demographics and simply allowed them to speak their mind on the issues they’re thinking about in the lead-up to the election, and how they view each party’s position on those topics. Both are great pieces of reporting, and really give voice to the numbers.
Alexandra Scaggs, token American
This piece from the New York Times is a highly entertaining look at the Fyre Festival of Fascism, a self-described “cryptostate” called Praxis. On a more serious note, Maureen Tkacik has been doing good work all year on an undercovered and hugely important story: The Great US Healthcare Rollup.
Arash Massoudi, corporate finance and deals editor
I have an unhealthy obsession with the greatest rivalry in the National Basketball Association: Woj vs Shams. Neither are athletes, but rather journalists with the power to shape the newscycle in professional sports (as well as gambling odds) with their Twitter accounts. If you haven’t been floored by a Woj ‘bomb’ or followed their “down to the millisecond” battle for scoops, these two reads in the Washington Post and New York Magazine are a lot of fun.
Madison Darbyshire, investment correspondent
I thought this was a spectacular bit of business journalism from The Cut: The Laundress created a market where one did not exist (luxury laundry detergent), dominated, and then started giving rich people sepsis.
[And finally . . .]
˙ǝuƃoloɔ ʎʇᴉlᴉɯnɥ ǝɥʇ puɐ ʇɟɐʍ uɐsǝɯɹɐd ǝɥʇ — pɹɐoq ǝɥʇ ʇnoqɐ suoᴉʇsǝnb pǝʇuᴉod ʎɹǝʌ puɐ ʎɹoʇsᴉɥ ‘ɹnoɯnɥ ƃuᴉpuǝlq sᴉɥ ɟo oqɯoɔ ʇsǝq ǝɥʇ ʎlqɐqoɹd sɐʍ sᴉɥ┴ ˙ɹǝpʎoפ pɹɐɥɔᴉɹ ɹᴉɐɥɔ sʇᴉ puɐ ǝɔʎoſ uɐl∀ ǝʌᴉʇnɔǝxǝ ɟǝᴉɥɔ sɐʇuɐQ ƃuᴉoƃʇno ʇnoqɐ sǝlɔᴉʇɹɐ ƃuᴉʇʇᴉɥ-pɹɐɥ ʇnq snoᴉɹɐlᴉɥ ʎlƃuᴉsɐǝɹɔuᴉ ɟo sǝᴉɹǝs ɐ uᴉ ʇǝluᴉ ǝuᴉƃuǝ ʍǝu ɐ ǝuᴉlɹᴉɐ lɐuoᴉʇɐu ɹno ǝɹoʇ ɹɐǝʎ sᴉɥʇ oɥʍ ‘uoʇs∀ ǝoſ ʇsᴉuɯnloɔ ɹℲ∀ sᴉ ǝʇɐpᴉpuɐɔ snoᴉʌqo ǝɥʇ ǝɹǝɥ uʍop ɯoɹℲ