Back in August, I wrote about ‘doomscrolling’ — obsessively checking the news or social media to see what awful thing has just happened. I wrote that “for the past four years or more, I’ve been reading more and more and more bad news. I’ve felt compelled, not by a need for dread, but because I felt it was my civic obligation to know what was going on.”
In order to break that habit, I decided I needed to resume real reading. I needed to read more books and long magazine and journal articles.
In August I recommended some books I’d been reading, both fiction and non-fiction, both light and heavy.
This time, I’d like to recommend some periodicals. I subscribe to a bunch of them, and I have a few favorites.
In each case, below, I've described the publication, and I've provided subscription information. Please double-check the subscription information. It's my experience that periodicals sometimes offer different pricing, based on such things as whether or not you're already a subscriber or whether or not you've responded to a particular promotion.
These are currently my three favorite periodicals -- a weekly (The Economist), a bi-monthly (Foreign Affairs), and a quarterly (American Affairs). I try to read each issue from cover to cover, which makes the paper version particularly handy.
Bi-monthly, both paper and digital
This magazine is published bi-monthly by the non-partisan Council on Foreign Relations. It got its start in 1922, so it is now in its 101st year of operation. In addition to the print magazine, Foreign Relations also publishes a website. The website makes available all the articles that appear in the print edition, plus additional articles that are added on a daily basis and an archive of articles going back to the first issue.
The publication includes mostly long-form articles by academic, diplomatic, and political experts. The current issue (November / December), for example, includes an article about China’s Xi Jinping, written by Kevin Rudd, a former prime minister of Australia who also served as a diplomat in Beijing, and an article about the internal forces that led to Russia’s failed invasion of Ukraine, written by Boris Bondarev, a Russian career diplomat of twenty years who resigned to protest that invasion.
I’ve subscribed for less than a year, but I consider it another publication that’s worth reading from cover to cover.
Foreign Affairs offers three subscription plans on its website — digital only ($40 per year), print only ($40 per year), and digital plus print ($46 per year). Note that the print edition includes website access; it omits only the Foreign Affairs mobile and tablet applications.
I highly recommend choosing a plan that includes the print edition. The print magazine is beautifully produced — seven inches by ten inches, with high quality paper, bound like a paperback book. The content is mostly text, with limited photography and graphics, and the text layout is pleasant and easy to read — unlike some publications, it’s not laid out as though there were a paper shortage.
Quarterly, both paper and digital
This is a fairly new publication with an unusual heritage.
Each quarterly issue is a collection of rather long essays (usually foot-noted) about various economic, cultural, and political issues. The authors tend to be academics and members of think tanks, plus the occasional journalist or politician. The essays generally make evidence-based arguments for policy positions.
The publication can be categorized as right-of-center, but individual essays don’t always fit that positioning. I like this publication because it presents serious, carefully-explained discussion of policy. There’s real depth to the content, and it often adds usefully to my own understanding of issues, whether I agree with specific conclusions or not.
Topics vary widely. The most recent issue — Winter, 2022 — includes pieces entitled ‘Web3 and the Lack of Useful Innovation’, ‘Two Cheers for Zoning’, ‘The Slow Death of Global Development’, ‘Capitalism’s Overlooked Contradiction’, and ’The Persistence of Religion in Public Life.’ I mention these articles solely as examples of the breadth of content, not as recommendations for reading; this issue just arrived, and I haven’t read it yet.
American Affairs was founded by conservative writer Julius Krein in February of 2017, shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump, and it aimed to provide intellectual support for the policies of the Trump administration. However, just six months later, Krein published an op-ed piece in the New York Times entitled ‘I voted for Trump and I sorely regret it.’
At the start, Krein says he was attracted to such things as Trump’s criticism of the global economy, the hollowing out of American manufacturing, corporate tax avoidance, and the war in Iraq. Those positions fit with Krein’s views, and he wanted to fill out the political rhetoric with substantive policy discussion. But he quickly soured on the administration’s failure to deliver on policy — or even to understand it — while promoting repugnant social views.
Severed from Trump, the publication can now discuss those same policy positions without the noxious baggage.
Annual subscriptions are $20 for digital-only and $30 for digital plus paper. The journal’s print edition is six by nine inches and is bound like a book. In general, in fact, it appears very much like a quality paperback.
Weekly, both paper and digital
If I had to give up all my magazine subscriptions and keep only one, this would be it. I have both a paper and a digital subscription, but the paper version is central for me.
The Economist is about 180 years old. It was founded as a weekly newspaper in 1843, and it still looked like a newspaper up until the middle of the twentieth century. Now it is clearly a magazine, but — honoring its history — it still refers to itself as a newspaper.
As a weekly, The Economist avoids the rush to break the latest bit of hourly trivia. Instead, it provides more sweeping, analytical coverage. Based in London, it covers the entire world, with sections on the US, the UK, China, Europe, Asia, The Americas, the Middle East and Africa. Each issue has sections on Business, Economics, Culture, and Science and Technology. It leans a bit into business and economics, although world events and politics are also well covered.
The articles are a mix. There are brief surveys, deep dives, columnists, book reviews, and even a weekly obituary of someone consequential. On a regular basis, the magazine takes an in-depth look at a single, important topic. The November 5th issue tackled climate change (‘Why climate policy is off-target’). The October 1st issue included a lengthy piece that explored what shapes the thinking of China’s Xi Jinping (‘The Prince among princelings’). The August 27th issue examined gene therapy (‘The trials of gene therapy’).
The editorial viewpoint is centrist and pro-NATO. It’s clear-eyed about the damage done to the UK by Brexit and about the damage being done to the US by anti-democracy authoritarians on the right. At the same time, it never hesitates to point out problems on the left (or in the middle, for that matter).
Read it cover to cover each month, and you can feel broadly informed about the world.
It’s not cheap. You can sign up as a new digital-only subscriber for $99.50 for the first year. Subsequent years cost $199. Digital-plus-print costs more, but the pricing is a bit confusing. The subscription page shows only a monthly option, but the gift subscription page shows an annual subscription for $249.
The three publications listed above are favorites. I get them in paper form, largely so I can read through them, cover to cover. There are others that I read more casually, choosing articles from them like a buffet. Here are two of those.
Monthly, both paper and digital
The Atlantic got its start in 1857, and it remains a vibrant publication. It features long-form articles on everything from culture and technology to foreign affairs and politics, often from a left-of-center viewpoint. I like The Atlantic for those long-form articles and for the daily newsletters I receive. I subscribe to both the digital and paper editions, but I’m not sure that I’ll continue the paper subscription. Typically, by the time it arrives, I’ve read most of the content online after getting email newsletters promoting individual articles. Annual subscriptions to The Atlantic cost $59.99 for digital-only and $69.99 for digital and paper.
Monthly, both paper and digital
Another publication with a long history — Scientific American has been in print since 1845. I had subscribed to Scientific American years ago and just recently re-subscribed. So far, however, I’m finding it a bit of a disappointment. In the old days, I remember it for having layperson-oriented hard science. Today, it seems to be more newsy and fluffed out with a lot more soft science (it’s possible that you would disagree with that assessment). I do want to read a science publication, so I’ll hang on to it, but I’ll continue to look around. Annual digital subscriptions to the base magazine (eleven issues per year) costs $39. Print plus digital is $59.
Jim Feuerstein is co-editor of LNF Weekly; he also designs and manages the website.
Worth a read