My Favorite Global Reads of 2015

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Another great 2015 find: French photographer Julien Mauve's "Greetings from Mars" series, an alternately lighthearted and melancholy imagining of what space tourism may one day resemble.
There's never enough time to read them all. But every week, I try to gobble up an enormous quantity and variety of articles, analyses, reflections, memoirs, op-eds, and thought pieces from a range of online and offline sources. In recent years, I have been cataloging my favorite bits each week on sfarjal.com. (If you don't follow it, believe me: you are missing out.)

From among those, here are some of my most favorite pieces from 2015. Some might qualify as "travel writing", while others hew more broadly to this blog's global perspective and mission to inspire greater curiosity about the wider world. Some even go beyond this world. Enjoy:

"The Desert Blues"

Joshua Hammer's story, in Atavist magazine, of the rise and fall of an unlikely friendship in northern Mali mirrors the troubled path of the Sahel region, and was hands down the best piece I read all year. Epic, deeply human, and utterly tragic, the story continues to unfold today.

Martian Chronicles

Our era is a dead zone of exploration. Generations before us clawed their way to the peak of Everest, the bitter reaches of the North and South Poles, to the sources of every major river and the depths of the ocean. But since the Greatest Generation went to the moon, exploration as a pursuit has withered. But this year, some residents of planet Earth got serious about a new frontier: Mars. In the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert offered a useful rundown ("Project Exodus") of our society's latest thinking on and attempts to someday reach the Red Planet. The man most likely to get us there—and solve quite a few of our other greatest problems along the way— is SpaceX founder Elon Musk. He delivered an inspiring interview to Aeon ("Exodus") and provided Wait But Why's Tim Urban with enough material for four engrossing articles (Part 1: "Elon Musk: The World’s Raddest Man"). But my favorite this year was Andy Weir's The Martian, the survival tale of one impressive astronaut that brings all the courageous, inventive spirit of the Age of Exploration into the Space Age.

"What ISIS Really Wants"

Graeme Wood's dissection of the ISIS worldview (though flawed and subsequently dissected itself) was the first major, mainstream media piece to focus attention on the peculiar belief system driving this monstrous group, and to get at least some policymakers thinking about what can actually be done to roll back its fast-moving tide. An essential starting point for understanding what makes ISIS tick.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Wrongfully imprisoned in Guantanamo for nearly four years, today Afghan warlord Hajji Ghalib hunts not US forces but another former detainee—the local ISIS commander who slaughtered his family. ("Once in Guantanamo, Afghan Now Leads War Against Taliban and ISIS")

"Homeward"

Writing in California Sunday Magazine, Brooke Jarvis delivers an emotional portrait of Hugo, an average dude who lives in Seattle. Average, until you learn that he was chosen as a boy by his tribe to leave their isolated pocket of the Amazon rainforest, move to the United States, and receive a Western education in order "to help guide his people through a changed and confusing world". No pressure.

Grab Bag

Don't miss Adam Johnson's "Scavengers", his earnest attempt to digest a surreal visit to North Korea; Sahana Singh's "Guns, Sex and Arrogance" in which the writer learns, upon moving to America, that it is a far cry from what she imagined; and two perfect meditations by my hometown favorite Tim Kreider, "My Own Private Baltimore" and "The Summer That Never Was".

Thirsty for more? Feel free to follow sfarjal.com all year round. And don't miss my retrospective of my own 2015 experiences and writing, including links to my most successful posts: "Ibn Ibn Battuta's 2015 in Review".

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