Graeme Wood


Tragedy at a Nuclear “Playground”

Originally appeared in The Daily.

The Idaho Falls meltdown killed three, but American nuclear experiments continued


According to the United Nations, the plume of radiation from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactors has already started hitting the United States, starting with Alaska and reaching California this weekend. The doses of radiation will be minute, scientists say — ranging from completely undetectable to detectable but harmless, similar to the amount one gets from eating a few healthy supermarket bananas. In other words, when it comes to radiation exposure, the American West has had worse. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Daily, , ,

A Boom Behind Bars

In the current Businessweek, I have a piece about the private prison industry and immigrant detention.

Filed under: Businessweek

The Taliban Shuffle

Originally appeared in The National.

There are writers, and I am one of them, who believe that no book can be serious if it cannot also make you laugh. Permanent sobriety is no more trustworthy than permanent buffoonery. Why trust an author to tell you what’s grave and terrible when that same author seems to think everything is grave and terrible? Some critics may object that there is no comedy in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. These are exactly the people one can safely disregard.

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Filed under: National, , ,

Arab Revolutions Through the Wikileaks Lens

In Foreign Policy, a short essay about reading US diplomatic cables after the revolutions in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt.

Filed under: Foreign Policy

I am the Market

I Am the Market

By LUCA RASTELLO, Translated by Jonathan Hunt
Reviewed by Graeme Wood

What kind of craziness are they teaching in Italian journalism schools these days? The new generation of Italian nonfiction crime writers has gone rogue, forsaking the ancient gods of clarity and journalistic remove, and instead going so deep into criminal netherworlds that the criminals’ voices and the writers’ have become indistinguishable. Writers like Roberto Saviano have embraced the nonfiction version of what some are calling “the New Italian Epic”—a sprawling, undisciplined form whose goal is not to explain the netherworld but to become, in a way, part of it. (This undertaking can be as dangerous as it sounds, as in the case of Saviano, whose 2006 exposé Gomorrah so angered the criminal syndicates of southern Italy that they put a contract on his life.)


At 192 pages, Luca Rastello’s I am the Market is the shortest of these epics, and probably the one that tries hardest to get into the minds of its subjects. Told in the voice of a convicted Italian cocaine smuggler, the book is structured as five cautionary “lessons.” The smuggler imparts many practical tips for the would-be narcotrafficker (mask your shipments with coffee or mustard—dogs will sniff right past ketchup), but is strongest when giving a glimpse of the life of those living a few steps ahead of the law and the competition, and of the death of those to whom the competition and the law have caught up.

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Filed under: Barnes & Noble Review, , ,

The Barbary Pirates

North African pirate states meet the U.S. Navy

Originally appeared in The Daily.

Two U.S. Navy vessels, the Ponce and the Kearsarge, are nearing the Libyan coast, officially to provide humanitarian aid and evacuate straggling Americans. The shores of Tripoli are well known as a historic landing ground for the U.S. Marines. But for the U.S. Navy, the coast is even more hallowed as the site where it came into its own as a fighting force, where it executed one of the most daring raids in naval history and where, for the first time, the young nation’s sailors truly kicked ass. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Daily, ,

After the Fall

Originally appeared in Caravan, edited from dispatches at

Dispatches from Egypt’s revolution
HOSNI MUBARAK with donkey ears, Hosni Mubarak with a Hitler moustache, Hosni Mubarak as Colonel Sanders—once the protesters started heaping on the scorn, they couldn’t stop. It had been a long time coming.

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Filed under: Caravan


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