If president-elect Donald Trump learned anything from his mentor Roy Cohn, it was this: punch first and never apologize. Cohn was notorious for going on the attack—as counsel for Senator Joseph McCarthy during the communist witch-hunts of the fifties, and later as a pugnacious attorney for whom the only bad publicity was no publicity. With hooded eyes and a scar running along his nose, Cohn relished playing the intimidating outlaw in a black hat. He was fearless and bullying yet always considered himself as a victim. Despite this loathsome reputation, Cohn was resolutely loyal and counted among his friends Democrats and Republicans alike. More than partisanship, what mattered most to Cohn was power, as we learn in Ken Auletta’s searing 1978 profile, “Don’t Mess with Roy Cohn.” Auletta joins host David Brancaccio on the Esquire Podcast this week to discuss Cohn’s unrelenting cruelty and drive, and how it helped shape the man who will now lead the country.
Dec 22, 2016
The question is astonishingly simple: In the year 2015, with GPS and satellites and global surveillance everywhere all the time, how does a massive airplane simply go missing? To find the answer, writer Bucky McMahon boarded one of the vessels searching for Malaysia Air 370 in one of the most isolated and treacherous stretches of ocean on the planet. In telling the story of the search crew and the massive amounts of technology, money, and human capital being spent trying to find this airplane, McMahon tells a story of our time—of a world completely dependent on nets of redundant technology, yet completely lost and broken when those nets suddenly break. McMahon joins host David Brancaccio to discuss his October 2015 story, “The Plane at the Bottom of the Ocean.”
Dec 13, 2016
Published in 1992, Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes: The Way to the White House remains the richest and most unvarnished account of the personal price of running for president. The irony, as Cramer pointed out to C-SPAN shortly after the book came out, is that to become president a candidate must sacrifice the entire life that had prepared him or her for office in the first place. Earlier this year, longtime Esquire political correspondent Charles P. Pierce joined host David Brancaccio to discuss how Cramer’s book—which was excerpted in three parts in Esquire—continues to shape how we understand presidential politics and the psyches of those with the hubris to seek the highest office.
Dec 6, 2016
Norman Maclean published A River Runs Through It when he was seventy-three, and only after his children implored him to write down the stories about fly-fishing, brotherhood, and the wilds of Montana that he’d told them for years. The resulting novella is a classic of economy and clarity. A few years later, Pete Dexter visited Maclean in Montana and profiled him for Esquire in “The Old Man and the River.” Dexter, a National Book Award winner, joins host David Brancaccio to discuss the master class he got from Maclean in what truly matters most—in writing, nature, and life.
Nov 28, 2016
Jim Harrison, the novelist and poet who died earlier this year at the age of 78, had a gargantuan, fearless appetite that would make both A.J. Liebling and Anthony Bourdain proud. He wrote about food—about eating, really— in a woolly, baroque style for Esquire’s “The Raw and the Cooked” column. He began one piece with this Hors d’oeuvre: “Distraught, I fled north with little more than a frozen wild pig’s head in the cooler for nutrition.” Our food and drink editor Jeff Gordinier joins David Brancaccio on the podcast this holiday week to discuss “The Days of Wine and Pig Hocks,” Harrison’s discursive gonzo account of a dreary nine-city book tour salvaged only by his epicurean wanderings: eggplant pizza in New York, jalapeños stuffed with crabmeat in Jackson Mississippi, and a three-pound poached, then roasted, pig hock—the best he ever had—in Milwaukee. Never mind the Bromo, Bon appétit.
Nov 21, 2016
In 1968, just hours after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the future Pulitzer Prize–winning author Garry Wills—then a young writer for Esquire—rushed to Memphis, Tennessee, where he watched as King’s body was embalmed at the mortuary; later, Wills traveled twelve hours by bus with mourners to King’s funeral in Atlanta. Nearly fifty years after its publication, Wills’s “Martin Luther King Jr. Is Still on the Case!” remains one of the most revealing and lasting portraits of King and his turbulent era ever written. Writer and director John Ridley—who won an Oscar for his screenplay for 12 Years a Slave—joins host David Brancaccio to discuss why Wills’s wrenching profile of King continues to resonate today, what has changed in America since it was written, and, most important, what still needs to change.
Nov 14, 2016
On November 7, 1991, Magic Johnson held a press conference announcing that he had contracted the HIV virus, effectively ending his Hall of Fame career with the Los Angeles Lakers. The news sent shockwaves through popular culture, as well as the more narrow subculture of millionaire athletes and the woman who pursue them. Magic Johnson was not only one of the most famous men in America on the court and on TV, he was the Hugh Hefner of professional sports. If Magic could get AIDS did that mean the party was truly over? Not for the intrepid woman profiled in E. Jean Carroll’s rollicking 1992 feature, “Love in the Time of Magic.” Carroll, the longtime sex columnist for Elle, joins host David Brancaccio to discuss the virtues and sorrows—and above all, the sisterhood—of the beautiful women who pursued star NBA players like hunters chasing their prey.
Nov 7, 2016
It was a meeting of two American masters: Robert Noyce, who, in inventing the integrated computer chip and founding Intel, willed Silicon Valley into being, and Tom Wolfe, who, in holding a magnifying glass over the social and class currents that shape America, rewrote the laws of what it meant to be a journalist. Their resulting Esquire story from 1983, “The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce,” remains one of the most revealing and entertaining portraits of early Silicon Valley and the personalities, imagination, and freewheeling moxie that triggered and continue to power the computer revolution. Kara Swisher, who spent two decades covering digital issues for The Wall Street Journal before cofounding the influential technology site Re/code, joins host David Brancaccio to discuss what both Noyce and Wolfe wrought, and how the influence of each—in computers and nonfiction writing, respectively—remains as powerful and mesmerizing as ever.
Oct 31, 2016
Reggie Jackson once called himself “the straw that stirs the drink” but there was no question that Thurman Munson was the pride of the Yankees—like Lou Gehrig before him and Derek Jeter after. For Michael Paterniti, consistently one of the most inventive and entertaining magazine writers going—Munson, the gruff All-Star catcher, was the perfect childhood hero. In his 1999 profile, “The House That Thurman Munson Built,” Paterniti recalls the devastation he felt when Munson was killed in a plane crash in August of 1979—echoes of which were felt around the game when Jose Fernandez died in a boating accident last month. Paterniti joins host David Brancaccio to discuss Munson’s relationship with an unforgiving, brutal father, a tender reversal with his own children, his combative grit on the field, and why he was adored by teammates and fans alike.
Oct 24, 2016
In 1936, F. Scott Fitzgerald, then a struggling writer battling depression and alcoholism, published “The Crack-Up,” a radical series of essays in Esquire about his mental breakdown. Celebrated poet and memoirist Nick Flynn discusses with host David Brancaccio Fitzgerald’s mindset at the time, the ridicule he faced from friends like Ernest Hemingway, and how his essays set off a genre of confessional writing that persists and thrives today.
Oct 17, 2016