Michael O'Donnell | Reader, Writer

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Thanks for stopping by. Here you’ll find a collection of my magazine and newspaper writing from The New York TimesThe Atlantic, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. Writing about books always gives me the chance to read something new and fascinating. I hope you’ll find the same on this website. Whether your interest is nature, law, people, or music, take a spin around and drop me a line.

A note on navigating the site: “Featured Articles” is a best-of page, containing twenty or so greatest hits. “Reviews and Essays” archives every article I’ve written dating back to 2002. This Home page shows my most recent work.

Recent Articles

Supposing They’re Wrong?

September 24, 2021  | 

In 1954 a young screenwriter received a summons for jury service in New York. For the rest of his life he would describe how he sat with his peers in a homicide case, helping argue the conviction down from manslaughter to assault. The accused had punched a loudmouth who had pulled a knife in a bar …

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When Every Minute Counts

August 13, 2021  | 

For generations, the Royal Observatory in Greenwich tested each of the British Navy’s chronometers. These precision instruments—deck clocks used to calculate longitude and thus fix a ship’s position at sea—helped ensure safe navigation. The observatory’s testing room hummed with activity: “What a wonderful instance of the proof of our maritime power is this apartment!” exclaimed one …

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Championship Points

August 12, 2021  | 

At the age of 15, Billie Jean King anticipated the trajectory of her life in a school essay. A tennis prodigy, she thought she would soon make it to Wimbledon but lose in the quarter-finals. On the flight to London she would meet a heart-throb and fall in love. In time she would be happily …

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The Would-Be Savior of Patagonia

August 5, 2021  | 

Patagonia as many of us imagine it was born in 1968. That year, the vast region of South America became an exotic destination for outdoor adventure. Of course, residents of Chile and Argentina did not need their backyard discovered any more than Native Americans needed Christopher Columbus. But to a group of young men in …

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The Ultimate Road Trip

July 2, 2021  | 

You’ve landed on the moon. Now what? Take a walk, plant a flag, gather rocks and fly home. When in 1969 Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins splashed down at the end of the Apollo 11 mission, they fulfilled President Kennedy’s audacious dare. The animating goal of the space program had been met, and …

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Band of Sisters

April 15, 2021  | 

Abraham Lincoln had his team of rivals, but they were all white men with high opinions of themselves. Female alliances also worked to end slavery and perfect the union in 19th-century America. In “The Agitators” Dorothy Wickenden of the New Yorker profiles three neighbours who sought women’s rights and freedom for African-Americans. They banded together …

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