[Editor’s Note] | Introducing the December 2014 Issue, by Ellen Rosenbush | Harper's Magazine

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Sarah Topol follows the trade routes used by arms smugglers, Eric Foner explores the hidden history of the Underground Railroad, Karl Ove Knausgaard recounts a humiliating episode from grade school, and more


“Most people don’t grow up,” Maya Angelou told The Paris Review in her 1990 Art of Fiction interview. “It’s too damn difficult. What happens is most people get older.” For our December issue, we asked some of our favorite writers to share their coming-of-age stories: Karen Russell describes the adolescent language of Miami beeper code; Karl Ove Knausgaard recounts a humiliating episode from grade school; Suketu Mehta explores his sexual awakening at NYU; and Amie Barrodale tells us about living with her mother in her thirties. Also included are introductory essays by New Books columnists Christine Smallwood and Joshua Cohen, and fiction by Wells Tower.

Where do the weapons being used in Libya, Syria, Egypt, and Gaza come from, and how do they get to their destinations? To answer these questions, we sent Sarah Topol, who has previously written for Harper’s on the turmoil in Egypt (“The People’s Assembly,” Letter from Cairo, October 2012), to follow the trade routes through the Sahel used by arms smugglers. She meets with gun runners, border guards, militia leaders, and government officials—most of whom loudly proclaim their innocence while the dangerous business continues all around them.

In 1980, nineteen-year-old Kenneth Hartman killed a man during a drunken brawl and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. “Christmas in Prison” recounts Hartman’s struggle to maintain his humanity during his time in the California penal system, which has spanned almost forty years and included stints at Soledad and Folsom.

Eric Foner’s forthcoming book, Gateway to Freedom, reveals the hidden history of the Underground Railroad. In a chapter adapted for this month’s issue, Foner describes in depth the work of New York City’s Vigilance Committee and how crucial this organization was to the protection of fugitive slaves and the establishment of the Underground Railroad.

Our December Readings section includes an essay on “pregnancy brain,” by Sarah Manguso; a list of films Patton Oswalt wished existed (Terrence Malick’s Blood Meridian, Orson Welles’s Batman); fiction by Jean Echenoz; and a conversation between Harper’s publisher John R. MacArthur and Robert Caro, author of The Power Broker as well as a multivolume biography of Lyndon Johnson. (The remarkable Caro made sure to research all the material contained in this conversation so that it would be unimpeachably accurate.)

Also in this issue is a new story by Geoff Dyer; a scathing review of the work of Cass Sunstein by Robert Kuttner; and an essay by Rebecca Solnit on the evils of Apple Computer: “The Macintosh was and is a good product, but the corporation that made it is part of a nightmare industry.”

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