Harper's Magazine

Harper's Magazine is a monthly magazine of literature, politics, culture, finance, and the arts. Launched in New York City on June 1850, it is the second-oldest continuously published monthly magazine in the U.S. (Scientific American is the oldest, although it did not become monthly until 1921). Harper's Magazine has won 22 National Magazine Awards.


Harper's Magazine began as Harper's New Monthly Magazine in New York City on June 1850, by the New York City publisher Harper & Brothers. The company also founded the magazines Harper's Weekly and Harper's Bazaar, and grew to become HarperCollins Publishing. The first press run of Harper's Magazine—7,500 copies—sold out almost immediately. Circulation was some 50,000 issues six months later.

The early issues reprinted material pirated from English authors such as Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, and the Brontë sisters. The magazine soon was publishing the work of American artists and writers, and in time commentary by the likes of Winston Churchill and Woodrow Wilson. Portions of Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick were first published in the October 1851 issue of Harper's under the title, "The Town-Ho's Story" (titled after Chapter 54 of Moby Dick).

In 1962, Harper & Brothers merged with Row, Peterson & Company, becoming Harper & Row (now HarperCollins). In 1965, the magazine was separately incorporated, and became a division of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune Company, owned by the Cowles Media Company.

In the 1970s, Harper's Magazine published Seymour Hersh's reporting of the My Lai Massacre by United States forces in Vietnam. In 1971 editor Willie Morris resigned under pressure from owner John Cowles, Jr., prompting resignations from many of the magazine's star contributors and staffers, including Norman Mailer, David Halberstam, Robert Kotlowitz, Marshall Frady and Larry L. King:

text=Morris's departure jolted the literary world. Mailer, William Styron, Gay Talese, Bill Moyers, and Tom Wicker declared that they would boycott Harper's as long as the Cowles family owned it, and the four staff writers hired by Morris—Frady among them—resigned in solidarity with him.

Robert Shnayerson, a senior editor at Time magazine, was hired to replace Morris as Harper's ninth editor, serving in that position from 1971 until 1976.

Lewis H. Lapham served as managing editor from 1976 until 1981; he returned to the position again from 1983 until 2006. On June 17, 1980, the Star Tribune announced it would cease publishing Harper's Magazine after the August 1980 issue. But, on July 9, 1980, John R. MacArthur (who goes by the name Rick) and his father, Roderick, obtained pledges from the directorial boards of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Atlantic Richfield Company, and CEO Robert Orville Anderson to amass the $1.5 million needed to establish the Harper's Magazine Foundation. It now publishes the magazine.

In 1984, Lapham and MacArthur—now publisher and president of the foundation—along with new executive editor Michael Pollan, redesigned Harper's and introduced the "Harper's Index" (statistics arranged for thoughtful effect), "Readings", and the "Annotation" departments to complement its fiction, essays, reportage, and reviews. As of the December 2019 issue, Julian Lucas writes the print edition's "New Books" column.

Under the Lapham-MacArthur leadership, Harper's Magazine continued publishing literary fiction by John Updike, George Saunders, and others. Politically, Harper's was an especially vocal critic of U.S. domestic and foreign policies. Editor Lapham's monthly "Notebook" columns have lambasted the Clinton and the George W. Bush administrations. Since 2003, the magazine has concentrated on reportage about U.S. war in Iraq, with long articles about the battle for Fallujah, and the cronyism of the American reconstruction of Iraq. Other reporting has covered abortion issues, cloning, and global warming.

In 2007, Harper's added the No Comment blog, by attorney Scott Horton, about legal controversies, Central Asian politics, and German studies. In April 2006, Harper's began publishing the Washington Babylon blog on its website, written by Washington Editor Ken Silverstein about American politics; and in 2008, Harper's added the Sentences blog, by contributing editor Wyatt Mason, about literature and belles lettres. Since that time these two blogs have ceased publication. Another website feature, composed by a rotating set of authors, is the "Weekly Review", single-sentence summaries of political, scientific, and bizarre news; like the "Harper's Index" and "Findings" in the print edition of the magazine, the "Weekly Review" items are arranged for ironic contrast.


Editor Lewis H. Lapham was criticized for his reportage of the 2004 Republican National Convention, which had yet to occur, in his essay "Tentacles of Rage: The Republican Propaganda Mill, a Brief History," published in the September 2004 issue which implied that he had attended the convention. He apologized in a note. Lapham left two years later, after 28 years as Harper's editor in chief, and launched Lapham's Quarterly.

The August 2004 issue contained a photo essay by noted photojournalist Peter Turnley, who had been hired to do a series of photo essays for the magazine. The eight-page spread in August 2004 showed images of death, grieving and funerals from both sides of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. On the U.S. side, Turnley visited the funeral of an Oklahoma National Guard member, Spc. Kyle Brinlee, 21, who was killed when his vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan. During his funeral, Turnley shot the open casket as it lay in the back of the high school auditorium where the funeral was held to accommodate 1,200 mourners, and this photo was used in the photo essay. Subsequently, the family sued the magazine in federal court. The case ended in 2007 when the U.S. Supreme Court, although saying the unauthorized publication was in "poor taste," upheld the ruling of the Tenth Circuit that the magazine had not violated the privacy rights of the family, as the family had invited the press, and thus "opened up the funeral scene to the public eye."

The March 2006 issue contained Celia Farber's article, "Out of Control: AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science," presenting Peter Duesberg's theory that HIV does not cause AIDS. It was strongly criticized by AIDS activists, scientists and physicians, the Columbia Journalism Review, and others as inaccurate and promoting a scientifically discredited theory. The Treatment Action Campaign, a South African organization working for greater popular access to HIV treatments, posted a response by eight researchers documenting more than fifty errors in the article.

Lewis Lapham was succeeded as Harper's editor by Roger Hodge in 2006. Since that time, the magazine has had a number of shorter-termed editors in chief, several of whom were fired amid various controversies. On January 25, 2010, the abrupt firing of the magazine's well-liked editor, Roger Hodge, by publisher John R. MacArthur was met with widespread and well-publicized criticism among the magazine's subscribers and staff. MacArthur initially claimed Hodge was stepping down for "personal reasons," but later disclosed that he fired Hodge.

Ellen Rosenbush served from 2010 to 2015. She returned in January 2016, when MacArthur fired Christopher Cox, who had been named editor only three months prior in October 2015. According to Gawker, Cox's termination was reportedly opposed by the magazine's entire staff, none of whom were consulted about MacArthur's decision.

James Marcus assumed the post of editor in 2016. In March 2018, an essay by Katie Roiphe on the #MeToo movement excited controversy both online and inside Harper's. Marcus had complained about the piece, suggesting the critique of #MeToo was inappropriate in light of Harper's "longtime reputation as a gentleman's smoking club"; he attributed this disagreement as a primary cause of his firing in 2018. In April 2018, Ellen Rosenbush assumed the title of editorial director. In October 2019, the magazine announced that novelist and essayist Christopher Beha would be taking over as editor, with Rosenbush remaining as editor-at-large.

Notable contributors

  • Horatio Alger
  • Frederic H. Balfour
  • Wendell Berry
  • John Dickson Carr
  • John R. Chapin
  • Noam Chomsky
  • Hamilton Morris
  • Winston Churchill
  • Florence Earle Coates
  • Alexander Cockburn
  • Rebecca Curtis
  • Roald Dahl
  • Bernard DeVoto
  • Stephen A. Douglas
  • Theodore Dreiser
  • Irwin Edman
  • Barbara Ehrenreich
  • Ralph Ellison
  • Sol Eytinge Jr.
  • Lucine Finch
  • Jonathan Franzen
  • Robert Frost
  • Barbara Garson
  • John Taylor Gatto
  • Horace Greeley
  • Barbara Grizzuti Harrison
  • Seymour Hersh
  • Christopher Hitchens
  • Edward Hoagland
  • Richard Hofstadter
  • Winslow Homer
  • Jim Hougan
  • Irving Howe
  • William Dean Howells
  • Henry James
  • Naomi Klein
  • Ben Lerner
  • Jack London
  • Fitz Hugh Ludlow
  • Norman Mailer
  • Herman Melville
  • Stanley Milgram
  • John Stuart Mill
  • John Muir
  • Thomas Nast
  • Albert Jay Nock
  • Joyce Carol Oates
  • Cynthia Ozick
  • Kevin Phillips
  • Marjorie Pickthall
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Michael Pollan
  • Frederic Remington
  • Marilynne Robinson
  • Richard Rodriguez
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Philip Roth
  • J. D. Salinger
  • George Saunders
  • Miranda July
  • David Samuels
  • Herman George Scheffauer
  • Isaac Bashevis Singer
  • Jane Smiley
  • Zadie Smith
  • Rebecca Solnit
  • John Steinbeck
  • Henry L. Stimson
  • Alfred Thomas Story
  • Susan Straight
  • Booth Tarkington
  • Sara Teasdale
  • Hunter S. Thompson
  • Mark Twain
  • John Updike
  • Kurt Vonnegut
  • William T. Vollmann
  • David Foster Wallace
  • H. G. Wells
  • E. B. White
  • Woodrow Wilson
  • Owen Wister
  • Tom Wolfe
  • Howard Zinn
  • Slavoj Žižek


    Posters by Edward Penfield File:Harper's January.png|January 1894 File:Brooklyn Museum - Harper's Poster - January 1895 - Edward Penfield.jpg|January 1895 File:Edward Penfield, Harper's June, 1896.jpg|June 1896 File:Brooklyn Museum - Harper's Poster - Christmas December 1896 - Edward Penfield.jpg|December 1896 File:Edward Penfield- Harper's Magazine May 1897.jpg|May 1897


    Further reading

  • Thomas Lilly, "The National Archive: Harper's New Monthly Magazine and the Civic Responsibilities of a Commercial Literary Periodical, 1850–1853", ''American Periodicals',' vol. 15, no. 2 (2005), pp. 142–162. [ In JSTOR]