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Best American Essays

Alexander Chee


01 November 2022

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A collection of the year's best essays, selected by award-winning writer Alexander Chee.

Alexander Chee, an essayist of "virtuosity and power" (Washington Post), selects twenty essays out of thousands that represent the best examples of the form published the previous year.

Supplemental enhancement PDF accompanies the audiobook.


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The Best American Essays 2021

Kathryn schulz , robert atwan.

256 pages, Paperback

First published October 12, 2021

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The Ten Best American Essays Since 1950, According to Robert Atwan

in Books , Literature | November 15th, 2012 3 Comments

the best american essay pdf

“Essays can be lots of things, maybe too many things,” writes Atwan in his fore­ward to the 2012 install­ment in the Best Amer­i­can series, “but at the core of the genre is an unmis­tak­able recep­tiv­i­ty to the ever-shift­ing process­es of our minds and moods. If there is any essen­tial char­ac­ter­is­tic we can attribute to the essay, it may be this: that the truest exam­ples of the form enact that ever-shift­ing process, and in that enact­ment we can find the basis for the essay’s qual­i­fi­ca­tion to be regard­ed seri­ous­ly as imag­i­na­tive lit­er­a­ture and the essay­ist’s claim to be tak­en seri­ous­ly as a cre­ative writer.”

In 2001 Atwan and Joyce Car­ol Oates took on the daunt­ing task of trac­ing that ever-shift­ing process through the pre­vi­ous 100 years for  The Best Amer­i­can Essays of the Cen­tu­ry . Recent­ly Atwan returned with a more focused selec­tion for  Pub­lish­ers Week­ly :  “The Top 10 Essays Since 1950.”  To pare it all down to such a small num­ber, Atwan decid­ed to reserve the “New Jour­nal­ism” cat­e­go­ry, with its many mem­o­rable works by Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Michael Herr and oth­ers, for some future list. He also made a point of select­ing the best essays , as opposed to exam­ples from the best essay­ists. “A list of the top ten essay­ists since 1950 would fea­ture some dif­fer­ent writ­ers.”

We were inter­est­ed to see that six of the ten best essays are avail­able for free read­ing online. Here is Atwan’s list, along with links to those essays that are on the Web:

  • James Bald­win, “Notes of a Native Son,” 1955 (Read it here .)
  • Nor­man Mail­er, “The White Negro,” 1957 (Read it here .)
  • Susan Son­tag, “Notes on ‘Camp,’ ” 1964 (Read it here .)
  • John McPhee, “The Search for Mar­vin Gar­dens,” 1972 (Read it here with a sub­scrip­tion.)
  • Joan Did­ion, “The White Album,” 1979
  • Annie Dil­lard, “Total Eclipse,” 1982
  • Phillip Lopate, “Against Joie de Vivre,” 1986 (Read it here .)
  • Edward Hoagland, “Heav­en and Nature,” 1988
  • Jo Ann Beard, “The Fourth State of Mat­ter,” 1996 (Read it here .)
  • David Fos­ter Wal­lace, “Con­sid­er the Lob­ster,” 2004 (Read it here  in a ver­sion dif­fer­ent from the one pub­lished in his 2005 book of the same name.)

“To my mind,” writes Atwan in his arti­cle, “the best essays are deeply per­son­al (that does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal) and deeply engaged with issues and ideas. And the best essays show that the name of the genre is also a verb, so they demon­strate a mind in process–reflecting, try­ing-out, essay­ing.”

To read more of Atwan’s com­men­tary, see his  arti­cle in Pub­lish­ers Week­ly .

The pho­to above of Susan Son­tag was tak­en by Peter Hujar in 1966.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

30 Free Essays & Sto­ries by David Fos­ter Wal­lace on the Web

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The Best American Essays

Ponder life. Read an essay today.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Land of wizards.

  • by  Tom Wolfe
  • from  Popular Mechanics  /   The Best American Essays 1987
  • Read at:  https://openlibrary.org/works/OL3748224W/The_Best_American_Essays_1987

Tiger in the Road!

  • by  Geoffrey C. Ward
  • from  Audubon  /   The Best American Essays 1987

Rumors Around Town

  • by  Calvin Trillin
  • from  The New Yorker  /   The Best American Essays 1987
  • Read at: 
  • https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1986/01/06/rumors-around-town
  • https://openlibrary.org/works/OL3748224W/The_Best_American_Essays_1987

A Higher Horror of the Whiteness: Cocaine's Coloring of the American Psyche

  • by  Robert Stone
  • from  Harper's Magazine  /   The Best American Essays 1987
  • https://harpers.org/archive/1986/12/a-higher-horror-of-the-whiteness-cocaines-coloring-of-the-american-psyche/

The Inheritance of Tools

  • by  Scott Russell Sanders
  • from  The North American Review  /   The Best American Essays 1987

Tools of Torture: An Essay on Beauty and Pain

  • by  Phyllis Rose
  • from  The Atlantic  /   The Best American Essays 1987
  • https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1986/10/paris-tools-of-torture/667413/

A Stranger in Lolitaland

  • by  Gregor Von Rezzori
  • from  Vanity Fair  /   The Best American Essays 1987
  • https://archive.vanityfair.com/article/1986/8/in-pursuit-of-lolita
  • Share full article


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A Legal Showdown on the Border Between the U.S. and Texas: What to Know

A court in Austin heard oral arguments in the federal government’s bid to block Texas from imposing a wide-ranging new immigration law.

Officers in Border Patrol uniforms talk to several people standing near a large border wall.

By J. David Goodman

Reporting from Austin

The Biden administration is suing the State of Texas over a new state law that would empower state and local police officers to arrest migrants who cross from Mexico without authorization.

On Thursday, a federal court in Austin heard three hours of arguments over whether to halt the implementation of the law, which is set to go into effect on March 5.

The case has far-reaching implications for the future of immigration law and border enforcement and has been closely watched across the country. It comes amid fierce political fighting between the parties — and within them — over how to handle illegal immigration and follows the impeachment by House Republicans of the secretary of homeland security , and the failure of a bipartisan Senate deal to bolster security at the border.

Texas has argued that its law is necessary to deter migrants from crossing illegally, as has happened in record numbers over the past year. The Biden administration argues that the law conflicts with federal law and violates the U.S. Constitution, which gives the federal government authority over immigration matters.

The judge hearing the case, David A. Ezra of the Western District of Texas, was appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan. He had frequent questions, particularly when the lawyer representing the Texas attorney general was speaking, and appeared skeptical of the law.

“Let’s say for the purpose of argument that I agree with you,” Judge Ezra told the state’s lawyer, Ryan Walters. California might then want to pass its own immigration and deportation law, he said. Maybe then Maine would follow, he added, and then other states.

“That turns us from the United States of America into a confederation of states,” Judge Ezra said. “What a nightmare.”

What does the Texas law say?

The law passed by the Texas Legislature, known as Senate Bill 4 , makes it a crime to cross into Texas from a foreign country anywhere other than a legal port of entry, usually the international bridges from Mexico.

Under the law, known as S.B. 4, any migrant seen by the police wading across the Rio Grande could be arrested and charged in state court with a misdemeanor on the first offense. A second offense would be a felony. After being arrested, migrants could be ordered during the court process to return to Mexico or face prosecution if they don’t agree to go.

Texas lawmakers said they had designed S.B. 4 to closely follow federal law, which already bars illegal entry. The new law effectively allows state law enforcement officers all over Texas to conduct what until now has been the U.S. Border Patrol’s work.

It allows for migrants to be prosecuted for the new offense up to two years after they cross into Texas.

How does it challenge federal immigration authority?

Lawyers for the Biden administration argue that the Texas law conflicts with numerous federal laws passed by Congress that provide for a process for handling immigration proceedings and deportations.

The administration says the law interferes with the federal government’s foreign diplomacy role, pointing to complaints already lodged against Texas’ border actions by the government of Mexico. The Mexican authorities said they “rejected” any legislation that would allow the state or local authorities to send migrants, most of whom are not Mexican, back over the border to Mexico.

The fight over the law is likely to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, legal experts have said . If so, it will give the 6-to-3 conservative majority a chance to revisit a 2012 case stemming from Arizona’s attempt to take on immigration enforcement responsibilities. That case, Arizona v United States, was narrowly decided in favor of the power of the federal government to set immigration policy.

Immigrant organizations, civil rights advocates and some Texas Democrats have criticized the law because it could make it more difficult for migrants being persecuted in their home countries to seek asylum, and it does not protect legitimate asylum seekers from prosecution in state courts.

Critics have also said that the law could lead to racial profiling because it allows law enforcement officers even far from the border to arrest anyone they suspect of having entered illegally in the previous two years. The result, they warn, could lead to improper traffic stops and arrests of anyone who looks Hispanic.

Wait, didn’t the Supreme Court already rule against Texas?

Not in this case.

Texas and the Biden administration have been battling for months over immigration enforcement on several legal fronts.

One case involves the placement by Texas of a 1,000-foot barrier of buoys in the middle of the Rio Grande, which Gov. Greg Abbott said would deter crossings. The federal government sued, arguing that the barrier violated a federal law over navigable rivers. In December, a federal appeals court sided with the Biden administration, ordering Texas to remove the barrier from the middle of the river while the case moved forward.

A second case involves Border Patrol agents’ cutting or removing of concertina wire — installed by the Texas authorities on the banks of the Rio Grande — in cases where agents need to assist migrants in the river or detain people who have crossed the border. The Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, filed a lawsuit claiming that Border Patrol agents who removed the wire were destroying state property.

It was a fight over an injunction in that case that reached the Supreme Court on an emergency application. The justices, without giving their reasons, sided with the Biden administration , allowing border agents to cut or remove the wire when they need to while further arguments are heard in the case at the lower court level.

Why the stakes are higher now

Unlike the other cases, the battle over S.B. 4 involves a direct challenge by Texas to what courts and legal experts have said has been the federal government’s unique role: arresting, detaining and possibly deporting migrants at the nation’s borders.

“This will be a momentous decision,” said Fatma E. Marouf, a law professor and director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the Texas A&M University School of Law. “If they uphold this law, it will be a whole new world. It’s hard to imagine what Texas couldn’t do, if this were allowed.”

The federal government is seeking an injunction to prevent the law from going into effect next month.

“S.B. 4 is clearly invalid under settled precedent,” said Brian Boynton, who presented the Justice Department’s case.

“There is nothing in S.B. 4 that affords people the rights they have under federal law,” he said, later adding that the law would interfere with foreign affairs and the actions of the Department of Homeland Security.

Lawyers for Texas argued that the new law would not conflict with existing federal law. “This is complementary legislation,” said Mr. Walters, a lawyer for the state.

But Judge Ezra expressed concern that the law did not allow a judge to pause a prosecution for illegally entering Texas in the case of someone applying for asylum, calling that provision of the Texas law “troublesome” and “very problematic.”

“It just slaps the federal immigration law in the face,” he said.

Texas argued that the record number of migrant arrivals at the Texas border constituted an “invasion” that Texas had the power to defend itself against under Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from engaging in war on their own “unless actually invaded.”

The state has cited the same constitutional provision in the other pending cases between Texas and the federal government. But legal experts said the argument was a novel one.

And Judge Ezra appeared unconvinced on Thursday, as he had been when the same argument was presented last year in the buoy barrier case, which he decided in favor of the federal government .

“I do not see any evidence that Texas is at war,” he said on Thursday.

Before adjourning, the judge turned to Mr. Walters, the Texas lawyer, and said that he would work quickly to issue his decision so that if the state wanted to appeal before March 5, “you can.” He then turned to the federal government’s lawyers and added: “Either of you.”

J. David Goodman is the Houston bureau chief for The Times, reporting on Texas and Oklahoma. More about J. David Goodman

EU AI Act: first regulation on artificial intelligence

The use of artificial intelligence in the EU will be regulated by the AI Act, the world’s first comprehensive AI law. Find out how it will protect you.

A man faces a computer generated figure with programming language in the background

As part of its digital strategy , the EU wants to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure better conditions for the development and use of this innovative technology. AI can create many benefits , such as better healthcare; safer and cleaner transport; more efficient manufacturing; and cheaper and more sustainable energy.

In April 2021, the European Commission proposed the first EU regulatory framework for AI. It says that AI systems that can be used in different applications are analysed and classified according to the risk they pose to users. The different risk levels will mean more or less regulation. Once approved, these will be the world’s first rules on AI.

Learn more about what artificial intelligence is and how it is used

What Parliament wants in AI legislation

Parliament’s priority is to make sure that AI systems used in the EU are safe, transparent, traceable, non-discriminatory and environmentally friendly. AI systems should be overseen by people, rather than by automation, to prevent harmful outcomes.

Parliament also wants to establish a technology-neutral, uniform definition for AI that could be applied to future AI systems.

Learn more about Parliament’s work on AI and its vision for AI’s future

AI Act: different rules for different risk levels

The new rules establish obligations for providers and users depending on the level of risk from artificial intelligence. While many AI systems pose minimal risk, they need to be assessed.

Unacceptable risk

Unacceptable risk AI systems are systems considered a threat to people and will be banned. They include:

  • Cognitive behavioural manipulation of people or specific vulnerable groups: for example voice-activated toys that encourage dangerous behaviour in children
  • Social scoring: classifying people based on behaviour, socio-economic status or personal characteristics
  • Biometric identification and categorisation of people
  • Real-time and remote biometric identification systems, such as facial recognition

Some exceptions may be allowed for law enforcement purposes. “Real-time” remote biometric identification systems will be allowed in a limited number of serious cases, while “post” remote biometric identification systems, where identification occurs after a significant delay, will be allowed to prosecute serious crimes and only after court approval.

AI systems that negatively affect safety or fundamental rights will be considered high risk and will be divided into two categories:

1) AI systems that are used in products falling under the EU’s product safety legislation . This includes toys, aviation, cars, medical devices and lifts.

2) AI systems falling into specific areas that will have to be registered in an EU database:

  • Management and operation of critical infrastructure
  • Education and vocational training
  • Employment, worker management and access to self-employment
  • Access to and enjoyment of essential private services and public services and benefits
  • Law enforcement
  • Migration, asylum and border control management
  • Assistance in legal interpretation and application of the law.

All high-risk AI systems will be assessed before being put on the market and also throughout their lifecycle.

General purpose and generative AI

Generative AI, like ChatGPT, would have to comply with transparency requirements:

  • Disclosing that the content was generated by AI
  • Designing the model to prevent it from generating illegal content
  • Publishing summaries of copyrighted data used for training

High-impact general-purpose AI models that might pose systemic risk, such as the more advanced AI model GPT-4, would have to undergo thorough evaluations and any serious incidents would have to be reported to the European Commission.

Limited risk

Limited risk AI systems should comply with minimal transparency requirements that would allow users to make informed decisions. After interacting with the applications, the user can then decide whether they want to continue using it. Users should be made aware when they are interacting with AI. This includes AI systems that generate or manipulate image, audio or video content, for example deepfakes.

On December 9 2023, Parliament reached a provisional agreement with the Council on the AI act . The agreed text will now have to be formally adopted by both Parliament and Council to become EU law. Before all MEPs have their say on the agreement, Parliament’s internal market and civil liberties committees will vote on it.

More on the EU’s digital measures

  • Cryptocurrency dangers and the benefits of EU legislation
  • Fighting cybercrime: new EU cybersecurity laws explained
  • Boosting data sharing in the EU: what are the benefits?
  • EU Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act
  • Five ways the European Parliament wants to protect online gamers
  • Artificial Intelligence Act

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Opinion: We know how voters feel about Trump and Biden. But how do the experts rank their presidencies?

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Presidents Day occurs at a crucial moment this year, with the presidency on the cusp of crisis as we inexorably shuffle toward a rematch between the incumbent and his predecessor. It’s the sort of contest we haven’t seen since the 19th century, and judging by public opinion of President Biden and former President Trump, most Americans would have preferred to keep it that way.

But the third installment of our Presidential Greatness Project , a poll of presidential experts released this weekend, shows that scholars don’t share American voters’ roughly equal distaste for both candidates.

Biden, in fact, makes his debut in our rankings at No. 14, putting him in the top third of American presidents. Trump, meanwhile, maintains the position he held six years ago: dead last, trailing such historically calamitous chief executives as James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson. In that and other respects, Trump’s radical departure from political, institutional and legal norms has affected knowledgeable assessments not just of him but also of Biden and several other presidents.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump greets supporters as he arrives at a campaign stop in Londonderry, N.H., Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Opinion: Panicking over polls showing Donald Trump ahead of President Biden? Please stop

Like Biden, Obama and Reagan had rough reelection polls. Too many journalists treat polls as predictive, but political professionals use them to inform campaigns.

Jan. 24, 2024

The overall survey results reveal stability as well as change in the way scholars assess our nation’s most important and controversial political office. Great presidents have traditionally been viewed as those who presided over moments of national transformation, led the country through major crises and expanded the institution of the presidency. Military victories, economic growth, assassinations and scandals also affect expert assessments of presidential performance.

The presidents at the top of our rankings, and others like ours, reflect this. Hallowed leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and George Washington consistently lead the list.

Our latest rankings also show that the experts’ assessments are driven not only by traditional notions of greatness but also by the evolving values of our time.

Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Las Vegas.

Op-Ed: Worst. President. Ever.

President Trump’s final grade will be in the hands of scholars. It doesn’t look good.

Jan. 13, 2021

One example is the continuing decline in esteem for two important presidents, Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson. Their reputations have consistently suffered in recent years as modern politics lead scholars to assess their early 19th and 20th century presidencies ever more harshly, especially their unacceptable treatment of marginalized people.

More acutely, this survey has seen a pronounced partisan dynamic emerge, arguably in response to the Trump presidency and the Trumpification of presidential politics.

Proponents of the Biden presidency have strong arguments in their arsenal, but his high placement within the top 15 suggests a powerful anti-Trump factor at work. So far, Biden’s record does not include the military victories or institutional expansion that have typically driven higher rankings, and a family scandal such as the one involving his son Hunter normally diminishes a president’s ranking.

Biden’s most important achievements may be that he rescued the presidency from Trump, resumed a more traditional style of presidential leadership and is gearing up to keep the office out of his predecessor’s hands this fall.

Trump’s position at the bottom of our rankings, meanwhile, puts him behind not only Buchanan and Johnson but also such lowlights as Franklin Pierce, Warren Harding and William Henry Harrison, who died a mere 31 days after taking office.

Trump’s impact goes well beyond his own ranking and Biden’s. Every contemporary Democratic president has moved up in the ranks — Barack Obama (No. 7), Bill Clinton (No. 12) and even Jimmy Carter (No. 22).

Yes, these presidents had great accomplishments such as expanding healthcare access and working to end conflict in the Middle East, and they have two Nobel Prizes among them. But given their shortcomings and failures, their rise seems to be less about reassessments of their administrations than it is a bonus for being neither Trump nor a member of his party.

Indeed, every modern Republican president has dropped in the survey, including the transformational Ronald Reagan (No. 16) and George H.W. Bush (No. 19), who led the nation’s last decisive military victory.

Academics do lean left, but that hasn’t changed since our previous surveys. What these results suggest is not just an added emphasis on a president’s political affiliation, but also the emergence of a president’s fealty to political and institutional norms as a criterion for what makes a president “great” to the scholars who study them.

As for the Americans casting a ballot for the next president, they are in the historically rare position of knowing how both candidates have performed in the job. Whether they will consider each president’s commitment to the norms of presidential leadership, and come to rate them as differently as our experts, remains to be seen.

Justin Vaughn is an associate professor of political science at Coastal Carolina University. Brandon Rottinghaus is a professor of political science at the University of Houston.

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World & Nation

What is Presidents Day and how is it celebrated? What to know about the federal holiday

Many will have a day off on monday in honor of presidents day. consumers may take advantage of retail sales that proliferate on the federal holiday, but here's what to know about the history of it..

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Presidents Day is fast approaching, which may signal to many a relaxing three-day weekend and plenty of holiday sales and bargains .

But next to Independence Day, there may not exist another American holiday that is quite so patriotic.

While Presidents Day has come to be a commemoration of all the nation's 46 chief executives, both past and present, it wasn't always so broad . When it first came into existence – long before it was even federally recognized – the holiday was meant to celebrate just one man: George Washington.

How has the day grown from a simple celebration of the birthday of the first president of the United States? And why are we seeing all these ads for car and furniture sales on TV?

Here's what to know about Presidents Day and how it came to be:

When is Presidents Day 2024?

This year, Presidents Day is on Monday, Feb. 19.

The holiday is celebrated on the third Monday of every February because of a bill signed into law in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Taking effect three years later, the Uniform Holiday Bill mandated that three holidays – Memorial Day, Presidents Day and Veterans Day – occur on Mondays to prevent midweek shutdowns and add long weekends to the federal calendar, according to Britannica .

Other holidays, including Labor Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day , were also established to be celebrated on Mondays when they were first observed.

However, Veterans Day was returned to Nov. 11 in 1978 and continues to be commemorated on that day.

What does Presidents Day commemorate?

Presidents Day was initially established in 1879 to celebrate the birthday of the nation's first president, George Washington. In fact, the holiday was simply called Washington's Birthday, which is still how the federal government refers to it, the Department of State explains .

Following the death of the venerated American Revolution leader in 1799, Feb. 22, widely believed to be Washington's date of birth , became a perennial day of remembrance, according to History.com .

The day remained an unofficial observance for much of the 1800s until Sen. Stephen Wallace Dorsey of Arkansas proposed that it become a federal holiday. In 1879, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law, according to History.com.

While initially being recognized only in Washington D.C., Washington's Birthday became a nationwide holiday in 1885. The first to celebrate the life of an individual American, Washington's Birthday was at the time one of only five federally-recognized holidays – the others being Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July.

However, most Americans today likely don't view the federal holiday as a commemoration of just one specific president. Presidents Day has since come to represent a day to recognize and celebrate all of the United States' commanders-in-chief, according to the U.S. Department of State .

When the Uniform Holiday Bill took effect in 1971, a provision was included to combine the celebration of Washington’s birthday with Abraham Lincoln's on Feb. 12, according to History.com. Because the new annual date always fell between Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays, Americans believed the day was intended to honor both presidents.

Interestingly, advertisers may have played a part in the shift to "Presidents Day."

Many businesses jumped at the opportunity to use the three-day weekend as a means to draw customers with Presidents Day sales and bargain at stores across the country, according to History.com.

How is the holiday celebrated?

Because Presidents Day is a federal holiday , most federal workers will have the day off .

Part of the reason Johnson made the day a uniform holiday was so Americans had a long weekend "to travel farther and see more of this beautiful land of ours," he wrote. As such, places like the Washington Monument in D.C. and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota – which bears the likenesses of Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt – are bound to attract plenty of tourists.

Similar to Independence Day, the holiday is also viewed as a patriotic celebration . As opposed to July, February might not be the best time for backyard barbecues and fireworks, but reenactments, parades and other ceremonies are sure to take place in cities across the U.S.

Presidential places abound across the U.S.

Opinions on current and recent presidents may leave Americans divided, but we apparently love our leaders of old enough to name a lot of places after them.

In 2023, the U.S. Census Bureau pulled information from its databases showcasing presidential geographic facts about the nation's cities and states.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the census data shows that as of 2020 , the U.S. is home to plenty of cities, counties and towns bearing presidential names. Specifically:

  • 94 places are named "Washington."
  • 72 places are named "Lincoln."
  • 67 places are named for Andrew Jackson, a controversial figure who owned slaves and forced thousands of Native Americans to march along the infamous Trail of Tears.

Contributing: Clare Mulroy

Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at [email protected]

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2024 Daytona 500: Lineup, start time, race preview, picks, predictions, how to watch NASCAR's opening race

40 drivers are set to write another chapter in the history of the biggest and most prestigious race in nascar.


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- There are a few select places in the entire world that are unmistakably associated with pushing the capabilities of the automobile to their absolute maximum. Say the word Daytona, and the sights and sounds that come to mind are etched into the American canon. More than a century's worth of racing started on the beach and later turned into one of the most famous racetracks in the world, and its greatest race of all.

This year marks the 66th edition of the Daytona 500, the sport's kickoff to the season and the biggest event of the year. The 40 drivers competing will race 500 miles over 200 laps to determine this year's champion.

The race was moved from its typical Sunday afternoon slot to Monday because of heavy rain. Weather has been a big issue all week as the Xfinity Series race scheduled for Saturday was also pushed to Monday. The rain has played a big factor in this race of late with three postponements happening since 2012. 

Joey Logano sits in pole position this year after coming up just short in 2023 to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. He previously won the race back in 2015 and hopes to kick off this season with a bang. Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin, who is a three-time winner of this competition, starts eighth. Plus, Jimmie Johnson, who won in 2006 and 2013, returns and starts 23rd . 

"There's only so much a driver can do, so I'm really proud of them. It's a big win for our team," Logano said after winning the pole on Wednesday. "Finally, someone else wins the pole -- that part feels good. I've never even been close to a superspeedway pole before, so my first pole on a speedway couldn't be at a cooler event than the Daytona 500."

Let's take a closer look at what fans can expect once the green flag waves Monday before getting to a prediction and expert pick on who enters the winner's circle.

How to watch the Daytona 500

Date: Monday, Feb. 19 Location: Daytona International Speedway -- Daytona Beach, Florida Start time:  4 p.m. ET TV: Fox Live stream : fubo ( try for free )

What to watch

  • The foundation of the prestige of the Daytona 500 is the names of auto racing greats who have been skilled and fortunate enough to take the checkered flag through the years: Lee Petty, Junior Johnson and Fireball Roberts in the early days, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and David Pearson later on, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. more recently -- and many, many more. But just as it has been hoisted by legends of stock car racing -- as well as international racing icons like Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt -- the Harley J. Earl Trophy has also been held aloft by humble and unlikely heroes. Historically, that meant the occasional upset win by drivers like Pete Hamilton, Derrike Cope, Michael Waltrip and Trevor Bayne. But that subset of Daytona 500 winners that only saw a new addition every so often has quickly proliferated over the past three years. Each of the last three Daytona 500 champions have come from out of the pack, with longtime journeyman Michael McDowell and rookie Austin Cindric taking their first career NASCAR Cup Series wins in this race in 2021 and 2022 respectively before Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took the checkered flag last year to earn only his third Cup Series win and his first in six years. One of the consequences of that has been that it has several of NASCAR's biggest stars and former champions from adding Daytona 500 crowns to their resumes: Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson are all winless in this race, with Busch and Truex on the cusp of nearly 20 years of trying to win and never succeeding. Likewise, defending Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney is also seeking his first Daytona 500 win after several close calls before. Blaney has finished second in this race twice -- including by inches in 2020 -- and has come off Turn 4 with a shot to win three times since 2017. Blaney is among the favorites again this year, and he is looking to become the first driver to win the Daytona 500 the year after winning the Cup championship since Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett did so in 2000. But he and several other contenders will have to come from the back after a massive accident in Thursday night's Duel qualifying races destroyed Blaney's primary car and forced him and others like Busch and William Byron to backup cars.
Trouble in the tri-oval! @Blaney climbs from the vehicle safely after this crash in Duel No. 2! pic.twitter.com/oKffQcU4Zp — NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 16, 2024
  • The early results of Speedweeks in Daytona have offered a considerable glimpse into the performance of two new body types in the Cup Series this season, the Ford Mustang Dark Horse and the Toyota Camry XSE. The new version of the Mustang got everyone's attention in time trial qualifying on Wednesday, with Joey Logano and Michael McDowell taking the front row starting spots and ending a streak of more than 10 years of Daytona 500 poles for Chevrolet. The single-car speed of the Camry XSE seemed much more suspect, as not a single Toyota managed to qualify inside the top 20. However, the performance of Toyota in racing conditions suggested that concerns following qualifying were overblown: Toyota swept the Duel qualifying races on Thursday night, with Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell winning their respective races with last-lap passes. Those developments have somewhat overshadowed the performance of the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, the lone returning body style from the 2023 season. However, the bowtie brigade boasts the defending Daytona 500 champion, as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. looks to become the second driver to win back-to-back 500s in the past five years.
  • Some of the other storylines in the field center around NASCAR's biggest stars and all-time great drivers who have a stake in both the Daytona 500 and NASCAR history at hand. Denny Hamlin is looking to become only the third driver in history to win this race more than three times, and a fourth victory would tie him for second all-time with Cale Yarborough. Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who is becoming the first driver to ever make a Cup start after being named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, can also move out of a tiebreaker with Yarborough for sixth on NASCAR's all-time wins list should he earn his third Daytona 500 win and the 84th of his Cup career overall. Either accomplishment for Hamlin and Johnson would be a fitting tribute to Yarborough, one of NASCAR's greatest drivers ever, who passed away during the offseason at the age of 84. Another driver with something at stake is Joey Logano, the 2015 Daytona 500 champion and this year's polesitter. Should Logano earn his second Daytona 500 win, he would become the first driver to win the 500 from the pole since Dale Jarrett in 2000.

Daytona 500 starting lineup

  • #22 - Joey Logano
  • #34 - Michael McDowell 
  • #45 - Tyler Reddick
  • #20 - Christopher Bell
  • #9 - Chase Elliott
  • #2 - Austin Cindric
  • #48 - Alex Bowman
  • #11 - Denny Hamlin
  • #77 - Carson Hocevar (R)
  • #42 - John Hunter Nemechek
  • #43 - Erik Jones
  • #21 - Harrison Burton
  • #99 - Daniel Suarez
  • #71 - Zane Smith (R)
  • #54 - Ty Gibbs
  • #6 - Brad Keselowski
  • #5 - Kyle Larson
  • #24 - William Byron
  • #17 - Chris Buescher
  • #14 - Chase Briscoe
  • #1 - Ross Chastain
  • #51 - Justin Haley
  • #84 - Jimmie Johnson
  • #23 - Bubba Wallace
  • #41 - Ryan Preece
  • #36 - Kaz Grala
  • #19 - Martin Truex Jr.
  • #16 - A.J. Allmendinger
  • #7 - Corey LaJoie
  • #4 - Josh Berry (R)
  • #38 - Todd Gilliland
  • #12 - Ryan Blaney +
  • #3 - Austin Dillon
  • #8 - Kyle Busch
  • #47 - Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  • #15 - RIley Herbst
  • #31 - Daniel Hemric
  • #10 - Noah Gragson
  • #62 - Anthony Alfredo
  • #60 - David Ragan

Failed to qualify: B.J. McLeod, J.J. Yeley

Pick to win

Brad Keselowski (+1200) -- The last five Daytona 500s have all seen Keselowski be a factor late in the race, and in each of the past three in particular he has been at the front with a chance to win in the final laps. He has also led the most laps in this race two years in a row, and his RFK Racing team has only gotten better since last year's 500 – As evidenced by last August's race at Daytona when Keselowski pushed teammate Chris Buescher to the win.

There is always a focus on which veteran drivers are still looking for their first Daytona 500 win, but compared to Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., I think Keselowski is best positioned to finally win "The Great American Race" and end his winless streak dating back to Talladega in 2021.

So who wins the 2024 Daytona 500? And which longshot has the potential to stun NASCAR?  Visit SportsLine now to see the 2024 NASCAR at Daytona picks and best bets from a NASCAR insider who called Chastain and Suarez's breakthrough wins in 2022, and find out.

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