Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant To See by Françoise Mouly

Editing The New Yorker is a little like being a controlled demolitions expert. In both jobs, you are entrusted with valuable, long-standing structures and explosive material, and given the responsibility of ensuring that targets are properly selected, and that explosions leave no collateral damage. This characterization may raise the eyebrows of anyone who automatically dismisses the weekly magazine as a bastion of upper-middle class triviality, the home of tepid and watery poetry, cartoons bafflingly dependant on Manhattan coterie knowledge, short stories that obsessively focus on the minutiae of domestic life, and mildly left-of-center political and cultural commentary. The tradition of mocking The New Yorker for being safe and bourgeois has a long intellectual pedigree. In a 1937 essay in the Partisan Review, Dwight Macdonald lamented that the typical New Yorker writer “has given up the struggle to make sense out of a world which daily grows more complicated. His stock of data is strictly limited to the inconsequential.” A decade later, another Partisan Review stalwart, Robert Warshow, pushed Macdonald’s argument a step further by arguing that