OUR TOP 12 OF 2012

 ~ Posted by Robert Butler, January 2nd 2012

Mary KomFrom Boxing Day to New Year's Day, we have been republishing on the homepage the top 12 most-read articles from the last year. It's been a representative mix: short and long pieces, words and pictures, ideas and reporting, people and places—even a short blogpost.

Strikingly, the top three includes two long profiles—5,786 words on the boxer Mary Kom (right) and 8,060 words on the dancer Sergei Polunin—both about people who are more interesting than famous. The top 12 list runs as follows: 

No. 1 Which is the best language to learn?

The most viewed story that we published in 2012 was written by a journalist who speaks nine of them. Language-learning was once a mark of the cultured, but now it is in retreat among English speakers. Robert Lane Greene launched our Big Question for the March/April issue, which provoked a huge response—particularly from Brazilian readers. 

No. 2 India's shot at gold

As women's boxing joined the Olympics, the novelist Rahul Bhattacharya profiled the phenomenal Mary Kom—five-times world champion and mother of two—who has had to battle against far more than just her opponents in the ring. In August, some of us from the office went to watch her Olympic debut. 

No. 3 A dancer's demons

Sergei Polunin walked out on a golden career with the Royal Ballet, sounding like a lost boy. What was going on? And what happened next? Our contributing editor Julie Kavanagh, biographer of Rudolf Nureyev, has known Polunin since he was a boy. She went to Kiev and Moscow to talk to him, his parents and his mentors.

No. 4 Neurons v free will

The notion of free will is under attack again, this time from the advance of neuroscience. Anthony Gottlieb argues that every age finds a fresh reason to doubt the reality of human freedom.

No. 5 Non cogito, ergo sum

Sometimes thinking is a bad idea. Ian Leslie draws on Bob Dylan, Novak Djokovic and academic research to put the case for unthinking—"the ability to apply years of learning at the crucial moment by removing your thinking self from the equation".

No. 6 Facebook: Like?

The chances are, you are one of the billion that has a Facebook profile. But have you thought about what it’s doing to real life? Robert Lane Greene's report began with a visit to Facebook’s offices in Silicon Valley.

No.7 Cate on the cover

The news that the picture of Cate Blanchett on our March/April cover had not been photoshopped attracted widespread interest. (The comedienne Joan Rivers told TV viewers she thought we were daft.) In this blogpost, Intelligent Life's editor Tim de Lisle explained why we put Cate Blanchett on our cover with faint bags under her eyes.

No. 8 Sebastião Salgado's Ethiopia

Sebastião Salgado spent two months walking in the mountains of northern Ethiopia. He spoke to our apps editor Simon Willis about capturing a place that would have looked the same 2,000 years ago.

No. 9 Going souterrain

Underneath Paris is a parallel universe of tunnels, caverns, bones—and party venues. Will Hunt spent three days and two nights down there with a band of urban explorers.

No. 10 Hey Dude

Once it meant a dandy, but now "dude" means a guy—or even a wife. In his third piece in the top 12, Robert Lane Greene traced how this evocative vocative has spread to the point that his 11-year-old son calls him "dude".

No. 11 Where Sibelius fell silent

Julian Barnes explores Sibelius's house in Finland, a meeting-point of high art and practical living, where the composer lived, died, wrote much of his music—and spent decades not writing, or not publishing.

No. 12 Can the Guardian survive?

Newspapers are in crisis—yet they have greater reach than ever before. And nowhere is this truer than at the Guardian, the paper that revealed the phone-hacking scandal. Our editor Tim de Lisle followed its triumphs and tribulations and talked to its editor, Alan Rusbridger.

Robert Butler is online editor of Intelligent Life