THE BEST LISTS

Best Places to Work in the Federal Government
Partnership for Public Service
Ranking nearly 300 agencies and subcomponents with survey data from more than a quarter of a million civil servants, this list is the ultimate look at which U.S. bureaucracies are healthy and functioning, and which need serious improvement. Fema, for instance, hovered around dead last in the years leading up to its disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Freedom in the World
Freedom House
This annual survey does the admirable, and difficult, work of explaining which governments are honoring the principles of human liberty and which aren’t. The ratings serve as an important reminder to Washington that there are plenty of oppressive regimes out there--including many that don’t get nearly as much attention as they should.

United Nations Human Development Indicators
United Nations Development Programme
Not strictly a list, but rather a collection of data that can be sorted into thousands of rankings, the U.N. Development Indicators provide authoritative assessments of crucial development metrics like literacy, education, and child mortality.

Press Freedom Index
Reporters Without Borders
This annual list seeks to answer a simple question: Where are journalists free, and not free, to practice their craft? The rankings are a vital tool for both reporters and anyone who cares about the fate of democracy around the world.

Most Closely Tracked Stories: 2001-2010
Pew Research Center
Among the scores of retrospectives that appeared in December 2010, this list stood out as an organic and telling look at what captured the country’s attention in the preceding ten years.


THE WORST LISTS

50 Most Beautiful People
The Hill 
Is there anything less useful than this bloated vanity project? The apparent Republican bias only makes it more suspect.

The Worst 50 States in America 
Gawker  
How do you squander the potentially compelling idea of assessing the weaknesses of each of our nation’s states? You gather random stereotypes and Wikipedia-grade fun facts—then you surprise no one by crowning New York the least-worst state. 

Washington's Top 150 Golfers 
Golf Digest 
While we’re impressed that they tracked down the handicaps of 150 politicians, staffers, and lobbyists, this list is ultimately just a depressing reminder of how much politicking gets done on the green.

The Vanity Fair 100
Vanity Fair 
Any list headed by Mark Zuckerberg is bound to be excessively conventional. Some of the individual names might be unfamiliar; but, overall, the Vanity Fair list is an all-too-predictable celebration of money, power, and Hollywood.

The Power Lists
The New York Observer 
This parade of vapid lists—“NEW YORK MEDIA POWER COUPLES,” “MEDIA POWER BACHELORS,” “MEDIA POWER BACHELORETTES,” “POWER GAYS”—is seemingly never ending. Still, give the Observer credit for self-awareness: In August, they released a power list of upcoming power lists, including “the 150 most powerful children of people who have been ranked on power lists.”

This article appeared in the November 3, 2011, issue of the magazine.