Jake Halpern


“What kind of journalism?” you ask.  I write profiles, essays, and op-eds.  My passion is writing long-form, narratives – yarns – with colorful characters and plenty of plot twists.



Bad Paper (The New York Times Magazine): My latest nonfiction book, Bad Paper, was excerpted as the cover of the magazine.  It tells the true story of a former banker and a former armed robber who go into business together and purchase $1.5 billion worth of bad debt for pennies on the dollar.

The Cop (The New Yorker): Darren Wilson was not indicted for shooting Michael Brown. Many people in Ferguson question whether justice was done.

Bank of the Underworld (The Atlantic Monthly): In 2006, Arthur Budovsky launched a digital currency system called Liberty Reserve. It took off, and was soon processing millions of transactions. Budovsky says he just wanted to modernize banking. Prosecutors claim he ran a massive money-laundering operation that helped criminals around the world move $6 billion in dirty money.

Pay Up (The New Yorker): "A Debt Collector Struggle to Stay Out of Debt" -- Read my dispatch from Buffalo in the Money Issue of the New Yorker.

The Freegan Establishment (The New York Times Magazine): How a group of Dumpster-diving, currency-scorning, society-rejecting outcasts came to embrace homeownership in Buffalo. Sort of.




The New Underground Railroad (The New Yorker): At a safe house in Buffalo, asylum seekers from around the world prepare to flee the U.S. for Canada.

Secrets of the Temple (The New Yorker): Life at this temple in Southern India was quiet until two secret vaults were discovered.  One vault contained $20 billion dollars worth of treasure.  The other vault, which is supposedly cursed, remains unopened.  So what lies inside?  My ten-page article chronicles the story.   Click here to read -- but please note that the last line of the article is cut off -- it should read: "No, let it be."  You can also view story in pictures: Click here to view a slideshow.

Night at the Museum (The New Yorker): This is the tale of my “pen pal” — Vjeran Tomic — the world’s most famous cat burglar. He’s been locked in a prison in France for stealing $100 million in art. Where are the paintings? Why did he do this? He sent me 20 letters over 18 months telling me his story.

The Nazi Underground (The New Yorker): Is treasure buried beneath the mountains of Poland?

Prison Island (The New Yorker):  The refugee crisis arrives at a Greek paradise.

Iceland's Big Thaw (The New York Times Magazine): Yes, the country is recovering — by forgetting about banking and rediscovering its essential weirdness. Ever try cod sperm?

Norse Fantasy (The New York Times Magazine): Read an essay about my brush with death in a blizzard in Iceland – and how such adventures are best left to the realm of fantasy.

City of Amma (The New York Times):  Imagine a city -- complete with high-rises, parks, and universities -- devoted to a single guru.  Welcome to the empire of Amma.  Her followers are devoted to her charities.  But is this all too good to be true?    - Link to Article  

No One Told Me Learning Yoga Would Involve Snakes (The New York Times Magazine): A personal essay.

Jungle Boy (The New Republic): Henry David Thoreau has long been hailed as America's premiere hermit, but times are changing; now meet Donald, the legendary hermit of Kauai.

The Last of the Malibu Hillbillies (LA Weekly): Meet lasso-twirling Millie Decker, who at age 83 is the last of the Malibu hillbillies.

Hot Town (The New Republic): This is a dispatch from Centralia, Pennsylvania, a burning town that no one wants to leave. - Text Only

The Castaway (Boston Magazine): Read about the last real frontier woman in New England, who lives on a lonely island right in the middle of Boston Harbor.

The Promised Land (Commonweal): A visit to the fortified Jewish settlement of Hebron.



Stories about me & my family

Family Feud (Smithsonian Magazine): What happens when two sides of a family -- one Jewish, the other German and gentile -- are feuding over whether they are actually related?

The Day of the Salamander (The New York Times Magazine): Jake's latest essay tells the story of a small salamander that nearly brought ruin to his family.

A Triathlon Is Easy Next to Soviets and Polio (Wall Street Journal): A personal essay on my wife, her hardcore family, and the the race of our lives.

A Dangerous Hike With My 11-Year-Old Son (The New York Times): We set off for the rugged interior of Iceland. There was just a small chance of death.

Small Stuff (The Wall Street Journal): Sometimes the smallest of problems loom very, very large.  Like stained car seats...

Fire Walkers (The Revealer): Read about my adventures with fire walkers in India.

Gone and Back (Outside): A personal essay on an ill-fated journey to Jerusalem in a car with no gas.

Next Year (The Jerusalem Report): What's it like to spend Passover floating down the Nile?



Character Studies

The Rise of the Outsider (New York Magazine): Have You Heard This Man? Record stores ignored him. MySpace didn't exist. But Gordon Thomas went viral anyway.

Scrappers (The New York Times Magazine): This is the story of Adrian Paisley, a "scrap peddler,” who hunts with a bow, drinks his own rainwater, rejects banks, and spends his days combing the city's streets and for copper. Welcome to the world of Scrappers!

Ruins (The New Yorker): Profile of the Syrian artist, Mohamad Hafez.  Read about his obsession with the ruins of his homeland of Syria.

A Jolly Green Giant (The New Yorker): Profile: Read about Bernie Goetz, the former vigilante who now moonlights as a vegetarian activist. Read it here.

Stardust (The New Yorker): Marcy Braunstein is the biggest Rod Stewart fan of all time; and, recently, Jake made a pilgrimage with her to visit Rod in LA. Read his "LA Postcard."

A Baghdad Rescue Operation (New York Magazine): How one Navy officer whisked Iraqi art out of the country - and into Soho.



Emotional Buildup (The New York Times Magazine): What happens when charity, entertainment, and profit-making merge in a hugely popular TV show?   Read text only or see on the New York Times' website.

Visionary to the Mainstream (The New York Times ): Lee Trink has made a career out of finding white rappers, Christian metal bands, and other unlikely acts and turning them into smash sensations. He just found his next big challenge.

Selling the Beat (The New Yorker): The Trackboyz have  built a reputation as the two hottest producers in hip-hop. "It was almost like selling drugs," says Mark Williams. "You don't advertise, but the word gets out and people find out what you do. Before long, everybody was buying beats from us." Read here.

Ian McShane Interview (Esquire): Read my interview with the actor who made the TV show, Deadwood, famous. - Link to Article

School for the Starry-Eyed (Psychology Today): Why do teenage brains crave the attention that fame promises?

Hollywood's Little Helpers (Entertainment Weekly): In this excerpt from Jake's book, ''Fame Junkies,'' he considers what drives the men and women who work long hours catering to the whims (and tantrums) of Hollywood celebrities.




Extreme Athletes & Stuntmen

Balls & Blood (Sports Illustrated): First played in the 16th century, revived in 1930, an infernal, no-holds-barred version of soccer known as calcio fiorentino keeps the good citizens of Florence, Italy, battling and reveling. Read here.

House of Pain (New York Observer): Meet Christopher Kwiatkowski -- real estate developer by day, champion kickboxer by night.

And the Buff Shall Inherit the Earth (Outside): Meet the Bible Belt's latest star. In his article, Jake profiles a Christian fitness guru named Ben Lerner who is preaching a new brand of Christianity that stresses piety, fitness, and extremely firm abs.

Without a Barrel (Outside): Meet Kirk Jones, the daredevil who went over Niagara Falls -- without a barrel -- and then joined the circus.





Will Guys With Guns Replace the Agency Elizabeth Warren Created? (New York Times): The world that I described in my book, Bad Paper, may soon be thriving again under a Trump presidency.

 The Mixing Magic of Halloween (The Wall Street Journal):  I live in a city divided by race and class. But trick-or-treaters roam free, ignoring barriers.

Hurricane-Proof House (The Wall Street Journal): Is it possible to build a hurricane-proof house? Yes. And it's cheap, easily built, and environmentally friendly too.

Breaking News (The Wall Street Journal): Did you know that one day, not long ago, CNN devoted 37 times more coverage to Britney Spears than to the genocide in Darfur?

Afraid of the Dark (The Wall Street Journal):  Why do we cower in the darkness?

A Debt Collector's Day (New York Times): I recount my experiences as a debt collector.

The Magical Skyscraper (The Wall Street Journal): A developer of Iraqi-descent, named Bashar Issa, has plans to build a skyscraper in Buffalo, New York. Can this single act of vision and boldness save an entire city?

The Price of Fame (Forbes): Though they would never admit it, some disgruntled movie executives may feel that Heath Ledger failed them by not taking better care of himself. The truth of the matter, however, is that it is the studios that have failed Mr. Ledger.





Human Body & Its Failings

Kidney Picking (Slate): Human kidneys are some of the rarest commodities in the world; so why are so many of them ending up in the trash?

Penny a Pound (Slate): Should the government pay you to lose weight? Link to Website | Text Only

Weight Problem (Boston Magazine): Weight-loss surgery has become a gold rush for both hospitals and doctors. Thousands of people undergo the procedure each week. Is it safe? They don't care. For them, anything is better than being so heavy.