The inimitable George Saunders had an exceptional short story, "Puppy," in the New Yorker a few issues ago (May 28, 2007).
I don't know of any other writer who so vividly captures the shame and other painful emotions of the insecurities of social class, especially of those who have to work low-level jobs just to scrape by. Check out "Civil War Land in Bad Decline" or "Pastoralia."
The same issue has a memorable article by Adam Gopnik on Abraham Lincoln's last words, "Angels and Ages."
"Civilization is an agreement to keep people from shouting 'Fire!' in a crowded theatre, but the moments we call historical occur when there is a fire in a crowded theatre; and then we all try to remember afterward when we heard it, and if we ever really smelled smoke, and who went first, and what they said."