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The House of Mondavi: How an American Wine Empire Was Born

For our latest Longreads Member Pick, we’re excited to feature an excerpt from The House of Mondavi, Julia Flynn Siler’s book about a family that turned a Napa Valley winery into a billion-dollar fortune. Thanks to Siler and Gotham Books for sharing it with the Longreads community.

PUBLISHED: June 17, 2014
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3328 words)

Penny Pritzker's Path from Family Tragedy to Business Success

How the Obama Commerce Secretary’s early family tragedies shaped her path to business and political success:

Earlier this year her youngest brother, J.B., told Chicago magazine of his mother’s battles with alcohol and how the children were often left to fend for themselves. As the oldest, Penny says, she stepped in to take care of her brothers, especially J.B., who was only 7 when their dad died. “I tried to be positive and hold us together as a family,” she says. But she remains protective of her mother’s legacy. For all her troubles, Sue was a mother who instilled in her daughter the confidence to take risks. “She believed I could do everything,” Penny says.

PUBLISHED: June 4, 2014
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3700 words)

The Inside Story Of How Greenpeace Built A Corporate Spanking Machine To Turn The Fortune 500 Into Climate Heroes

How a "bunch of commies" are forcing the world's biggest corporations to stop destroying rain forests, overfishing, and burning fossil fuels.

Though they too wore business suits and what looked like P&G employee badges, they didn’t work for the consumer-goods giant. They were from Greenpeace, and they’d come to save tigers.

Wordlessly, the nine activists made their way past the security desk and headed for two rendezvous points — one, in a 12th-floor office suite in the iconic building’s north tower, the second, in an office just opposite, in the east tower. There, the two groups jimmied open several windows, attached rappelling gear to the window-washing stanchions, and climbed out into the chilly air.

AUTHOR:Aaron Gell
PUBLISHED: June 4, 2014
LENGTH: 30 minutes (7570 words)

How to Fail in Business While Really, Really Trying: The True Story of J.C. Penney (Member Pick)

This week, we’re thrilled to share a new Longreads Member Pick from Fortune magazine. “How to Fail in Business While Really, Really Trying” is Jennifer Reingold's definitive account of what really happened inside J.C. Penney—from the dramatic reinvention of the company, led by new CEO Ron Johnson, to its disastrous unraveling (and Johnson’s firing) less than two years later.

PUBLISHED: April 3, 2014
LENGTH: 28 minutes (7108 words)

The True Story of 'The Poorest Rich Kids in the World'

Longreads Best of 2013 continues with a postscript by Rolling Stone's Sabrina Rubin Erdely, on her story about Georgia and Patterson Inman, heirs to the Duke fortune.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 17, 2013

How to Build a Car and Car Company, in Three Notebooks

A look inside the early notebooks of the Dodge brothers, who broke away from Henry Ford to build their own startup 100 years ago:

While they already made two fortunes from their relationship with Ford, by 1913 they were not thrilled about continuing to make parts for the Model T. If you think automotive technology changes rapidly today, imagine how quickly things advanced a century ago. In five years the Model T went from state of the art to technologically lagging its competitors but Henry thought it was the perfect car. Ironically, by the time the T started selling in really huge numbers in the nineteen teens it was obsolete and being technologically surpassed by by more modern cars. The Dodges were good engineers, probably the best machinists in Detroit next to Henry Leland. The term “mechanical genius” could have been coined for Horace Dodge and his brother John was almost as adept with his own management skills. By 1914 the Dodge brothers, who already owned and operated what was probably most advanced automotive plant in the world in the Detroit enclave of Hamtramck, wanted to build modern machines.

PUBLISHED: Nov. 24, 2013
LENGTH: 7 minutes (1810 words)

Thanksgiving in Mongolia

Ariel Levy’s devastating personal essay on losing her baby:

I had been so lucky. Very little had ever truly gone wrong for me before that night on the bathroom floor. And I knew, as surely as I now knew that I wanted a child, that this change in fortune was my fault. I had boarded a plane out of vanity and selfishness, and the dark Mongolian sky had punished me. I was still a witch, but my powers were all gone.

That is not what the doctor said when he came back to the clinic in the morning.

AUTHOR:Ariel Levy
PUBLISHED: Nov. 11, 2013
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3906 words)

The Vulture Transcript: 'Arrested Development' Creator Mitch Hurwitz

Hurwitz offers serious advice on creativity and writing, as well as a brief history of how he came to cast actors like Jason Bateman and Michael Cera:

“And Michael Cera, I had seen him in a pilot and I reached out through the casting director, like, ‘there was this kid in this pilot, can you please try to track him down.’ Two weeks went by, and we’d seen all these — you know, kid actors in Hollywood, a lot of them come up through that Disney channel, or through — back then it was Barney. So you get really, like, these hammy kids. Precocious, you know. So I’m waiting to hear, and finally the casting director says to me, ‘great news, Michael Cera likes the script.’ And I’m like, ‘who’s Michael Cera?’ ‘The kid that you wanted us to get.’ ‘That was Michael Cera? We’ve been waiting to see whether this 12-year-old likes the material? Good, uh, I’m glad he likes the material.’ And, you know, that’s Michael Cera — you know what I mean? Only Michael Cera would be as a 12-year-old, ‘Yeah, I like this. This is good.’ It’s such an important part — television is so much about continuing to work with people, and I mean, that was just fortune. All of them.”

PUBLISHED: Oct. 23, 2013
LENGTH: 39 minutes (9861 words)

The Poorest Rich Kids in the World

Georgia and Patterson are teenage heirs to the $1 billion Duke family fortune—the same Dukes who controlled the American tobacco market and established Duke University. But they were also raised by drug addicts who neglected and abused them for years:

"Georgia and Patterson survived a gilded childhood that was also a horror story of Dickensian neglect and abuse. They were globe-trotting trust-fund babies who snorkeled in Fiji, owned a pet lion cub and considered it normal to bring loose diamonds to elementary school for show and tell. And yet they also spent their childhoods inhaling freebase fumes, locked in cellars and deadbolted into their bedrooms at night in the secluded Wyoming mountains and on their ancestral South Carolina plantation. While their father spent millions on drug binges and extravagances, the children lived like terrified prisoners, kept at bay by a revolving door of some four dozen nannies and caregivers, underfed, undereducated, scarcely noticed except as objects of wrath."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 12, 2013
LENGTH: 38 minutes (9653 words)