Brian Wolly: My Top 5 Longreads of 2011

Brian Wolly is an associate web editor at Smithsonian Magazine.

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1. Tom Bissell’s Breakdown of L.A. Noire on Grantland

When ESPN and Bill Simmons’ Grantland debuted in early June, the knives were out and its initial reaction was mixed at best. Like many, I approached the new project with simultaneous skepticism and optimism, but it wasn’t Simmons or Chuck Klosterman that sold me on the site’s potential. Bissell’s searingly accurate review and analysis of Rockstar’s supposedly groundbreaking video game L.A. Noire was the revelatory pice of writing that said, “Grantland will be around for a long time.” With his wit and contemplative style of placing L.A. Noire in the context of where the video game industry is headed, Bissell brought two much-vaunted products (Grantland and the game) down to Earth.

2. Sarah Stillman on the Invisible Army in Iraq

Perhaps no story from the New Yorker this year was more under-recognized than Stillman’s devastating expose on the third-country nationals working on U.S. military bases. The never-ending strata of deception piled upon political indifference was staggering. Her reportingwas a mash-up between the existential dread of The Wire with Eugene Jarecki’s Why We Fight and it deserves to be recognized for its brilliance.

3. The Film Nerd 2.0 Series on Star Wars: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6

The six posts that encompass Drew McWeeny’s adventure in introducing his two sons to the six Star Wars films are a joyous series that reawakened the film nerd in me as well. McWeeny does the impossible: he makes me appreciate the Phantom Menace. For any parent (or eventual parent) who dreams of showing their own kids the two trilogies, McWeeny offers an endearing road map for how to do so. For those who want to just show the original trilogy, he’ll show you why you’re wrong.

4. Jonathan Bernhardt on Peter Angelos and the Orioles

In 2005, with the introduction of the Washington Nationals, I had to choose between my hometown’s new team and the team I had grown up rooting for, the Baltimore Orioles. I picked the Nats and have never looked back. Here are Bernhardt’s catalogues of Angelos’ transition from working class hero to the most despised owner in professional baseball. Taken in aggregate, the list of misdeeds gets to the heart of loving a team that will always disappoint.

5. James Fallows on Hacked!

In his Atlantic cover story, Fallows relates what everyone’s biggest nightmare, losing control of their gmail, happened to his wife. I sent the piece around to friends and family, insisting that they implement the steps Fallows recommended. Service journalism at its best.

And quickly, 3 great longreads from Smithsonian.com:

1. A Mega Dam Dilemma in the Amazon

Clay Risen weighs the positives and negatives with the Inambari Dam in Peru — the astounding photos by Ivan Kashinsky are also worth a look.

2. The Beer Archaeologist

Staff writer Abigail Tucker takes on the toughest assignment ever: reporting on Dogfish Head Brewery’s attempts to recreate ancient beer recipes.

3. Minter’s Ring: The Story of One World War II POW

Our new history blog is a great source for so many #longreads, but Gilbert King’s retelling of Minter Dial’s lost ring is a stirring tribute to the “Greatest Generation.”

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