The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.

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1. The Worst Day Of My Life Is Now New York’s Hottest Tourist Attraction

Steve Kandell | BuzzFeed | May 20, 2014 | 8 minutes (2,224 words)

Nearly 13 years after his sister’s death, Kandell visits the 9/11 Memorial Museum:

I am allowed to enter the 9/11 Museum a few days before this week’s grand opening for the general public, but why would I want that? Why would I accept an invitation to a roughly $350 million, 110,000-square-foot refutation of everything we tried to practice, a gleaming monument to What Happened, not What Happened to Us? Something snapped while reading about the gift shop — I didn’t want to duck and hide, I wanted to run straight into the absurdity and horror and feel every bit of the righteous indignation and come out the other side raw. I call my mother to tell her I’m doing this but that she shouldn’t come, and she doesn’t disagree. I find the ticket booth, exhale deeply, and say the magic words.

More Kandell: “David Lee Roth Will Not Go Quietly”

 

2. The Case for Reparations

Ta-Nehisi Coates | The Atlantic | May 21, 2014 | 63 minutes (15,836 words)

Coates traces the history of slavery in America, in all its forms, and how reparations can signal “a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal”:

We must imagine a new country. Reparations—by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences—is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely. The recovering alcoholic may well have to live with his illness for the rest of his life. But at least he is not living a drunken lie. Reparations beckons us to reject the intoxication of hubris and see America as it is—the work of fallible humans.

More Coates: “Fear of a Black President”

 

3. Who Gets to Graduate?

Paul Tough | New York Times Magazine | May 15, 2014 | 34 minutes (8,577 words)

High-achieving students from low-income families often don’t make it through college. Why?

There are thousands of students like Vanessa at the University of Texas, and millions like her throughout the country — high-achieving students from low-income families who want desperately to earn a four-year degree but who run into trouble along the way. Many are derailed before they ever set foot on a campus, tripped up by complicated financial-aid forms or held back by the powerful tug of family obligations. Some don’t know how to choose the right college, so they drift into a mediocre school that produces more dropouts than graduates. Many are overwhelmed by expenses or take on too many loans. And some do what Vanessa was on the verge of doing: They get to a good college and encounter what should be a minor obstacle, and they freak out. They don’t want to ask for help, or they don’t know how. Things spiral, and before they know it, they’re back at home, resentful, demoralized and in debt.

More Tough: “A Speck in the Sea”

 

4. Arrested Development

Virginia Hughes | Mosaic | May 20, 2014 | 26 minutes (6,680 words)

A story about a handful of girls who have “syndrome X,” a rare disease that keeps their bodies in what seems to be a permanent state of infancy:

Brooke was born a few weeks premature at just over 4 pounds. She had many birth defects, including moderate hearing loss, dislocated hips and dysmorphic facial features. Her brain had abnormally large chambers of fluid and lacked a corpus callosum, the bundle of nerve fibres that connects the right and left hemispheres. She had trouble swallowing, and by six months was eating through a feeding tube in her stomach. She always coughed and wheezed. Her paediatrician labelled her with “syndrome X”, not knowing what else to call it.

By age three, Brooke had reached 12 pounds, and she hovered around that weight until age 12, when she appeared on Dateline. After watching the show, Walker tracked down Howard Greenberg’s address and sent him a letter about his scientific background and his interest in Brooke’s case. Two weeks went by before Walker heard back, and after much discussion he was allowed to test Brooke. He was sent Brooke’s medical records as well as blood samples for genetic testing. In 2009, his team published a brief report describing her case.

More Hughes: “Detachment” (Aeon)

 

5. Stairway to Heaven

Vernon Silver | Bloomberg Businessweek | May 15, 2014 | 16 minutes (4,150 words)

Did Led Zeppelin write the greatest song opening in rock history—or steal it?

For live audiences, Stairway’s power starts with its introductory notes. “Can you think of another song, any song, for which, when its first chord is played, an entire audience of 20,000 rise spontaneously to their feet, not just to cheer or clap hands, but in acknowledgment of an event that is crucial for all of them?” Observer critic Tony Palmer wrote in a 1975 profile. Dave Lewis writes in Led Zeppelin: The Complete Guide to Their Music that “Stairway has a pastoral opening cadence that is classical in feel and which has ensured its immortality.”
But what if those opening notes weren’t actually written by Jimmy Page or any member of Led Zeppelin? What if the foundation of the band’s immortality had been lifted from another song by a relatively forgotten California band?

More Businessweek: “The Trouble with IBM” (Nick Summers)

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Photo: tanenhaus