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Longreads Best of 2016: Here Are All of Our No. 1 Story Picks from This Year
All through December, we’ll be featuring Longreads’ Best of 2016. To get you ready, here’s a list of every story that was chosen as No. 1 in our weekly Top 5 email.
If you like these, you can sign up to receive our free weekly email every Friday.
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To Catch a Rapist
Kathy Dobie | The New York Times | Jan. 5, 2016 | 34 minutes (8,593 words)
Behind-the-scenes at a special-victims unit in New Haven, Connecticut, where a small crew of detectives face countless obstacles while trying to close sexual-assault and child-abuse cases.
Inside the Snitch Tank
Edward Humes | The Orange County Register | Jan. 1, 2016 | 77 minutes (19,430 words)
Edward Humes painstakingly reconstructs the events surrounding the worst mass shooting in Orange County history, and then examines how prosecutorial misconduct and the misuse of jailhouse informants have delayed justice in this masterful, multi-part investigation.
The Man Who Solved His Own Murder
Luke Harding | The Guardian | Jan. 16, 2016 | 27 minutes (6,875 words)
Alexander Litvinenko—a former Russian spy—was poisoned with a cup of tea at a London hotel. Harding recounts how Litvinenko worked with Scotland Yard during his final days to solve his own murder.
The Plot to Steal the Color White From DuPont
Del Quentin Wilber | Bloomberg Businessweek | Feb. 4, 2016 | 15 minutes (3,819 words)
How a Chinese corporate spy swiped plans for DuPont’s billion-dollar color formula.
Life Below the Poverty Line in Banktown, USA
Lisa Rab | Charlotte Magazine | Feb. 1, 2016 | 15 minutes (3,769 words)
A searing, nuanced portrait of a single mother living in poverty in Charlotte, N.C.
The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens
Elspeth Reeve | The New Republic | Feb. 17, 2016 | 39 minutes (9,765 words)
A fascinating look at the rise and fall of teen empires on Tumblr, the blogging platform and social network favored by young people who view themselves as outcasts.
A South Florida Boxing Rivalry Leads to Cold-Blooded Murder
Tim Elfrink | Miami New Times | Feb. 23, 2016 | 20 minutes (5,237 words)
A rivalry between two boxers becomes a one-sided case study in obsession and jealousy, culminating in a fatal bullet wound. Elfrink relays both men’s stories in the wider context of South Florida’s boxing history.
The Weight of James Arthur Baldwin
Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah | BuzzFeed | Feb. 29, 2016 | 23 minutes (5,848 words)
Ghansah visits the house of the revered writer and social critic in France and examines his legacy.
Last Men Standing
Erin Allday | San Francisco Chronicle | March 3, 2016 | 55 minutes (13,977 words)
Since 1981, AIDS has taken more than 20,000 lives in San Francisco. But what about the men who survived the disease, and continue to struggle on, despite having lost so much of their community?
A Marine’s Convictions
John Woodrow Cox | Washington Post | March 16, 2016 | 31 minutes (7,949 words)
A Naval Academy teacher fights to prove he’s innocent of sexual misconduct. Then a lost cell phone is found.
Death by Gentrification: The Killing That Shamed San Francisco
Rebecca Solnit | The Guardian | March 21, 2016 | 21 minutes (5,317 words)
Alejandro Nieto was killed by police in the San Francisco neighborhood where he spent his whole life. Solnit examines the case surrounding his death and the disintegration of the communities displaced by “disruption.”
Dan Barry | New York Times | March 28, 2016 | 32 minutes (8,186 words)
The tragic story of two superflyweight boxers who enter the ring to face each other in their first professional fight.
Grieving In America, Rebuilding In Nigeria
Reggie Ugwu | BuzzFeed | April 2, 2016 | 40 minutes (10,230 words)
After his brother died and his father was partially paralyzed, Ugwu’s family traveled 7,000 miles in search of an old home, a new house, and the things they’d lost on the road in between.
The Fire Inside
Dan Sullivan | Tampa Bay Times| March 30, 2016 | 24 minutes (6,051 words)
How did a county in Florida find itself in the middle of a heroin epidemic?
The Secret History of Tiger Woods
Wright Thompson | ESPN | April 22, 2016 | 46 minutes (11,516 words)
Incredible reporting by Wright Thompson. An inside look at how Tiger Woods lost his way following the death of his father Earl — exploring an obsession with the Navy SEALS, pursuing affairs with women, and grappling with no longer being “the greatest.”
Eyal Press | The New Yorker | April 25, 2016 | 31 minutes (7,792 words)
In Florida prisons, mentally ill inmates are routinely tortured and killed by guards. Staff are often witnesses to the abuse but remain silent out of fear of retaliation, cooperating with security officials who they depend on for protection.
‘You Want A Description Of Hell?’ Oxycontin’s 12-Hour Problem
Harriet Ryan, Scott Glover, Lisa Girion | Los Angeles Times | May 5, 2016 | 27 minutes (6,778 words)
An investigation into America’s bestselling painkiller, Oxycontin. Reporters look through a trove of documents showing how the drugmaker Purdue Pharma’s deceptive marketing of Oxycontin has contributed to the prescription drug epidemic.
Private Schools, Painful Secrets
Jenn Abelson, Bella English, Jonathan Saltzman, and Todd Wallack | The Boston Globe | May 6, 2016 | 24 minutes (6,188 words)
From the Globe’s Spotlight Team: An investigation into the sexual abuse of hundreds of students by private school staffers in New England spanning decades.
The Most Successful Female Everest Climber of All Time Is a Housekeeper in Hartford, Connecticut
Grayson Schaffer | Outside Magazine | May 10, 2016 | 18 minutes (4,587 words)
Lhakpa Sherpa has climbed Everest more than any other woman, but few people know her name. Part of the reason has been the media’s legacy of diminishing the accomplishments of Sherpa climbers, but also: “since 2004, she has been too frightened to speak to reporters.” That’s the year she says she was assaulted by her ex-husband, Everest summiter George Dijmarescu.
Mitch Moxley | The Atavist | May 23, 2016 | 50 minutes (12,528 words)
A Chinese billionaire’s dream of becoming the next Steven Spielberg results in a big budget movie fiasco.
Kathryn Schulz | The New Yorker | May 30, 2016 | 30 minutes (7,610 words)
The origins of a Muslim community in northern Wyoming is a quintessential American story. It starts more than 100 years ago with a man named Zarif Khan selling tamales in the American frontier.
Here Is The Powerful Letter The Stanford Victim Read Aloud To Her Attacker
Anonymous | June 3, 2016 | 30 minutes (7,470 words)
A former Stanford swimmer who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman was sentenced to six months in jail because a longer sentence would have “a severe impact on him,” according to a judge. At his sentencing, his victim read him a letter describing the “severe impact” the assault had on her.
Interview With a Woman Who Recently Had an Abortion at 32 Weeks
Jia Tolentino | Jezebel | June 15, 2016 | 32 minutes (8,159 words)
When an expectant mom learned, at 31 weeks, that her fetus was “incompatible with life,” she flew to Colorado to get a shot that would start the process of a third-trimester abortion, then returned to New York to finish the delivery.
My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard
Shane Bauer | Mother Jones | June 23, 2016 | 145 minutes (36,384 words)
Bauer goes undercover as a private prison guard to investigate the inner workings of a for-profit prison in Winnfield, Louisiana run by the Corrections Corporation of America. He witnesses multiple stabbings, prisoners denied adequate care, and becomes unsettled by the way the job changes his behavior.
11,431 Rape Kits Were Collected and Forgotten in Detroit. This Is The Story of One of Them.
Anna Clark | Elle | June 27, 2016 | 29 minutes (7,297 words)
Clark weaves the story of Ardelia Ali’s 1995 rape—one of 11,431 Detroit cases in which the rape kit had been left untested—into a profile of Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy, who took on the testing of those kits and the prosecution of perpetrators as a personal mission. Worthy, both the first woman and first African American to hold her position, is a rape survivor herself. Her commitment to women brave enough to report what happened to them is rooted, in part, in her own regret for not going to the police after her own experience, leaving her rapist possibly free to attack other women.
Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders | ProPublica | July 7, 2016 | 29 minutes (7,261 words)
Law enforcement across the U.S. use $2 kits to test for drug possession while out on the field, despite evidence showing that the tests routinely produce false positives. The effect on the lives of the falsely accused and convicted can be devastating.
The Tamir Rice Story: How to Make a Police Shooting Disappear
Sean Flynn | GQ | July 14, 2016 | 30 minutes (7,483 words)
How the grand jury process, and decisions by prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty, allowed government officials to ensure there would be no indictment against police officers in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All
Jane Mayer | The New Yorker | July 18, 2016 | 27 minutes (6,867 words)
Tony Schwartz was a New York magazine writer recruited by Donald Trump to ghost write his 1987 bestseller, The Art of the Deal. He now regrets what he created and says Trump is unfit to be president.
Eli Saslow | The Washington Post | July 23, 2016 | 23 minutes (5,892 words)
A story of a mother and daughter facing heroin addiction.
‘I Have No Choice but to Keep Looking’
Jennifer Percy | New York Times | Aug. 2, 2016 | 24 minutes (6,140 words)
Five years after a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, a husband is still searching the sea for his missing wife, joined by a father looking for his daughter.
Is America Any Safer?
Steven Brill | The Atlantic | Aug. 9, 2016 | 73 minutes (18,294 words)
The U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion since 9/11 to protect our country and respond to acts of terrorism. Brill examines what we’ve done right, where we’ve gone wrong, and the number of security gaps we still need to fill.
Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter To Be Sick, Gypsy Wanted Her Mom To Be Murdered
Michelle Dean | BuzzFeed | Aug. 18, 2016 | 34 minutes (8,504 words)
A true crime story about Dee Dee Blancharde, a mother who persuaded family, friends, and even doctors to believe that her daughter, Gypsy, was gravely ill. It was only after Dee Dee was murdered that the truth came to light.
A Family Matter
Jessica Weisberg | The Atavist | Aug. 18, 2016 | 40 minutes (10,110 words)
The story of a Californian family torn apart by a child protective services agency, and the law firm helping them fight back.
Inside the Federal Bureau of Way Too Many Guns
Jeanne Marie Laskas | GQ | Aug. 30, 2016 | 27 minutes (6,922 words)
A sobering behind-the-scenes look at the antiquated system for tracing gun ownership in America.
How Elizabeth Holmes’s House of Cards Came Tumbling Down
Nick Bilton | Vanity Fair | Sept. 6, 2016 | 14 minutes (5,119 words)
At once-lauded biotech start-up Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes built a multi-billion-dollar corporation on a foundation of questionable science and secrecy.
Nick Paumgarten | The New Yorker | Sept. 13, 2016 | 35 minutes (8,672 words)
Nick Paumgarten’s profile of Yvon Chouinard, the eco-conscious and anti-corporate co-founder of Patagonia. Chouinard was a close friend of, and co-adventurer with, Doug Tompkins, the late founder of the North Face.
Burkhard Bilger | The New Yorker | Sept. 12, 2016 | 34 minutes (8,647 words)
Over half a century after WWII, a generation of Germans still struggles to come to terms with their ancestors’ atrocities. They are kriegskinder, the children of war. Guilt and spirits haunt them.
How Massive Cuts Have Remade The Denver Post
Robert Sanchez | 5280 Magazine | Sept. 20, 2016 | 24 minutes (6,158 words)
Behind-the-scenes at an award-winning newspaper, gutted by staff cuts and figuring out how to survive with fewer resources.
Travels in Pornland
Andrea Stewart | Granta | Aug. 9, 2016 | 23 minutes (5,793 words)
One sex-positive woman’s exploration of Feminist porn reveals a lot about the complexity of feminist thinking, mainstream porn’s intrinsic violence and sexism, and the enduring hope of remaking sex work.
How U.S. Torture Left a Legacy of Damaged Minds
James Risen, Sheri Fink, Matt Apuzzo | New York Times | Oct. 9, 2016 | 24 minutes (6,085 words)
So much for assurances that harsh interrogation techniques used by the United States at Guantanamo Bay and in secret CIA prisons around the world wouldn’t cause lasting harm. New York Times reporters interviewed over 100 former detainees for this article on the never-ending psychological torment many of them live with years later.
What Happened to Eastern Airlines Flight 980?
Peter Frick-Wright | Outside | Oct. 18, 2016 | 29 minutes (7,296 words)
In 1985, Eastern Air Lines Flight 980 crashed into the side of a 21,112-foot mountain in Bolivia. No bodies were recovered at the crash site, and the plane’s black box was never found. More than 30 years later, two friends from Boston organized an expedition to figure out what happened.
The Writer Who Was Too Strong To Live
Dave McKenna | Deadspin | Oct. 28, 2016 | 37 minutes (9,445 words)
A heartbreaking story on alcoholism and a superstar sports journalist. Jennifer Frey soon disappeared from the business, and died earlier this year.
Trump’s Inconvenient Racial Truth
Nikole Hannah-Jones | The New York Times | Nov. 1, 2016 | 10 minutes (2,594 words)
“Regardless of how you feel about Trump, on this one thing he is right: The Democratic Party has taken black Americans for granted.”
Revenge of the Forgotten Class
Alec MacGillis | ProPublica | Nov. 10, 2016 | 17 minutes (4,437 words)
MacGillis talks to white workers in the small towns and cities of the Rust Belt, many of whom voted for Democrats in previous elections, but decided to vote for Trump in 2016.
Kiera Feldman | Harper’s | Nov. 17, 2016 | 24 minutes (6,193 words)
Kiera Feldman reports from South Dakota, one of the most restrictive states in the country when it comes to ending a pregnancy.
The Power of Will
Billy Baker | Boston Globe | Dec. 1, 2016 | 49 minutes (12,388 words)
When Pat and Dina Lacey discovered that their baby, Will, had a rare form of childhood cancer, they were told to expect the worst—that Will was incurable. They did not expect to go on a years-long journey with a doctor named Giselle Sholler who would help them, and many other children, fight for a miracle treatment.
‘They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals’
Daniel Berehulak | The New York Times | Dec. 8, 2016 | 10 minutes (2,500 words)
Photojournalist Daniel Berehulak documents the killings of dozens of people as part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal antidrug campaign in the Philippines. (Warning: graphic images of violence.)
My President Was Black
Ta-Nehisi Coates | The Atlantic | Dec. 13, 2016 | 67 minutes (16,875 words)
A history of the first African American White House, as Coates examines Obama’s successes and failures — and what came next.
The Great A.I. Awakening
Gideon Lewis-Kraus | New York Times | Dec. 14, 2016 | 60 minutes (15,174 words)
The story of how Google developed artificial intelligence to vastly improve its translation service, Google Translate, and what machine learning might be able to do in the near future.
C.J. Chivers | New York Times | Dec. 28, 2016 | 73 minutes (18,429 words)
The story of Sam Siatta, a Marine Corps veteran of the war in Afghanistan who returned home with PTSD and landed in prison after committing a crime he says he doesn’t remember.
See more from our Best of 2016 series