Photo: Alessandra Kocman/Flickr

This week, we’re featuring stories from Richard Beck, Rebecca Mead, Sarah Barker, Dylan Matthews, and Sarah Scoles.

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1. The Syria Catastrophe

Richard Beck | n+1 | April 8, 2017 | 23 minutes (5,800 words)

You are not wrong for thinking the situation in Syria is complicated: the very essence of the proxy war is its complication. “It would be foolish to think of the conflict as one big Rubik’s cube in need of solving,” writes Richard Beck in the latest issue of n+1, “because the complexity itself is part of the problem — the best thing to do with the Rubik’s cube would be to throw it against a wall.”

2. Margaret Atwood: The Prophet of Dystopia

Rebecca Mead | The New Yorker | Apr 17, 2017 | 34 minutes (8,622 words)

At The New Yorker, Rebecca Mead profiles Margaret Atwood — Canada’s prolific queen of literature. Mead and Atwood cover the resonance of The Handmaid’s Tale in Donald Trump’s America, Atwood’s approach to feminism, and the purpose of fiction in today’s society. Beloved for her incisive mind along with her works, Atwood uses unlimited curiosity as her approach to a life well lived — whether that’s tenting while birding in Panama, engaging with her 1.5 million Twitter followers, or writing as a septuagenarian. “I don’t think she judges anything in advance as being beneath her, or beyond her, or outside her realm of interest,” says friend and collaborator, Naomi Alderman.

3. The Brutality of the Barkley Marathons

Sarah Barker | Deadspin | Apr 10, 2017 | 12 minutes (3,146 words)

One hundred-plus miles. No marked route. No GPS. No trails. No sleep. Can you finish in under 60 hours?

4. Why I Gave My Kidney to a Stranger — and Why You Should Consider Doing It Too

Dylan Matthews | Vox | Apr 11, 2017 | 14 minutes (3,699 words)

Dylan Matthews donated his left kidney to a perfect stranger, in what’s known as a “non-directed” donation. Dylan’s kidney initiated a donation chain in which four people received live-saving kidney transplants.

5. Brain-Altering Science and the Search for a New Normal

Sarah Scoles | Pacific Standard | Mar 13, 2017 | 13 minutes (3,483 words)

Sarah Scoles tells the story of Liss Murphy, a woman with treatment-resistant depression — in her words, a “sepsis of the soul” — who saw deep-brain stimulation as her last opportunity to live a normal life. The moment doctors turned the stimulating current on was a life-changer… but then, they had to turn it off.