Longreads Best of 2017: All of Our No. 1 Story Picks

Here’s every story that was chosen as No. 1 in our weekly Top 5 email.

All through December, we’ll be featuring Longreads’ Best of 2017. 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 weekly email every Friday.

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The Prisoner

Skip Hollandsworth | Texas Monthly | January 2017 | 73 minutes (7,598 words)

In 1991, twelve-year-old Edwin Debrow killed a cab driver. Twenty-five years later, he remains in prison, denied parole since 1999. Is the public better served by putting youngsters in adult prisons and keeping them off the streets for years and years?

How Albert Woodfox Survived Solitary

Rachel Aviv | The New Yorker | January 16, 2017 | 45 minutes (11,296 words)

A profile of Albert Woodfox, a man originally sentenced to 50 years in prison for robbery. A member of the Black Panthers and the Angola 3, Woodfox spent over four decades in solitary confinement, despite a stunning lack of evidence against him in a prison murder.

Joe Biden: ‘I Wish to Hell I’d Just Kept Saying the Exact Same Thing’

Jonathan Alter | The New York Times | January 17, 2017 | 8 minutes (2,163 words)

The vice president looks back, and forward. Veteran journalist Jonathan Alter’s exit interview with Joe Biden.

America Is Still the Future

Andrew Sullivan | New York Magazine | January 22, 2017 | 29 minutes (7,461 words)

Sullivan reflects on his time as a foreigner in the U.S. and how he learned to embrace the country’s flaws and virtues during his journey to become a citizen.

The Desperate Battle to Destroy ISIS

Luke Mogelson | The New Yorker | February 6, 2017 | 77 minutes (19,470 words)

The Nineveh Province swat team are part of the multi-agency effort to take Mosul back from ISIS, but their approach differs from other groups. The elite force is composed entirely of Iraqis who ISIS has physically or personally injured, and who want revenge. Their war is personal, and they will not back down.

Coretta Scott King’s Letter Opposing Sessions’ 1986 Federal Nomination

Coretta Scott King | Washington Post | Feb 7, 2017 | 7 minutes (1,878 words)

Elizabeth Warren was silenced by Republicans at Jeffrey Sessions’ confirmation hearing for Attorney General because she read aloud Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter to Senator Strom Thurmond opposing Sessions’ appointment as a Federal Judge for the Southern District of Alabama. King’s objection stemmed from Sessions’ alleged attempts to intimidate elderly black voters from voting, via a 1984 voter fraud case he prosecuted.

The Graffiti Kids Who Sparked the Syrian War

Mark MacKinnon | The Globe and Mail | Dec 2, 2016 | 63 minutes (15,996 words)

MacKinnon tells the story of Naief Abazid, who graffitied a school wall on a lark at age 14. The “writing on the wall” enraged Syria’s Baathist dictatorship, and became the source of ignition in the Syrian war — a conflict now nearly six years old which has claimed over 400,000 lives, displaced nearly 5 million refugees, and has had lasting repercussions the world over.

The Faces of Obamacare

Michael Hall | Texas Monthly | February 14, 2017 | 18 minutes (4,534 words)

As the GOP discusses repealing the Affordable Care Act, it’s essential to look at some of the lives that nationalized health care has improved and saved, and at the activists who helped get eligible people enrolled. Here are a few from Texas.

The Curse of the Bahia Emerald, a Giant Green Rock That Ruins Lives

Elizabeth Weil | Wired | March 2, 2017 | 25 minutes (6,487 words)

Meet the schemers, investors, and dreamers who were bewitched by a big green rock that might not actually be worth anything.

The Making of a Mexican-American Dream

Sarah Menkedick | Pacific Standard | March 6, 2017 | 23 minutes (5,850 words)

Sarah Menkedick profiles Vianney Bernabé, who has deep roots in Mexico and feet and future planted firmly in America. Educated, ambitious, and principled, Bernabé is destined for success. Menkedick posits that if America cannot reject this myopic resurgence of nativist, white populism to embrace the skills and culture of Bernabé’s generation, it does so at its own peril.

Operation London Bridge: The Secret Plan for the Days After the Queen’s Death

Sam Knight | The Guardian | March 16, 2017 | 32 minutes (8,200 words)

There’s plenty the British don’t speak of. But the death of the 90-year-old Queen might be one of the least spoken about—and best planned for—inevitabilities faced by an entire nation. Sam Knight delivers a minute-by-minute account of what will happen when Elizabeth II, who has outlasted twelve U.S. presidents, dies within the walls of Buckingham Palace. Code word: “London Bridge is down.”

The Hollywood Exec and the Hand Transplant That Changed His Life

Amy Wallace | Los Angeles Magazine | March 20, 2017 | 36 minutes (9,000 words)

In her final feature for Los Angeles Magazine, Amy Wallace tells the incredible story of Jonathan Koch, “one of Hollywood’s great closers,” who lost several limbs and nearly his life to septic shock before receiving a revolutionary hand transplant.

Inside Alabama’s Auto Jobs Boom: Cheap Wages, Little Training, Crushed Limbs

Peter Waldman | Bloomberg Businessweek | March 24, 2017 | 36 minutes (9,000 words)

A powerful in-depth look at the human costs of bringing auto parts factory jobs to Alabama, including inadequate training for employees and unreasonable expectations for output. “American consumers are not going to want to buy cars stained with the blood of American workers.”

The Dirtbag Left’s Man in Syria

Reeves Wiedeman | New York Magazine | April 3, 2017 | 22 minutes (5,546 words)

A profile of Brace Belden, a Jewish 27-year-old anarchist and former punk musician from San Francisco who spent six months in Syria fighting against ISIS with Kurdish rebels.

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 Beck, “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.”

The Heart of Whiteness

Ijeoma Oluo | The Stranger | April 19, 2017 | 17 minutes (4,300 words)

Oluo traveled to Spokane, Washington, to sit at a kitchen table with Rachel Dolezal, who is jobless and living in a month-to-month rental, hoping her new book will start something, anything, to get money coming in.

What Bullets Do to Bodies

Jason Fagone | Huffington Post Highline | April 26, 2017 | 31 minutes (7,799 words)

What exactly does a bullet do to flesh as it careens through the body? Jason Fagone profiles Philadelphia trauma surgeon Dr. Amy Goldberg, a doctor on the front lines of gun violence, as she attempts to repair the broken bodies that arrive daily at Temple University Hospital.

How Trump Could Get Fired

Evan Osnos | The New Yorker | May 1, 2017 | 38 minutes (9,500 words)

Impeachment is hard, but the 25th amendment could be easy:Iif an administration determines a president is incapacitated or otherwise unable to fulfill his duties, it can replace him with the Vice President. Only one administration has attempted this, when Ronald Reagan — then the oldest person to hold office — began to forget simple words.

Dwayne Johnson for President!

Caity Weaver | GQ | May 10, 2017 | 21 minutes (5,419 words)

Weaver spends time with the most lovable man in Hollywood as he talks about his secret gyms, his desire to keep you properly hydrated, his rare ability to remember everything about you, and his possible next quest, a run for president.

The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth

Renee Montagne and Nina Martin | ProPublica | May 12, 2017 | 37 minutes (9,300 words)

This deep dive by ProPublica and NPR into maternal death in the United States is equal parts devastating and essential. Gor a country that prides itself in the lowering of infant mortality, concerns about the health of the mother in the days and weeks after birth has declined to the point that even preventable illnesses are going under-treated, or untreated.

Jared Kushner’s Other Real Estate Empire

Alec MacGillis | ProPublica / The New York Times Magazine | May 23, 2017 | 26 minutes (6,521 words)

ProPublica investigates Jared Kushner’s Baltimore-area housing history. Kushner’s company relentlessly pursued former tenants of its Baltimore-area housing developments for unpaid rent, while leaving many buildings in disrepair.

The Loneliness of Donald Trump

Rebecca Solnit | LitHub | May 30, 2017 | 9 minutes (2,497 words)

“The opposite of people who drag you down isn’t people who build you up and butter you up. It’s equals who are generous but keep you accountable, true mirrors who reflect back who you are and what you are doing.”

Losing Gloria

Lizzie Presser | The California Sunday Magazine | June 1, 2017 | 26 minutes (6,730 words)

After their mother was arrested and deported to Nogales, Mexico, the Marin children became wards of the state, forced to split up and live in separate homes in an overwhelmed and underfunded foster care system. Their story is just one example of the roughly half a million U.S.-born children who’ve lost a parent to arrest, detention, and deportation between 2009 and 2013.

The Long, Lonely Road of Chelsea Manning

Matthew Shaer | The New York Times Magazine | June 12, 2017 | 38 minutes (9,500 words)

The New York Times Magazine has the first interview and profile of Chelsea Manning after her release from prison after seven years: “When I asked her to draw lessons from her journey, she grew uneasy. ‘I don’t have. …᾿ she started. ‘Like, I’ve been so busy trying to survive for the past seven years that I haven’t focused on that at all.’”

The Ken Doll Reboot: Beefy, Cornrowed, and Pan-Racial

Caity Weaver | GQ | June 20, 2017 | 16 minutes (4104 words)

A behind-the-scenes look at the redesign process of the new, diverse lineup of Ken dolls.

Nina Simone in Liberia

Katherina Grace Thomas | Guernica | June 19, 2017 | 20 minutes (5,003 words)

Thomas weaves together a gripping account of the years Nina Simone found freedom from America’s racial strife in lush, pre-Civil War Liberia.

How to Sell a Billion-Dollar Myth Like a French Girl

Eliza Brooke | Racked | July 5, 2017 | 22 minutes (5,600 words)

The origins and consequences of everyone’s favorite Parisian fantasy.

America’s Future is Texas

Lawrence Wright | The New Yorker | July 10, 2017 | 76 minutes (19,000 words)

Wright, who has lived in Texas for most of his life, explains how the state’s deliberate shift from blue, to red, to an extreme red, relied on a calculated series of political moves over the last twenty years that are best seen with the long lens of history.

Open Burns, Ill Winds

Abrahm Lustgarten | ProPublica | July 20, 2017 | 38 minutes (9,692 words)

An in-depth report on how munitions plants across America continue to irresponsibly dispose of bomb and bullet waste by “open burning.” The practice, banned 30 years ago, still takes place nearly every day under a permit loophole, putting millions of pounds of toxic chemicals and pollutants into the air, essentially poisoning residents and the environment.

Who’s Left to Defend Tommy Curry?

Steve Kolowich | The Chronicle of Higher Education | July 27, 2017 | 32 minutes (8,030 words)

A black philosopher at Texas A&M thought forcing a public discussion about race and violence was his job. Turns out people didn’t want to hear it.

Who Was She? A DNA Test Only Opened New Mysteries

Libby Copeland | The Washington Post | July 27, 2017 | 24 minutes (6,000 words)

For most of her life, Alice Collins Plebuch believed she was the daughter of Irish Americans. A DNA test upended everything she thought she knew about her family history.

What a Fraternity Hazing Death Revealed About the Painful Search for an Asian-American Identity

Jay Caspian Kang | The New York Times Magazine | August 9, 2017 | 29 minutes (7,433 words)

Kang reports on the death of Michael Deng, a college freshman who died while rushing an Asian-American fraternity, and examines the history of oppression against Asians in the U.S. and how it has shaped a marginalized identity.

Why We Fell for Clean Eating

Bee Wilson | The Guardian | August 11, 2017 | 23 minutes (5,947 words)

On the rise of orthorexia, “an obsession with consuming only foods that are pure and perfect,” and the burgeoning industry that feeds it.

A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah | GQ | August 21, 2017 | 48 minutes (12,206 words)

Ghansah’s harrowing feature explores not only the background of Dylann Roof, who murdered nine parishioners of Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in 2015, but also the racial and social identities that still prevail throughout the South.

The First Social Media Suicide

Rana Dasgupta | The Guardian | August 29, 2017 | 20 minutes (5,229 words)

Alienated and traumatized in a vacuous Paris suburb, 18-year-old Océane saw the world as devoid of intimacy and compassion, a world further cooled by social media, yet she broadcast her own death using Periscope. What was she trying to teach us about the suffering of others?

The First White President

Ta-Nehisi Coates | The Atlantic | September 7, 2017 | 32 minutes (8,086 words)

 Coates posits that white identity politics form the foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency.

From Prison to Ph.D.: The Redemption and Rejection of Michelle Jones

Eli Hager | The Marshall Project / The New York Times | September 13, 2017 | 10 minutes (2,522 words)

In the 11th hour, Harvard University flip-flopped on its acceptance of ex-convict Michelle Jones to its doctoral program in history. Jones was set to attend Harvard this fall, but after her acceptance, two professors questioned whether she had adequately portrayed her crime in her application — something that was not required.

Children Under Fire

John Woodrow Cox | Washington Post | September 15, 2017 | 14 minutes (3,526 words)

In the U.S., nearly two dozen children are shot every day. Cox follows the story of one of these children, four-year-old Carter “Quis” Hill, who was shot in the head during a road rage incident.

How Fake News Turned a Small Town Upside Town

Caitlin Dickerson | The New York Times Magazine | September 26, 2017 | 23 minutes (5,800 words)

The crime was a sexual assault between juveniles in Twin Falls, Idaho that involved two refugee boys and a 5-year-old girl. When Breitbart heard about it — and tied it to plans to allow Syrian refugees to settle in Twin Falls — the website unleashed a panic of misinformation about Muslims in Idaho that threatened to tear the town apart.

The Touch of Madness

David Dobbs | Pacific Standard | October 3, 2017 | 44 minutes (11,231 words)

David Dobbs writes about Nev Jones, a psychologist who experienced psychosis as a Ph.D student, and psychosis more broadly in historic and global context.

From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories

Ronan Farrow | The New Yorker | October 10, 2017 | 31 minutes (7,850 words)

The culmination of a 10-month investigation, Farrow’s piece in The New Yorker tells the stories of 13 women accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment or assault, including three who said he raped them. Their stories are supported by interviews with 16 current and former executives and assistants at Weinstein’s companies.

The Danger of President Pence

Jane Mayer | The New Yorker | October 16, 2017 | 52 minutes (13,211 words)

A deep dive into the political rise of Mike Pence and what some fear may happen if he were to ever to become President.

‘Tiny House Hunters’ and the Shrinking American Dream

Roxane Gay | Curbed | October 25, 2017 | 6 minutes (1,705 words)

HGTV taught it’s audience to dream of McMansions, the bigger the house the better. But the financial crisis and limited budgets have made homeownership a stretch for many. The dream is still there, even if it’s been downsized.

Promethea Unbound

Mike Mariani | The Atavist | October 31, 2017 | 50 minutes (12,600 words)

Promethea Olympia Kyrene Pythaitha renamed herself at age 13, the year she graduated from Montana State University, with the belief that “her life, and its work, would have meaning.” A prodigy who had begun to read at nine months, Promethea grew up in poverty with her mother in Montana. But news of her talents spread throughout the Greek diaspora, bringing into their lives a benefactor who became obsessed with her education.

Harvey Weinstein’s Army of Spies

Ronan Farrow | The New Yorker | November 6, 2017 | 21 minutes (5,300 words)

Harvey Weinstein hired private investigators, including ex-Mossad agents, to track journalists and his accusers in an attempt to quash sexual abuse allegations made against him.

Love’s Road Home

C.J. Chivers | The New York Times | November 10, 2017 | 13 minutes (3,425 words)

A wedding day postscript to Chivers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning story about 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.

The Uncounted

Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal | The New York Times Magazine | November 16, 2017 | 46 minutes (11,576 words)

A multi-media investigative report on the vast discrepancy between the actual number of Iraqi civilians killed by American-led coalition airstrikes against ISIS, and the number the coalition itself reports. In addition to uncovering likely truer math, the report puts human faces on the air strikes’ victims and survivors.

The Making of an American Nazi

Luke O’Brien | The Atlantic | December 1, 2017 | 40 minutes (10,000 words)

O’Brien profiles Andrew Anglin, a one-time anti-racist vegan who has grown up to become the publisher of the world’s biggest neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer. By chronicling hundreds of heart-stopping details from dozens of sources across decades of dangerous behavior, O’Brien’s work sets a brave and timely example for how to report on extremism responsibly.

Weinstein’s Complicity Machine

Megan Twohey, Jodi Kantor, Susan Dominus, Jim Rutenberg, Steve Eder | The New York Times | December 6, 2017 | 32 minutes (8,000 words)

Harvey Weinstein built and relied on relationships with prominent politicians, talent agencies, and media companies to protect himself from abuse allegations. He forced some of his employees to keep him supplied with erectile dysfunction drugs, which were delivered to him before his meetings with women, and threatened their careers if they spoke out.

Nothing Protects Black Women From Dying in Pregnancy and Childbirth

Renee Montagne, Nina Martin | ProPublica | December 7, 2017 | 30 minutes (7,708 words)

Journalists Nina Martin and Renee Montagne tell the story of Shalon Irving, an epidemiologist for CDC who got pregnant at 36 and collapsed three weeks after the birth of her child, to confront the disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality among black women in the United States.

How Tough Is It to Change a Culture of Harassment? Ask Women at Ford.

Susan Chira, Catrin Einhorn | The New York Times | December 19, 2017 | 21 minutes (5,368 words)

A multimedia exposé of the ongoing sexual harassment and misconduct toward women at Ford Motor Company. Despite numerous lawsuits filed and settled in the 1990s, a threatening culture has persisted and led to a new round of litigations. Reporters Susan Chira and Catrin Einhorn investigate whether that culture can survive the #MeToo revolution. What will it take to bring down male auto workers, managers, and union leaders who have harassed or violated women, in the way that they are being taken down in Hollywood, media, and the food world?

‘What Are We Going to Do About Tyler?’

Sarah Smith | ProPublica | December 28, 2017 | 41 minutes (10,280 words)

A devastating indictment of America’s failure to treat mental illness. ProPublica reporter Sarah Smith tells the story of Tyler Haire, who was sent to jail at age 16 for a violent crime and then spent years locked away while waiting for a psychological evaluation. Tyler struggled since early childhood, but state services are underfunded and only designed to help when a crisis occurs. His family, frustrated and exhausted, was unable to find a way for him to get the help he needed — until it was too late.