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Longreads Best of 2019: 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 2019. 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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I Was Pregnant and in Crisis. All the Doctors and Nurses Saw Was an Incompetent Black Woman

Tressie McMillan Cottom | Time Magazine | January 8, 2019 | 7 minutes (1,775 words)

“It might seem that the culture’s perennial strong woman would also be competent. But incompetent and superhero do not actually conflict in the context of essential notions about gender, race, class, and hierarchy.”

Life, Death, and Insulin

Tiffany Stanley | Washington Post | January 13, 2019 | 20 minutes (5,200 words)

As the cost of the lifesaving medication skyrockets, some desperate diabetics are rationing — and risking their lives. Was Alec Raeshawn Smith one of them?

‘Nobody Is Going to Believe You’

Alex French, Maximillian Potter | The Atlantic | January 23, 2019 | 38 minutes (9,600 words)

Director Bryan Singer has been accused of sexual misconduct multiple times throughout the course of his career. A few of his alleged victims have come forward to share their stories. This story was originally set to be published in Esquire, but was killed by Hearst executives for unknown reasons.

Into the Dark

Shannon Gormley | Maclean’s | January 25, 2019 | 48 minutes (12,246 words)

There were four options for getting the trapped Thai soccer players out of the flooded cave: the unrealistic one, the deadly one, the torturous one, and the mad one. Sometimes, madness works.

Fight the Ship: Death and Valor on an American Warship Doomed By Its Own Navy

T. Christian Miller, Megan Rose, and Robert Faturechi | ProPublica | February 6, 2019 | 71 minutes (17,829 words)

When a cargo ship plowed into the USS Fitzgerald, it tore a hole in the destroyer as big as a tractor trailer; seven sailors ultimately died. A cargo ship should be hard to miss, so how did it happen?

Climate Signs

Emily Raboteau | New York Review of Books | February 1, 2019 | 49 minutes (12,293 words)

“For all the ferocity of my love, I’m powerless to protect my kids from the mass extinction we’re in the midst of that could eliminate 30–50 percent of all living species by the middle of the twenty-first century. Why is this not the core of the core curriculum? Why aren’t we all speaking about this?”

The Color of Money

Ijeoma Oluo | Topic | February 19, 2019 | 6 minutes (1,706 words)

After her book, So You Want to Talk About Race, becomes a bestseller, Black author Ijeoma Oluo offers to build her white mother a home with her earnings and learns how race can affect the ways adult children care for their aging parents.

Rembrandt in the Blood: An Obsessive Aristocrat, Rediscovered Paintings and an Art-World Feud

Russell Shorto | The New York Times Magazine | February 27, 2019 | 36 minutes (9,009 words)

In Amsterdam, a new fight develops over an old master.

The Making of the Fox News White House

Jane Mayer | The New Yorker | March 11, 2019 | 45 minutes (11,453 words)

Trump’s friends are like family. And Trump hires his family.

The Tragedy of Baltimore

Alec MacGillis | The New York Times/ProPublica | March 12, 2019 | 34 minutes (8,590 words)

Since Freddie Gray’s death, Baltimore — which once inspired The Wire but in recent years seemed to be experiencing an urban revival — has seen a sharp increase in violent crime amidst “a failure of order and governance the likes of which few American cities have seen in years.”

The Mortician and the Murderer

Angella d’Avignon | Topic | March 21, 2019 | 15 minutes (3,783 words)

An incredible photo essay in which both the images and words tell the crazy story of imprisoned mortician David Sconce (up for parole in 2022). In the ’80s, Sconce turned his family’s California funeral home into a mass crematorium and black market body part- and organ-harvesting business.

The Human Costs of Kamala Harris’s War on Truancy

Molly Redden | HuffPost | March 27, 2019 | 20 minutes (5,200 words)

The “progressive prosecutor” wanted to transform how California responded to students missing school. Parents like Cheree Peoples wound up paying the price.

What Was the Washington Post Afraid Of?

Irin Carmon | New York Magazine | April 1, 2019 | 18 minutes (4,735 words)

Irin Carmon and Amy Brittain were on the verge of publishing an investigation looking into sexual misconduct allegations against a powerful executive at CBS. But the Washington Post decided not to run the story. Carmon looks back at how an important story was killed.

‘The Unthinkable Has Happened’

Jayson Greene | Vulture | April 10, 2019 | 20 minutes (5,233 words)

Jayson Greene recounts the tragic day his 2-year-old daughter, Greta, was struck unconscious by a brick that fell from a windowsill and rushed to the hospital. An excerpt from Greene’s memoir, Once More We Saw Stars.

Guantánamo’s Darkest Secret

Ben Taub | The New Yorker | April 15, 2019 | 78 minutes (19,519 words)

“Instead, he began to wonder whether what he was actually protecting at Guantánamo was one of the government’s darkest secrets: that its highest-value military detainee was being held essentially by mistake, and that his isolation in Echo Special was intended to cover up the hell that had been inflicted upon him.”

The Company That Sells Love to America Had a Dark Secret

Taffy Brodesser-Akner | The New York Times Magazine | April 23, 2019 | 46 minutes (11,579 words)

A ranging, damning expose of unresolved sexual discrimination and harassment suits at Sterling Jewelers — and other popular jewelry chains under the Signet Jewelers Ltd. umbrella — following a two-year investigation.

The Raisin Situation

Jonah Engel Bromwich | The New York Times | April 27, 2019 | 15 minutes (3,844 words)

“One man wanted to change the raisin industry for the better. He got more than he bargained for.”

The Birth-Tissue Profiteers

Caroline Chen | ProPublica / The New Yorker | May 7, 2019 | 27 minutes (6,854 words)

Stem cell purveyors suggest that they “ease” every aging-related malady from arthritis and erectile dysfunction to wrinkles and everything in between. What don’t these stem cell snake-oil salespeople have? Any science to prove these claims or any scruples about preying on the vulnerable at tens of thousands of dollars per injection.

The Night the Lights Went Out

Drew Magary | Deadspin | May 16, 2019 | 28 minutes (7,130 words)

“I can also tell you that it can be unpleasant to be the freakshow guy whose brain spontaneously detonated. You don’t want doctors looking at your CAT scans incredulously and being like, ‘Hoo boy! You really did a number on your noggin there!’”

‘They Were Conned’: How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers

Brian M. Rosenthal | The New York Times | May 19, 2019 | 28 minutes (11,532 words)

A two-part investigation examining how taxi industry leaders artificially inflated the price of medallions, which allow taxi drivers the ability to own and operate a cab, and trapped low-income drivers in reckless loans while government officials looked the other way.

Abolish the Priesthood

James Carroll | The Atlantic | June 1, 2019 | 31 minutes (7,991 words)

A one-time Catholic priest argues that the clergy is a fundamentally secretive, sexually repressed, misogynistic system, and that dismantling it is the only way to save what is beneficial about the Catholic church, and the only way to protect children from sexual abuse.

Before, and After, the Jogger

Sarah Weinman | The Cut | June 3, 2019 | 32 minutes (8,225 words)

The real rapist in the Central Park Five case attacked many other women. The survivors speak for the first time.

The Day the Music Burned

Jody Rosen | The New York Times Magazine | June 11, 2019 | 51 minutes (12,752 words)

“It was the biggest disaster in the history of the music business — and almost nobody knew.”

Bodies in Seats

Casey Newton | The Verge | June 19, 2019 | 26 minutes (6,712 words)

“At Facebook’s worst-performing content moderation site in North America, one contractor has died, and others say they fear for their lives.” (Content warning: this article and the accompanying video describe harm to children and animals in detail.)

Hideous Men

E. Jean Carroll | The Cut | June 21, 2019 | 26 minutes (6,503 words)

In a stunning excerpt from her memoir, What Do We Need Men For?: A Modest Proposal, E. Jean Carroll recalls being sexually assaulted by numerous men, and outright raped in the mid-’90s in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room by Donald Trump. (Listen to The Daily’s “Corroborating E. Jean Carroll.”)

Cain and Abel and Oil

Ian Frisch | New York Magazine | June 27, 2019 | 23 minutes (5,800 words)

“This might strike you as a wildly self-serving theory: that the epic rift tearing apart this preposterously wealthy family was the fault not of the lifelong ne’er-do-well, who’d spent four decades partying his way through a family fortune, but of his outwardly much more responsible and sober brother, who had run the family business for over a decade. More than that: that the responsible, sober one was actually reckless, vindictive, manipulative, and untrustworthy even with those who knew him best. And even more: that the final break came when the supposedly responsible one engineered an elaborate conspiracy to frame his brother involving a henchman and two corrupt cops.”

“Your Judge Is Your Destiny”

Gabriel Thompson | Topic | July 6, 2019 | 23 minutes (5,933 words)

“The judge keeps a low public profile, but among attorneys in Louisiana, her reputation is feared. According to data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees our nation’s immigration courts, Judge Reese has presided over more than 200 asylum hearings during the past five years. The applicants who have stood before her have come from all across the globe: Somalia, Eritrea, Mexico, Cameroon, Honduras. Some have lawyers, some do not; it makes little difference. Unique among her peers, during the past five years, Reese has rejected every single case.”

Their Family Bought Land One Generation After Slavery. The Reels Brothers Spent Eight Years in Jail for Refusing to Leave It.

Lizzie Presser | ProPublica | July 15, 2019 | 30 minutes (7,602 words)

A deeply upsetting object lesson in how the arcane details of inheritance and property law are used to strip black Americans of their land.

Losing the News

Brent Cunningham | Pacific Standard | July 23, 2019 | 25 minutes (6,333 words)

The Charleston Gazette-Mail was known as the newspaper that used “sustained outrage” to hold the powerful accountable in West Virginia, a state with a legacy of corruption. Last year, the paper filed for bankruptcy and changed owners; its future as a watchdog remains unclear.

Alan Dershowitz, Devil’s Advocate

Connie Bruck | The New Yorker | Aug 29, 2019 | 55 minutes (13,878 words)

“The noted lawyer’s long, controversial career—and the accusations against him.”

The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah | The New York Times Magazine | April 8, 2015 | 30 minutes (7,562 words)

“For decades Morrison has reflected back to us what it’s meant to be on the other side of this country’s approved history. When young white men again sing songs about lynching black men without being able recall who taught them those songs, and the hateful origins of the N-word are erased by a convenient amnesia to allow its constant use by outsiders, who will tell the stories we don’t tell ourselves?”

The 1619 Project

Nikole Hannah-Jones, Linda Villarosa, Bryan Stevenson, Matthew Desmond, Staff | The New York Times Magazine | August 14, 2019 | 149 minutes (37,272 words)

With essays, poems, timelines, and photography, the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project commemorates the 400th anniversary of American slavery, retelling the story of America’s origins by “placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center.”

Did Venus Williams Ever Get Her Due?

Elizabeth Weil | The New York Times Magazine | August 22, 2019 | 30 minutes (7,586 words)

“How the first Williams sister changed the course of women’s tennis.”

From ‘The Alcatraz of the Rockies’ to the Streets

Keegan Hamilton | Vice Magazine | August 28, 2019 | 44 minutes (11,047 words)

“It’s unconscionable to put someone with serious mental illness into a segregation cell for 23 hours a day and let their demons chase them around…” (Warning: this story contains detailed descriptions of self-harm.)

Twelve Words

Brian Trapp | Kenyon Review | September 1, 2019 | 28 minutes (7,183 words)

For a vivacious, disabled man with a limited vocabulary, his twin brother’s name came to communicate a range of ideas and emotion. But when it came time to decide his fate, who could really speak for Danny?

What I Wish I’d Known About Sexual Assault in the Military

Sandra Sidi | The Atlantic | September 9, 2019 | 26 minutes (6,650 words)

Sandra Sidi recalls the rampant sexual assault and harassment she and other female colleagues experienced when she worked as a civilian public affairs analyst for the military in Iraq in 2007.

A Second Chance

Emily Giambalvo | The Washington Post | September 18, 2019 | 24 minutes (6,032 words)

“Twelve years ago, 47 dogs were rescued from Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation and allowed to live. They’ve enriched the lives of countless humans and altered the course of animal welfare.”

Stories About My Brother

Prachi Gupta | Jezebel | September 26, 2019 | 27 minutes (6,812 words)

“I was finally becoming the woman I had always wanted to be, but was heartbroken that my brother, the person I loved more than anyone else in the world, seemingly hated that woman… When he died, I believed that I didn’t know the facts of his life well enough to write his obituary. Worse, I feared that he wouldn’t have wanted me to write it. How do you write about someone you loved intensely, but didn’t really like?”

The Murder of Jamal Khashoggi

Evan Ratliff | Business Insider | October 1, 2019 | 43 minutes (10,944 words)

“One year ago the journalist Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and never walked out… We’re retelling it because Jamal Khashoggi’s story should be heard in full. And because even if you think you know what happened, you may not know how or why.”

The Black Cube Chronicles

Ronan Farrow | The New Yorker | October 7, 2019 | 42 minutes (10,500 words)

While investigating allegations of sexual-assault against Harvey Weinstein, Ronan Farrow was surveilled by an Israeli private-intelligence agency called Black Cube. Agents from Black Cube tried to get close with Farrow and other journalists looking into Weinstein — as well as several women who were planning on coming forward with their stories — in an attempt to suppress the allegations. An excerpt from Farrow’s book, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators.

The FBI Lost Our Son

Brett Forrest | Wall Street Journal | October 11, 2019 | 30 minutes (7,680 words)

The FBI’s counterterrorism unit recruited Billy Reilly to infiltrate terror and criminal networks as a part-time confidential source. Part of a wave of workers recruited post-9/11, Billy did not receive the training, protections, or compensation of a full-time agent. After he went missing during an operation in Russia in 2015, no one inside the FBI would take responsibility.

Inside TurboTax’s 20-Year Fight to Stop Americans From Filing Their Taxes for Free

Paul Kiel, Justin Elliott | ProPublica | October 17, 2019 | 27 minutes (6,848 words)

“Under the terms of an agreement with the federal government, Intuit and other commercial tax prep companies promised to provide free online filing to tens of millions of lower-income taxpayers. In exchange, the IRS pledged not to create a government-run system. Since Free File’s launch, Intuit has done everything it could to limit the program’s reach while making sure the government stuck to its end of the deal.”

I Accidentally Uncovered a Nationwide Scam on Airbnb

Allie Conti | Vice Magazine | October 31, 2019 | 23 minutes (5,753 words)

When reporter Allie Conti got a call from her Airbnb host 10 minutes before she was supposed to check in to her rental in Chicago, “Andrew” claimed the toilet had backed up, making the unit unavailable. The good news, he said was that he had a larger place he managed nearby. Little did Allie know that she stumbled on an Airbnb scam involving nearly 100 property listings in eight cities.

A Test With No Answer

Sophia Jones | Marie Claire | October 30, 2019 | 19 minutes (4,750 words)

No procedure exists that can prove virginity, yet dangerously unscientific virginity tests occur regularly — even in the United States. Marie Claire, in partnership with the Fuller Project, investigates the controversial exams and the gray area surrounding them that endangers both patients and medical professionals.

‘I Will Never Let Boeing Forget Her’

Alec MacGillis | ProPublica | November 11, 2019 | 31 minutes (7,838 words)

In designing the 737 MAX, Boeing altered the plane’s automatic response in the event of a faulty angle-of-attack sensor, failed to include the change in the airplane’s operating manual, and then promptly blamed foreign pilots when two separate crashes involving the model took 347 lives.

The Quiet Rooms

Lakeidra Chavis, Jodi S. Cohen, Jennifer Smith Richards | Chicago Tribune and ProPublica | November 19, 2019 | 30 minutes (7,726 words)

Schools across Illinois have been punishing students by locking them into “seclusion rooms” — essentially putting them into solitary confinement. Schools say the isolated timeouts are a necessary tool to dealing with students who pose a safety threat to themselves or others, but many of the students put in these rooms have disabilities and receive no therapeutic value from being locked away. Not long after this Tribune/ProPublica investigation was published, Illinois took emergency action to end this practice.

Behind the Smiles

Will Evans | Reveal News | November 25, 2019 | 24 minutes (6,000 words)

Amazon’s internal injury records expose the true toll of its relentless drive for speed.

How a Con Man’s Wild Testimony Sent Dozens to Jail, and 4 to Death Row

Pamela Colloff | The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica | December 4, 2019 | 54 minutes (13,500 words)

Paul Skalnik is a grifter and criminal. Now a man may be executed because of his dubious testimony. Why did prosecutors rely on him as an informant?

At War with the Truth

Craig Whitlock | The Washington Post | December 9, 2019 | 25 minutes (6,332 words)

“A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.”

Lockdown: Living Through the Era of School Shootings, One Drill at a Time

Elizabeth Van Brocklin | The Trace | December 18, 2019 | 14 minutes (3,698 words)

What’s an active shooter drill like? Hear directly from 20 students and learn “what they see, hear, and feel during what has become a routine experience in American schools” — read excerpts, or listen to the audio of their conversations.

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Read all the categories in our Best of 2019 year-end collection.