The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from George Packer, Lindsay Peoples-Wagner and Morgan Jerkins, Paul Solotaroff, Lauren Owens Lambert, and Oscar Schwartz.

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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1. The Betrayal

George Packer | The Atlantic | January 31st 2022 | 20,818 words

When the United States prepared to withdraw from Afghanistan last August — 20 years into its failed war — they fully expected Kabul to fall to the Taliban; they just didn’t expect it to happen so soon. At The Atlantic, George Packer reports on the hopelessly bureaucratic Special Immigrant Visa program and the Afghan allies that attempted to use it to flee their country, crushed in a sea of chaos and abject human suffering amid crowds desperate to flee Kabul at Hamid Karzai International Airport. This is a harrowing read; much is told through the eyes of those who fled and readers should be warned that some scenes will not be forgotten. The greatest tragedy, in addition to the many lives lost unnecessarily, is that it didn’t have to be this way: “No law required the U.S. government to save a single one—only a moral debt did,” writes Packer. Had the U.S. acted earlier and with much greater will and focus, they could have saved far far more than the 124 thousand they estimate to have evacuated: “Administration officials told me that no one could have anticipated how quickly Kabul would fall. This is true, and it goes for both Afghans and Americans. But the failure to plan for a worst-case scenario while there was time, during the spring and early summer, as Afghanistan began to collapse, led directly to the fatal chaos in August.” —KS

2. 10 Years Since Trayvon

Lindsay Peoples-Wagner, Morgan Jerkins | New York Magazine | January 31st, 2022 | 12,400 words

It’s been a decade since George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a brutal incident that incited a social movement. Black Lives Matter has since transformed from a hashtag into, as editors Lindsay Peoples-Wagner and Morgan Jerkins put it, “a cultural force that has reshaped American politics, society, and daily life.” In a special issue of New York Magazine, Peoples-Wagner, Jerkins, and a collection of outstanding contributors tell the story of BLM’s first 10 years. The project is a literal timeline, pegged to specific events: the killing of Eric Garner, the mass murder of Black parishioners at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, the release of Get Out, and much more. At various points, contributors branch off into essays, telling deeper stories about the controversies, symbols, and individual lives that have molded BLM’s legacy. This is an essential historical document and a creative triumph. —SD

3. He Spent 25 Years Infiltrating Nazis, the Klan, and Biker Gangs*

Paul Solotaroff | Rolling Stone | January 30th, 2022 | 7,976 words

Of the tens of thousands of words you’ve read about white supremacist hate groups over the years, the vast majority have been written from the perspective of people on the outside of those groups: journalists, researchers, the unlucky souls the groups terrorized. That’s what makes this profile so breathtaking. Scott B. (his real name, if not his full one) spent years as an FBI undercover agent bringing down various violent organizations from the inside, and gave Solotaroff access to his field notes and transcripts — which, in conjunction with a raft of corroborating interviews, paint a heart-pounding, devastating picture of just some of what this country is up against. Is there some self-mythologizing going on here? It’s impossible to say no. But reading how Scott managed to gain entry to venal outfits like the Atomwaffen and The Base, and what he saw once he’d done so, you realize that sometimes an anecdote isn’t memorable because of the teller. Sometimes it’s because even the barest facts show you how many monsters are lurking under the bed. —PR

*The vast majority of the pieces we recommend are free to read online. Occasionally, we will share a piece that requires a subscription when we strongly believe that piece is worth your time.

4. When Turtles Fly

Lauren Owens Lambert | bioGraphic | January 25th, 2022 | 2,984 words

It was a joy to read this story about far-reaching efforts to help the humble sea turtle. It’s depressingly obvious that their plight is our fault in the first place — Lauren Owens Lambert writes of dwindling numbers due to “habitat loss, coastal development, ship strikes, plastic waste, and climate change” — but hundreds of people are doing their best to rectify at least some of the damage. At Cape Cod, volunteers search the beach twice a day from November through December, for stranded turtles who didn’t migrate as the water temperature plummets. The animals must then be transported to rehab facilities and flying is the least stressful way to get them there. Enter Turtles Fly Too and its team of volunteer pilots. One such pilot is a dentist from New York, and I loved that Lambert details that he “doesn’t hesitate to cancel dental appointments, because, he says, ‘the turtles can’t wait’ and the clients understand.” Saving a plane full of turtles involves around five vans, a thousand miles, and four organizations. So read this story to restore some faith in humanity — and to picture hundreds of turtles hitching a plane ride down the coast. —CW

5. What Was the TED Talk?

Oscar Schwartz | The Drift | January 31st, 2022 | 4,757 words

Even at the height of the TED era, I’d never bought into the idea of a TED Talk — I could never get past the ridiculousness of it all: the thought leader du jour under a spotlight, pacing back and forth on stage, taking each step, serving up each line, even delivering each pause with emotion and passion. Their aim? To disseminate knowledge about the future of our world with other hungry minds, but also to share their bold ideas for how to be better, superior humans. (“The TED philosophy encouraged boldness of vision, but also denial of reality,” writes Schwartz. “As such, it was a magnet for narcissistic, recognition-seeking characters and their Theranos-like projects.”) I enjoyed Schwartz’s exploration of TED’s history and approach, and the rise and fall of the TED Talk, which had a very distinct format fusing interestingness with storytelling to create “inspiresting” content. —CLR