The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Tara Roberts, Casey Cep, Benjamin Cassidy, David Alm, and Lacy Warner.

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

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1. Into the Depths

Tara Roberts | National Geographic | February 7th, 2022 | 5,200 words

According to academic research, the transatlantic slave trade comprised at least 36,000 voyages — that’s how many trips it took to forcibly transport some 12.5 million Africans from freedom to bondage. But 1,000 or so of those ships likely sank, taking with them the bodies and stories of the people on board. A remarkable group of Black divers is now searching for these lost ships. When writer Tara Roberts joined them — quitting her job, giving up her apartment, and dipping into her savings to make it happen — she learned more than she ever thought possible about the power of history, including her own family’s roots. Roberts’ beautiful piece documenting her journey complements a six-part podcast about the slave trade and its shipwrecks. There’s a moment in the piece I won’t soon forget, when divers pour soil from the island where a group of slaves was captured over the waves near Cape Town where 212 of them perished in a capsized ship. “For the first time since 1794,” a diver tells Roberts, “[these] people can sleep in their own land.” —SD

2. Why King Tut is Still Fascinating

Casey Cep | The New Yorker | February 7th, 2022 | 3,545 words

Whenever I am back in London, I visit the British Museum. I love to gawk in wonder at gold coins retrieved from Viking treasure hordes or at an Anglo-Saxon helmet from 625 AD — a date that swirls in front of my eyes as I try to imagine it. However, it is rooms 62 and 63 that I am most drawn to, for these are the rooms that hold the exhibition Egyptian death and afterlife: mummies. I was there a couple of months ago, but this time found myself feeling uncomfortable as I stared at the small withered bodies, wrapped — but still exposed — in their sarcophagi. The immense care Egyptians took in arranging burials implies that a glass case steaming with the breath of thousands of tourists is not where they wanted their dead to end up. However dubious, these rooms are the most crowded — and here I was, part of that. So I was intrigued to come across Casey Cep’s article detailing our fascination with Egyptology — and in particular, the endless appeal of the pharaoh Tutankhamun, 3000 years after his death and 100 years since Howard Carter found his tomb. Cep reports on how a recent global tour of Tutankhamun’s treasures “attracted larger crowds than the Beatles did, breaking museum attendance records and generating tens of millions of dollars in ticket sales.” I enjoyed that this piece took a different perspective — not just the story of Tutankhamun, but about the “Tut glut” that followed. A glut I find myself contributing to with this blurb…and so it continues. —CW

3. The Race to Free Washington’s Last Orca in Captivity

Benjamin Cassidy | Seattle Met | February 8, 2022 | 5,447 words

“For nearly all of her almost 52 years in captivity, a whale weaned on voluminous Northwest waters has performed for gawking tourists in the country’s smallest orca tank.” For Seattle Met, Benjamin Cassidy reports on the Lummi Nation’s quest to bring Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut — Washington State’s last orca in captivity — home to the Salish Sea. Taken from her native waters in 1970, the orca was sold to Miami Seaquarium, renamed Lolita, and has lived there ever since. This is a somber read, but there’s also so much beauty in the way Cassidy describes the connection between the Lummi and the region’s orcas, whom they consider their spiritual relatives. (“Growing up, Tah-Mahs learned about the whales known as qwe’lhol’mechen, or, loosely, ‘our relations below the waves,’ through stories passed down by elders.”) The decades-long effort that’s called for Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut’s release is more urgent than ever, especially given the news this past week about her ill health. —CLR

4. The Visionary

David Alm | Runner’s World | February 3, 2022 | 5,748 words

Now that society’s thinking about cannabis finally seems to have changed permanently, it’s little wonder that athletes are being more outspoken about their use of the plant. NBA athletes and ultrarunners have already gone on the record; now, a profile of Thai Richards chronicles how the literal face of last year’s New York City Marathon is nurturing a similar attitudinal shift in the road-running community. Alm, who made our Best of 2021 list with his GQ feature about The Bronx’s community of elite Ethiopian runners, doesn’t recede entirely — as a runner and cannabis user who had never crossed the streams, he had to go gonzo in the name of journalistic immersion — but he tells Richards’ story with compassion and reserve, teasing out the fraught path so many Black and Brown athletes tread in the quest for wellness. Make no mistake, though: This isn’t about catching a buzz. It’s about connecting with your mind, being at ease in your body, and maintaining that inner balance even when the world at large does everything it can to knock you off your pivot. —PR

5. Suzanne Takes You Down to Her Place Near the River

Lacy Warner | Guernica | February 7th, 2022 | 5,082 words

Suzanne Verdal, the infamous muse and subject of the Leonard Cohen song that bears her name, is a real person. And unlike Cohen who passed away in 2016, she’s still alive. Because she’s a human being, we know that Suzanne is much more than simply a muse, but did she have artistic aspirations of her own? At Guernica, writer Lacy Warner is surprised by what she finds out about Suzanne’s true super power: “In Suzanne, I saw the possibility not only of reckoning with what muses might be owed, but the chance to strike a blow for all the women who have inspired men’s art while struggling to be recognized for their own.” —KS