The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, our editors recommend longreads by Benjamin Wofford, Josh Dzieza, Evan Osnos, Alice Wong & Ed Yong, and Dan Kois.

Here are five standout pieces we read this week. You can always visit our editors’ picks or our Twitter feed to see what other recommendations you may have missed.

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1. Meet the Lobbyist Next Door

Benjamin Wofford | WIRED | July 14th, 2022 | 5,000 words

A business feature that doubles as a horror story, Benjamin Wofford’s chilling piece could be the premise for a Black Mirror episode. Wofford profiles Urban Legend, a tech startup that has built “the Exchange,” an interface connecting advertisers looking to promote political ideologies with influencers ready to peddle for a price. Urban Legend’s CEO, Ory Rinat, who previously worked in the Trump White House, and his colleagues like to talk about trust, authenticity, and empowerment, but as Wofford skillfully shows, there’s no heart to their business model — there’s only a black hole, a moral vacuum. The dread of it all crept up on me as I read, which is a testament to the writing. Now excuse me while I go scream into the abyss. —SD

2. The Great Fiction of AI

Josh Dzieza | The Verge | July 20th, 2022 | 5,091 words

Could artificial intelligence help you write your next novel? Josh Dzieza dives into the world of AI-assisted genre fiction, and how independent authors are experimenting with tools powered by GPT-3 to write stories faster. Dzieza recounts Kindle novelist Jennifer Lepp’s experience with one such tool, Sudowrite, which, at first, generates strange and hilarious output. Eventually, as Lepp learns how to control the software’s quirks, she gets results that are more promising. But they are unsettling, too: When Lepp gives a finished chapter to her husband to read, he isn’t able to distinguish between her voice and the machine’s. Dzieza also talks with authors who view AI as a welcome disruption to the field, such as Joanna Penn, who envisions a future where writers will be left behind if they don’t embrace the technology. This is a fascinating read that explores ethics, creativity, and authorship, and is a complement to the stories in our . I love the playful article design, too. —CLR

3. The Haves and the Have-Yachts

Evan Osnos | The New Yorker | July 18th, 2022 | 10,000 words

Inflation. Pandemic. Recession. Yet, since 2020,  — and the  has seen its aggregate worth balloon by nearly $4 trillion. What do you do with all that money? Easy. You spend it on reminding people, as one interviewee memorably relates in this piece, that “I am in a different fucking category than you.” In this case, that means multi-hundred-foot, multi-hundred-million-dollar superyachts, the world of which Evan Osnos excavates over (exactly) 10,000 deliciously arch words. These aren’t just phallic manifestations of mind-boggling wealth. With their onboard IMAX theaters and 50-person staffs, they’re manifestations of the one thing their owners want desperately but can’t quite attain on land: absolute sovereignty. But while you and I and the rest of the hoi polloi might be seen as “ineligible visitors” to this ionosphere of luxury, that doesn’t mean that you’re not in for one hell of a read. —

4. What Counts as Seeing

Alice Wong and Ed Yong | Orion Magazine | July 12th, 2022 | 3,948 words

Are you as excited as I am to see these names side by side? Here, Wong and Yong engage in a wonderful conversation that celebrates the strange and unpredictable in nature and fosters empathy for all creatures. They discuss Yong’s books, the incredible senses of other organisms, and, in turn, the limits of our understanding for how rich and diverse the natural world really is. (I love the bit where Yong compares his dog going on a walk to sniff and pee on things as the pup’s version of checking his social media for the day.) As you’d expect, their dialogue is delightful and accessible, thanks to Wong’s ability to open people’s eyes to experiences that are not their own and Yong’s knack for explaining scientific and biological concepts in plain language. What a treat to read. —

5. The 50 Greatest Fictional Deaths of All Time

Dan Kois (and Other Contributors) | Slate | July 20th, 2022 | 8,250 words

This list is so damn fun. Starting in 431 B.C. and progressing chronologically, it levels the cultural playing field, quoting passages from Beowulf and Macbeth while also reveling in the transgressive lyrics of “Goodbye Earl.” It reminded me of at least one brilliant cinematic death that I’d somehow forgotten — before using an inhaler, make sure it’s not a gun! — and made me tear up at its description of a groundbreaking storyline in Doonesbury. Like all the best GOAT lists, it also made me consider what I would include: one of the gruesome deaths in The Omen, Mr. Jingles’ demise and resurrection in The Green Mile, Alec’s murder in Tess of the D’Urbervilles (ooooh — or the raising of the black flag at the end!?). “We’ve made this list during a pandemic, as real-life death has stalked us all, more tangible than ever,” Dan Kois writes. “One of the many things art can do is to help us navigate the pitfalls of life, and there’s no deeper pitfall than the final one.” —SD