The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, our editors recommend stories by Yessenia Funes, Carl Elliott, Courtney Shea, Jillian Steinhauer, and Ed Simon.

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. Dust and Bones

Yessenia Funes | Atmos | August 31st, 2022 | 3,884 words

“The border crisis is bad now, but climate change will make it exponentially worse,” writes Yessenia Funes in this compassionate piece for Atmos. Extreme heat plays a major role in migrant deaths along the southern border of the U.S. In 2021, the bodies of 225 migrants were recovered from the Arizona desert, and this year, 126 have already been found. One third of these deaths are due to the harsh, dangerous environment. Funes joins a migrant rescue group that combs the desert for people who’ve gotten lost during their journeys. Mostly, though, they search for remains: “bodies, bones, and belongings.” While researchers have studied how climate change will influence migration patterns, they haven’t really measured how it will physically and mentally affect an individual — until now. Funes weaves this data into a very personal and reflective account. The photographs by Carlos Jaramillo, especially images of found items like black water jugs and camouflage backpacks scattered across the desert, are haunting. —CLR

Carl Elliott | The American Scholar | September 1st, 2022 | 5,463 words

It’s hard not to think of Oliver Sacks when you start reading this piece, thanks to its opening tale of a woman’s alarming reaction to the drug pramipexole. But Carl Elliott quickly delves beyond case-study voyeurism to plumb a litany of fascinating philosophical questions. When an impulse-control disorder changes a person’s personality dramatically, and seemingly irrevocably, how do we evaluate the resulting behavior? Are they responsible for their transgressions? Is it even them who’s transgressing? “The issues involved in these judgments raise profound questions about what exactly makes us who we are,” Elliott writes. “And those questions remain morally contentious even without identity-altering drugs.” Come for the “wait, they what?” moments, stay for the constellation of Wittgenstein thought experiments and Philip K. Dick references.  —PR

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3. The Death Cheaters

Courtney Shea | Toronto Life | August 29th, 2022 | 4,711 words

Michael Nguyen, once a tailor to the stars, is the founder of Longevity House, a club where the ultra-wealthy are dipping into high-tech ways to prolong their lives. There’s the BioCharger, which is a fancy device that fights chronic disease and brain fog; experimental fecal transplants; and access to specialists, from a chakra guy to a person who can read your stool samples like “physiological tea leaves.” For these biohackers, the goal is optimization and autonomy over one’s own health care. (Says the starry-eyed founder: “The patient is the doctor of the future.”) But does biohacking work, or is Nguyen just a wellness snake-oil salesman for the 1%? In this entertaining read, Courtney Shea, both with wide eyes and a necessary skepticism, gives us a glimpse into this subculture — think “Goop but for tech bros,” a wellness community where “cryotherapy is the new CrossFit,” and a world in which the body and mind are merely first-generation devices, primed for upgrades. Here, 90 is the new 50.  —CLR

4. Can the American Mall Survive?

Jillian Steinhauer | The New Republic | August 22nd, 2022 | 3,974 words

I grew up in a small place where there wasn’t much to do except go to the mall. I can still navigate its corridors in my brain: Bath & Body Works was around the corner from Victoria’s Secret and just down the way from the GAP. When a new, bigger, splashier mall opened a two-hour drive from my town, a high school friend and I made a pilgrimage to shop there. After all, it boasted an Abercrombie. Needless to say, I ate up Jillian Steinhauer’s excellent essay about the history and future of the American mall, which doubles as a review of a new book about the topic, by architecture critic Alexandra Lange. Steinhauer considers why malls hold such an oversize place in the American cultural imagination. “Malls are not necessarily the communal spaces we would design for ourselves, but in a country short on alternatives, they’re the ones we’ve been given,” she writes. “Is it any surprise that we want them to be so much more?” —SD

5. How Many Errorrs Are in This Essay?

Ed Simon | The Millions | August 24th, 2022 | 6,525 words

I spend a lot of time deliberating over words, so reading Ed Simon’s delightful essay on “when copy goes wrong” was a guilty pleasure. When Simon points out “Theodor Dreiser’s An American Tragedy describes a pair of lovers as being ‘like two small chips being tossed about on a rough but friendly sea,’” I was rooting for those star-crossed potatoes. A fan of a well-set table, I concurred “Blessed are the placemakers,” rather than “peacemakers” — as suggested in a 1562 printing of the Geneva Bible — and I chuckled that a few decades later, the “Wicked Bible” urged that you “shalt commit adultery.” There is a particularly joyful flaw in a 15th-century Croatian manuscript, where “splayed across the pages are the inky pawprints of the scribe’s cat” — the modern-day equivalent of your pet presenting its rear end in a Zoom meeting. After having his fun, Simon deftly moves on to the darker side of copy mistakes: In the U.S. Constitution, “commas are placed between nouns and verbs, errant commas in the Second Amendment make it unclear as to whether the right to bear arms is reserved for individuals or only ‘well regulated militias.’” Simon likes to make you think, and after dwelling on the potential damage of a wayward comma, he moves on to our very existence: Why did the Big Bang happen? It was probably just a mistake as well. —