The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, our editors recommend stories by Seth Harp, Alanna Mitchell, Cezary Podkul, Alex Vuocolo, and Loren Grush.

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

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1. ‘These Kids Are Dying’ — Inside the Overdose Crisis Sweeping Fort Bragg

Seth Harp | Rolling Stone | September 4, 2022 | 5,798 words

One hundred and nine. That’s the shocking number of soldiers who died in 2020 and 2021 while assigned to Fort Bragg, the U.S. Army’s largest base. In this important investigation, Seth Harp reports on the unprecedented wave of deaths at the military facility: homicides and suicides, and an alarming number of accidental overdoses on fentanyl, with soldiers dying in similarly “quiet” ways — slumped over in their bunks or in parked vehicles. But the Army continues to downplay this crisis, sweeping fatalities under the rug: the deaths of soldiers not even made public, their families left wondering what happened. “Military leaders will deny it and say that morale is high,” writes Harp, “but there is a palpable sense of purposelessness and disillusionment hanging over bases like Fort Bragg,” especially among men who’ve experienced combat and have been deployed to Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq multiple times. A heartbreaking and infuriating read about the military justice system, and the lack of support for soldiers. —CLR

2. Bioacoustics: What Nature’s Sounds Can Tell Us About The Health of Our World

Alanna Mitchell | Canadian Geographic | August 12, 2022 | 3,792 words

This essay hooks you from its opening lines, with descriptions so adept you can hear “the chirps, warbles, tweedles, whistles and clicks of the dawn chorus.” The auditory feast continues, and I defy you not to imagine twirling his baton at his marine orchestra when Alanna Mitchell explains that “coral reefs are underwater symphonies with shrimp snapping out the beat.” After making you appreciate the sounds of the earth, Mitchell switches to her stark message: We are silencing nature’s voice. In our ecosystem’s choir, not only are humans destroying the harmony by singing the loudest, we are throwing everyone else out of tune by loading so much carbon into the atmosphere that it is changing the air, altering sounds. Water is not faring any better and Mitchell explains that, in the oceans, there is no respite from the constant hum of ships, nudging me to imagine what it would be like to be plagued by the buzz of a construction drill wherever I went. A particularly heartbreaking example comes from a study of St. Lawrence Estuary, where young beluga whales are getting lost, unable to hear their mothers above their highly industrialized world. Mixing vivid descriptions with scientific reports is a powerful blend, and I came away from this essay feeling disturbed. However, Mitchell does give us one positive note — things could still recover. Studies have shown that playing healthy soundscapes in degraded marine ecosystems can help restore them: “The phantom sounds of lost habitats, piped from speakers onto the seabed, are cues for oyster larvae, encouraging them to fasten to the abandoned shells of adult oysters and rebuild.” —

3. Human Trafficking’s Newest Abuse: Forcing Victims Into Cyberscamming

Cezary Podkul with Cindy Liu | ProPublica | September 13, 2022 | 7,559 words

“Hello! I’m Jonah, who are you?” says one text. “Hi, I’m back in San Francisco, how’s it going?” says another. I receive WhatsApp messages like these regularly, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the people who may be behind them as I read this harrowing story by Cezary Podkul about so-called pig butchering scams. As the phrase suggests, fraudsters plump up their targets, forming online relationships with them and gaining their trust before manipulating them into depositing money into an investment platform. But the scammers themselves, tens of thousands of people from across Asia, have been coerced into participating in these schemes. Podkul’s investigation takes us deep into both sides of the operation: He follows Fan, a young man from China who was lured by a phony ad, held captive in a Cambodian scam compound in Sihanoukville, and forced to engage in cybercrime. He also shares the devastating story of Yuen, a man living near San Francisco, who ultimately lost $1 million in a scam that began with a seemingly harmless WhatsApp text from a stranger named Jessica. This is a gripping, excellently reported piece that clearly shows how no one wins in these schemes — except the crime syndicates behind them. —CLR

4. The Disappearing Art of Maintenance

Alex Vuocolo | Noema | September 22, 2022 | 4,173 words

“Repair is when you fix something that’s already broken,” Alex Vuocolo writes near the beginning of his reported essay. “Maintenance is about making something last.” Tension needn’t exist between those two sentences; yet, as he ably illustrates, too many nations have ensured that it does. Starting with the New York City transit system’s most ancient subway cars, Vuocolo unpacks how maintenance may in fact be our most direct line to environmental salvation — or at least mitigation. For decades, sustainability efforts have focused on repair rather than renewal; at the same time, technological progress has plundered natural resources with increasing rapacity, and labor costs have outpaced material costs. The result, he posits, is a broken system in which the most efficient practices are somehow the most wasteful ones. And until something undoes this brokenness, we’re left to take that responsibility on ourselves. Hope you’ve got your screwdriver at the ready.  —PR

5. Rocketland

Loren Grush | The Verge | September 13, 2022 | 7,100 words

I dislike Elon Musk. Like, a lot. I know I’m not alone in this. So it was admittedly with horrified curiosity that I embarked on reading Loren Grush’s feature about people who’ve uprooted their lives, moved to middle-of-nowhere Texas, and dedicated their time, energy, even money to waiting for Musk’s SpaceX to bring humankind closer to setting foot on Mars. Grush quickly set me straight: The horror that colored my curiosity was wrong. She encounters a community of seekers, believers, dreamers. There’s nothing else like it on earth, and in that there’s poignancy, even hope. “Maybe inhabiting Mars will happen in our lifetimes. Maybe it won’t. Maybe it will never happen at all,” Grush writes. “In the end, you just have to have a little faith. And in this dry, flat patch of Texas, you’ll find no shortage of that.” —SD