All through December, we’ll be featuring Longreads’ Best of 2022. Here’s a list of every story that was chosen as No. 1 in our weekly Top 5 email.


The Radicalization of J.D. Vance

Simon van Zuylen-Wood | The Washington Post Magazine | January 4, 2022 | 6,044 words

Five years ago, J.D. Vance was enjoying the success of his acclaimed 2016 memoir, Hillbilly Elegy. Today, he’s running for Senate in his home state of Ohio, bankrolled by tech-con icon Peter Thiel, and competing with Ted Cruz to tweet the most abrasive MAGA platitudes. How we ended up here isn’t the primary goal of van Zuylen-Wood’s intellectually driven feature, though; instead, it’s an attempt to answer the question of where “here” actually is. Watching Vance preen for prospective voters and explain his equivocations is maddening, sure, but it allows van Zuylen-Wood to tease apart the philosophical paradox at the heart of Vance’s attempted makeover. “Vance’s media strategy seems to be that by playing Don Jr. on the Internet, he can push for more substantive populism in real life,” he writes. “The success of that tactic may depend on how far removed he truly seems from the Brookings Institution-to-Netflix pipeline he was riding until recently.” Inside (beltway) baseball? Perhaps. A crucial preview of the next few years of so-called culture wars? Definitely. Don’t say you weren’t warned. —PR

* * *

No Escape From Guantánamo

Abigail Hauslohner | The Washington Post | January 7, 2022 | 3,700 Words

The United States began detaining men at Guantánamo Bay 20 years ago this week. Nearly 800 prisoners have spent time in the facility’s cells; today 39 men still remain behind bars there, 27 of whom have never been charged with a crime. This haunting, must-read story is about men who’ve been released and resettled in third countries — a Tunisian in Slovakia, for instance, and a Yemeni in Serbia. Abigail Hauslohner describes them as “the discarded men of one of America’s darkest chapters.” After enduring torture and other horrors at Guantánamo, they’ve been forced to live hundreds or thousands of miles from any family or friends. They face persecution and poverty, as well as the lingering effects of trauma. If they can rely on anything, it’s each other. “They trade advice, news and jokes in text-message chains,” Hauslohner writes. “And when things get bad, they call each other.” —SD

* * *

Anatomy of a Murder Confession

Maurice Chammah | The Marshall Project and Dallas Morning News | January 18, 2022 | 6,600 Words

“They put us together…and tell us that we can do whatever we want, as long as we solve cases.” That’s what James Holland, a Texas Ranger and media-dubbed “serial killer whisperer,” once said about the Rangers’ work on unsolved murders. The person he said it to was James Driskill, a suspect in a cold case, and Holland wasn’t kidding: To pin the murder on Driskill, the Rangers used hypnosis, deception, a “hypothetical” confession, and other investigative methods criticized by criminal justice experts and advocates as dramatically increasing the risk of convicting an innocent person. Which is exactly what Driskill, now serving a prison sentence, and his legal team say happened to him. Maurice Chammah’s story about Holland’s questionable techniques, which aren’t isolated to Driskill’s case, is as jaw-dropping as it is expertly crafted. —SD

* * *

Is Ginni Thomas a Threat to the Supreme Court?

Jane Mayer | The New Yorker | January 24, 2022 | 6,800 words

Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement was the big Supreme Court news of the week, but don’t sleep on this disturbing story about Clarence Thomas’s wife’s many, many ties to right-wing groups and figures—including ones directly involved with major SCOTUS cases. Perhaps you read about Ginni Thomas expressing support for the January 6 insurrectionists and the lie that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election. But did you know she sits on the advisory board of a conservative academic group that filed an amicus brief in the affirmative-action suit that SCOTUS just took up, or that she was a paid consultant at a “security” organization when its leader filed a brief supporting Trump’s Muslim ban? Those examples are just the tip of the iceberg in this damning story, reported by one of the great chroniclers of U.S. political power. Above all, Jane Mayer calls much-needed attention to the fact that SCOTUS is not bound by a code of conduct, the kind of rules that would prevent such egregious conflicts of interest. —SD

* * *


The Betrayal

George Packer | The Atlantic | January 31, 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

* * *

Into the Depths

Tara Roberts | National Geographic | February 7, 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

* * *

Ikea’s Race for the Last of Europe’s Old-Growth Forest

Alexander Sammon | The New Republic | February 16, 2022 | 7,137 words

Sure, your baby’s new SUNDVIK crib is cute and modern, but do you have any idea where the wood came from? Romania has one of the largest old-growth forests left in the world, home to ancient and rare spruce, beech, and oak trees. Joining the European Union in 2007 opened Romania up to a massive market for this prized cheap timber, which fuels the fast furniture industry. IKEA, which makes big sustainability claims, is the largest individual consumer of wood on the planet; in 2015, it started to buy forestland in Romania in bulk and is now the country’s largest private landowner. But more than half of Romania’s wood is illegally harvested and, as Alexander Sammon intrepidly reports, what’s actually happening on the ground is not always legit and, in some cases, has turned violent. “Tracing any individual tree from forest floor to showroom presents a near impossible challenge,” writes Sammon. “As wood moves through the supply chain, it becomes increasingly difficult to pin down.” This is a dismal but gripping and important read. —CLR

* * *

— March —

Endless Exile: The Tangled Politics Keeping a Uyghur Man in Limbo

Annie Hylton | The Walrus | February 28, 2022 | 8,160 words

While trying to flee persecution in China, Ayoob Mohammed, an Uyghur man, found himself in Afghanistan when the U.S. invaded the country in response to 9/11. Mohammed was among more than a dozen Uyghur men who were caught and sold to the U.S. for bounty as an alleged terrorist, held for four years at Guantánamo Bay, and finally exonerated. Still, 16 years after being released, he is still trying to prove he’s innocent. This story is exceptionally reported and told with nuance and empathy by Hylton, who traces Mohammed’s journey from his Uyghur homeland in northwest China to Guantánamo to Albania, where he has since resettled — and continues to be a victim “of politics among nations, a sacrifice to their interests.” Hylton examines the “invisible geopolitical forces” that “have bent his story to their will” and have kept him from reuniting with his wife Mailikaimu and their kids in Canada, and also shows the challenges of long-term family separation through their story. —CLR

* * *

The Man Who Paid for America’s Fear

Jason Fagone | The San Francisco Chronicle | March 2, 2022 | 14,500 words

This is the definitive story of Hamid Hayat, a man wrongfully convicted of terrorism, sentenced to prison on his 25th birthday, and finally set free after 14 years behind bars. It is a profile, yes, but it is also a deep, unflinching examination of just how ugly and far-reaching Islamophobia became in America after the 9/11 attacks. True to form, author Jason Fagone — whose work was featured in our Best of 2021 collection — offers readers a master class in structure. When I read the closing anecdote, I said aloud, to no one in particular, “Damn.” —SD

* * *

Love and Longing in the Seaweed Album

Sasha Archibald | The Public Domain Review | March 9, 2022 | 2,500 words

The news of 2022 is like an anvil weighing down on our collective psyche. This week, I found myself hungry for a read that felt like a relief — a collection of words that would inspire delight, not despair. This essay delivered. It’s the quintessential example of a factoid-filled piece you read and then find yourself immediately (and perhaps annoyingly) telling people about. Me to a friend: “Did you know that seaweed collecting in 19th-century England was a feminist activity?” Also me: “It’s possible that seaweed collecting inspired George Eliot to start writing fiction.” Me again: “Tweens once exchanged seaweed albums like kids now trade Pokemon cards!” Sasha Archibald writes with grace and humor, and she shows how, far more than just a charming pastime, the bygone practice of seaweed collecting intersected with the wider currents of history. It’s a breath of sea air. —SD

* * *

20 Days in Mariupol

Mstyslav Chernov | The Associated Press | March 21, 2022 | 2,400 words

“The Russians were hunting us down. They had a list of names, including ours, and they were closing in.” So begins video journalist Mstyslav Chernov’s account of the siege of Mariupol, Ukraine. In spare, blood-chilling prose crafted by Lori Pinnant, an AP colleague in Paris, based on conversations with Chernov, this feature recounts the extraordinary lengths journalists have gone to in reporting on Russia’s senseless bombardment of the city — and the extraordinary efforts Vladimir Putin’s forces have taken to suppress the truth. Chernov conveys the fear, shame, grief, anger, sadness, and — above all — sense of responsibility that comes with bearing witness to an unfathomable tragedy. This is war reporting at its finest, its most clear-eyed, its most humane. If you read one thing about Ukraine this weekend, make it this. —SD

* * *

— April —

The Price of Admission

Rachel Aviv | The New Yorker | March 28, 2022 | 10,600 words

I’ve started writing this blurb, erased my attempt, and started again a few times now. The difficulty of summarizing Rachel Aviv’s latest feature is a testament to how good it is, and how complex. What starts as the story of a teenager escaping an abusive parent, navigating foster care, and making a life for herself in the form of a full ride to the University of Pennsylvania, a Rhodes scholarship, and even a new last name pivots at a certain point to something else entirely: an examination of the narrow frameworks that powerful institutions impose onto trauma and suffering, an indictment of the unforgiving expectations society has of abuse victims, and a study in human resilience. Just read it. Then talk about it. We need to talk about it. —SD

* * *

The DIY Duo Behind the Amazon Labor Union’s Guerrilla Bid to Make History

Josefa Velasquez | The City | March 24, 2022 | 4,200 Words

Amazon workers in Staten Island made history last week by voting to establish the company’s first union. The grassroots effort was led by two men, Christian Smalls and Derrick Palmer, who faced all manner of racist and classist indignities, often as a matter of policy created by Amazon officials to derail unionization. On the eve of the vote, The City, a non-profit newsroom, published this fantastic behind-the-scenes look at what was going down on Staten Island. It’s essential reading at a pivotal moment in U.S. labor history, full of rich detail and blistering reminders of why Amazon unions are necessary. For example: “[Smalls] was fired for allegedly stealing two minutes of company time, which he attributes to ‘human error’ for punching in his work time incorrectly.” And: “Sun-faded prayer candles commemorate a 24-year-old [Amazon worker]…killed by a driver in November as she crossed the street during her near-midnight lunch break.” —SD

* * *


Paula Lavigne and Tom Junod | ESPN | April 11, 2022 | 31,519 words

Even those detached from the world of college sports remember how Penn State’s legendary football program crumbled (at least reputationally) under the weight of assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s horrific sexual abuse of young boys. However, as Lavigne and Junod chronicle in this sprawling, compulsively readable investigation, it wasn’t the first time a monster found some measure of protection in the organization. After a young linebacker named Todd Hodne was arrested for rape in 1978, head coach Joe Paterno kicked him off the team; yet, Hodne would go on to strike again and again, enabled in part by the culture of deification that surrounded the Nittany Lions. The story of Hodne — indeed, the story of the women whose lives he disrupted and destroyed over multiple years in multiple states, some of whom broke decades-long silence — spills over the lines of “magazine story” into something altogether different. It’s a testament to survival. To living through atrocity and coming out the other side. And through its expert storytelling, it delivers something that the recent glut of true-crime documentaries and podcasts never could. You won’t forget this one anytime soon. —PR

* * *

Safer Than Childbirth

Tamara Dean | The American Scholar | March 4, 2022 | 3,700 words

Anti-abortion advocates seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade would have you think that the practice of terminating pregnancies is a new phenomenon, brought on by the rise of feminism and the (imaginary) moral decay of America. As Tamara Dean lays bare in this essay, this is nothing short of a lie. Surveying historical literature and using Nancy Ann Harris, a woman who died in 1876 in a rural Wisconsin county, as a lens into the past, Dean shows how abortion was a legally and morally acceptable way for a woman to care for her health, until misogynistic, racist forces decided it shouldn’t be. “Every woman, including Nancy, would have known friends, sisters, or cousins who died or were debilitated while giving birth,” Dean writes. “They would have known those who took pains to avoid it.” This essay is a necessary corrective, and beautifully written to boot.  —SD

* * *

— May —

Paper, Cut

Various Authors | Washington City Paper | May 5, 2022 | 12,400 words

Another day, another beloved print publication calling it quits. Washington City Paper, which nurtured such writing luminaries as Ta-Nehisi Coates, Katherine Boo, Jason Cherkis, and the late David Carr, has printed its last-ever physical edition. In a special package, veteran staffers describe what working at the alt-weekly meant to them. The anecdotes are spectacular. Sex workers in the newsroom lobby, looking to buy ads. A reporter getting punched by a guy named Casino. Final proofs being shipped to the printer via Greyhound bus. Editors pouring their hearts and souls into young writers’ copy. WCP will continue to publish online (and you can support its work), but not everyone in the city it covers has access to the internet. This bittersweet collection of memories stands as a testament to the unconscionable harm that late-stage capitalism and its attendant greed have done to local news. (Speaking of unconscionable harm, consider also reading Rebecca Traister’s fiery essay about how feckless Democrats and their “anemic” rhetoric helped usher America to the precipice of Roe v. Wade‘s reversal.) —SD

* * *

The Woman Who Killed Roe

Kerry Howley | New York Magazine | May 9, 2022 | 7,800 words

When I was 13, sex education was part of religion class — this is what happens when you attend a Catholic middle school. We were given a lot of atrocious advice, such as, if you have gay feelings, you should talk to your priest about it. When we learned about abortion, a guest speaker — a classmate’s mom who worked at a “crisis pregnancy center” — told us the procedure was a sin and passed out silver pins supposedly the size and shape of a fetus’s feet at some number of weeks of gestation. I believe we were encouraged to wear them on the lapels of our uniforms. This experience has been top of mind since I read Kerry Howley’s chilling profile of Marjorie Dannenfelser, the most powerful anti-abortion activist in America. Dannenfelser is from my hometown, she went to the same university I did, and she was married in the Catholic church attached to my middle school. Reading Howley’s piece was like going through the looking glass. Dannenfelser is a terrifying, single-minded, vengeful extremist whose (anti-)life’s work relies on images of “murdered” embryos and fetuses, stripped of the physical bodies, the well-being, and the humanity of the people who carry them. Howley’s piece made me cry. It made me rage. I’ll never be able to shake it. —SD

* * *


Josh McColough | The Missouri Review | April 15, 2022 | 5,508 words

I was drawn this week to a few reads about California road trips, including one on Joan Didion, as well as an essay by Josh McColough in The Missouri Review that recounts part of a West Coast road trip with his teenage daughter, when a road closure in Northern California leads to an unexpected delay. At one point in their journey, they approach a dangerous section of Highway 101 that’s prone to landslides — the Last Chance Grade — and must decide whether to wait until the highway is fixed, or turn around. “Sometimes in order to move forward, you have to stay put for a bit—one of the many lessons imparted to us from the virus,” writes McColough. And so they decide to wait, which opens up the space to be still: to notice all the tiny banana slugs on the forest floor, to ponder just how long it took for the old-growth redwoods to grow that tall, to watch the coastal fog creep inland and do its thing. Reading about their experience on this beautiful spot of earth made me feel small in a humbling yet positive way, and McColough makes poignant observations throughout about humanity, our vulnerable environment, and our place within it. I paused a number of times while reading to allow myself to feel sadness for our world, but also to feel joy — because how lucky are we, ultimately, to be able to live in such a place? “Our inability to see ourselves as tiny points on a much longer ecological or geological spectrum is our uniquely human blind spot,” he writes. “It’s where and how we fall short.” Take the time to read this thoughtful piece. —CLR

* * *

What Bullets Do to Bodies

Jason Fagone | HuffPost Highline | April 26, 2017 | 7,799 words

I’m breaking from tradition here and highlighting a story that’s already been in one of these newsletters, and as a top pick no less. The circumstances demand it. On Tuesday, a gunman armed with two legally purchased AR-style assault rifles slaughtered 19 children and two teachers in a single classroom at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. As authorities worked to identify the victims, they asked parents to provide DNA samples. What’s unspoken in this detail is that the dead children were unrecognizable, or so mangled that it would have been an unimaginable cruelty to ask their parents to look at them. I can’t get this fact out of my mind, and it prompted me to re-read one of the best pieces of explanatory journalism in recent memory. Almost exactly five years ago, Jason Fagone spent time with the head of trauma surgery at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia to understand the damage that bullets do to bodies. What Dr. Amy Goldberg had to say about the Sandy Hook massacre could be said today about the shooting in Uvalde: “As a country, we lost our teachable moment…. The fact that not a single one of those kids was able to be transported to a hospital, tells me that they were not just dead, but really really really really dead. Ten-year-old kids, riddled with bullets, dead as doornails.” America is a country where the mass murder of children is followed by mourning and forgetting, but never action: Congress hasn’t passed a single piece of gun control legislation since Sandy Hook. Until that changes, Goldberg’s comment will be relevant again in another community, at another school. It’s only a matter of time. —SD

* * *

— June —

“I’m Still Alive but Sh*t Is Getting Wild”: Inside the Siege of the Amarula

Alex Perry | Outside | June 1, 2022 | 20,187 words

Stop me if you’ve heard the plot before: Westerners descend on Africa in search of valuable natural resources, hellish chaos ensues. This version of the story, though, is far more complicated. For one, it sets the predatory global remote-construction industry — in this case, working to establish infrastructure for imported natural-gas workers in Mozambique — on a collision course with a local ISIS affiliate known as Al Shabab. On the other, it culminates in a series of events that’s as maddening as it is hopeful as it is tragic. Alex Perry manages to reconstruct a multi-day standoff and escape attempt with cinematic exactitude, folding in centuries of context and colonialism to create a marathon piece that leaves you exhausted in more ways than one. —PR

* * *

Inside Kyiv on the Night of Ukraine’s Stunning World Cup Qualifier Victory

Wright Thompson | ESPN | June 2, 2022 | 4,282 words

“I came to Kyiv to watch a city watch a game,” writes Wright Thompson. And watch he does, while absorbing and documenting all he can as he wanders the capital and spends time with Ukrainians in this gem of a piece. Thompson captures the air in Kyiv on this first day of summer: the fear felt when air raid sirens go off, the tension that builds in the hour before the men’s national team plays Scotland in a must-win World Cup playoff semifinal, and the strangeness of life, of everything now. “But still there is an unspoken feeling hovering over everything, a mixture of worry that the success they’ve known so far could turn to defeat, that the destruction of war might return to Kyiv.” Everything in this piece feels raw and immediate: the scenes, the conversations, the moments. “History is being written in real time and nobody knows how things will end. These could be the last days of a regional war or the first days of a world war.” What a snapshot of this night, and a fleeting portrait of the city in a time of war. —CLR

* * *

White Parents Rallied to Chase a Black Educator Out of Town. Then, They Followed Her to the Next One.

Nicole Carr | Pro Publica | June 16, 2022 | 7,200 words

This was the scariest story I read all week. Cecilia Lewis was hired in 2021 by the Cherokee County School District in Georgia to be its first-ever administrator focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. But she hadn’t started the job — indeed, she hadn’t even moved down South from her longtime home in Maryland — before a mob of white parents decided she had to go. They sent her racist messages, spread lies about her, and screamed at school board meetings to get their way. And when Lewis took a different job, one county over, they didn’t stop. Nicole Carr’s feature is a searing reminder of just how vicious the right-wing war on progressive education in America has become, and a revealing look at the kind of people — white parents, riding a wave of national bigotry — who are leading troops into battle. —SD

* * *

A Texas Teen Wanted an Abortion. Now She Has Twins.

Caroline Kitchener | The Washington Post | June 20, 2022 | 4,100 words

If I were a journalism teacher, I would assign this story to my class immediately. Not only because it is wrenching — and my god, it is — but also because it demonstrates the value of beat reporting, editorial foresight, and covering the ripple effects of major news stories. Caroline Kitchener writes about abortion for one of the biggest newspapers in the country. The so-called “heartbeat bill” in Texas went into effect nine months ago, which means the first women in the state who couldn’t get abortions because of the law are now having babies. Therein lies the seed of a story idea, in the form of a question: What happened to those women? Kitchener found one of them, a teenager who gave birth to twins several weeks ago, and crafted an intimate narrative that simmers with pathos yet lets the facts speak for themselves. I won’t soon forget the scene in which antiabortion activists hold up the subject of Kitchener’s piece as a political victory — even lighting a candle in her honor — without any knowledge of what their shameful advocacy has meant for her well-being, her sense of self, or her future. This is complex, award-worthy storytelling. —SD

* * *

— July —

A Plane of Monkeys, a Pandemic, and a Botched Deal: Inside the Science Crisis You’ve Never Heard Of

Jackie Flynn Mogensen | Mother Jones | June 23, 2022 | 6,566 words

In May 2020, a plane full of monkeys intended for COVID-19 research was supposed to depart Mauritius. But it never did. Who purchased the monkeys? Where were they supposed to go? When Jackie Flynn Mogensen looked into the failed flight, and began to investigate the secretive global trade of research monkeys, she found there was an even bigger story: The U.S. is experiencing a primate shortage, and there aren’t enough monkeys for research across many areas of medicine. Primate research has led to life-saving discoveries over the decades, but it remains controversial, with no guarantees, despite animal testing guidelines, that animals are treated properly. “But no matter how you or I feel about it,” Mogensen writes, “it’s clear the practice has saved—and is saving—human lives.” This is a fascinating dive into the monkey trade and the players within it, like Matthew Block, who’s been a target of animal rights groups for years and, as you’ll read, is the owner of the company who arranged the flight. Mogensen also reports on a few alternatives, like lab-grown organs, but we’re still a long way from a world without animal testing. —CLR

* * *

Signs of Life

Raksha Vasudevan | Hazlitt | June 28, 2022 | 5,827 words

My introduction to French writer André Breton was in college, during a course on Luis Buñuel, which opened my eyes wide to surrealist cinema. I remember watching films like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie for the first time, slipping into worlds where dreams invade everyday life. I thought about this interplay of the familiar and the bizarre while reading this essay by Raksha Vasudevan, in which she recounts her time as an aid worker in southern Turkey. She describes the surreal experience of remotely leading a team in a war zone just 45 kilometers away in Syria, as she performed daily tasks on her laptop — like tallying civilian injuries and deaths in Excel — while holed up in a purple-walled room. “I was far from war, physically,” she writes. “But still, it wormed into my consciousness, refusing to be brushed away into the realm of things abstract and distant and therefore ignorable.” Vasudevan beautifully reflects on this time, making thought-provoking insights on surrealist art, secondary trauma, and the surreality of both tragedy and love. —CLR

* * *

It Was a Secret Road Map for Breaking the Law to Get an Abortion

Jason Fagone and Alexandria Bordas | The San Francisco Chronicle | July 10, 2022 | 6,195 words

Before Roe vs. Wade, there was “the List”: a secret document that helped 12,000 people get safe abortions in the 1960s and ’70s. Created by Patricia Maginnis, a former U.S. Army nurse, the List began as an activist project and evolved into a clandestine yet well-organized health care system that spanned multiple countries, notably Mexico, which was viewed as the best, most affordable option at the time. Fagone and Bordas sift through a trove of Maginnis’ documents, including letters from desperate women seeking access to competent providers, and describe what some of these women had to go through to get the vital care they needed. “If you don’t know about the past, you cannot learn from the past,” said Karen L., one of the women who got an abortion in 1968 with the help of this underground network. The List, a “road map for breaking the law” when abortion was illegal, now provides a blueprint for the present. —CLR

* * *

Meet the Lobbyist Next Door

Benjamin Wofford | WIRED | July 14, 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

* * *

Disaster at 18,200 Feet

Kelsey Vlamis | Insider | July 22, 2022 | 6,612 words

On an attempt to summit Alaska’s Denali, the tallest peak in North America, Adam Rawski fell 1,000 feet down the Autobahn, a dangerous slope that has claimed more lives than any other part of the mountain. Incredibly, he survived. But as Kelsey Vlamis recounts in this story, there’s much more to that day. How did Rawski end up climbing with three strangers? Why weren’t they roped for protection? The physical conditions alone on Denali — the high altitude, the extreme cold, the exhaustion — are a challenge for even the most seasoned mountaineers. But Rawski’s party also included a mix of inexperience and overconfidence, and was plagued by a lack of communication and odd team dynamics. Inevitably, their expedition was a total recipe for disaster. I’m not at all into mountain climbing, but Vlamis’ account of this adventure-gone-wrong gripped me ’til the end. —CLR

* * *

— August —

Kate Price Remembers Something Terrible

Janelle Nanos | The Boston Globe Magazine | July 28, 2022 | 11,329 words

I would be remiss if I didn’t start by noting that Janelle Nanos’s story contains graphic details of childhood sexual abuse — some readers may want to proceed with caution, or not at all. Should you choose to click through, you will find a feat of narrative journalism, as propulsive as it is compassionate. As an adult, Kate Price, an authority on child sex trafficking, began to remember being abused by her father, grandfather, and other men. But no one believed her. Even she wasn’t sure she could trust her memories. So, in collaboration with Nanos over roughly a decade, Price went looking for evidence of what her brain told her had happened. I won’t reveal what they found; readers should experience it in the context of Nanos’s excellent prose. I’ll just say that the piece took my breath away. Twice. —SD

* * *

“We Need to Take Away Children.”

Caitlin Dickerson | The Atlantic | August 8, 2022 | 28,600 words

Go ahead and give Caitlin Dickerson a Pulitzer. Her examination of the Trump administration’s family separation policy is a reporting tour de force and an American horror story that should be read and studied as long as the republic stands. I could only read it in pieces. One go was too much — my heart couldn’t take it. Dickerson shows that some elected officials and bureaucrats acted out of a toxic combination of malice and ambition, while even more did nothing because they were too cowardly or navel-gazing. She holds them all to account, particularly those with children of their own. “‘Can you hold on? My daughter is about to get in her car to leave and I need to kiss her goodbye,’ one government official said as she was in the middle of describing a spreadsheet of hundreds of complaints from parents searching for their children,” Dickerson writes. A single phrase came to mind when I finished reading: “willing executioners.” —SD

* * *

I Smuggled My Laptop Past the Taliban So I Could Write This Story

Bushra Seddique | The Atlantic | August 15, 2022 | 4,429 words

A year ago this week, Kabul fell to the Taliban. A year ago this week, Bushra Seddique tried to leave. At 20 years old, Seddique had never lived under a Taliban government, but as a journalist and a woman, she realized she could not stay. It was an agonizing decision; while a friend helped her and her youngest sister get a place on a flight, her mother and middle sister had to stay behind. This essay focuses on a seemingly small thing — the journey to the airport — but conveys so much. In an instant, Seddique’s prose pulls you closely into this tight-knit family, leaving you pulsating with the sisters’ turmoil as they reel between emotions. The joy: when after three days of waiting in fear near the airport, they are sent home and see their family. The grief: when the airport briefly opens again, forcing them to flee before saying goodbye. The excitement: when they are finally on a plane to a new country. The constant underneath it all is a deep sadness for a home that is disappearing, a place where just a few weeks ago “[p]eople were going out to sing and dance; music played in restaurants and taxis.” I vividly remember the scenes at Kabul airport playing out on the news last year, people clinging to planes, the bomb, the chaos, the filth. This essay takes you back — and removes any detachment you may have felt along the way. —CW

* * *

Rocky Mountain Massacre

Ryan Devereaux |The Intercept |July 20, 2022 | 10,268 words

This story opens with a single gunshot, blood pooling on the snowy ground, and a missing body. The victim: a wolf. The shooter: a member of Montana’s backcountry law enforcement. Some people call what happened a ruthless kill; others say it was part of a sanctioned harvest. Therein lies the central tension of Ryan Devereaux’s deeply reported feature about the wolves of Yellowstone, and how their fate has become tangled with the politics of Montana’s ascendant right wing. This is the (exceedingly) rare environmental policy investigation that reads like a crime thriller. —SD

* * *

— September —

Dust and Bones

Yessenia Funes | Atmos | August 31, 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

* * *

Coming Into Focus

Carla Ciccone | Harper’s Bazaar | September 5, 2022 | 3,231 words

“Getting diagnosed with ADHD on the cusp of 40 brought my personal history into sharp focus,” writes Carla Ciccone in this personal piece for Harper’s Bazaar. There’s been a spike in the number of ADHD diagnoses among adult women, especially in the last several years, and Ciccone was one of them. “But women aren’t suddenly waking up with a neurological disorder,” she writes. “It’s likely been there all along, masquerading as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, ‘she’s difficult,’ ‘she’s an airhead,’ ‘she’s unlucky,’ ‘she’s lazy,’ and other labels that tend to mark a girl as she moves through her life.” Ciccone describes her own struggles growing up — in school, in relationships, in processing traumatic events — and how her diagnosis at 39 has helped her reframe the way she sees herself, her family, and her past. It’s an honest and illuminating read, especially for those who may see their own experiences reflected in hers. —CLR

* * *

The Mystery Behind the Crime Wave at 312 Riverside Drive

Michael Wilson The New York Times | September 14, 2022 | 3,229 words

I don’t know what your usual media diet looks like, but there’s a little upstart out of Gotham that’s been serving up some riveting stories lately — and at the front of the pack is this empathetic profile from Michael Wilson. Every month, 911 dispatchers in New York City field dozens of calls about crimes in progress at an Upper West Side apartment building. Robberies. Stabbings. Self-harm. Elder abuse. All those calls are from a single man named Walter Reed. The thing is, the hellish edifice he’s calling about doesn’t exist. There is no 312 Riverside Drive. Wilson doesn’t string you along to learn that truth as a twist, though. Instead, he gets it out there immediately, so that he can spend the rest of the feature explaining what’s driving Walter Reed’s inescapable compulsion, and how the city’s social safety net is unable to get him the lasting help he so clearly needs. It’s not a mystery at all; it’s a frustrating tragedy. But it’s also a perfect example of the mind-changing, emotionally affecting journalism a newspaper feature can deliver. —PR

* * *

‘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

* * *

The Art of Bidding, or How I Survived Federal Prison

Eric Borsuk | The Marshall Project | September 22, 2022 | 8,775 words

When Eric Borsuk was incarcerated in federal prison with two accomplices, the three friends used self-education to pass the time. They studied on a demanding schedule and evaluated assignments for one another. When an injustice within the so-called justice system separated them, Eric lost not only their companionship but his primary coping mechanism, forcing him to find a new way to protect his mental and physical health during the final five years of his sentence. In this incisive piece at The Marshall Project (published in partnership with VQR), Borsuk recounts how the justice system’s willful blindness and casual cruelty helped inspire him to write. American Animals, the memoir Borsuk wrote from his cell, became a major motion picture in 2018. —KS

* * *

— October —

Dead Man Living

Elizabeth Bruenig | The Atlantic | October 2, 2022 | 4,221 words

When it comes to ensuring humane treatment of those set to die by lethal injection, the Alabama Department of Corrections would like you to keep your seat and remain quiet. The signs in the witness room of the Holman Correctional Facility execution chamber say as much. Elizabeth Bruenig, a staff reporter at The Atlantic, has found that department officials are as impervious to important questions about the safety and dignity of the lethal injection process as the witness room’s cinderblock walls. This is a hard but necessary read about the lack of communication and transparency in Alabama’s capital punishment process and the egregious and completely unnecessary harms the state can cause to those condemned and the loved ones who endure the needless suffering of delayed or botched executions. “Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, an educational nonprofit organization, told me that Alabama’s latest failure to carry out an uncomplicated execution represented an endemic problem. ‘This is the third execution in the last five years that Alabama has botched by virtue of their own incompetence in setting IV lines,’ offering Joe Nathan James and Doyle Hamm, who survived a 2018 lethal injection attempt in the state, as the two prior examples. ‘Each time, ADOC has denied the obvious and claimed nothing went wrong. They say they’ve followed their protocol. One of these things must be true: Either they’re unreliable, or their protocol is unreliable. Neither one is acceptable when a person’s life is on the line.’” —KS

* * *

Saying Goodbye to My Chest

Naomi Gordon-Loebl | Esquire | October 10, 2022 | 3,875 words

Tuesday was National Coming Out Day, making this a fitting week for Naomi Gordon-Loebl’s essay about top surgery to make its debut. The piece operates in multiple registers, juxtaposing humor and gravity, hope and elegy, romance and pragmatism. The result is a brave, moving, and defiant piece of writing, one that quietly urges readers to set aside their assumptions about trans identity and much more. “I never hated my chest. It’s a perfectly fine chest; a good one, and I’m fond of it, even,” Gordon-Loebl writes. “It needs to go now, not because it is wrong, or something worth despising, but simply because it is standing in the way of a life I can no longer postpone.” —SD

* * *

The Texas County at the Center of a Dangerous Right-Wing Experiment

Melissa del Bosque | The Intercept in partnership with Type Investigations | October 12, 2022 | 3,479 words

Readers of this newsletter probably already know that I feel a great deal of despair about the future of America. Reading this excellent report by Melissa del Bosque did nothing to assuage my despondency. Del Bosque travels to a Texas county where officials are more or less invoking war powers to round up, prosecute, humiliate, fine, and in many cases deport people who cross the border. This isn’t something they’re legally empowered to do, but no matter. It’s a devastating, infuriating read, and there are two moments that made my blood run cold. The first is when an official says he wants to open “prosecution camps” (read the story to find out exactly what that means). The second is when armed militia members, eager to help county authorities on their mission, record themselves detaining a frightened migrant so that they can post the video online. “At one point,” del Bosque writes, “the Nicaraguan man asks for asylum and apoyo, or help. A militia member in an American flag headband responds, ‘Chicken?’ Finally, a Kinney County sheriff’s deputy arrives and takes him away.” The dehumanization, cruelty, ignorance, and performance of that moment is, I fear, a harbinger of our collective future. —SD

* * *

They Were Labeled Witches. They Just Had Dementia.

Shara Johnson | Narratively | May 2021 | 6,723 words

“Do you know any witches?” This is a question that retired pastor Berrie Holtzhausen asks when out searching in Namibia for people with dementia. After once caring for a man with advanced Alzheimer’s, Holtzhausen researched all he could about the disease, and then turned to a life of advocating for those with dementia, who are often accused as witches in Namibia’s tribal populations. “Most Black Namibians,” writes Shara Johnson in this piece from last year, “have been raised in communities where witchcraft is as real and relevant to their world as Jesus is to Christians.” Ndjinaa Ngombe, a Black Namibian of the Himba tribe, is but one example: Her family had her locked in chains for 20 years, until Holtzhausen removed the shackles. Johnson tells a compelling story of an extraordinary man with a mission, seeking justice for a “misunderstood demographic.” —CLR

* * *

— November —

A Child Star at 7, in Prison at 22. Then She Vanished. What Happened to Lora Lee Michel?*

Stacy Perman | Los Angeles Times | May 19, 2022 | 10,548 words

Barbara Wright Isaacs has been looking for her sister, Lora Lee Michel, for nearly 55 years. What makes her disappearance particularly baffling: Lora Lee once had the eyes of the world on her. In the ’40s, she appeared in films alongside Humphrey Bogart, Glenn Ford, and Olivia de Havilland. So what happened? Stacy Perman finds out in this meticulously researched piece for the Los Angeles Times, brought to life with photos and film clips of the adorable, precocious child star. Beginning with the well-known half of Lora Lee’s life, the story races along at whip-cracking speed, twisting and turning, before culminating in a high-profile custody battle between Lora Lee’s biological and adoptive mother. When Lora Lee leaves Hollywood for Texas, aged 10, things become hazier, forcing Perman to resort to her own research. By tracking down dozens of individuals and public records, she finds, as she writes, “a woman lost in a maze of short marriages and perpetual misfortunes.” Perman takes Lora Lee’s sad tale back to Wright Isaacs. It’s not the story she had hoped for, but still closure on what happened to her sister. I was impressed by Perman’s dogged determination to find answers for this family — and more impressed that she did. —CW

* Subscription required

* * *

I Spent 10 Days in a Secret Chinese Covid Detention Centre*

Thomas Hale | Financial Times | November 2, 2022 | 3,902 words

After visiting a bar in Shanghai where a COVID-19 case is detected, Thomas Hale is whisked away to a close-contact quarantine facility on an island somewhere north of the city — “the kind of place that finds you, rather than the other way around.” Hale stays in a small shipping container-like cabin with an iron bed and other basics. (Interestingly, the internet connection is 24 times faster than at his hotel.) Although he never tests positive, he remains there for 10 days, and keeps to a routine that includes language study, work, exercise, online chess, and streaming TV. When he’s able to open his door or wander around, he has conversations with workers and other “residents,” which are captured in the piece as unexpected moments of human connection in an otherwise eerie place. Hale offers a chilling look into China’s zero-COVID approach, which uses constant testing, contact tracing, quarantines, and lockdowns to stop community transmission. This particular facility, “P7,” is one among many, and just a glimpse into a vast monitoring system, workforce, and way of life that most of us outside of China cannot fathom. —CLR

*Subscription required

* * *

The Demon River

J.B. MacKinnon | Hakai Magazine | November 15, 2022 | 14,400 words

In recent years, we’ve witnessed the blossoming of a subgenre of longform writing that I’ll call the nature thriller. It’s born of necessity, by which I mean the collision of an ever-expanding human population — we hit 8 billion souls just this week — and a changing, temperamental climate. Natural disasters are on the rise, and with them come harrowing stories of jaw-dropping devastation and remarkable survival. In the right hands, these stories are propulsive without feeling glib, emotional but not exploitative. J.B. MacKinnon is a master of the nature thriller, deftly weaving plot with science. In this multi-chapter feature about the worst flood British Columbia has ever seen, MacKinnon had me on the edge of my seat reading about storm patterns, pressure systems, and infrastructure — yes, infrastructure. I learned from this story as much as I enjoyed it. (Sidenote: I had the pleasure of helping shepherd another MacKinnon feature, “True Grit,” to publication at The Atavist this month. It too qualifies as a nature thriller.) —SD

* * *

— December —

What Happened to Rezwan

Kartikay Mehrotra, Matti Gellman | ProPublica, The Kansas City Star | November 19, 2022 | 5,098 words

At the Statue of Liberty, the final line of Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus” reads: “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” There’s no question that the Biden administration had the best intentions in evacuating Afghan allies out of the country in August 2021 when the United States turned its back on the country, 20 years into a failed war. But some of the tempest-tost of Afghanistan have found small (if any) welcome in rural America, where there is little experience in helping newcomers and immigrants to become happy, productive members of the community. In this nuanced piece jointly published by ProPublica and The Kansas City Star, reporters Kartikay Mehrotra and Matti Gellman try to unravel the bureaucratic inadequacies that failed the Kohistani family — and may have caused 14-year-old Rezwan Kohistani to take his own life. —KS

* * *

Drugs Killed 8 Friends, One by One, in a Tragedy Seen Across the U.S.*

Lenny Bernstein and Jordan-Marie Smith | The Washington Post | December 2, 2022 | 3,289 words

This story is about my hometown. It could be about yours, too. Not because an outsize percentage of readers are from Greenville, North Carolina, a small, unremarkable city situated in the flat plains of what was once tobacco-growing country. It could be about where you’re from because stories like this are ubiquitous: stories of opioid overdoses depleting families and friend groups; of beloved mentors like Joe Hughes, my middle school history teacher, quoted in this piece, who has spoken at the funerals of three of his former students and attended five others; of natives like reporter Jordan-Marie Smith, who on trips home heard that a person she grew up, then another, then another had died. Smith is younger than I, as are many of the dead in this story. But just two weeks before it was published, over drinks, I asked a childhood friend if I was crazy in thinking that a lot of people who were in our year in school had died of suspected or confirmed overdoses. I could think of three off the top of my head; she added a fourth to the list. This is their story, too. —SD

* Subscription required

* * *

The Safest Place

Noelle Crombie | The Oregonian | December 11, 2022 | 3,274 words

If you need a reminder of why we need strong local newsrooms, look no further than this powerful project. Reporter Noelle Crombie spent a year at Rosemary Anderson, an alternative high school in Rockwood, a neighborhood in Gresham, Oregon, buffeted by racism, poverty, and COVID-19. Her goal: to document the impact of skyrocketing gun violence on the students, teachers, and support staff. The result is a four-part series, of which this article, about the death of student Dante McFallo, is the first entry. “Five students, including Dante, have died in shootings in the past 2½ years,” Crombie writes. “Another student died in a stabbing and two died in car wrecks. All were young men of color, just 18 or 19. Gunfire wounded at least two other Rosemary Anderson students; both survived.” Make sure to spend time with the photos and videos that accompany the story. —SD

* * *

You can also browse all of our year-end collections since 2011 in one place.