Our favorites this week included the truth behind the term “burnout,” an incisive analysis of rap scapegoating, flowers for an aging icon, the beauty of noticing hidden wildlife, and an engaging look at history’s forgotten children. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

1. Edifice Complex

Bench Ansfield | Jewish Currents | January 3, 2023 | 3,358 words

I might have recommended this essay based on the excellent headline alone, but in fact the substance is the star of the show. Like many millennials, I have adopted the term “burnout” into my vocabulary as a way of describing the feeling of working too hard, juggling too much, and feeling depleted by the grinding expectations of late-stage capitalism. After reading this piece, I’ll be endeavoring to use the word differently. As historian Bench Ansfield shows, the true origins of burnout as a concept have been obscured over time. Burnout isn’t a reference to a candle burning at both ends until there’s nothing left, but to the shells of buildings left by a wave of arson that ravaged Black and brown neighborhoods in New York City in the ’70s. Much of the damage was caused by landlords looking for insurance payouts. “If we excavate burnout’s infrastructural unconscious — its origins in the material conditions of conflagration — we might discover a term with an unlikely potential for subversive meaning,” Ansfield writes. “An artifact of an incendiary history, burnout can vividly name the disposability of targeted populations under racial capitalism — a dynamic that, over time, has ensnared ever-wider swaths of the workforce.” If this were the premise of a college class, I’d sign up in a heartbeat. —SD

2. How “The Shadow of State Abandonment” Fostered Then Foiled Young Thug’s YSL

Justin A. Davis | Scalawag | February 9, 2023 | 4,089 words

Put aside the chewy headline for a moment. Also put away whatever you know or don’t know about Young Thug, one of Atlanta’s most influential rap luminaries for a decade, and the epicenter of a sprawling and questionable criminal investigation into his YSL crew. What you’ll find is a shrewd, fascinating analysis that combines a music obsessive’s encyclopedic genre knowledge and a Southerner’s geographical intimacy, refracted through a lens of accessible (a crucial modifier!) political theory. It ably unpacks the hydra-headed beast of gentrification and economics and policing, as faced by the young Black man who’s currently the Fulton County DA’s public enemy number one. “As working-class and poor Black Atlantans fight against displacement and fall back on everyday survival tactics,” Justin A. Davis writes, “they’re joining a decades-long struggle over who exactly the city’s for. So is YSL.” This sort of piece is exceedingly rare, not because of its form but because it demands an outlet that understands and nurtures its particular Venn diagram. Credit to Scalawag, and of course to Davis, for creating something this urgent. Required reading — not just for Thugga fans or Atlantans, but for anyone seeking to understand the world outside their own. —PR

3. Joe Montana Was Here

Wright Thompson | ESPN | February 8, 2022 | 12,111 words

“No. 16 is no longer what it once was. Joe Montana now must be something else.” I haven’t kept up with American football in at least 20 years, but that didn’t stop me from devouring Wright Thompson’s astonishing profile of former 49er quarterback Joe Montana. I grew up watching the Niners (Ronnie Lott 4eva) and have fond memories of attending games at Candlestick as a child. But you certainly don’t need to be a Niner fan, a football fan, or even be into sports at all to appreciate this beautifully written and revealing piece. Thompson paints a portrait of a complicated man and an aging athlete — one of the greatest of all time — and what it’s like to watch someone else take over that throne. —CLR

4. Creatures That Don’t Conform

Lucy Jones | Emergence Magazine | February 2, 2023 | 5,179 words

The forest path near us is a never-ending source of delight. I love being the first to see animal tracks in the snow. I look forward to the first yellow lady slippers that appear as if by magic near the marshy section, not to mention all the leaves and flowers as they sprout, and the myriad fungi that cling to the trees. Lucy Jones shares this wonder in nature (at slime molds in particular!) in Emergence Magazine. There she finds equal parts beauty, mystery, and wonder — a coveted yet all-too-elusive feeling nowadays — as she scans the forest for varieties that she’s just now starting to notice. “My eyes were starting to learn slime mold,” she writes. “My ways of seeing were altering, thanks to my new friends who were showing me what to look for. What was once invisible was quickly becoming apparent. It challenged my sense of perception. How little and how limited was my vision! How vast was the unknown world.”—KS

5. Children of the Ice Age

April Nowell | Aeon | February 13, 2023 | 4,400 words

April Nowell opens this piece with a delightful story about a Palaeolithic family taking their kids and dogs to a cave to do some mud painting, which feels like the modern-day equivalent of exhausted parents taking their offspring to McDonald’s and handing them a coloring book. I was instantly entranced. Such stories are rare, partly because evidence of children (with their small, fragile bones) is tricky for archaeologists to locate, but also because of assumptions that children were insignificant to the narrative. Nowell explains how, with the help of new archaeological approaches, this is changing, and the children of the Ice Age are getting a voice. I am ready to listen, so bring on these tales of family excursions and novices struggling to learn the craft of tool sculpting (as Nowell explains, “each unskilled hit would leave material traces of their futile and increasingly frustrated attempts at flake removal”). A Palaeolithic archaeologist and professor of anthropology, Nowell is an expert in this topic, but her vivid writing and human-based approach makes her fascinating field accessible to all. —CW

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