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American children who are ripped away from their families. The people who run for 24 hours. The dark side of an ancient city. A man who treats water like wine. A surprising response to a bad trip.

1. They Followed Doctors’ Orders. Then Their Children Were Taken Away.

Shoshana Walter | The New York Times Magazine and Reveal | June 29, 2023 | 7,167 words

I’m not sure that there’s anything more American than making it difficult for a person to be a mother. I don’t mean physically giving birth—thanks to anti-abortion zealots and the Supreme Court, many states are now literally forcing people to do that, with horrific consequences. I mean being a person, with everything that alone entails in a country defined by inequality, precarity, and prejudice, who also has a child. Exhibit A: As Shoshana Walter found in a feat of investigative reporting, people swept up in the opioid crisis, who’ve done exactly what they’re supposed to do—who got clean and take prescription drugs to stay that way—are now having their babies seized by the government. “They don’t want you on illicit street drugs,” one of Walter’s subjects says, “so here, we’re going to give you this medicine. But then if you take this medicine, we are going to punish you for it and ruin your family.” The injustice doesn’t end there. “We also found women who were reported after taking antidepressants, anxiety and ADHD medications and even over-the-counter cold medicine during pregnancies,” Walter writes. “Some women were reported after testing positive for the fentanyl in their epidurals.” The emphasis is mine; my jaw dropped at the Helleresque insanity of that detail. —SD

2. Running Wild

Stephen Lurie | Slate | July 1, 2023 | 4,505 words

You might not think a 24-hour race run around a 400-meter track would make for a compelling longread. It sounds grueling and monotonous. Dangerous, even. Everyone runs at their own pace. How can you even tell who’s excelling? Enter reporter Stephen Lurie who crafts a fascinating story by describing the tiny details of the racer’s experience in Pennsylvania’s Dawn to Dusk to Dawn ultramarathon. He takes a sport most know nothing about and puts the reader on the track, alongside the runners. “Gagz had been running for 17 hours and 20 minutes when he made it to the southeast corner of the loop,” he writes. “He’d already chugged past this spot 370 times, but on his 371st lap, he started walking across the lanes. He reached the edge and laid down, propping his tattooed legs up against a waist-high chain-link fence, long gray beard falling toward the damp red track. He planned to sleep for exactly five minutes.” Before you read this story, you might question the point of this ultra-endurance experience. But as Lurie shows us, anyone who has pushed themselves hard to do something challenging—regardless of what that something is—understands the invaluable education the very act of endurance gives you about you: the important subject of all. —KS

3. The Horrors of Pompeii

Guy D. Middleton | Aeon | July 4, 2023 | 4,000 words

Although I have not been to Pompeii, I have visited Herculaneum—a city that fell to Mount Vesuvius on the same day almost 2,000 years ago. Wandering the miraculously preserved streets, I imagined the lives of its residents, whose footsteps would have echoed on the stone so long before my own. Guy D. Middleton does more than imagine in this piece; he pulls in research, clawing away any romanticism to paint a picture of the brutality of Pompeii, a place where slaves would have endured sexual assault and violence, “being owned and being used,” as Middleton puts it. A pithy piece of wall graffito advertising sex is his jumping-off point: “Eutychis, a Greek lass with sweet ways, 2 asses.” (Clearly, we share a penchant for drawing on walls—and sex—with ancient Pompeiians.) Middleton smartly uses this line to turn detective and, in trying to uncover who Eutychis was, displays Pompeii’s wider underbelly. It makes for a dark story, but one deftly told. —CW

4. Waterworld

Katherine LaGrave | AFAR | October 28, 2020 | 4,042 words

People who have fascinations tend to be the most fascinating people. For AFAR, Katherine LaGrave profiles Martin Riese, America’s first water sommelier, a man who has been obsessed with water since he was four years old. This piece could easily have devolved from profile into caricature, but it’s LaGrave’s restraint that keeps you reading. (Ok restraint and the wonderful water puns and wordplay sprinkled throughout.) “Riese is taking cues from the element he considers most beloved, going with the flow and flowing where he’s able, taking opportunities as they come, and sharing why we should care about water with anyone who cares to listen,” she writes. Take the plunge and read LaGrave’s piece. You’ll not only be awash in new knowledge of sustainably sourced high-end water, but you’ll also satisfy your thirst for a well-written piece on a little-known topic. And that’s something I can raise a glass to. —KS

5. Meet the Psychedelic Boom’s First Responders

Chris Colin | Wired | June 29, 2023 | 2,924 words

Recent psychedelics coverage tends to focus on four primary categories. There are the drugs’ benefits and/or dangers, as well as stories focusing on their creators and wielders: those who use them to help people and those who seek to profit from their use. Chris Colin’s fascinating Wired feature skirts that tetrad, instead tracing the evolving norms around supporting a person when their inward journey goes to dark places. From the opening graf, you know it’s going to be a fun read: “Everything was insane and fine. The walls had begun to bend, the grain in the floorboards was starting to run. Jeff Greenberg’s body had blown apart into particles, pleasantly so. When he closed his eyes, chrysanthemums blossomed.” Using Greenberg’s trip, his own psilocybin experience, and a solid dose of cosmic-cowboy history, Colin shows how the way we respond to a person’s “psychic distress” speaks volumes about how we respond to one another in general. That we’re in the midst of a psychonautics surge is not surprising; that we’re responding to the moment with care and common sense is. —PR

Audience Award

Here’s the piece that bowled our readers away this week.

The Man Who Broke Bowling

Eric Wills | GQ | June 29, 2023 | 4,811 words

For GQ, Eric Wills profiles Jason Belmonte, the most successful 10-pin bowler in Pro Bowling Association history. With his controversial and unorthodox bowling style, Belmonte is a man who is changing the sport with his own two hands. —KS