Andrew Rice is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and the author of The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda. (See recent longreads by Rice.)
Selected according to a complicated (read: entirely arbitrary) judgment of their degree of difficulty and technical execution, and listed in no particular order. Full disclosure: I’ve written for several of the publications cited on this list, but I’ve excluded from consideration any writer with whom I’m personally acquainted.
When it comes to degree of difficulty, delivering an interesting Mitt Romney profile is like nailing a reverse four-and-a-half somersault. But this story succeeded—not the least of which due to its brilliant packaging, which included a now-infamous cover photo of Romney with cash coming out of his suit pockets and the accompanying headline: “Mitt Romney and the 1% Economy.” Written without the (perhaps dubious) benefit of an interview with Romney, the story nonetheless managed to summon up the Republican candidate’s history of creative destruction, and tied that to the big story of the moment, the Occupy Wall Street protests. If Romney ends up becoming the Republican nominee, as still seems likely, the themes of Wallace-Wells’ profile will likely define the coming political year.
Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit argues, MacFarquhar writes, that “personal identity is not what matters.” But a profile is, by definition, an evocation of a person’s identity. How do you fulfill the requirements of the form on Parfit’s own, rather forbidding, terms? MacFarquhar didn’t make use of any scenes, or quotes of the traditional “he said” variety, conveying Parfit as a sort of disembodied intelligence. By all rights, this experiment should have been about as interesting to read as, well, a philosophy textbook. But the power of Parfit’s ideas about the nature of consciousness and ethics—and MacFarquhar’s skill at conveying them colloquially—made the piece sing to me.
Are you interested in reading about a shadowy industry that attempts to predict and profit from gigantic, multibillion-dollar disasters? Great—me too. Now that I’ve got you interested, I will disclose that this article is actually about the reinsurance industry. This is the bait-and-switch trick that Greeley pulls off admirably in this piece. This was the cover story for Businessweek’s 9-11 anniversary issue, and aided by some very good cover art—something the magazine has been justly praised for lately—the piece managed to tell its readers a story that touched on the past while telling them something new.
A detective story masquerading as a celebrity profile—or maybe it’s the other way around?—this was in an issue that kind of hung around on my endtable for a few months before I got around to sticking it into my bag for a long plane flight. Then it completely sucked me into its world. I won’t even pretend that I’m young enough to care about the rap collective Odd Future, or the fate of its missing member Earl Sweatshirt, but the outcome of this story, which I won’t spoil, offered an (ahem) oddly plaintive reminder that so many of our musical idols are, after all, just kids.
This was my absolute favorite story of the year. Journalism from Africa often conveys the continent in broadly collective terms: tribes rival with one another, rebels fight the government, the downtrodden suffer or rise up. Bearak, who used to be stationed in the Times’ Johannesburg bureau, took one of those distressing mass phenomena that fill the inside pages of every day’s newspaper—an outbreak of xenophobic violence in South Africa’s township slums—and gave the story a terrible specificity. I particularly admired the way Bearak dissected the chance intersections and misunderstandings that led to a lynching, and dispassionately explained the cosmological worldview of the victim’s family about his death. In the end, Bearak resists the natural tendency to isolate a single villain and hold that person up to condemnation, despite the murky evidence, because that’s what the mob did, albeit in an incomparably more brutal fashion.
Bonus: Longreads Logrolling List
I’m lucky enough to be friends with a bunch of really talented writers, and it seems a shame to exclude them simply on the grounds of our acquaintance. So, here’s a list of really great articles written this year by people that I happen to know and like. You can take these endorsements with a grain of salt, of course, but I urge you to click and judge for yourself.
The best account, so far, of the most stunning news event of this year.
I was fascinated by this lurid miscarriage of justice. This story went way beyond the tabloid narrative of the persecuted innocent abroad.
A rising Democratic star finds his life derailed when he gets enmeshed in a bizarre political dirty tricks plot.
The real, profitable and Canadian (!) company behind those lubricious Ashley Madison TV ads.
These two stories made me ache with jealousy.
The Gulf oil spill turned out to be less overwhelmingly catastrophic than some doomsayers predicted, but it still left behind some troubling lessons. This is the story of a disaster that happened beneath the surface, and in conveying that narrative with great depth and nuance, the story pulls off a truly difficult feat.
Share your own Top 5 Longreads of 2011, all through December. Just tag it #longreads on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook.
As online trolls attempt to exert control over real life, they’ve been “swatting,” a practice where someone calls in a fake threat and police surround the target in a SWAT-team-style response. Tyler Barriss, a 22-year-old unemployed Halo enthusiast made a name for himself by swatting television stations, Net Neutrality hearings, and Call of Duty tournaments at the Dallas Convention Center. At Wired, Brendan I. Koerner reports on how Andrew Finch was shot by Wichita, Kansas police after Barriss called in a fake threat to the wrong address in a bid to get revenge on a fellow gamer.
Barriss quickly became addicted to the thrill of swatting. “It was like a kind of online power,” he says. “Knowing that you’re breaking the law, and knowing that they won’t be able to find you, and knowing you just sent the SWAT team or bomb squad somewhere, and knowing you could do that over and over again.” He crowed to his grandmother about his achievements and described himself to her as a “hacking god.”
Barriss became so renowned for his swatting skill that he was able to parlay it into a business. If a client sent him an agreed-upon amount via PayPal—usually $10, but occasionally upwards of $50—Barriss would swat a victim of their choosing; for a price he would also call in bomb threats to schools, though he typically charged a 200 percent premium for that service. Demand swelled whenever he gained fresh notoriety by pulling off a major operation; the week after he twice evacuated the Dallas Convention Center, for example, he claims to have made more than $700. (His only other source of income was $220 a month in government benefits.)
Some people who’d been tracking Barriss’ malicious deeds questioned why he’d been allowed to act with impunity for so long. Barriss had been frank about his crimes as they’d escalated in frequency and ambition, but law enforcement had seemed in no rush to prevent him from weaponizing the country’s emergency services with fake information. One Twitter user said he’d alerted the Dallas police to Barriss’ activities on December 10, right after the second bomb threat at the Call of Duty tournament. “@DallasPD ignored this and 2 weeks later this same person swatted someone and a father was murdered,” he wrote. “This death could have been prevented on so many levels.” (A Dallas police spokesperson says the incident was turned over to the FBI but declined to say when that occurred.)
At New York Magazine, Andrew Rice has a profile of Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who earlier this year was fired by Donald Trump. Bharara, known as a crusader against corporate corruption, has a new career as a podcast host. On his weekly show — Stay Tuned with Preet, launched in September through his younger brother’s holding company, Some Spider Studios — he deciphers current legal matters, including but not limited to those having to do with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the president.
Bharara can discern, perhaps as well as anyone now speaking publicly, where the mystery plot may be headed. But listeners tuning into his show for dramatic revelations are likely to be disappointed; Bharara is stubbornly resistant to allowing the show to become, as he puts it, “too Trump.” His first few shows featured friendly retrospective interviews with Democrats in exile, like Leon Panetta, the former White House chief of staff and CIA director, and Vanita Gupta, the head of the Department of Justice’s civil-rights division under President Obama. Some of his initial interviews hardly touched on Trump at all. In September, I watched him tape an interview with the outspoken federal judge Jed Rakoff, with whom he discussed the moral calculus of punishment. “What is cosmic justice?” Bharara asked.
“I don’t aspire to be a talk-show host. This is a thing that I’m doing, and we’ll see how it goes,” Bharara told me. Then he added, “I don’t know how much of an audience there is for moderate thoughtfulness from someone who used to have power.”
“You just gave us a tagline,” Vinit said, grinning. “Moderate thoughtfulness: Preet!” Bharara tried it again, in his most solemn, radio-ready voice.
“Moderate thoughtfulness … from a guy who used to have power.”
Ciudad Juárez, Mexico was once known as the global murder capital. It’s no longer the world’s most dangerous city, but violence still haunts the town just over the border from El Paso, Texas. Alice Driver, a filmmaker, writer and photographer whose work focuses on human rights, feminism, and activism, has written extensively about Juárez. Her searing 2015 book More or Less Dead: Feminicide, Haunting, and the Ethics of Representation in Mexico deals specifically with the disappearance and murder of women in Juárez. The work, which grew out of her dissertation, blends theory with stories and interviews to explore not just the violence against women in Juárez, but also how that violence has been represented in media and culture. As Driver writes:
“To talk about feminicide is to talk about violence against women in all its manifestations, and in Juárez one of the most visible of those is disappearance. When women are murdered, their bodies don’t always appear. Often they disappear, and so the violence becomes unregistered, unrecorded, and seemingly invisible. This book is about the ways in which those bodies, whether identified or nameless, have been represented in literature, film, and art.”
We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in specific categories. Here, the best in business and tech.
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As we all recently learned from the now-Mayor of New York Bill de Blasio’s campaign, America is becoming increasingly divided along class lines. Major cities, such as de Blasio’s New York (or #deblasiosnewyork, if you like Twitter), are keeping up with that trend. These are three stories of hellish renting experiences in major American cities:
Smiley’s story about renting in the most expensive city in the country isn’t a very light read, but her nuanced view is essential to understanding the current political and societal climate in San Francisco.
2. “Why Run a Slum If You Can Make More Money Housing the Homeless?” (Andrew Rice, New York magazine, December 1, 2013)
The story of how one family gamed the system and is charging the government $3600 per month, per room, to house some of New York’s many, many homeless.
Bates’ story about nightmare landlord Anwar Faisal is a terrifying portrait of what it’s like to be a college student renting in Boston.
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In this episode of Stuff You Should Know, hosts Chuck and Josh discuss the history of hip-hop, from The Sugar Hill Gang to the present. They add their own personal history, which includes stories of attempted breakdancing and well-intentioned clothing choices.
Co-authors Jeff Weiss and Evan McGarvey speak with host Colin Marshall about their book 2pac vs. Biggie: An Illustrated History of Rap’s Greatest Battle. They talk about the artists’ rivalry, their beginnings, how their styles differed, and why you’re missing out if you only listen to one and not the other.
The drummer for The Roots talks about his influences growing up, how he listens to music, and his favorite part of Soul Train. (Bonus: Also check out Terry Gross’s classic 2010 interview with Jay-Z.)
Dan Charnas, a veteran hip-hop journalist and one of the first writers for The Source, talks with Jesse Thorn about the history of the hip-hop music business and how executives and entrepreneurs turned an underground scene into the world’s predominant pop culture.
Andrew Rice, contributing editor for New York magazine, spoke about his article on Jay-Z’s business acumen with James Braxton Peterson, director of Africana Studies, professor of English at Lehigh University, and founder of Hip Hop Scholars. Together they delve into the financial side of Jay-Z’s career.
If you were around in the ’90s, you might recognize Michael Rapaport from movies like Zebrahead, Poetic Justice, and Higher Learning. In 2011, he came out with a documentary on A Tribe Called Quest. He talks to The Treatment’s Elvis Mitchell about his love of hip-hop, his childhood in New York City, and his experience filming his favorite artists.
Got a favorite podcast episode on hip-hop? Share it in the comments.
Our latest Exclusive comes from Andrew Rice, a contributing editor to New York magazine whose work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic and Bloomberg Businessweek. He’s been featured on Longreads many times in the past, and we’re excited to feature “The Miracle Man,” a story that Andrew wrote in Uganda as a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs, about a pastor accused of working for the devil. See an excerpt here.
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