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Dana Snitzky
Dana lives in Brooklyn.

The Secret Nazi Attempt to Breed the Perfect Horse

Commemorative stamp for the Olympic summer games in Berlin. Via Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth Letts | The Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis | Ballantine Books | August 2016 | 19 minutes (4,567 words)

 

The excerpt below is adapted from The Perfect Horse, by Elizabeth Letts. The book describes an American colonel’s quixotic mission in the waning days of World War II: to rescue Europe’s purebred horses from a secret Nazi stud farm mere hours before the starving Soviet army arrived and likely slaughtered the animals for food. In this excerpt, Letts explains the origins of the Nazis’ secret horse breeding project. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

* * *

Like Hitler himself, the horses, once quintessentially Austrian, would be given a distinctly German stamp.

A herd of mares left Austria in October 1942. The herd made the 350-mile trip northwest from Piber to Hostau, Czechoslovakia, without incident, and were settled into the Third Reich’s most sheltered stud farm, located in Bohemia, just a few miles from the Bavarian border. Beyond the farm’s serene green pastures, golden valleys stretched toward distant mountains crested by dark waves of evergreens. The Böhmerwald, or Bohemian Forest, served as more than a beautiful backdrop for the farm; it formed a natural barrier between Germany to the west and Austria to the south and had withstood invasion and attack for centuries. During the Nazi era, this locale was known as “the Bohemian bastion.” Among Germans, it was thought to be the safest place to ride out the war, least likely to be invaded from east or west. It was here that Gustav Rau had secreted the Lipizzaner, as well as the finest Arabians from Janów, including Witez. Even in the middle of a war, here, all was deceptively tranquil.

Quiet villages dotted this part of Bohemia, each graced by a Catholic church with an onion-domed spire. Flanking each cluster of tidy whitewashed houses were well-kept farms growing crops that thrived in the region’s rich agricultural soil. But in the wake of Hitler’s annexation of the area following the Munich Agreement of 1938, its bucolic appearance was deceiving. Once a multicultural region where Czechs, Germans, and Jews lived side by side in peace, Bohemia, now called the Sudetenland, had turned into a firm cornerstone of Hitler’s Third Reich. When the Nazis annexed the area in September 1939, the local German-speaking population had lined the streets cheering to welcome Hitler’s forces. Local Czechs and Jews had either fled or been forcibly evicted. Those who remained had been transported to concentration camps. By 1942, when the first Lipizzaner arrived in Hostau, the local Nazi apparatus held a firm grip on the region, but Czech partisans also operated in the area, finding refuge in the hideaways offered by the Bohemian Forest. Though the border with Bavaria, Germany, was less than fifteen miles to the west, the mountainous barrier made it seem much more remote.

The stud farm at Hostau, located next to the village of the same name, had been known for breeding cavalry horses long before Hitler’s time. The most prominent local landowners, the Trauttsmansdorff family, had historically served as imperial equerries for the Habsburg Crown. In addition to the main complex of stables adjacent to the village, there were pastures in three neighboring villages—the entire establishment covered fifteen hundred acres and could accommodate more than a thousand stallions, mares, and foals. All in all, it was more than twice as big as Alfred Vanderbilt’s showplace, Sagamore Farms, which Rau had visited in 1938.

Rau had selected this expansive facility to put into motion the most exalted part of his grand plan. Throughout 1942, he had systematically transported all of the purebred Lipizzaner from the stud farms of Italy, Austria, and Yugoslavia to this sheltered location for safekeeping. He had also sent a personal emissary on a mission to purchase purebred Lipizzaner from wealthy noblemen who raised smaller strings of purebreds for private use. By the end of 1942, Rau had gathered almost every Lipizzaner in the world into a single location.

Austrian-born Hitler’s goal, expressed in Mein Kampf, was to bring all of the German-speaking peoples of Central Europe, including Austria, into the fold of the Third Reich. Just as Hitler aimed to eliminate “impure strains” and combine the different Germanic groups into a single “Aryan race” of people, so Rau planned to use the science of selective breeding to erase the individual differences characterizing the several strains of purebred Lipizzaner that had emerged since the end of World War I and replace them with a single mold: pure white, imperial, identical, and ideally suited for military use. Like Hitler himself, the horses, once quintessentially Austrian, would be given a distinctly German stamp. Read more…

Mass Extinction: The Early Years

American bison skulls, mid-1870s. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Ashley Dawson | Extinction: A Radical History | OR Books | July 2016 | 13 minutes (3,487 words)

 

Below is an excerpt from Extinction: A Radical History, by Ashley Dawson, who argues that contemporary mass extinction is a result of the excesses of the capitalist system. In this chapter, Dawson gives a brief history of the ecocidal societies that came before ours. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

* * *

“Gilgamesh listened to the word of his companion, he took the axe in his hand, he drew the sword from his belt, and he struck Humbaba with a thrust of the sword to the neck, and Enkidu his comrade struck the second blow. At the third blow Humbaba fell. Then there followed a confusion for this was the guardian of the forest whom they had felled to the ground. For as far as two leagues the cedars shivered when Enkidu felled the watcher of the forest, he at whose voice Hermon and Lebanon used to tremble. Now the mountains were moved and all the hills, for the guardian of the forest was killed.”
The Epic of Gilgamesh (2500–1500 BCE)

When did the sixth extinction begin, and who is responsible for it? One way to tackle these questions is to consider the increasingly influential notion of the Anthropocene. The term, first put into broad use by the atmospheric chemist Paul J. Crutzen in 2000, refers to the transformative impact of humanity on the Earth’s atmosphere, an impact so decisive as to mark a new geological epoch. The idea of an Anthropocene Age in which humanity has fundamentally shaped the planet’s environment, making nonsense of traditional ideas about a neat divide between human beings and nature, has crossed over from the relatively rarified world of chemists and geologists to influence humanities scholars such as Dipesh Chakrabarty, who proposes it as a new lens through which to view history. Despite its increasing currency, there is considerable debate about the inaugural moment of the Anthropocene. Crutzen dates it to the late eighteenth century, when the industrial revolution kicked off large-scale emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This dating has become widely accepted despite the fact that it refers to an effect rather than a cause, and thereby obscures key questions of violence and inequality in humanity’s relation to nature. Read more…

Women Were Included in the Civil Rights Act as a Joke

Airline advertisements give a general idea of women's role in the workplace in the 1960s. Via Flickr.

Gillian Thomas | Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women’s Lives at Work | St. Martin’s Press | March 2016 | 20 minutes (5,287 words)

The excerpt below is adapted from Because of Sex, by Gillian Thomas. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky

* * *

If there had been any necessity to point out that women were a second-class sex, the laughter would have proved it.

On February 8, 1964, an eighty-year-old segregationist congressman named Howard Smith stepped onto the floor of the House of Representatives and changed the lives of America’s working women forever.

It was the eighth and last day of debate on a bill that would become the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, and Smith had a proposed amendment to Title VII, the section dealing with equal employment opportunity. The current draft already prohibited discrimination because of race, color, religion, and national origin, but Smith, a Democrat from Virginia, wanted to add one more category. The clerk read Smith’s proposal aloud. “After the word ‘religion’ insert ‘sex’ on pages 68, 69, 70 and 71 of the bill.”

Smith played his “little amendment” for laughs, claiming to have been inspired by a letter he had received from a female constituent. She asked the government to “protect our spinster friends,” who were suffering from a shortage of eligible bachelors. Over guffaws from his virtually all-male audience, Smith concluded, “I read that letter just to illustrate that women have some real grievances and some real rights to be protected. I am serious about this thing.” Emanuel Celler of New York, the bill’s floor manager in the House, joined in the fun. “I can say as a result of forty-nine years of experience—and I celebrate my fiftieth wedding anniversary next year—that women, indeed, are not in the minority in my house,” he said. “I usually have the last two words, and those words are, ‘Yes, dear.’”

Several of the House’s twelve women representatives rose to try to silence the laughter and advocate seriously for the amendment. Martha Griffiths, Democrat of Michigan, was the one who finally succeeded. “I presume that if there had been any necessity to point out that women were a second-class sex,” she said, “the laughter would have proved it.” Griffiths (who supported the bill) made a shrewd appeal to the Civil Rights Act’s opponents, mainly Southern Democrats like Smith. By then, it looked inevitable that the law they hated had enough votes to pass. So she warned that without the sex provision, Title VII would afford more rights to black women than to white women. “A vote against this amendment today by a white man is a vote against his wife, or his widow, or his daughter, or his sister.”

The session eventually dubbed “Ladies Day in the House” had the hallmarks of an impromptu stunt by Smith to try to sink the Civil Rights Act. Civil rights for African Americans might have been palatable to many white legislators now that the horrors of Bull Connor and Birmingham had become national news, but civil rights for women were, literally, a joke.

Though it might have seemed incongruous for an avowed enemy of civil rights, Howard Smith had a long history of supporting the Equal Rights Amendment. Under pressure from the ERA’s supporters, he actually had been dropping hints for weeks that he intended to offer a “sex” amendment. (Most of the ERA’s supporters were white, and many kept alive a legacy of not-so-subtly racist activism dating back a century that decried expanded legal protections for African American men, such as the right to vote, that were denied to women.) As a friend to southern manufacturing interests, Smith also might have understood the human capital that would be freed up by a federal law nullifying widespread state law restrictions on women’s ability to work as many hours as men.

When Smith’s amendment was put to a vote a few hours later, it passed 168 to 133, with the most votes in favor cast by Republicans and Southern Democrats. From the gallery came a woman’s shout, “We’ve won! We’ve won!” and then another’s cry, “We made it! God bless America!” After the bill moved to the Senate for consideration, Smith’s amendment remained intact. When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964, among its provisions was a ban on discrimination in employment “because of sex.” Read more…

Home Is Where the Fraud Is

Banksy. Crayon House Foreclosure, East Los Angeles. Via Occupy.com

David Dayen | Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud | The New Press | May 2016 | 26 minutes (7,150 words)

Below is an excerpt from Chain of Title, by David Dayen, the true story of how a group of ordinary Americans took on the nation’s banks at the height of the housing crisis, calling into question fraudulent foreclosure practices. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky

* * *

How could you not know who I am if you’re suing me?

Lisa Epstein drove down Highway A1A, along the Intracoastal Waterway, back to her old apartment in Palm Beach. At her side was her daughter Jenna, in a car seat; atop the dashboard was an envelope containing the monthly payment on her unsold co-op. Though her house was in foreclosure, Lisa always paid the mortgage on the apartment, her fallback in case of eviction.

Lisa gazed at the water out the window. She never wanted to miss mortgage payments; Chase told her to do it and promised assistance afterward, but then put her into foreclosure. The delinquency triggered late fees, penalties, and notifications to national credit bureaus. A damaged credit score affected a mortgage company’s decision to grant loan relief, which hinged on the ability to pay. Even if Lisa managed to finally sell the apartment, even if she could satisfy the debt on the house, the injury from this “advice” would stick with her for years. Chase Home Finance never mentioned the additional consequences, emphasizing only the possibility of aid. The advice was at best faulty, at worst a deliberate effort to seize the home. Lisa spent a lifetime living within her means, guarding against financial catastrophe. Now Chase Home Finance obliterated this carefully constructed reputation. She felt tricked.

America has a name for people who miss their mortgage payments: deadbeats. Responsible taxpayers who repay their debts shouldn’t have to “subsidize the losers’ mortgages,” CNBC host Rick Santelli shouted from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade on February 19, 2009, two days after Lisa got her foreclosure papers. “This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage, that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills, raise your hand!” The floor traders in Chicago, between buying and selling commodity futures, hooted. This rant would later be credited as the founding moment of the Tea Party. And it signified a certain posture toward delinquent homeowners, a cultural bias that equated missing the mortgage payment with failing the duties of citizenship. The indignation didn’t account for mortgage companies driving customers into default. However, lenders welcomed anything that humiliated deadbeats into blaming themselves. In most cases it worked: in the twenty-three states that required judicial sign-off for foreclosures, around 95 percent of the cases went uncontested.

But Lisa had an inquisitive mind. Before she would acquiesce, she wanted to understand the circumstances that led to this lawsuit from U.S. Bank, an entity she had never encountered before seeing it listed as the plaintiff. She had three questions: who was this bank, why did it have a relationship with her, and why was it trying to take her house? Read more…

Postwar New York: The Supreme Metropolis of the Present

Demobilized soldiers returning to New York. Via Flickr.

David Reid | The Brazen Age: New York City and the American Empire: Politics, Art, and Bohemia | Pantheon | March 2016 | 31 minutes (8,514 words)

 

The excerpt below is adapted from The Brazen Age, by David Reid, which examines the “extraordinarily rich culture and turbulent politics of New York City between the years 1945 and 1950.” This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky

* * *

Probably I was in the war.

—NORMAN MAILER, Barbary Shore (1951)

*

A hideous, inhuman city. But I know that one changes one’s mind.

In march 1946 the young French novelist and journalist Albert Camus traveled by freighter from Le Havre to New York, arriving in the first week of spring. Le Havre, the old port city at the mouth of the Seine, had almost been destroyed in a battle between its German occupiers and a British warship during the Normandy invasion; huge ruins ringed the harbor. In his travel journal Camus writes: “My last image of France is of destroyed buildings at the very edge of a wounded earth.”

At the age of thirty-two this Algerian Frenchman, who had been supporting himself with odd jobs when the war began, was about to become very famous. By 1948, he would become an international culture hero: author of The Stranger and The Plague, two of the most famous novels to come out of France in the forties, and of the lofty and astringent essays collected in The Myth of Sisyphus.

Camus’s visit to the United States, sponsored by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs but involving no official duties, was timed to coincide with Alfred A. Knopf’s publication of The Stranger in a translation by Stuart Gilbert, the annotator of James Joyce’s Ulysses. In the spring of 1946 France was exporting little to the United States except literature. Even most American readers with a particular interest in France knew of Camus, if at all, as a distant legend, editor of the Resistance newspaper Combat and an “existentialist.”

Reviewing The Stranger in the New Yorker, Edmund Wilson, usually omniscient, confessed that he knew absolutely nothing about existentialism except that it was enjoying a “furious vogue.” If there were rumored to be philosophical depths in this novel about the motiveless murder of an Arab on a North African beach, they frankly eluded him. For Wilson the book was nothing more than “a fairly clever feat”—the sort of thing that a skillful Hemingway imitator like James M. Cain had done as well or better in The Postman Always Rings Twice. America’s most admired literary critic also had his doubts about Franz Kafka, the writer of the moment, suspecting that the claims being made for the late Prague fabulist were exaggerated. But still, like almost everyone else, especially the young, in New York’s intellectual circles Wilson was intensely curious about what had been written and thought in occupied Europe, especially in France.

“Our generation had been brought up on the remembrance of the 1920s as the great golden age of the avant-garde, whose focal point had been Paris,” William Barrett writes in The Truants, his memoir of the New York intellectuals. “We expected history to repeat itself: as it had been after the First, so it would be after the Second World War.” The glamorous rumor of existentialism seemed to vindicate their expectations. Camus’s arrival was eagerly awaited not only by Partisan Review but also by the New Yorker, which put him in “The Talk of the Town,” and Vogue, which decided that his saturnine good looks resembled Humphrey Bogart’s. Read more…

My Dinner With Rasputin

Teffi | Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi | New York Review Books Classics | May 2016 | 39 minutes (10,692 words)

 

The essay below appears in the new collection Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi, released this month for New York Review Books Classics. Teffi, whose real name was Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya, was born in St. Petersburg in 1872 and went into exile in 1919, first in Istanbul, then in Paris. “Rasputin” was orginally published in Paris in 1924.  This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

*

This isn’t simply because he was so very famous. In my life I’ve met many famous people.

There are people who are remarkable because of their talent, intelligence or public standing, people whom you often meet and whom you know well. You have an accurate sense of what these people are like, but all the same they pass through your life in a blur, as if your psychic lens can never quite focus on them, and your memory of them always remains vague. There’s nothing you can say about them that everyone doesn’t already know. They were tall or they were short; they were married; they were affable or arrogant, unassuming or ambitious; they lived in some place or other and they saw a lot of so-and-so. The blurred negatives of the amateur photographer. You can look all you like, but you still don’t know whether you’re looking at a little girl or a ram.

The person I want to talk about flashed by in a mere two brief encounters. But how firmly and vividly his character is etched into my memory, as if with a fine needle.

And this isn’t simply because he was so very famous. In my life I’ve met many famous people, people who have truly earned their renown. Nor is it because he played such a tragic role in the fate of Russia. No. This man was unique, one of a kind, like a character out of a novel; he lived in legend, he died in legend, and his memory is cloaked in legend.

A semi-literate peasant and a counsellor to the Tsar, a hardened sinner and a man of prayer, a shape-shifter with the name of God on his lips.

They called him cunning. Was there really nothing to him but cunning?

I shall tell you about my two brief encounters with him. Read more…

A Dead Superhero Is a Marvelous Corpse

Ramzi Fawaz | The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics | New York University Press| January 2016 | 25 minutes (6,662 words)

 

The excerpt below is adapted from The New Mutants, by Ramzi Fawaz, which examines “the relationship between comic book fantasy and radical politics in the modern United States.” This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky

* * *

We’ve changed! All of us! We’re more than just human!

—THE FANTASTIC FOUR #1 (November 1961)

We might try to claim that we must first know the fundamentals of the human in order to preserve and promote human life as we know it. But… have we ever yet known the human?

—JUDITH BUTLER, Undoing Gender (2004)

*

Who might legitimately represent the human race?

In November 1992 Superman died. The Man of Steel would fall at the hands of the alien villain Doomsday, a thorny-skinned colossus who single-mindedly destroys life throughout the cosmos. Arriving on Earth seeking his next conquest, Doomsday meets his match in the planet’s longtime guardian, known to few in his civilian garb as the meek journalist Clark Kent but beloved by all as the caped hero Superman. After an agonizing battle in the streets of Metropolis, Superman’s urban home, Superman and Doomsday each land a final fatal blow, their last moments of life caught on camera and broadcast to devastated viewers around the world. The fictional media firestorm surrounding Superman’s death mirrored real-world responses to DC Comics’ announcement of their decision to end the life of America’s first superhero earlier that year. Months before the story was even scripted, national print and television media hailed Superman’s death as an event of extraordinary cultural significance, propelling what initially appeared as an isolated creative decision into the realm of public debate.

Public opinion ranged widely, from those who interpreted Superman’s downfall as a righteous critique of America’s moral bankruptcy to those who recognized it as a marketing stunt to boost comic book sales. In an editorial for the Comics Buyer’s Guide years later, leading comic book retailer Chuck Rozanski claimed that upon hearing about the decision, he had called DC Comics editor Paul Levitz, pleading with him that “since Superman was such a recognized icon within America’s overall popular culture . . . DC had no more right to ‘kill’ him than Disney had the right to ‘kill’ Mickey Mouse.” According to Rozanski, by choosing to kill Superman for sensational purposes, DC would be breaking an implicit promise to the American people to preserve the hero’s legacy as a “trustee of a sacred national image.” Read more…

What Ever Happened to Planet Vulcan?

An orrery, or mechanical model of the solar system. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Leveson | The Hunt for Vulcan: … And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe | Random House | November 2015 | 27 minutes (7,305 words)

 

The excerpt below is adapted from The Hunt for Vulcan, by Thomas Leveson. In light of recent theorizing about a mysterious new Planet X, this story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

* * *

Not everyone follows a straight course to the person they might become.

In the 1830s (and still) number 63 Quai d’Orsay turned an attractive face toward the river. In the guidebooks already being read by that novel nineteenth-century species, the tourist, number 63 is described as a “handsome house”—one, the writers warned, that concealed a much more plebeian reality. Visitors—by appointment only, no more than two at a time, welcome only on Thursdays—would be ushered into a courtyard, and then on to the rooms where workers, mostly women, took bales of raw tobacco through every stage needed to produce the finished stuff of habit: hand-rolled cigars, spun strands of chew that became “the solace of the Havre marin,” gentlemen’s snuff. Most of the campus was turned over to laborers serving the machines—choppers, oscillating funnels, snuff mills, rollers, sifters, cutters, and more. By the latter half of the nineteenth century, the works at the Quai d’Orsay would turn out more than 5,600 tons of finished tobacco per year, and was, according to the ubiquitous Baedeker, “worthy of a visit”—though indulging one’s curiosity carried a price: “the pungent smell of the tobacco saturates the clothes and is not easily got rid of.”

A spectacle, certainly, and as an early palace of industry clearly worthy of the guidebooks (themselves novelties). By any stretch of the imagination, though, the Manufacture des Tabacs was an odd place to look for someone who would become the most celebrated mathematical astronomer of his day—but not everyone follows a straight course to the person they might become. Thus it was that in 1833 a young man, freshly minted as a graduate of the celebrated École polytechnique, could be found every working day at the Quai d’Orsay, reporting for duty at the research arm of the factory, France’s École des Tabacs.

No one ever doubted that Urbain-Jean-Joseph Le Verrier had potential: he had been a star student in secondary school, winner of second prize in a national mathematics competition, eighth in his class at the polytechnique. But his early career offered no hints to what would follow. Funneled into the tobacco engineering section in university, he was more or less shunted directly toward the Quai d’Orsay and the task of solving French big tobacco’s problems.

It’s not clear whether Le Verrier actively enjoyed the life of a tobacco engineer—or merely tolerated it. Nothing in his later career remotely suggests he was a born chemist. But he was consistent: if given a task, he got down to it. Never mind all that early training in abstract mathematics; if required, he could be as practical as the next man, and so turned himself into a student of the combustion of phosphorus. That was useful research—tobacco monopolists care about matches. But whether or not he relished his job, he certainly got out as soon as he could. A position back at the École polytechnique opened up in 1836 for a répétiteur— assistant—to the professor of chemistry. Le Verrier applied, and as an until-then almost uniformly successful prodigy, had every hope. . . until the post went to someone else.

Le Verrier would prove to be a man who catalogued slights, tallied enemies, and held his grudges close. But he never accepted a check as a measure of his true worth. A second assistantship became available, this time in astronomy. He applied for that too. Never mind his seven years among the tobacco plants; Le Verrier seems to have believed that he could simply ramp up his math chops to the standard required at the highest level of French quantitative science. As he wrote to his father, “I must not only accept but seek out opportunities to extend my knowledge. [. . . ] I have already ascended many ranks, why should I not continue to rise further?” Thus it was that Le Verrier came into orbit around the great body of work left by that giant of French astronomy, Pierre-Simon Laplace. Read more…

A Loaded Gun: The Real Emily Dickinson

Jerome Charyn | A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century | Bellevue Literary Press | March 2016 | 24 minutes (6,471 words)

 

Below is an excerpt from A Loaded Gun, by Jerome Charyn, who writes that Emily Dickinson was not just “one more madwoman in the attic,” but rather a messianic modernist, a performance artist, a seductress, and “a woman maddened with rage—against a culture that had no place for a woman with her own fiercely independent mind and will.” This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky

* * *

I am, with all the world, intensely interested in Emily Dickinson.

Commentaries on her poems began 125 years ago, when Colonel Higginson’s little article, “An Open Portfolio,” appeared in The Christian Union on September 25, 1890, two months before Dickinson’s first batch of poems was published by Roberts Brothers of Boston. It was meant to give readers a pre-taste of the poems. Perhaps Higginson was a nervous impresario and worried that his name was attached to a book that might be mocked, and that he himself might be ridiculed as the presenter of Emily Dickinson.

Emerson, he said, had once talked about “The Poetry of the Portfolio,” the work of poets who never sought public acclaim, but “wrote for the relief of their own minds.” Higginson damned and blessed such primitive scratchings—“there will be wonderful strokes and felicities, and yet an incomplete and unsatisfactory whole.” And thus he presented his own “pupil,” whom he had reluctantly rescued from oblivion. “Such a sheaf of unpublished verses lies before me, the life-work of a woman so secluded that she lived literally indoors by choice for many years, and within the limits of her father’s estate for many more—who shrank from the tranquil society of a New England College town.” And yet he was startled by what she was able to dredge up from “this secluded inland life.” And he presented a few of his pupil’s poems, regularizing them as much as he could. The ellipsis was gone; so was every single dash.

Yet he was also a shrewd observer. “Her verses are in most cases like poetry plucked up by the roots; we have them with earth, stones, and dew adhering, and must accept them as they are. Wayward and unconventional in the last degree; defiant of form, measure, rhyme, and even grammar; she yet had an exacting standard of her own, and would wait many days for a word that satisfied.” He saw her wildness, and didn’t really know how to deal with it. Read more…

Your Phone Was Made By Slaves: A Primer on the Secret Economy

Kevin Bales | Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World | Spiegel & Grau | January 2016 | 34 minutes (9,162 words)

 

Below is an excerpt from Blood and Earth, by Kevin Bales, as recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky

* * *

We think of Steve Jobs in his black turtleneck as the origin of our iPhones.

It’s never a happy moment when you’re shopping for a tombstone. When death comes, it’s the loss that transcends everything else and most tombstones are purchased in a fog of grief. Death is a threshold for the relatives and friends who live on as well, changing lives in both intense and subtle ways. It’s the most dramatic and yet the most mundane event of a life, something we all do, no exceptions, no passes.

Given the predictability of death it seems strange that Germany has a tombstone shortage. It’s not because they don’t know that people are going to die; it’s more a product of the complete control the government exerts over death and funerals. Everyone who dies must be embalmed before burial, for example, and the cremated can be buried only in approved cemeteries, never scattered in gardens or the sea. Rules abound about funerals and tombstones—even the size, quality, and form of coffins and crypts are officially regulated. All this leads to a darkly humorous yet common saying: “If you feel unwell, take a vacation—you can’t afford to die in Germany.”

Granite for German tombstones used to come from the beautiful Harz Mountains, but now no one is allowed to mine there and risk spoiling this protected national park and favorite tourist destination. So, like France and many other rich countries, including the United States, Germany imports its tombstones from the developing world.

Some of the best and cheapest tombstones come from India. In 2013 India produced 35,342 million tons of granite, making it the world’s largest producer. Add to this a growing demand for granite kitchen countertops in America and Europe, and business is booming. There are more precious minerals of course, but fortunes can be made in granite. In the United States, the average cost of installing those countertops runs from $2,000 to $8,000, but the price charged by Indian exporters for polished red granite is just $5 to $15 per square meter—that comes to about $100 for all the granite your kitchen needs. The markup on tombstones is equally high. The red granite tombstones that sell for $500 to $1,000 in the United States, and more in Europe, are purchased in bulk from India for as little as $50, plus a US import duty of just 3.7 percent.

Leaving aside what this says about the high cost of dying, how can granite be so cheap? The whole point of granite, that it is hard and durable, is also the reason it is difficult to mine and process. It has to be carefully removed from quarries in large thin slabs, so you can’t just go in with dynamite and bulldozers. Careful handling means handwork, which requires people with drills and chisels, hammers and crowbars gently working the granite out of the ground. And in India, the most cost effective way to achieve that is slavery. Read more…