Category Archives: Featured

The Audacity of Hope: A Reading List on Barack Obama

Image by Jason Taellious (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I’m not sure when Barack Obama first entered my consciousness: whether it was a 60 Minutes segment during the first campaign or reading about him in the July 10th, 2008 issue of Rolling Stone — which, albeit slightly crumpled — remains on our coffee table to this day.

The time leading up to his first election was the darkest period of my life to date and during those long nights in late 2008, I took strength from the enthusiasm surrounding him, his campaign, and his election. The optimism was part antidote to my troubles, part encouragement to move on. Of all the articles written about Obama over the years, the ones that intrigued me most were the ones that helped me get to know the man and what he stood for, just a little bit better.

Thursday, January 19th, 2017 is the last day in office for Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. With this reading list we remember the man, his time in office, and take a peek at what’s in store after the White House.

1. “The Conciliator” (Larissa Macfarquhar, The New Yorker, May 7, 2007)

Macfarquhar reports on Obama in action with constituents before being elected president, observing his calm demeanor, “freakish self-possession,” and ability to connect with humans of every description. She describes a man who, early on, eschewed political outrage as an impotent, empty tactic — a distraction to achieving unity.

2. “A Conversation with Barack Obama” (Jann S. Wenner, Rolling Stone, July 10, 2008)

In this wide-ranging interview during Obama’s first bid for president in 2008, Wenner takes us back to the optimism surrounding the candidate and his campaign. They chat about Obama’s three favorite books, musical tastes, pop culture, getting endorsed by Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, and Obama’s overall approach to governing a nation.

3. “Obama’s Way” (Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair, October, 2012)

Michael Lewis spent six months with the president before Obama was elected to his second term in office. Lewis reports on the emotional demands of the presidency, avoiding distraction to save decision-making energy as commander-in-chief, the potentially disastrous human consequences of those decisions, and what the president does to soothe his soul after a particularly hard day.

4. “The way ahead” (Barack Obama, The Economist, October 8, 2016)

In his own words, Barack Obama examines the state of the U.S. economic union, positing that globalization, inclusion, and closing the gap between the richest and poorest Americans will aid U.S. prosperity.

5. “Barack Obama is Preparing for His Third Term” (Jason Zengerle, GQ, January 17, 2017)

Most former presidents avoid the spotlight to spend more time with family and maybe enjoy some golf. Even though Barack Obama is stepping away from political office, he’s gearing up to influence the direction of the United States by advising his successor.

What Happened When You Invited Steve Jobs to Your Product Demo

Steve Jobs

“I think it’s coming along,” said Tim, “though we expect—” “I think it sucks!” said Jobs.

His vehemence made Tim pause. “Why?” he asked, a bit stiffly.

“It just does.”

“In what sense?” said Tim, getting his feet back under him. “Give me a clue.”

“Its shape is not innovative, it’s not elegant, it doesn’t feel anthropomorphic,” said Jobs, ticking off three of his design mantras.

You have this incredibly innovative machine but it looks very traditional.” The last word delivered like a stab. Doug Field and Scott Waters would have felt the wound; they admired Apple’s design sense. Dean’s intuition not to bring Doug had been right. “There are design firms out there that could come up with things we’ve never thought of,” Jobs continued, “things that would make you shit in your pants.”

An excerpt from the 2003 book Code Name Ginger, the story behind Dean Kamen’s Segway scooter. Steve Kemper recounts the time Kamen introduced his invention (code-named Ginger) to Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. They immediately foresaw problems with the product. (via The Browser.)

 
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Longreads Is Teaming Up with The Stranger to Cover the Inauguration and Protests

Photo by Nate Gowdy

As we head into 2017, Longreads is more committed than ever to funding reporting with your financial support — and this week we’re excited to be teaming up with The Stranger to cover the presidential inauguration and protests in Washington, D.C.

Reporters Sydney Brownstone and Heidi Groover, along with photographer Nate Gowdy, will be on the ground, and we’ll be collaborating with The Stranger on stories (both #shortreads and #longreads, at both of our sites) coming from the nation’s capital.  Read more…

What We Get Wrong about Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt

Within months of Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, a political investigator with the Berlin police detained twenty-six-year-old scholar Hannah Arendt and politely interrogated her for more than a week. Upon her release, she devised a plan to leave Germany and headed east with her mother. Taking refuge in the Erzgebirge Mountains, the two women approached the Czech border without travel papers.

Arendt had already helped other Jews escape the country, sheltering some in her own apartment, and was familiar with escape networks. In broad daylight, mother and daughter entered a house that straddled the border, waiting until nighttime to walk out the back door on their way to Prague. Read more…

What Lies Beyond: A Reading List About Life and Death

Photo: UNSPLASH.COM/@WILLVANW

On Thursday, I got two new tattoos. One was impulsive; the other, planned. The latter is above my right knee, in small print, all-caps: REDEEM THE TIME. It’s something my favorite English professor used to drawl in class. It’s from the book of Ephesians: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, / Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” 

The days are evil because they will come to an end. In Christianity, mortality is a result of mankind’s fall from grace. Before Adam and Eve partook in the Garden of Eden, they were destined to live forever. No more. Everyone dies.

If I dwell too long on my own mortality, I have a panic attack. I have to come at death sideways–through headlines about celebrities, say, or poetry. How can something so real and (relatively) imminent feel so unreal? And then, you get the call—from the doctor, the police, your mother, whomever. It doesn’t matter who calls; the call will come.

So I got a second tattoo, because it’s all going to end. It’s a three-inch blade turned down towards my ankle, modeled after Joan of Arc’s sword. “I know it’s cliche,” I joked to Emily, and she smiled but didn’t deny it. I texted a picture to my friend. “You’re a warrior,” she sent back. I don’t know about that.

On Saturday, I’ll join thousands of people at the Women’s March on Washington. I can’t say I’m not afraid. I’m afraid of our president-elect and his supporters. My ever-present anxiety regardign death has my brain concocting bizarre and terrifying scenarios in which the march on Jan. 21 become a massacre. I am afraid my first protest will be my last. I know I am not alone in my fear, and I don’t want to let my fear of death hold me back.

The stories I’ve included this week are about eternal life and the fear we feel while contemplating the lack thereof. Read more…

Our Favorite Words Of 2016

Photo by Heather

Black Cardigan is a great newsletter by writer-editor Carrie Frye, who shares dispatches from her reading life. We’re thrilled to share some of them on Longreads. Go here to sign up for her latest updates.

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In an earlier letter, I put out a call for favorite words you learned in 2016. I hoped they’d make a nice handful of marbles for us to have in our pockets for this new year, which only this week taught me the word ‘kompromat.’ :-(. Read more…

When a YouTube Video Almost Made the Modular Smartphone Happen

Image by Maurizio Pesce (CC BY 2.0)

Failure stories come in two distinct flavors: “We almost had it all!” and schadenfreude. At VentureBeat, Harrison Weber’s tale of Google’s suspended project to build a modular smartphone is distinctly of the first type. It channels the excitement of the people who tried to make it happen — and the wistfulness of those who find it hard to let go. More than anything else, though, it shows how hard it to translate a cool, lightbulb-moment idea into a viable product.

“I had an old camera that I broke and I couldn’t really fix it. So I took it apart and I noticed all the components were still pretty good, except for one thing.”

“I thought: Isn’t that weird that we throw everything away just because one part is broken?” said Hakkens.

“At first, I wanted to make a phone that lasts 100 years. But then I realized, I kind of like technology — that it evolves, that it gets better. The only downside is that after it gets better, we throw everything away. I started looking into it, and it generates a lot of e-waste… I mean now we have some devices, but in the future it’s thermostats, fridges, microwaves — everything will be connected. So what if a chip breaks in your fridge? Do you just throw the entire thing away?”

The Phonebloks story spread like wildfire. Gadget blogs covered it en masse, hordes of supporters signed up to support, tweet, and share the idea with a viral marketing tool called Thunderclap, and developers fired back, saying it couldn’t be done — that it was impossible to build. Perhaps they had a point.

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The Lives of Nuns, Part 2: A Reading List

Photo: Przemko Stachowski

As part of my New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve vowed to read the hundreds of books I already own. Last night, I started and finished Kicking the Habit: A Lesbian Nun Story by Jeanne Córdova, which I received last year courtesy of a giveaway from Danika Ellis, a book blogger who runs The Lesbrary. Córdova’s 1990 memoir is compulsively readable—I couldn’t put it down. She writes about her decision to join the convent fresh out of high school, her growing unease regarding church politics, her deep friendships with her fellow postulants and secular students alike, and, eventually, her decision to leave the novitiate. Córdova is well-known for her 2011 memoir, When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love and Revolution, which describes her political work and LGBTQ community organizing in the 1970s. She was a force for good in the West Coast queer community. She edited a lesbian magazine, created an LGBTQ business directory, and even organized the Gay and Lesbian caucus to the Democratic Party. Sadly, Córdova died a little more than a year ago. I wish I could have met her.

In the two years since I compiled the first installation of “The Lives of Nuns,” Autostraddle wrote about queer nuns in history, Racked shadowed (fake) nuns growing marijuana, and The Huffington Post reported on a nun’s murder and the students who want the truth. Those stories and more are included below. Seclude yourself and read. Read more…

Near-Death Experience as Training to Care for the Dying

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In The New York Times Magazine, Jon Mooallem has a moving profile of doctor B.J. Miller, a triple amputee since an accident in his sophomore year of college, who’s now developing something he’s calling The Center for Dying and Living. Layered into the piece is a secondary profile of Randy Sloan, the late 27-year-old motorcycle builder who became a patient of Miller’s three years after he tricked out a bike for the doctor’s special needs. The former executive director of The Guest House, a Zen hospice center in San Francisco, Miller’s approach to palliative care is informed by his own near-death experience, and finding his way back to living.

It wasn’t that Miller was suddenly enlightened; internally, he was in turmoil. But in retrospect, he credits himself with doing one thing right: He saw a good way to look at his situation and committed to faking that perspective, hoping that his genuine self might eventually catch up. Miller refused, for example, to let himself believe that his life was extra difficult now, only uniquely difficult, as all lives are. He resolved to think of his suffering as simply a “variation on a theme we all deal with — to be human is really hard,” he says. His life had never felt easy, even as a privileged, able-bodied suburban boy with two adoring parents, but he never felt entitled to any angst; he saw unhappiness as an illegitimate intrusion into the carefree reality he was supposed to inhabit. And don’t we all do that, he realized. Don’t we all treat suffering as a disruption to existence, instead of an inevitable part of it? He wondered what would happen if you could “reincorporate your version of reality, of normalcy, to accommodate suffering.” As a disabled person, he was getting all kinds of signals that he was different and separated from everyone else. But he worked hard to see himself as merely sitting somewhere on a continuum between the man on his deathbed and the woman who misplaced her car keys, to let his accident heighten his connectedness to others, instead of isolating him. This was the only way, he thought, to keep from hating his injuries and, by extension, himself.

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