This week’s Longreads Member Pick is from Redeployment, a collection of short stories by Phil Klay, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq’s Anbar Province from January 2007 to February 2008 as a Public Affairs Officer.
For this week’s Longreads Member Pick, we’re thrilled to share the opening chapter of The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature, the forthcoming book by Ben Tarnoff, published by The Penguin Press.
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Our latest First Chapter is from Elliott Holt’s novel, You Are One of Them. Thanks to Holt and The Penguin Press for sharing it with the Longreads community.
“At the furthest, most mundane reaches of this almost incomprehensibly sprawling program to protect the fish, the government has even hired ordinary Americans—retirees, housewives, at least one moonlighting concert clarinetist—to work as census takers in a cramped office inside the dam, several stories down, staring through an underwater window to count each and every fish that swims past the glass, an average of 4.5 million fish every year. On the morning I visited, a rail-thin woman named Janet was sitting at an old-fashioned metal desk, six hours into her eight-hour shift, scrunching her eyes with unshakable concentration as fish dribbled by the window one at a time, or swarmed through in rapid-fire mobs. Janet frequently dreams about counting fish, she told me. Once, she sat straight up in bed next to her husband and screamed, ‘Did you see the size of that one?'”
This week we're proud to share a Longreads Member pick from Nate Silver's new book The Signal and the Noise, published by The Penguin Press. Chapter 1, "A Catastrophic Failure of Prediction," comes recommended by Janet Paskin, editor of Businessweek.com, who writes:
"Could there be a more appropriate hero for our time than Nate Silver? We can quantify and track and poll and log almost everything—and so we usually do, even if we're not sure how to make sense of it all. But Silver is—or at least, he can tell you exactly how likely it is that he's right.
"His nerd-god omniscience during the 2012 election cycle made him a blast to watch, read and retweet. He was consistent, and he was right, and it made a lot of people think a little differently about the relentlessness of our political pageantry and punditry.
"Here, in the first chapter of his new book, he revisits the housing crash, and the failure of the ratings agencies to spot it. It's not new criticism. Even so, the prediction game is Silver's strength, and he makes the whole thing feel outrageous again. He takes to task the errors in the rating agencies' models and in their psychology. There are charts, graphs, and 101 footnotes, and in the end, it's reassuring: If Silver thinks we can avoid making the same mistakes again—well, even a skeptic like me wouldn't bet against him. After all, he knows the odds better than I do."
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This week, we're excited to share a Longreads Member Exclusive from Thomas E. Ricks, whose new book is The Generals, published by The Penguin Press. Chapter 21, "The End of a War, the End of an Army," details how the U.S. military and its leadership faltered in the final years of the Vietnam War:
“Often in warfare, it is the first year of fighting that seasons forces, which become more effective as those who survive gain skill, good leaders rise to the top, and units become more cohesive over time. Counterintuitively, as the Vietnam War progressed, the American frontline force weakened. In 1966, remembered Paul Gorman, the battalion he commanded had fourteen senior sergeants who had been in the unit for more than ten years, all of them trained by a legendary sergeant major who had landed at Normandy with the Big Red One. By contrast, he said, five years later, when he was commanding a brigade in the 101st Airborne, good sergeants who could provide the backbone of units, especially by maintaining standards and enforcing discipline, were hard to find. "I didn't have the NCOs [non-commissioned officers]. The NCOs were gone." By 1969, draftees made up 88 percent of the infantry riflemen in Vietnam. Another 10 percent was made up of first term volunteers, meaning that the fighting force was almost entirely inexperienced and often led by novice first term NCOs and officers. In one company in 1970, of two hundred men, only three—the captain, one platoon sergeant, and one squad leader—had been in the Army for more than two years. In addition, because of the rotation policy, units not only arrived green but stayed that way. "After only two months in Vietnam, I had more experience than half the men in Vietnam," recalled one sergeant. There were plenty of career soldiers in Vietnam, but they disproportionately served at higher headquarters, not in line units doing the fighting.”