Search Results for: Amy-Harmon

Longreads Best of 2014: Science Stories

We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in specific categories. Here, the best in science writing.

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Virginia Hughes
Science reporter and soon-to-be science editor at BuzzFeed.

The Itch Nobody Can Scratch (Will Storr, Matter)

I’ve thought about this story (an excerpt from Storr’s book, The Unpersuadables) many, many times since reading it. It’s superficially about Morgellons, a disease in which people think that they’re infected with bugs or fibers. But it’s really about the nature of disease and diagnosis, evidence and belief. It’s creepy, fascinating, and profound. The best part about it is the way Storr describes these patients and their delusions. It would be easy to make them seem stupid or crazy or worse. But Storr’s writing creates empathy and understanding. The not-insignificant downside of this piece: it makes you feel itchy. Read more…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle and Readmill users, you can also get them as a Readlist.

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Read more…

The Atavist: Reading List for Monday's Event

atavist:

Don’t miss our New America NYC event “From Science to Obsession” on Monday, March 19, featuring Joe Kloc, Jay Kirk, Amy Harmon, and John Rennie. 

Here’s a reading list with some great stories by our panelists: 

New York Times Magazine Staff: Our Top Longreads of 2011

These were the results of a poll of all New York Times Magazine staff—edit, art, photo & production. We decided to do two lists: ‘Them’ and ‘Us,’ and hopefully that doesn’t get us in trouble with the Longreads governing body. 

THEM 

These were the consensus picks of the staff, with only a little executive tampering. Such as: We decided at the last moment to semi-cheat and put Amy Harmon on the list. Though she is an “us” and not a “them,” we didn’t know a thing about her story until we read it in the newspaper, just like everybody else, and it was too good to leave off a year-end list. You will notice that Paul Ford’s essay fills the “our list is not the same as every other list” slot, but that is not, we swear, the reason it made the cut. It probably provoked as much conversation in our office as any single story this year. It is pure pleasure to read. By the way, we loved a lot from The New Yorker, and we could have justifiably filled all 5 slots with their stories. Though, of course, we would never do that. Also, there will be one staff member made very upset by the exclusion of “Travis the Menace,” by Dan P. Lee in New York magazine. Sorry, pal.

• “A Murder Foretold,” by David Grann, The New Yorker

• “Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World,” by Amy Harmon, New York Times

• “The Glory of Oprah,” By Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic

• “The Man Who Sailed His House,” By Michael Paterniti, GQ

• “The Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” by Paul Ford, The Morning News

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US

This is also the result of a poll of all magazine staff:

• “Qaddafi’s Never-Never Land,” by Robert Worth

• “You Blow My Mind. Hey, Mickey!” by John Jeremiah Sullivan

• “Could Conjoined Twins Share a Mind?” by Susan Dominus

“Murder of an Innocent Man,” by Barry Bearak

• “What Happened to Air France Flight 447?” by Wil S. Hylton

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See more lists from our Top 5 Longreads of 2011 >

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From the beginning, their physical relationship was governed by the peculiar ways their respective brains processed sensory messages. Like many people with autism, each had uncomfortable sensitivities to types of touch or texture, and they came in different combinations.

Jack recoiled when Kirsten tried to give him a back massage, pushing deeply with her palms.

“Pet me,” he said, showing her, his fingers grazing her skin. But Kirsten, who had always hated the feeling of light touch, shrank from his caress.

“Only deep pressure,” she showed him, hugging herself.

He tried to kiss her, but it was hard for her to enjoy it, so obvious was his aversion. To him, kissing felt like what it was, he told her: mashing your face against someone else’s. Neither did he like the sweaty feeling of hand-holding, a sensation that seemed to dominate all others whenever they tried it.

“Navigating Love and Autism.” — Amy Harmon, The New York Times

See more #longreads about autism

Longreads Best of 2011 e-book

Announcing: Our first-ever e-book!

Longreads: Best of 2011 includes seven of our favorite stories from the past year.

The e-book is a unique partnership with the writers and publishers—we want to help celebrate outstanding storytelling, and this is just another way for us to do it. Additionally, money from the ebook sales will be shared with the creators, and we’re excited to have them participating.

Longreads: Best of 2011 is available now and includes:

• “Travis the Menace,” by Dan P. Lee (New York magazine)

• “Vanishing Act,” by Paul Collins (Lapham’s Quarterly)

• “In Which We Teach You How to Be a Woman in Any Boy’s Club,” by Molly Lambert (This Recording)

• “What Really Happened Aboard Air France 447,” by Jeff Wise (Popular Mechanics)

• “Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World,” by Amy Harmon (New York Times)

• “The Girl from Trails End,” by Kathy Dobie (GQ)

• “Inside David Foster Wallace’s Private Self-Help Library,” by Maria Bustillos (The Awl)

Buy the e-book at Amazon

Nature's Brendan Maher: My Top 5 Longreads of 2011

Brendan Maher is biology features editor for the news team at Nature, the UK-based science journal.

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My selection of the best science-themed longreads for 2011 suffers from two major limitations: 1.) I couldn’t read everything, so have probably missed some very worthy entries. 2.) I purposely did not include articles from Nature, where I am an editor. For some top stories from our pages see our end-of-year special.

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1. “Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World,” Amy Harmon, New York Times

The science supporting new behavioural approaches to treating autism is slipped in subtly in this wonderful tale about a teenage boy with autism trying to engage with the world of “neurotypicals.” So is practically every other theme about the social and scientific difficulties that autism presents. The multimedia efforts are a treat, but Harmon’s writing is an absolute clinic in pacing.

2. “The Possibilian,” Burkhard Bilger, The New Yorker

An obligatory nod to The New Yorker and to the ubiquitous David Eagleman, who has become something akin to the Oliver Sacks of our time (of course our time already has an Oliver Sacks). The details Bilger pulls into this profile are delicious. How could one not love a lab that studies the perception of time in which everyone seems to be wearing a broken wristwatch?

3. “The Behavioral Sink,” Will Wiles, Cabinet Magazine

This was a weird, wild and utterly immersive history of John B. Calhoun’s Universe 25, a mouse utopia of sorts where food was plentiful, but space was not. Once the population reached maximum density, behaviour turned pathological. The results of this experiment fit neatly’with apocalyptic fears prevalent during the late 1960s and early 1970s inspired in part by the book “The Population Bomb”. These themes are fun to reflect on, without alarm, in the year that the 7 billionth human was born

4. “False Positive,” Jon Cohen, Martin Enserink, Science

“Done. Case closed. Finito, lights off, The End,” is the ironic lede to this retelling of the story of Judy Mikovits, a passionate virologist hell-bent on proving that chronic fatigue syndrome is caused by a retrovirus originally referred to as XMRV. The beginning is ironic because unbeknownst to anyone, the story would erupt again and again late in the fall, when Mikovits was sued by her former employer for allegedly stealing lab notebooks and then arrested as a fugitive from justice in a soap-opera-worthy postscript. I’ll note (in the gentle, ribbing way of a friendly competitor) that we called the death of this hypothesis several months prior in our pages, but Science’s take is as detailed as it is riveting.

5. “How Digital Detectives Deciphered Stuxnet, the Most Menacing Malware in History,” Kim Zetter, Wired

This is one of the few things that keeps me up at night. We also did some coverage of this next evolution of computer viruses as weapons of war. Wired’s blow-by-blow account was, as you might expect, exceptional.

BONUS

“One in a Billion: A boy’s life, a medical mystery,” Mark Johnson Kathleen Gallagher, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

I’m taking an extra turn because this three part series ran in late December after I had submitted my five best last year. Yes, it’s a bit obvious of me to pick a Pulitzer-Prize-winning package, but if you haven’t read this, you really should. The themes and challenges spelled out in this story of a sick child being helped by genomics will become a much larger part of the health-care discussion in the next few years.

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Writer David Dobbs: My Top Longreads of 2011

David Dobbs writes articles on science, sports, music, writing, reading, and other culture at Neuron Culture and for the New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The Atavist, Nature, National Geographic, and other publications. He’s working on a book about the genetics of human strength and frailty. He also twitters and tries to play the violin.

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Truly we live, as Steve Silberman said, in a time of longform renaissance.  The reading year was notable not just for the rise of many long reads and Longreads, but for the debut of The Atavist and Byliner, two new venues for publishing pieces too long for magazines but too short for books. Both, like Longreads, brought me lots of good reading. And The Atavist, which was first off the blocks, let me publish a story, My Mother’s Lover, for which I had tried but failed to find the right length and form for almost a decade. Cheers to Longreads for helping spearhead this renaissance—and to you, Constant Reader, for doing the reading that in all but the most immediate sense makes the writing possible.

Here are my top 5 longreads of 2011, plus some extras. My filter: a combination of what I thought best and what continued to resonate with me. Writing is hard. I’m moved by the dedication to craft in these pieces.

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“Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World,” by Amy Harmon, New York Times
Harmon pulls off something extraordinarily difficult here: she draws on little more than straight reportorial observation to show a young autistic man moving out into a world that struggles to accommodate him. Neither is quite ready for the other; yet they engage, as they must. Gorgeously structured and an immense reward. (Bonus: She later tells how she put it together.)

Janet Malcolm’s “Art of Nonfiction” interview in Paris Review
Malcolm has written several of the best books I’ve ever read; The Silent Woman haunts me more on every reading. Here she reveals how she did it: a rigorous method wielded by a powerful mind and rarefied sensibility. Equally moving and informative were the Paris Review interview with John McPhee and a Chris Jones conversation with Gay Talese. I am now in love with Talese, though he never calls.

“Study of a lifetime,” by Helen Pearson, Nature
Pearson, Nature’s features editor, shows how fine science writing is done, following a set of researchers researching a set of people and they’re all trying to figure out the same thing: How to make sense of their lives. Lovely stuff, true to complex, incredibly valuable science about complex, richly textured lives.

“Climbers: A team of young cyclists tries to outrun the past,” by Philip Gourevitch, The New Yorker
Young Rwandan cyclists try to ride into the future. Some rough road, some fine riding (and writing).

“California and Bust,” by Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair
California as a formerly developed country. Includes deftly rendered bicycle ride with former governor Schwarzenegger. Lewis is writing some of the best stuff out there right now.

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Okay that was 5 and then some. But these I couldn’t’ leave out:

“The Apostate,” Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker
The Church of Scientology versus Wright and the New Yorker fact-checking department. Former is overmatched.

“The Incredible True Story of the Collar Bomb Heist,” by Rich Shapiro, Wired
Riveting and bizarre.

“The Promise,” by Joe Posnanski, at Joe Blogs
Promises made, broken, and kept, variously, by Bruce Springsteen, the United States of America, and Posnanski’s dad. 4 stars easy, 5 if you love Bruce. And who doesn’t?

“What Made This University Researcher Snap?” by Amy Wallace, Wired
How and why a scientist went postal. Amy Wallace gets inside a scary head.

too many Daves, by David Quigg
Blatant cheating, as this is a blog, and Quigg almost always writes very short posts But he’s reading long stuff, all good, and responding to it beautifully as writer and reader; almost no one gets so much done in so little space. If you harbor even a spark of literary love, he’ll fan it.

Disclosures: The Atavist and Nature published stories of mine this year, and Wired.com (actually a separate outfit from Wired the magazine) hosts my blog.


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See more lists from our Top 5 Longreads of 2011 >

Share your own Top 5 Longreads of 2011, all through December. Just tag it #longreads on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook. 

The Top 10 Longreads of 2011

I should preface this by saying I didn’t plan to do a list, because all of your Top 5 Longreads of 2011 really represent what the Longreads community is all about. But, in true WWIC form, I couldn’t resist. 

Thank you for an incredible year. Special thanks to the entire Longreads team: Joyce King Thomas, Kjell Reigstad, Hakan Bakkalbasi and Mike Dang. 

-Mark Armstrong, founder, Longreads


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1. Travis the Menace

Dan P. Lee | New York Magazine | Jan. 24, 2011 | 24 minutes (6,096 words)

The heartbreaking, horrifying story of a chimp named Travis and the Connecticut couple that raised him like a son. Lee followed Travis’s path from local celebrity to fully grown (and violent) adult:

“Stamford’s animal-control officer was more concerned. After contacting primatologists, she spoke with Sandy, arguing that Travis was by now a fully sexualized adult (chimpanzees in the wild have sex, nonmonogamously, as often as 50 times a day); that he had the strength of at least five men; that adult chimpanzees are known to be unpredictable and potentially violent (which is why all chimp actors are prepubescent); and that maintaining Travis for the duration of his five- or six-decade lifetime was not viable. Sandy seemed to pay an open mind to the officer’s warning but ultimately concluded that Travis had never exhibited even the slightest capacity for violence.”

“Travis” was the first in a “tabloid-with-empathy” trilogy from Lee: He also brought humanity to the story of Anna Nicole Smith (“Paw Paw & Lady Love”) and wrote about Harold Camping, the elderly doomsayer who never quite got his apocalypse calendar right (“After the Rapture”). 

More Lee: “Body Snatchers” (Philadelphia Magazine, 2008)

 

2. Vanishing Act

Paul Collins | Lapham’s Quarterly | Dec. 17, 2010 | 15 minutes (3,837 words)

A child-prodigy author mysteriously disappears. Barbara Follett was 13 when her first novel, The House Without Windows, was published in 1927:

“Through the door could be heard furious clacking and carriage returns: the sound, in fact, of an eight-year-old girl writing her first novel.

“In 1923, typewriters were hardly a child’s plaything, but to those following the family of critic and editor Wilson Follett, it was a grand educational experiment. He’d already written of his daughter Barbara in Harper’s, describing a girl who by the age of three was consumed with letters and words. ‘She was always seeing A’s in the gables of houses and H’s in football goalposts,’ he recalled. One day she’d wandered into Wilson’s office and discovered his typewriter.

“‘Tell me a story about it,’ she demanded.

“This was Barbara’s way of asking for any explanation, and after he demonstrated the wondrous machine, she took to it fiercely. A typewriter, her parents realized, could unleash a torrential flow of thoughts from a gifted child who still lacked the coordination to write in pencil.”

This was from December 2010, but it came out after last year’s best-of list was published. It’s also on The Awl editors’ best-of-2011 listI still think about this story constantly.

More Collins: “The Molecatcher’s Daughter” (The Believer, 2006)

 

3. In Which We Teach You How to Be a Woman in Any Boy’s Club

Molly Lambert | This Recording | Feb. 22, 2011 | 11 minutes (2,825 words)

A manifesto for the modern woman:

“‘What If I Love Being The Only Girl In The Boys Club?’ Megan Fox Syndrome, aka Wendy from Peter Pan. It is the delusion that you can become an official part of the boys’ club if you are its strictest enforcer, its most useful prole. That if you follow the rules exactly you can become the Official Woman. If you refuse other women admission you are denying that other women are talented, which makes you just as bad as any boys’ club for thinking there would only be one talented girl at a time.

“You will never actually be part of the boys’ club, because you are a woman. You are Ray Liotta in ‘Goodfellas.’ You are not Italian, therefore you are never going to get made. And you don’t want to be a part of the boys’ club, because it is dedicated to preserving its own privilege at your expense. Why wouldn’t you want to know and endorse the work of other women who share your interests? How insecure are you?”

I can think of at least ten other personal essays that blew me away this year, but Lambert’s seemed to completely take over our conversations, online and off.

More from This Recording in 2011: “Where We All Will Be Received” (Nell Boeschenstein)

 

4. A Murder Foretold

David Grann | The New Yorker | March 28, 2011 | 57 minutes (14,318 words)

A political conspiracy in Guatemala and the murder of lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg, who created a video predicting his own killing in 2009:

“Rosenberg told friends that his apartment was under surveillance, and that he was being followed. ‘Whenever he got into the car, he was looking over his shoulder,’ his son Eduardo recalled. From his apartment window, Rosenberg could look across the street and see an office where Gustavo Alejos, President Colom’s private secretary, often worked. Rosenberg told Mendizábal that Alejos had called him and warned him to stop investigating the Musas’ murders, or else the same thing might happen to him. Speaking to Musa’s business manager, Rosenberg said of the powerful people he was investigating, ‘They are going to kill me.’ He had a will drawn up.”

Obviously, with David Grann, it’s never so straightforward.

More from the New Yorker in 2011: Clarence Thomas, Michele Bachmann, a small-town pharmacist and a Jamaican drug lord

 

5. A Brevard Woman Disappeared, but Never Left Home

Michael Kruse | St. Petersburg Times | July 22, 2011 | 10 minutes (2,735 words)

A reporter retraces the last years of a woman who slipped away from society:

“Kathryn Norris moved to Florida in 1990. She was intelligent and driven, say those who knew her back in Ohio, but she could be difficult. She held grudges. She had been laid off from her civil service job, and her marriage of 14 years was over, and so she came looking for sunshine. She knew nobody. Using money from her small pension, she bought the Cherie Down townhouse, $84,900 new. It was a short walk to the sounds of the surf and just up A1A from souvenir stores selling trinkets with messages of PARADISE FOUND.

“She started a job making $32,000 a year as a buyer of space shuttle parts for a subcontractor for NASA. She went out on occasion with coworkers for cookouts or cocktails. She talked a lot about her ex-husband. She started having some trouble keeping up at the office and was diagnosed in December of 1990 as manic depressive.

“After the diagnosis, she made daily notes on index cards. She ate at Arby’s, Wendy’s, McDonald’s. Sometimes she did sit-ups and rode an exercise bike. She read the paper. She got the mail. She went to sleep at 8 p.m., 1:30 a.m., 6:30 a.m. Her heart raced.

“‘Dropped fork at lunch,’ she wrote.

“‘Felt depressed in evening and cried.’

“‘Noise outside at 4 a.m. sounded like a dog.'”

Once you finish this piece, read the annotated version of this story, in which Kruse breaks down exactly how he reported each fact from Kathryn Norris’s life. Incredible. 

More from the St. Petersburg Times in 2011: “Spectacle: The Lynching of Claude Neal” (Ben Montgomery)

 

6. What Really Happened Aboard Air France Flight 447

Jeff Wise | Popular Mechanics | Dec. 6, 2011 | 17 minutes (4,253 words)

A fatal human error, repeated over and over again, as the reader observes helplessly. Writer Jeff Wise uses pilot transcripts to deconstruct, conversation by conversation, wrong move by wrong move, how bad weather and miscommunication between the pilots in the cockpit doomed this Airbus 330, which plunged into the Atlantic in 2009, killing 228 people: 

02:11:21 (Robert) On a pourtant les moteurs! Qu’est-ce qui se passe bordel? Je ne comprends pas ce que se passe. (We still have the engines! What the hell is happening? I don’t understand what’s happening.)

“Unlike the control yokes of a Boeing jetliner, the side sticks on an Airbus are ‘asynchronous’—that is, they move independently. ‘If the person in the right seat is pulling back on the joystick, the person in the left seat doesn’t feel it,’ says Dr. David Esser, a professor of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. ‘Their stick doesn’t move just because the other one does, unlike the old-fashioned mechanical systems like you find in small planes, where if you turn one, the [other] one turns the same way.’ Robert has no idea that, despite their conversation about descending, Bonin has continued to pull back on the side stick.

“The men are utterly failing to engage in an important process known as crew resource management, or CRM. They are failing, essentially, to cooperate. It is not clear to either one of them who is responsible for what, and who is doing what. This is a natural result of having two co-pilots flying the plane. ‘When you have a captain and a first officer in the cockpit, it’s clear who’s in charge,’ Nutter explains. ‘The captain has command authority. He’s legally responsible for the safety of the flight. When you put two first officers up front, it changes things. You don’t have the sort of traditional discipline imposed on the flight deck when you have a captain.'”

This, along with “Travis the Menace” and Wired’s “The Incredible True Story of the Collar Bomb Heist,” was one of the most heart-stopping of the year.

See also: “The Unlikely Event” (Avi Steinberg, Paris Review)

 

7. Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World

Amy Harmon | The New York Times | Sept. 18, 2011 | 30 minutes (7,524 words)

A year in the life of an autistic teen moving into adulthood—a time when support systems can begin to fall away:

“Many autistic high school students are facing the adult world with elevated expectations of their own. Justin, who relied on a one-on-one aide in school, had by age 17 declared his intention to be a ‘famous animator-illustrator.’ He also dreamed of living in his own apartment, a goal he seemed especially devoted to when, say, his mother asked him to walk the dog.

“‘I prefer I move to the apartment,’ he would say, reluctantly setting aside the notebook he spent hours filling with tiny, precise replicas of every known animated character.

“‘I prefer I move to the apartment, too,’ his father, Briant, a pharmaceutical company executive, replied on hard days.

“Over the year that a New York Times reporter observed it, the transition program at Montclair High served as a kind of boot camp in community integration that might also be, for Justin, a last chance. Few such services are available after high school. And Justin was entitled to public education programs, by federal law, until only age 21.”

Harmon’s was one of several outstanding pieces this year on the subject of autism. Also see Steve Silberman on John Elder Robison, an author with Asperger syndrome.

More from Amy Harmon: “A Son of the Bayou, Torn Over Shrimping Life”

 

8. The Girl from Trails End

Kathy Dobie | GQ Magazine | Sept. 6, 2011 | 26 minutes (6,657 words)

Revisiting the Texas gang-rape story, and a reminder about protecting our youngest victims. Dobie spends time with the girl’s family and attempts to understand how some members of the community could jump to the defense of the 19 men and boys accused:

“While the gag order did silence the defendants and the officials, it didn’t come close to quieting the rumors and accusations, the ill-informed but passionate opinions, the confusion and muddy thinking that obscured what should’ve been a clear-cut case of statutory rape: An 11-year-old child cannot consent to having sex. But a deep misunderstanding of the law persisted—of why it exists and the morality it is meant to express, as did an even deeper ignorance of children’s brains and the true nature of vulnerability.

“The most confused of all were the young people of Cleveland, the vast majority of whom sided with the boys and men and blamed Regina [not her real name]. The peer pressure to take sides—if you can even call it that, for at times it seemed like a mob versus one girl, all alone—was immense. Even the kind ones, the ones who called themselves her friends, had decided against her. In a Facebook conversation, a 13-year-old who was a cousin of one of the defendants said that Regina was ‘like my best friend n i love her’ but went on to write that ‘she ask for them to do that to her i do not care becuss thats just gross n i will never do that…. she like a slut type of girl.’ At 13, this girl could no more grasp the susceptibility of an 11-year-old than an anorexic can see herself clearly in a mirror.”

Just one of many outstanding pieces from GQ this year, including “The Movie Set that Ate Itself,” essays from John Jeremiah Sullivan“Blindsided: The Jerry Joseph High School Basketball Scandal,” and a fun collection of oral histories.

More Dobie: “The Long Shadow of War” (Dec. 2007)

 

9. A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs

Mona Simpson | The New York Times | Oct. 30, 2011 | 9 minutes (2,383 words)

The final moments, and unforgettable last words, of a technology visionary’s life:

“He told me, when he was saying goodbye and telling me he was sorry, so sorry we wouldn’t be able to be old together as we’d always planned, that he was going to a better place.

“Dr. Fischer gave him a 50/50 chance of making it through the night.

“He made it through the night, Laurene next to him on the bed sometimes jerked up when there was a longer pause between his breaths. She and I looked at each other, then he would heave a deep breath and begin again.

“This had to be done. Even now, he had a stern, still handsome profile, the profile of an absolutist, a romantic. His breath indicated an arduous journey, some steep path, altitude.

“He seemed to be climbing.

“But with that will, that work ethic, that strength, there was also sweet Steve’s capacity for wonderment, the artist’s belief in the ideal, the still more beautiful later.

“Steve’s final words, hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times.”

Steve Jobs tributes poured in during October and November, including a touching tribute from veteran tech journalist Steven Levy. Some of the best reading came from Steve himself, with his 2005 Stanford Commencement speech.

See also: The Steve Jobs archive on Longreads

 

10. Inside David Foster Wallace’s Private Self-Help Library

Maria Bustillos | The Awl | April 5, 2011 | 38 minutes (9,439 words)

The ultimate DFW fan goes on a road trip to see what was on his bookshelves and pore over the marginalia for clues about his life:

“One surprise was the number of popular self-help books in the collection, and the care and attention with which he read and reread them. I mean stuff of the best-sellingest, Oprah-level cheesiness and la-la reputation was to be found in Wallace’s library. Along with all the Wittgenstein, Husserl and Borges, he read John Bradshaw, Willard Beecher, Neil Fiore, Andrew Weil, M. Scott Peck and Alice Miller. Carefully.

“Much of Wallace’s work has to do with cutting himself back down to size, and in a larger sense, with the idea that cutting oneself back down to size is a good one, for anyone (q.v., the Kenyon College commencement speech, later published as This is Water). I left the Ransom Center wondering whether one of the most valuable parts of Wallace’s legacy might not be in persuading us to put John Bradshaw on the same level with Wittgenstein. And why not; both authors are human beings who set out to be of some use to their fellows. It can be argued, in fact, that getting rid of the whole idea of special gifts, of the exceptional, and of genius, is the most powerful current running through all of Wallace’s work.”

After this was published, Bustillos kept going. In 2011 she also dissected the work of the late Christopher Hitchens, as well as Wikipedia and Aaron Swartz, among other topics.

See more longreads from The Awl in 2011

Our Top 10 Longreads of 2011