Tag Archives: Mary Pilon

Little Government in the Big Woods

Illustration By: Katie Kosma

Mary Pilon | Longreads | July 2016 | 8 minutes (2,061 words)

 

Last May, and much to the disappointment of many “Little House on the Prairie” fans, Melissa Gilbert announced that she would be ending her bid for a congressional seat in Michigan’s 8th district.

Best known for playing Laura in the 1970s television adaptation of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s iconic series of books, Gilbert, a Democrat and former president of the Screen Actors Guild cited health problems as her reason from stepping away from the campaign.

But during her short-lived bid for elected office, many Michigan voters and fans of the “Little House” television show and books may not have realized that politics is far from anything new for the franchise. In fact, they’ve been integral since the books’ Depression-era genesis.

Given the wholesome, all-American image of “Little House,” the political history of the books may surprise some readers. Wilder, who was born in 1867 and published the first “Little House” book in 1932, was an impassioned hater of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal policies. In a letter, she once called Roosevelt a “dictator,” and like her journalist and politically-active daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, Wilder also maintained strongly anti-government views. Lane, along with Ayn Rand, is noted as one of the pioneers of the American libertarian movement. Read more…

The Art of Humorous Nonfiction: A Beer in Brooklyn with the King of the A-Heds

Barry Newman, in the monastic republic of Mount Athos, in the 1980s.

Mary Pilon | Longreads | August 2015 | 10 minutes (2,724 words)

 

“Why wait until the next story about coagulated fat in sewers comes along when you can read this one now?”

“All the world’s Grape Nuts come from a dirty-white, six-story concrete building with steam rising out of the roof here in the San Joaquin Valley.”

“With a WeedWacker under his arm, Dan Kowalsky was at work trimming the median strip of U.S. Route 1 in suburban Westport, Conn., when he was asked, above the din: Why not use a scythe?”

For 43 years, this is how Barry Newman has opened his stories. As a staff reporter at The Wall Street Journal, Newman developed a niche as the “King of the A-Hed,” the front page, below-the-fold feature story that had become one of journalism’s more peculiar corners since its inception in the 1940s. On a front page filled with the dryness of the bond market, the gravity of war casualties or the enduring egotism of Wall Street, the A-Hed was an homage to the ridiculousness of the world, a favorite among readers, reporters and editors, its existence constantly under threat. Read more…

The Twisted History of Your Favorite Board Game

Jessica Gross | Longreads | March 2015 | 16 minutes (4,113 words)

 

Mary Pilon spent several years reporting on finance for the Wall Street Journal, and several more reporting on sports for The New York Times. In her first book, The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game, Pilon debunks the myth—long perpetuated by Parker Brothers—that Monopoly was invented by a man named Charles Darrow during the Great Depression. Really, three decades prior, a woman named Lizzie Magie had created The Landlord’s Game, an obvious ancestor. A surprising twist: Lizzie’s game included a set of rules that was anti-monopoly, in which the object was to spread wealth around. In the 1970s, a professor named Ralph Anspach unknowingly carried Magie’s torch by creating a game called Anti-Monopoly, which rewarded players for trust-busting. It was via a very long lawsuit with Parker Brothers that Anspach unearthed the game’s buried history—and through reporting on a wholly unrelated article that Pilon became aware of it. I spoke with Pilon by phone about this complex, multi-layered story, her reporting and writing process, and the surprising Monopoly tricks she discovered. Read more…

Longreads Best of 2014: Sports Writing

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

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Eva Holland
Freelance writer based in Canada’s Yukon Territory.

Together We Make Football (Louisa Thomas, Grantland)

It’s been a bad year for football: Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, the lingering Jameis Winston saga. And a bad year for football means a big year for think pieces about violence and football—I couldn’t tell you how many of those I read this year. But one of them stood out. In “Together We Make Football,” Louisa Thomas reflects on the uncomfortable relationship between the NFL, masculinity, violence, and women. She takes her time, building a case slowly and methodically, before driving home her point: that violence is inherent to, and integral to, the NFL. That although the vast majority of football players don’t beat their wives, there may be no way to separate the bad violence—the off-field violence—from the on-field violence that we love. Here’s Thomas: Read more…