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The Triumph of Email by Adrienne LaFrance for The Atlantic. (Mike Reddy)
The very best long reads of the week
Chosen by Don Van Natta Jr. (@DVNJr) and Jacob Feldman (@JacobFeldman4)
EDITORS' NOTE:

Welcome.

The goal of The Sunday Long Read newsletter is simple: To put the past week’s best journalism in your hands every Sunday morning—or, as a friend said, “to screw up my Sundays with far too much great stuff to read.” Obviously, compiling these lists is a wildly subjective exercise. How do I choose what’s “best?” If I finish a long-read article and immediately want to recommend it to a friend, you’ll find it linked here. These stories brought me pleasure, made me laugh and think and, most of all, told me something I didn’t know. No “hot takes” here.

After 24 years at The Miami Herald and The New York Times, I now write long-form sports stories for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. Naturally, these lists will tilt a bit toward sports (one week I chose 7 out of 10 pieces about sports). But you’ll find every kind of story here. And each week, I’ll choose my favorite read. The standard for that choice will be based as much on raw emotion as anything: If I desperately wished I had written it, you’ll find it at the top the list.

Why another curated long read list? Well, I started this on a whim in early 2014, tweeting out my favorite stories each Sunday. I was motivated by finding a more orderly way to meet my compulsion to share. One of my favorite things about my Twitter is it’s a generous platform that helps you discover great writing and great writers. If you follow the right crowd, Twitter becomes a kind of Pandora or Spotify for great journalism, and The Sunday Long Read began as a way to try to give back as much as I take. I was surprised and touched by how many people responded favorably. Before long, many of those same people urged me to start a newsletter like this one, to make it easier on them (hopefully) and (perhaps) on me.

This project is co-curated by Jacob Feldman of Sports Illustrated, whose enthusiasm and expertise were vital to getting this project launched.

During the week, on Twitter, Jacob and I hope you’ll use the #SundayLR hashtag for a piece you’d like us to consider for that Sunday’s list. You can also email your nominations, questions and suggestions for how this list can improve to thesundaylongread@gmail.com.


Enjoy.

DVN'S FAVORITE READS:

The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare

The New York Times Magazine
Nathaniel Rich

The Greatest Lawyer Who Ever Lived

Texas Monthly
John Spong

 

We’re kicking off 2016 with two phenomenal stories about larger-than-life attorneys. The first is about Rob Bilott, a corporate defense lawyer who stumbled into a mammoth environmental case that upended his career and his life. Bilott took on DuPont’s decades-long campaign of chemical pollution, in a town where no one—the politicians, the press, the people—had the nerve or the motive to challenge the corporate giant. Before long, Bilott became DuPont’s worst nightmare. A monumental David vs. Goliath legal thriller by Nathaniel Rich.

The second is an irresistible portrait of legendary plaintiffs’ lawyer Joe Jamail. At 89, he is Texas’ most famous attorney, one of its most colorful (OK, that’s redundant) and easily the wealthiest. Spraying a fusillade of four-letter invective, he enjoys carving up his opponents, verbally and financially (in that order), and then relishes the butt-kicking while sipping his scotch. A fun and funny profile by John Spong.

JACOB'S FAVORITE READ:

Just Desserts

Texas Monthly
Katy Vine

 

Texas Monthly did not pay us, we promise. This story actually came out at the end of last year, but we were on vacation, and even if some of you did make time for this one over the holidays, we felt it was good enough to recommend re-reading.

The story arc is straightforward: an overlooked accountant (at a bakery of all places) decides he wants to live the high life, embezzlement laws be damned. But Katy Vine elevates the tale to our top spot with peerless writing. Corsicana, Texas becomes a character here—one of several Vine brings into conversation and conflict while perfectly walking the line that separates the true-crime and character-study genres. In all, Sandy Jenkins' descent into criminality is described in a way that is beyond cinematic. It is literary. 

No. 2: My Brother, the Murderer

D Magazine

Michael J. Mooney


Any true crime story by Michael J. Mooney is a can’t-miss event. This story about the mysteries of a highly publicized 45-year-old unsolved murder in Texas doesn’t disappoint.


No. 3: When He Was 16, This Man Threw One Punch—And Went to Jail for Life
Mother Jones

Corey G. Johnson and Ken Armstrong

At the age of 16, Taurus Buchanan found himself in a street fight among kids. He threw one deadly punch, which got him sent to prison for life. Will the Supreme Court extend a second chance to Buchanan and hundreds others like him? (This story had an immediate impact: Buchanan will get a clemency hearing on Feb. 16).


No. 4: We Lost a Child, and Gained Something Greater
The Cauldron

Kyle Porter


“Non-sports news,” tweeted Kyle Porter, a golf writer for CBS Sports, the other day. “Our daughter died right before Christmas. I wrote about it here.” That punch to the gut didn’t quite prepare me for this heartbreaking and moving essay of grief and personal tragedy. 


No. 5: The Terrible Beauty of Brain Surgery
The New York Times Magazine

Karl Ove Knaussgaard


“I knew as little about Albania as I knew about brain surgery,” writes Karl Ove Knaussgaard, who observes brain surgeries while the patients are awake. A gripping story made even better by Knaussgaard’s seemingly effortless writing. (The Times warns, “Images in this article may be disturbing to some viewers.”)


No. 6: The Mogul of the Middle
The New Yorker

Tad Friend

Alex Fogelson is the chairman of Hollywood’s newest studio, STX Entertainment, who “believes that 75 percent of a movie’s success is due to its marketing and its marketability.” This is the usual outstanding work we expect from Tad Friend.


No. 7: I Confronted the Doctor Who Missed My Cancer
Elle

Elisabeth R. Finch

When “Grey’s Anatomy” writer Elisabeth R. Finch ran into "Dr. Perfect," who failed to diagnose her bone cancer, she contained her anger and made an appointment to see him. “The more he speaks,” Finch writes, “the more I fight the urge to lunge across the room and pummel his perfect face.”


No. 8: The Brand Keeping Oprah in Business

Vulture

Rembert Browne

Rembert Browne’s latest forces his readers, and himself, to reconsider everyman entertainer Tyler Perry.


No. 9: Obama's Obama

Politico

Glenn Thrush

Glenn Thrush has delivered a rigorously reported profile of President Obama’s record fifth, and likely last, chief of staff, Denis McDonough.

We also liked this great piece of political reporting from The Washington Post: One Year, Two Races, Inside the Republican Party's Bizarre, Tumultuous 2015.


No. 10: The Triumph of Email
The Atlantic

Adrienne LaFrance


This is the perfect think piece to browse while you try to ignore those unread messages that keep piling up.


No. 11: The Snow White of the Dead
Chicago Magazine

Lauren Williamson


“If you want to see God, peel the skin off a mouse’s tail,” Lauren Williamson writes in her opening sentence. It gets weirder—and a lot wilder
from there.


No. 12: The Easiest Way to Lose 125 Pounds is to Gain 175 Pounds

Medium

Bill Barnwell


If your New Year’s challenge is, like mine, “Get Lean in ’16,” you’ll want to read this lovely story by my ESPN colleague Bill Barnwell, who lost 125 pounds in one year with the help of will power and spread sheets. Medium also hosted a great essay from Fran Hoepfner, On Being Ugly, a heartfelt, wonderful piece that will make you smile even while you are wincing at her pain. 


No. 13: We Blew $17 Billion in Afghanistan. How Would You Have Spent It?
ProPublica

Staff

A muscular piece of public service journalism that’s beautifully illustrated.


No. 14: Ready for Prime Time

The New Yorker

Andrew Marantz


Andrew Marantz makes you easily fall for SNL cast member/Ghostbuster Leslie Jones, who has always been funny but is about to become really, really famous.


No. 15: Playing for Time
WIRED

Jason Tanz


Here’s the story of a father, a dying son and the quest to make the most profound, everlasting videogame in history. We especially recommend the corresponding Reply All podcast.


No. 16: How Johnny Manziel Failed His Last Great Audition
ESPN The Magazine

Elizabeth Merrill


What’s next for the troubled and underachieving “Johnny Football?” A fast-paced, deeply reported look at Manziel by my enormously talented friend and colleague, Elizabeth Merrill.


No. 17: The True Story of Roland the Farter, and How the Internet Killed Professional Flatulence
Atlas Obscura

Linda A. Rodriguez


Here’s your chance to read the secret history of professional flatulence.


No. 18: The Cult of PewDiePie

Rolling Stone

Laura A. Parker


A fabulous look at how a kid from Sweden became YouTube’s biggest star. This story actually came out in mid-December, but we were too busy putting together our Best of 2015 Listzilla and then taking a brief vacation to feature it. Still, it's worth reading. This young man's talent might surprise you.


No. 19: The Celebrity Surgeon Who Used Love, Money, and the Pope to Scam an NBC News Producer
Vanity Fair

Adam Ciralsky


When Adam Ciralsky asked a doctor to assess the type of liar "super-surgeon" Paolo Macchiarini was, the MD responded, “(Bernie) Madoff was an ordinary con man with a Ponzi scheme. He never claimed to be the chairman of the Federal Reserve. He didn’t suggest he was part of a secret international society of bankers. This guy is really good.” So is this story.


No. 20: Shadow Boxer

SB Nation

William D'Urso


What happens when a serial rapist pretends he’s you… for 30 years? Alex Ramos, once a rising contender in boxing’s middleweight division, had to fight for his own identity.

Belt Magazine also published a fight sports story we loved this week, Of Bibles and Body Slams, on a 70-year-old preacher and pro wrestler, Leo "Father Time" Napier.

JACK SHAFER'S CLASSIC READ:

 

The True Story of John/Joan (1997)
Rolling Stone
John Colapinto

Mutilated in the course of a botched hospital circumcision, John undergoes years and years of sex reassignment surgery and is brought up as a girl named Joan. Colapinto's epic feature addresses the question of how innate and how plastic gender really is, captures medical hubris at its most wild, and teaches a lesson about how courage works. For the troubling coda to John's struggle, see this Los Angeles Times piece. (Colapinto later expanded his article in a book, As Nature Made Him.)
 
Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.
LEDE OF THE WEEK:

Just months before Rob Bilott made partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister, he received a call on his direct line from a cattle farmer. The farmer, Wilbur Tennant of Parkersburg, W.Va., said that his cows were dying left and right. He believed that the DuPont chemical company, which until recently operated a site in Parkersburg that is more than 35 times the size of the Pentagon, was responsible. Tennant had tried to seek help locally, he said, but DuPont just about owned the entire town. He had been spurned not only by Parkersburg’s lawyers but also by its politicians, journalists, doctors and veterinarians. The farmer was angry and spoke in a heavy Appalachian accent. Bilott struggled to make sense of everything he was saying. He might have hung up had Tennant not blurted out the name of Bilott’s grandmother, Alma Holland White.

-The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare by Nathaniel Rich
QUOTATION OF THE WEEK:

"Studio people actually said to me, ‘Don’t bring me anything that’s good, because I’ll be tempted to buy it, and I can’t.’"

-Director Billy Ray in The Mogul of the Middle by Tad Friend

Wedding Couple's First Dance

SheKnows
Cailyn Cox
This Welsh couple really does know how to kick off their great adventure together. We challenge you to watch this 5 minute video without smiling once.

25 Years of the Guardian's Weekend Magazine Q&A
The Guardian

Rosanna Greenstreet

This greatest hits piece is a worthy tribute to the Q&A in The Guardian’s Weekend magazine, now 25 years old.

The 16 Most Underrated Performances of 2015
Thrillist
Matt Patches, Dan Jackson, and Anna Silman

To get you revved up for tonight’s Golden Globes, Thrillist has the 16 most underrated performances of 2015. 

Thank Goodness! An Oral History of ABC's TGIF

Entertainment Weekly
Marc Snetiker
and Dan Snierson

If you were a fan of ABC’s Friday night slate of shows during the 1990s, you’re going to have so much fun with this.

January Asceticism
Brooklyn Magazine

Matt Lubchansky

We begin this year’s Last Laugh with a cartoon.


Seventeen
by Sjowgren
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The top Sunday long reads are selected with care by ESPN Senior Writer and NYT bestselling author Don Van Natta Jr. (@DVNJr) and Jacob Feldman (@JacobFeldman4) of Sports Illustrated.

Questions? Suggestions? Compliments? E-mail us at thesundaylongread@gmail.com.
Copyright © 2016 The Sunday Long Read, All rights reserved.


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