Enjoy the best longform journalism. Every Sunday.

Michael Gove: The Polite Assassin by Ian Leslie for New Statesman

The week's best reads, carefully curated by Don Van Natta Jr. and Jacob Feldman. Today's guest editor is Tom Lamont.



   SUNDAY — July 10, 2016   

EDITORS' NOTE: Good morning! This week, we're going British with the help of one of our favorite writers, Tom Lamont.


Based out of London, Tom made our Best of 2015 list with his take on "The Death and Life of the Great British Pub." We think you'll enjoy his English spin on things as well as five Classic Reads he couldn't help but share!


Hello. Three weeks ago I would have introduced myself, here, with a few brisk sentences explaining who I am – a 34-year-old journalist based in London, employed mostly by the Guardian and its Sunday sister paper the Observer, perfectly clueless about the satisfactions of longform journalism until the early '00s when, mid-internship, an editor made me read a monster-long William Langewiesche story about wine tasting. Seventeen thousand words? On ONE SUBJECT? My mind, journalistically nourished to that point on computer game reviews and football reports, was blown. A decade on, I’ve been grateful for opportunities to write monster-long stories myself, via the Guardian’s excellent Long Read section. In October the editors there published a story of mine about the battle to save a Victorian pub from redevelopment, and then in May they ran a story I wrote about a disturbing series of crimes in British betting shops. Don and Jacob kindly highlighted both stories in this newsletter.
That isn’t why they asked me to guest-edit this week, though. They asked because I’m British, and three weeks ago the British had a somewhat rocky night. Ideas were consumed, words were exchanged, decisions were made, and we woke up early one Friday to find we’d tripped and broken a continent. Sorry! From the entirely selfish perspective of a domestic journalist I can say that, since June 23rd, to be at work on any story NOT about Brexit has felt fantastically pointless. But life goes on. Journalism goes on. Unless 52% of my countrymen are quietly gearing up to vote away those nice things, too.
I’ve tried to limit the choice list of longreads in this email to stories that relate to Brexit; to the British and What We Can Be Like; to contrarianism and to folly and to poor decision-making by people who ought to know better; sprinkling in as well a few stories that might enlarge on or only distract from the mess the UK has visited on the world. Most of the stories are brand new, some are a few weeks or even months old. At the end I’ve included the Langewiesche longread that first got me hooked on the form, as well as a few deathless works by some of my favourite nonfiction writers. Their sympathy, wit and good judgment make me hopeful, on reading them over again, that our current era of willed-on stupidity simply cannot go on forever.

***Given all of the awesome material Tom brought this week, your e-mail provider might clip this newsletter. You can view it in full here.***

How Remain Failed: the Inside Story of a Doomed Campaign

By Rafael Behr

 (~30 minutes)

Behr, a political columnist at the Guardian, turned out some of the paper’s most impactful opinion-writing immediately after Britain's vote to leave the EU. (His column of 29 June, about the evasive behaviour of "arsonists" politicians in the wake of Brexit, was spicy enough to bring on real tears; at least in one reader.) A fortnight after the vote, Behr wrote at greater length than usual – digging deep into the story of the star-studded but doomed "remain" campaign, which would have had Britain stay a part of the EU. This fact-dense and sourly necessary piece of reporting was published at a time when the "remain" half of the country was only just starting to emerge from its daze, and starting to want to know how everything had gone so badly wrong.

How to Grow a Weetabix

By James Meek

 (~65 minutes)

Weeks before the referendum, Meek climbed into his car to explore Britain's countryside, meeting farmers who were for and against European membership, and exploring how their livelihoods might be affected by the vote. Much more than just a temperature-check, however, Meek's report (like his superb stories about British railways and British austerity economics) told a story about who we are, outside of our towns and cities – Britain beyond the hedgerows.

The Satoshi Affair

By Andrew O'Hagan

(~175 minutes)

After six months in the company of Dr. Craig Wright, an Australian mathematician, reporter Andrew O'Hagan was decently sure he'd found "Satoshi Nakamoto," the shadowy pseudonymous figure who years ago invented the online currency Bitcoin. As O'Hagan watched Wright prepare to reveal himself to the world as Satoshi, however, the journalist was surprised to find his subject increasingly reluctant to back up his own claims... I thought about this story a lot in the aftermath of Brexit, as a succession of major players who'd noisily spearheaded the drive to pull Britain from Europe, seemed to timidly distance themselves from the decision to leave when it came to pass. In his past work on serial killers, paedophiles, and another famously cranky Australian techno-vandal, O'Hagan has shown himself a master explicator of the very point in the human psyche where bravado crosses into cowardice. Though his story about Satoshi made no mention of the European referendum, it seemed to explain and prefigure an awful lot...
Knowing Boris

By Jeremy Cliffe

 (~15 minutes) 


Who were those major players, spearheading the drive to leave the EU? In The Economist's relatively new longform magazine, 1843, Cliffe profiled Boris Johnson, London mayor turned potential prime minister, and arguably the most famous and influential figure on Leave's campaign bus. "His support for Brexit bears traces of his urge to stir things up," Cliffe writes of Johnson, who on June 23rd certainly managed that. Of course, Boris wouldn't have long to enjoy Leave's victory...
Michael Gove: The Polite Assassin

By Ian Leslie

 (~40 minutes)

Within days of helping win the vote to Brexit, Boris Johnson had been spectacularly betrayed by his friend and campaign-mate, the British justice secretary Michael Gove. The exacts of the betrayal, a fiasco of world-historical proportions, really are worth reading into – probably best via Marina Hyde's hilarious sequence of sketches for the Guardian, here, here and here. Months before Tory turned on Tory, though,  Ian Leslie in the Statesman wrote a tremendous and prescient longform profile of Gove. Its title, "The Polite Assassin," would prove ideal.  
Lunch with the FT: Nigel Farage

By Henry Mance

 (~15 minutes)


Though we might wish it otherwise, no deep-delve into Brexit can ignore Nigel Farage, head of the far-right party Ukip, which for years fought hard and ugly to have Britain absent itself from the EU. A couple of months before the vote Farage – red cheeked, typically pinstriped, endlessly offensive – sat down with Mance from the Financial Times, for a six-pint lunch during which he cheerfully maligned immigrants, confided his suspicions that the doctors might have got it wrong on smoking, and enjoyed himself having a go at his lunch companion for being a vegetarian. ("For a brief moment," writes Mance, "I know how the Romanians must feel.") Also worth reading, on Farage, is this brilliant profile by Rachel Cooke from 2015.
Hatton Garden: The Biggest Jewel Heist in British History

By Stuart McGurk

 (~40 minutes)


Want to understand a country better? Look to its celebrity criminals! The nation was oddly captivated by the story of a gang of London pensioners who embarked, in April 2015, on one of the most elaborate jewel heists in UK history. McGurks tells the story of each of these 60-something career criminals, and how they came together one day in spring to attempt the unlikely.
The Clean, Green and Slightly Bonkers World of CBeebies

By Sophie Elmhirst

 (~20 minutes)


Want to understand a country better (part II)? Look to its children's broadcasting! In this personal essay (disclaimer: it was written by my wife, with occasional reference made to our two-year-old), the eclectic and eccentric programming schedule of the BBC's channel for toddlers, CBeebies, is broken down hour by hour. Plonking your kid in front of CBeebies, writes Elmhirst, feels somehow "legit. It is like seeing the Fair Trade symbol, or a British flag on a punnet of strawberries. You feel righteous, as if you are complying with some fundamental parental code drawn up by the BBC."
The Mystifying Triumph of Hope Hicks: Donald Trump's Right-Hand Woman

By Olivia Nuzzi

 (~15 minutes)


I love stuff like this: sideways entries into much-covered subjects. Instead of writing directly about the Donald, Nuzzi profiles his improbably young press secretary, Hope Hicks, who only agrees to be interviewed if she may do so silently, in Trump's presence, with her boss providing the answers... A fascinating edgewise look at a bananas political campaign.

Who Are All These Trump Supporters?

By George Saunders

 (~50 minutes)

There have been plenty of Trump-on-tour essays this campaign season. But not yet one by George Saunders, who in his short fiction has spent a lifetime conjuring the sort of trodden-on, corporation-crushed middle American male to whom (presumably) Trump is right now appealing. The New Yorker wisely bought Saunders a few plane tickets, to attend Trump rallies in California and Arizona, and then gave him room to riff.

What Do You Do After Surviving Your Own Lynching

By Syreeta McFadden

 (~40 minutes)

Some stories are only waiting, patiently, to be told. Over 80 years after an African-American teenager named James Cameron narrowly avoided being lynched in Marion, Indiana, his story is told by BuzzFeed's Syreeta McFadden. No particular reason to do so, now: only an absorbing and at times chilling narrative that found its way to the page. Brilliant.
'Our Worst Nightmare': New Legal Filings Detail Reporting of Rolling Stone's U-Va. Gang Rape Story

By T. Rees Shapiro

 (~10 minutes)


Much has been written about Sabrina Rubin Erdely's doomed story for Rolling Stone, about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. Here, unusually, The Washington Post's Shapiro keeps in check any moralising or schadenfreude regarding that busted piece of journalism — forensically picking through Erdely's notes, instead, for clues about where her reporting went off the rails. A must-read for young journalists, and a reminder for all of us of the elemental importance of being inhumanly cynical while following a story, however compelling it may seem on the surface.
Why One Woman Pretended to Be a High-School Cheerleader

By Jeff Maysh

 (~20 minutes)


In 2008, a 33-year-old named Wendy Brown bought a new pair of Levis, put on a squeaky voice, and spent two weeks in a Wisconsin high school, successfully pretending to be a 15-year-old. In that time she sat in classes, tried out to be a cheerleader, and attended a teenager's pool party. "I made a mistake," said Brown, when she was uncovered and arrested and put before a judge, charged with fraud. Eight years on from this bizarre escapade, Brown sits down with (the always excellent) Jeff Maysh, to explore the roots of that mistake. Heartbreaking.


By Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders

 (~35 minutes)

In an already-terrible week for police-civilian relations in America, this extraordinary investigation—a collaboration between ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine—digs into the cheap science kits used by roadside cops that may have led to hundreds if not thousands of rotten convictions for drug possession.

Who's the Alpha Male Now, Bitches? (2015)

By Andrew O'Hagan

 (~25 minutes)

The angry manifestos that killers leave behind.

Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.

The Million Dollar Nose (2000)

By William Langewiesche

 (~90 minutes)

An enormous profile of the wine critic Robert Parker. When a photocopy of this story was first handed to me, by an editor at Time Out London who was keen to encourage my interest in good writing, I thought there'd been some kind of printer error. Seventeen-thousand words later, I understood.

Underworld (2007)

By Jeanne Marie Laskas

 (~50 minutes)

Part of Laskas' series on underappreciated (often unseen) blue-collar industries in the US, eventually collected into her must-buy book Hidden America, this longread for GQ follows a gang of miners in Ohio. For me, it has the best first 50 words in any piece of narrative nonfiction ever.
Fleet of One (2003)

By John McPhee

 (~60 minutes)

Really I could put any McPhee story here. (I'm particularly obsessed with his story about the efforts to arrest the flow of a live volcano in Iceland in the 1970s, but it isn't freely available online.) "Fleet of One" is McPhee at his best: going deep on an ultra-specific piece of Americana, in this case a long-distance trucker, Don Ainsworth, and a hazmat-conveying HGV "you could part your hair in the side of." 

Some Like Her Hot (2012)

By Chris Heath

 (~30 minutes)

It's no small feat to make a celebrity interview a genuine piece of art: Heath manages it more or less every time he gets out his tape recorder. For me this is his best, a knotty profile, based on a trio of interviews, with a pre-Oscar-winning Michelle Williams in 2012.
The Hard Luck and Beautiful Life of Liam Neeson (2011)

By Tom Chiarella

 (~25 minutes)

It takes a bold writer (and editor) to play with the rules of structure this dramatically. A celebrity profile, of the recently bereaved actor Liam Neeson, told backwards. It works ridiculously well.

The Strange Story of a Murdered Banker in Puerto Rico

On the day Maurice Spagnoletti was murdered, his black Lexus sedan was full of balloons.




What Brexit Means for British Food

“In 1973, the U.K. was a country where olive oil could be bought—if at all—in tiny bottles from the chemist shop, as a cure for earwax. Now you could get lost in the olive-oil section of a British supermarket, from the kalamata varieties of Greece to the Arbequina of Spain.”

—Bee Wilson


Stoya Said Stop

“He comes into the living room, and I’m sitting there in, like, a Technicolor fishnet shirt — a pair of fishnets that I had cut a neck hole in — with Band-Aids over my nipples,” Stoya remembers. “And he’s like, ‘Here’s the situation, you don’t mind being naked, right?’ ” Her response: “Clearly not, sir!”




By Steve Coogan

 (~5 minutes)

Comedian Steve Coogan shares some of his favorite memories of award-winning writer and actress, Caroline Aherne.


By Matthew Sperling

 (~5 minutes)

As Matthew Sperling explains, Geoffrey Hill was a poet as embedded in his continent as he was in his country since the 1950s.


From Deadline: 
Author Gay Talese Flip-Flops on 'The Voyeur's Motel' and Now Stands By Book While Filmmakers Try To Figure Out Next Steps

"Yesterday Gay Talese disavowed his book The Voyeur’s Motel citing credibility problems with the man who told him the story. This morning, he and the publisher now stand by it. As the flip-flops surface this AM, those in Hollywood who optioned what they thought was a true story for close to $1M earlier this year are trying to figure out what to do in light of the revelations of possible story fabrications."

From Torkildson:

A journo who has a bum source
is like a cart without a horse;
they push and they pull,
but it's all mainly bull.
The byline must end in remorse.


Tim Torkildson is a retired circus clown. His work has appeared in The New York Times and The Huffington Post. He is currently re-inventing the limerick, one anapest at a time.

Aztec Camera - Good Morning Britain (OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO)

      Good Morning Britain

By Aztec Camera

Read Later
Founder, Curator: Don Van Natta Jr.
Producer, Curator: Jacob Feldman
Senior Editor of Recycling: Jack Shafer
Senior Limerick Editor: Tim Torkildson

Contributing Editors: Bruce Arthur, Alex Belth, Sara Blask, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Chris Cillizza, Rich Cohen, Pam Colloff, Maureen Dowd, Brett Michael Dykes, Maggie Haberman, Reyhan Harmanci, Jena Janovy, Bomani Jones, Mina Kimes, Tom Lamont, Jonathan Martin, Betsy Fischer Martin, Ana Menendez, Kevin Merida, Eric Neel, Anne Helen Petersen, S.L. Price, Albert Samaha, Bruce Schoenfeld, Joe Sexton, Dan Shanoff, Ben Smith, Wright Thompson, Pablo Torre, John A. Walsh, and Seth Wickersham


Header image: New Statesman

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