Enjoy the best longform journalism. Every Sunday.

The War Vet, the Dating Site, and the Phone Call From Hell by Vince Beiser for Wired



The week's best reads, carefully curated by Don Van Natta Jr. and Jacob Feldman.

Sunday, January 5, 2019

EDITORS' NOTE: Happy New Year! 

This is the start of our sixth full year curating the week’s finest longform journalism. And we want to begin by welcoming and thanking all our new subscribers who have recently joined us, as well as our newly minted members (who keep the SLR funded while getting our newsletter early every week and bonus editions throughout the year). We had a big surge of both over the holidays.

We started this project to celebrate writing worth reading, and we’ve kept going because of people like you. We especially appreciate those who nominate stories they love—you can tweet them with the hashtag #SundayLR—and those who help us spread the SLR. We’re proud of the community you’ve helped build solely through word of mouth plus some forwarded emails and retweets.

So, thank you for reading, thank you for writing, and thank you for sharing. Here’s to a year of meaningful work!

Don & Jacob

Don and Jacob's Favorite

   Behind the Ukraine Aid Freeze: 84 Days of Conflict and Confusion
By Eric Lipton, Maggie Haberman & Mark Mazzetti for The New York Times
 (~20 minutes)

If you had read only one story on Trump, Ukraine, Giuliani, Biden, Impeachment, Military Aid, or just about anything national politics-related in 2019, we hope it was this invaluable tick-tock.

Become a Sunday Long Read Member!

   Inside the U.S. military’s raid against its own security guards that left dozens of Afghan children dead
By Brett Murphy for USA TODAY 
 (~35 minutes)

Topped by a heartbreaking, details-rich opening, Brett Murphy delivers a deeply reported investigation of a U.S. military operation that killed dozens of Afghan children.

➢ SLR SYLLABUS: Iran, A Killed General, and Talk of War


   The War Vet, the Dating Site, and the Phone Call From Hell
By Vince Beiser for Wired
 (~25 minutes)

Jared Johns, an Army veteran, had no idea that swapping a few messages with the pretty young woman from a dating site would be the worst mistake of his life.


   The Doctor, the Dentist, and the Killer
By Skip Hollandsworth for Texas Monthly
 (~30 minutes)

Brenda was sure she and Ricky would be together forever, but then he left her. Kendra was sure she and Ricky would be together forever, too. Then Brenda did something about it. Skip Hollandsworth has the story of jealous rage, spying and murder in Uptown Dallas. (And for more outstanding work by Skip Hollandsworth, read this inspiring piece.)


   The Ultra-Wealthy Who Argue That They Should Be Paying Higher Taxes
By Sheelah Kolhatkar for The New Yorker 
 (~35 minutes)

Income disparity in America has never been higher. Led by Abigail Disney, the Patriotic Millionaires are fighting to narrow the gap.


   Sweethearts Forever. Then Came Alzheimer’s, Murder and Suicide.
By Corina Knoll for The New York Times 
 (~10 minutes)

Alma and Richard Shaver were “absolutely soulmates.” Their long, happy lives together ended with a stunning murder-suicide and a note, left inside a blue envelope.


   There were nine...
By Lucy Ash for BBC
 (~30 minutes)

Prepare to get sucked into this eerie, icy mystery.


   I asked my students to turn in their cell phones and write about living without them
By Ron Srigley for MIT Technology Review
 (~10 minutes)

Twelve students agreed to give up their cell phones for nine days. “What they wrote was remarkable, and remarkably consistent,” Ron Srigley writes. “These university students, given the chance to say what they felt, didn’t gracefully submit to the tech industry and its devices.”



   The Hacker Who Took Down a Country
By Kit Chellel for Bloomberg Businessweek 
 (~25 minutes)

A profile of the hacker Spdrman, whose real name is Daniel Kaye. A corporate espionage ace, Kaye single-handedly brought down Liberia’s Internet. And he’s about to get out of prison.


   Greta Gerwig’s Little Women Gives Amy March Her Due
By Shirley Li for The Atlantic 
 (~10 minutes)

Greta Gerwig’s Little Women adaptation will leave you wanting more. Fortunately, the internet has produced a bevy of reaction pieces and analyses. This one, on Florence Pugh’s Amy, stood out.

➢ “Little Women” and the Marmee Problem


   Death of a Freelancer
By Charlotte Alfred for HuffPost 
 (~40 minutes)

Christopher Allen was a freelance reporter who filed dispatches from hotspots around the world. Who was looking out for him?

➢ Power, precarity and white-hot anger: what I learned in a decade in journalism
➢ The Mid-Life Crisis of the American Restaurant Review
➢ Meet the most obsessive Bill Simmons fans online


   The Remembrance: NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern, 1942-2020
By Henry Abbott for TrueHoop
 (~15 minutes)

No American sports commissioner has done more to rescue/transform/monetize his league than David Stern. Many fine obits and tributes followed Stern’s death at age 77 on New Year’s Day, but this perceptive, beautifully written essay by Henry Abbott is our favorite.


   The decade has ended, but it will never be over
By Dan Zak for The Washington Post 
 (~10 minutes)

“Being alive in the 2010s meant seeing what America wants to be, and feeling what it actually is,” Dan Zak writes in a final look back at a decade that hardly feels past.

➢ The 2010s Were the End of Normal
➢ How the 2010s Killed The Celebrity Gossip Machine


   Inside the Race to Save China's Mysterious ‘Bird of Legend’
By Jane Qiu for Audubon Magazine 
 (~20 minutes)

A moving look at what it takes to keep a fledgling species flying.


   Where Rent Is $13,500, She Lives Off What’s Left at the Curb
By Andy Newman for The New York Times
 (~10 minutes)

A fascinating look inside New York City’s burgeoning shadow ecosystem of the streets, where collectors stuff cans and bottles, each worth 5 cents, into blue bags and sell them to men driving trucks.


   The Sunday Q&A: Ricky Gervais, 5-Time Golden Globes Host, Has a Few More Things to Say to Hollywood
By Piya Sinha-Roy for The Hollywood Reporter 
 (~20 minutes)

For the fifth time tonight, Ricky Gervais will host the Golden Globes. Why do it again? “Because it’s fun, it’s fun!” Gervais’ tried-and-tested strategy (besides the cold lager he’ll have perched on the podium): “I’ve got to be the bloke sitting at home who shouldn’t have been invited. That’s who I’ve got to be.”


   What I Learned in Avalanche School
By Heidi Julavits for The New York Times Magazine
 (~30 minutes)

Heidi Julavits prepared for the worst that nature could throw at her, but discovered “the real threat turned out to be human.”


   My Semester With the Snowflakes
By James Hatch for GEN 
 (~10 minutes)

This illuminating, surprising piece by 52-year-old James Hatch, the oldest freshman in Yale’s Class of 2023, went viral over the holidays; try to make time for it, if you missed it.


   Don’t Marry the Nice Guy
By Emily Kingsley for Medium 
 (~5 minutes)

Breaking up with the nice guy, the guy who thinks you’re perfect, is the best thing you can do, writes Emily Kingsley.

➢ I ignored warnings from friends and family not to marry my husband. Was I making a big mistake?


   Wandering in search of Wakanda
By Soraya Nadia McDonald for The Undefeated
 (~20 minutes)

The Undefeated’s critic Soraya Nadia McDonald hunts for black utopias in “Ain’t No Mo’,” Beyonce’s “Homecoming” and David Byrne’s Broadway show.

➢ (Who Gets to) Just Up and Move


   Ready, Set, Trump: Big-Money Faith, Football, and Forgiveness at Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University
By Jordan Ritter Conn for The Ringer
 (~25 minutes)

Can Jerry Falwell Jr. fuse religious right theology and right-wing politics to build a major college football power?


   ‘No blondes allowed’: 50 years after a junior high experiment, students say it had ‘a big impact’
By Diane Bernard for The Washington Post
 (~10 minutes)

A unique lesson about racism and prejudice that still resonates, a half-century later.

Last Week's Most Read

   The #SundayLR List: Barack Obama lists his favorite books of 2019
By Paul LeBlanc for CNN 

   Translation of a Seemingly Pleasant Conversation Between My Two Aunts at Christmas
By Rose O'Shea for McSweeney's

   How we stopped counting calories and learned to love Spindrift
By Rachel Sugar for The Goods by Vox 


Lede of the Week

   Inside the U.S. military’s raid against its own security guards that left dozens of Afghan children dead, by Brett Murphy

AZIZABAD, Afghanistan — Once the Americans left, the survivors started digging.

There were too many dead and not enough shovels, so a local politician brought in heavy machinery from a nearby construction site. He dug graves deep enough to fit mothers with children, or children with children. Some were still in their pajamas, their hands inked with henna tattoos from the party preparations the night before.

Villagers picked through the rubble of what had been an entire neighborhood, looking for remains to wrap in white linens for burial. A boy clutching a torn rug walked in a daze on top of the ruins. A young man collapsed in grief by a pile of mud bricks where his home once stood—where his wife and four children had been sleeping inside.



Quotation of the Week

   The Ultra-Wealthy Who Argue That They Should Be Paying Higher Taxes, by Sheelah Kolhatkar

“Have you seen the movie ‘Caddyshack’? There’s a gopher, and he pops up every so often… I’m the gopher. So I’ll continue to pop up periodically and be the bane of their existence, because I don’t want them to feel comfortable. They are participating in a social and economic process that is destroying actual human lives. And I’m just not going to go along with it. Especially not with my name attached.”

Abigail Disney

The Classic Read
from Jack Shafer

   The Shadow Commander (2013)
By Dexter Filkins for The New Yorker 
 (~30 minutes)

If you had read this piece by Dexter Filkins in 2013, you wouldn't be so goddamn stupid this morning about Qassem Suleimani, Iran, and the Middle East. Filkins frequently gets tapped by the editors at The Sunday Long Read. I picked this 2008 report from grunt-level of the assault on Fallujah last January for the Classic Read slot. Filkins is one of those rare specimens of the breed who can run through the shrapnel, navigate history, and sketch the profile, leaving you smarter than you have any right to be.


Classic Read curator Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.

The Sunday Long Pod
from Jody Avirgan

   My Year In Mensa (Apple | Spotify)

This is sort of a stream of consciousness audio journal, which kind of makes it feel more like YouTube than a traditional reported podcast. I dig it. It had me hooked with an intriguing plotline (crashing a secret society) and winning delivery from comedian Jamie Loftus. I also like that it’s just four episodes. I know it’s not always economically viable but it’s nice to know that I don’t have to make a huge commitment.


Sunday Pod curator Jody Avirgan is the host of FiveThirtyEight's politics podcast and is heading up the "30 for 30" podcast documentary series from ESPN, which just launched Season Six.

The Sunday Still
from Patrick Farrell

Close to the Blaze

As apocalyptic wildfires rage across Australia, at least 18 people have been killed, more than 1,000 homes destroyed and a staggering half a billion animals reportedly wiped out. Shooting for The New York Times, Sydney-based photographer Matthew Abbott expertly captured the peril and sense of place on Dec. 31 in New South Wales. Along with mastering the mechanics of shooting in bright, hot light, which requires adjusting for exposure, Abbott had to constantly plot a quick exit plan from the unpredictable flames and protect his face, hands and camera. “Your face is burning,” he explained in a weekly newsletter from the Times’ Australia bureau. “Your camera is scorching hot, it’s almost melting.” As a solo image, Abbott’s photo speaks 1,000 words, answering the Who, What, When, Where, Why of the story without even needing a caption.

Patrick Farrell, the curator of The Sunday Still, is the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winner for Breaking News Photography for The Miami Herald, where he worked from 1987 to 2019. He is currently a Lecturer in the Department of Journalism and Media Management at the University of Miami School of Communication.

The Kix Picks
from Paul Kix

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett


Man, I loved this book. I started the novel over the holiday break in large part because I'd torn through one of Patchett's earlier works, Bel Canto, a literary take on a hostage crisis at a South American opera house. Commonwealth's premise is more pedestrian but is probably the better book. The story begins with an extramarital affair in the 1960s that fractures two Los Angeles families. The genius of the novel is how Patchett structures it: It jumps around chronologically, the chapters self-contained episodes of various characters' lives. These episodes are highly enjoyable; Patchett is a funny and humane storyteller who also happens to be great with a sentence. For half the book I thought the episodes were random. Then I realized they were not. 

That's when the book really got good. I liked the novel so much I'm hoping I can get Patchett on for Season 2 of the podcast.

Paul Kix is a best-selling author, an editor, and the host of the podcast, Now That's a Great Story, where novelists, journalists, screenwriters and songwriters talk about their favorite work, the one that reveals their artistic worldview. For insights from writers that go beyond what's covered in the podcast, like the entry above, please sign up for Paul's newsletter.

The Sunday Cover
from Étienne Lajoie

   This is America
By Claudia Rankine and James D. Walsh for New York
Cover photo by Mark Peterson

Étienne Lajoie, the curator of The Sunday Cover, is a journalist based in Montreal.

The Sunday Esoterica
from Ryan Rodenberg

   Note-Taking Mode and Academic Performance in Two Law School Courses

In school, is it 'better' to take notes by hand or via a laptop computer?  That is the question Colleen Murphy and two co-authors tackled in a new academic paper.  The authors' findings "indicated a substantial positive association at a statistically significant level between handwriting and academic performance."

Sunday Esoterica curator Ryan Rodenberg works as a professor at Florida State University, where he teaches research methods and sports law. He writes a lot of academic articles and some mainstream pieces too.

The Su♬day Sou♬dtrack
from The Editors

I Like It Like That
By Chris Kenner

The Sunday Comix
from Alex Segura

   Michel Fiffe pays tribute to his comic idols with Copra’s superhero remix
By Oliver Sava for The A.V. Club
 (~5 minutes)

With the ever-changing landscape of corporately owned comics, often driven by mass media and other iterations, it’s hard for fans to see their versions of characters continue - but writer/artist Michael Fiffe came up with a unique and endearing - not to mention compelling and addictive - way of dealing with it. He created his own versions of his beloved heroes, and blended them with his love for 80s DC Comics and the like to create COPRA, part love letter to the genre but also a thoughtful and engaging work all its own. At The A.V. Club, comics reporter Sava spotlights the long-running series - which recently relaunched via indie stalwart Image Comics. The story serves as a great springboard into the comic, which anyone worth their salt should be reading.


Alex Segura is an acclaimed author, a comic book writer written various comic books, including The Archies, Archie Meets Ramones, and Archie Meets KISS. He is also the co-creator and co-writer of the Lethal Lit podcast from iHeart Radio, which was named one of the Five Best Podcasts of 2018 by The New York Times. By day, Alex is Co-President of Archie Comics. You can find him at

The Sund&y Ampers&nd
from The Editors
The Last Laugh
from The Editors

   16 Surprising Ways to Injure Yourself When You’re Over 40
By Liz Alterman for McSweeney’s
 (~5 minutes)

We overlooked this when it was first published in September, but it resurfaced on a Best of 2019 list and, well, it’s never too late, right?

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Founder, Editor: Don Van Natta Jr.
Producer, Editor: Jacob Feldman
Producer, Junior Editor: Étienne Lajoie
Senior Recycling Editor: Jack Shafer
Senior Photo Editor: Patrick Farrell
Senior Music Editor: Kelly Dearmore
Senior Podcast Editor: Jody Avirgan
Senior Editor of Esoterica: Ryan M. Rodenberg
Senior Originals Editor: Peter Bailey-Wells
Sunday Comics Editor: Alex Segura


Digital Team: Nation Hahn, Nickolaus Hines, Megan McDonell, Alexa Steinberg
Podcast Team: Peter Bailey-Wells, Cary Barbor, Julian McKenzie, Jonathan Yales
Webmaster: Ana Srikanth
Campus Editor: Peter Warren


Contributing Editors: Bruce Arthur, Shaun Assael, Nick Aster, Alex Belth, Sara J. Benincasa, Jonathan Bernstein, Sara Blask, Greg Bishop, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Maria Bustillos, Chris Cillizza, Doug Bock ClarkAnna Katherine Clemmons, Stephanie Clifford, Rich Cohen, Jessica Contrera, Jonathan Coleman, Pam Colloff, Bryan Curtis, Maureen Dowd, Charles Duhigg, Brett Michael Dykes, Geoff Edgers, Jodi Mailander Farrell, Hadley Freeman, Lea Goldman, Michael N. Graff, Megan Greenwell, Justine Gubar, Maggie Haberman, Reyhan Harmanci, Virginia Heffernan, Matthew Hiltzik, Jena Janovy, Bomani Jones, Chris Jones, Peter Kafka, Paul Kix, Mina Kimes, Peter King, Michael Kruse, Tom Lamont, Edmund Lee, Chris Lehmann, Will Leitch, Jon Mackenzie, Glynnis MacNicol, Drew Magary, Erik Malinowski, Jonathan Martin, Betsy Fischer Martin, Jeff Maysh, Jack McCallum, Susan McPherson, Ana Menendez, Kevin Merida, Heidi N. Moore, Kim Morgan, Eric Neel, Joe Nocera, Ashley R. Parker, Anne Helen Petersen, Jo Piazza, Joe Posnanski, S.L. Price, Jennifer Romolini, Julia Rubin, Albert Samaha, Bob Sassone, Bruce Schoenfeld, Michael Schur, Joe Sexton, Ramona Shelburne, Jacqui Shine, Alexandra Sifferlin, Rachel Sklar, Dan Shanoff, Ben Smith, Adam Sternbergh, Matt Sullivan, Wright Thompson, Pablo Torre, Kevin Van Valkenburg, Nikki Waller, John A. Walsh, Seth Wickersham, Karen Wickre and Dave Zirin.

Contributor in memoriam: Lyra McKee 1990-2019

Header Image: Carolyn Drake

You can read more about our staff, and contact us (we'd love to hear from you!) on our website: Help pick next week's selections by tweeting us your favorite stories with #SundayLR.

Our mailing address is:

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