Enjoy the best longform journalism. Every Sunday.

The Promise of Vaping and the Rise of Juul by Jia Tolentino for the New Yorker.


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



      Brighten Our Sunday!

   SUNDAY — May 20, 2018   

Driven to Despair
By Jessica Bruder 
 (~25 minutes)


After reading this piece Tuesday night, I didn’t count on it becoming my favorite this week. I knew it belonged on our list because it seamlessly describes the tragic story of Doug Schifter, a New York City black-car driver who watched, helplessly, as Uber steamrolled the taxi industry while making his income practically disappear. But I initially saw the story as somewhat typical of a lot of stories these days that describe the personally devastating effects of the gig economy. 

As the week wore on, I kept thinking about Jessica Bruder’s up-close portrait of Schifter’s fruitless social-media attempts to rally his fellow drivers to fight City Hall and Uber. A piece that embeds itself in your brain works on multiple levels. By week’s end, I felt certain this article ranks among the year’s best at portraying the heartbreaking consequences of America’s lopsided economy. The story’s power lies in the spare but affecting way Bruder writes about Schifter’s good-guy qualities, his stubborn work ethic in the face of despair and debilitating injuries and how, in his final act, he protested the market and political forces that upended his life and career outside a City Hall gate, all alone, in a rental car.

Looking for Calley [$]
By Seymour M. Hersh
 (~35 minutes)


Seymour Hersh explains how he turned a cryptic tip from a young D.C. lawyer into a history-changing report on the My Lai massacre. In so doing, he points out all the ways the press (including himself) has its own sins to account for. Looking for Calley is an excerpt from Hersh's forthcoming memoir, Reporter.

(Also, good news: You can look for Sy Hersh on a future episode of our podcast!)

Globe Ball
By Sam Toperoff
 (~15 minutes)


For our second Sunday Long Read Original story, we enlisted France-based author Sam Toperoff, who has discovered how a basketball can make an impression on kids that transcends time and space. Enjoy!
The Promise of Vaping and the Rise of Juul
By Jia Tolentino
 (~35 minutes)


Whether or not you’re familiar with the vaporizer and nicotine pods sweeping schools, this is a worthy dive into the modern world of one of our most ancient drugs. Is cleaner smoking a cure for America’s biggest preventable killer—”I came to feel that I could have greater impact on public health here than at any place I had ever worked before,” one employee says—or is it just getting a whole new generation addicted?  
Chasing the Pearl of Lao Tzu

By Michael LaPointe

 (~40 minutes)

How did the world’s largest pearl become the centerpiece of an 80-year-old hoax? If that’s not enough to grab you, the piece boasts ancient philosophers, alien abductions and a murder-for-hire.
‘I Killed Them All.’

By Jessica Garrison

 (~55 minutes)

Where the confessions of Jose Manuel Martinez, one of America’s most prolific contract killers, have led.
Cellulite Isn't Real. This Is How It Was Invented.
By Kelsey Miller
 (~10 minutes)

Blame France.
The Sound of Madness [$]

By T. M. Luhrmann

 (~30 minutes)


Are the voices we hear in our heads the sound of creativity or madness?

Are We Ready for Robot Sex?
By Allison P. Davis
 (~25 minutes)


Regarding Henry, the first available male sex robot: “Henry is six feet tall, with six-pack abs and the customer’s choice of penis.” 
This Man Is the Godfather the AI Community Wants to Forget
By Ashlee Vance
 (~20 minutes)


A profile of the AI genius that everyone loves to hate.

'Seinfeld' Finale at 20: Hidden Tales From the Vault of a Comedian's Bizarro World

By Marc Freeman

 (~15 minutes)

A laugh-a-graf look back at the ’90s iconic “show about nothing,” including insiders’ nuggets about Seinfeld’s best episodes, including “The Contest” and “The Outing.” This nostalgic piece is packed with surprises because it draws on more than 70 hours of previously unreleased audio recordings of Q&As with Seinfeld’s cast, co-creators, producers and writers.
Stay Messi, My Friend

By Sam Borden

 (~20 minutes)


“Today, everyone wants to see things in the way that suits them,” Lionel Messi says. “I prefer not to play this game.” Sam Borden, my ESPN colleague, explains why Messi has decided to be the most private sports superstar in the world.
Prospect and Pariah

By S.L. Price

 (~45 minutes)


What are we to do with a phenom baseball prospect who admitted as a minor to molesting his six-year-old niece but now insists he didn’t do it? S.L. Price travelled to Oregon to find out, but returned without easy answers. (Price appeared on Episode 11 of The Sunday Long Read Podcast.)

How Hollywood Failed Brad Renfro

By Adam B. Vary

 (~25 minutes)


Hollywood is very good at casting—and making—child stars. One of the things it’s not good at is helping those childhood stars when they fall.
I Don’t Know How to Waste Time on the Internet Anymore

By Dan Nosowitz

 (~5 minutes)


What happens when you lose your blowing-time-doing-nothing touch?
The Weird, Dangerous, Isolated Life of the Saturation Diver
By Jen Banbury

 (~25 minutes)


A rare, inside look at one of the world’s most dangerous jobs.
The FBI Informant Who Monitored the Trump Campaign, Stefan Halper, Oversaw a CIA Spying Operation in the 1980 Presidential Election
By Glenn Greenwald

 (~25 minutes)


Greenwald deciphers what he describes as an "extremely strange episode" that "came to a truly bizarre conclusion on Friday night."



     British GQ
Tom Wolfe (2012)
By Ed Caesar

 (~20 minutes)

Tom Wolfe was, as his friend and Esquire editor Byron Dobell puts it here, a "Puritan in Cavalier's clothing." This profile by Ed Caesar examines Wolfe's skill as creating and extending a brand identity for himself--the prose style, the clothes and manners, the intellectual pie-fights he instigated, all helped to seal him and his work in the commercial space. The piece's best anecdote: Wolfe and Gay Talese were both working for the New York Herald Tribune when John F. Kennedy was assassinated and both reporters were sent out on the streets of New York to gather the impressions and emotions of the man in the street. And you know what? Both struck out because New Yorkers pretty much took the killing in stride.


Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.

Slate: Upon Further Review (iTunes | Overcast)

This was a heckuva week for podcasting, including the return of Malcolm Gladwell. I made sure to make time for Mike Pesca’s latest project, which is a podcast version of his new book (smart marketing strategy!) on speculative sports moments. The first episode is a breezy story about Richard Nixon and football from the makers of Slow Burn. I’m particularly excited that this series will take on different sorts of formats - narrative, interview, oral history - which I think more podcasts should do, frankly.

Also, two heads ups. First: The new season of 30 for 30 podcasts launches on Tuesday. We’ve been working on it for almost a year and a half. Two: it’s going to be my pick next week. So it goes.

Jody Avirgan is the host of FiveThirtyEight's politics podcast and is heading up the new "30 for 30" podcast documentary series from ESPN.


Amy Chozick moved to New York after college with nothing but a set of clips from her college newspaper and now, 17 years later, is The New York Times bestselling author of the campaign memoir "Chasing Hillary." In this week's episode, Don (the co-author of a 2007 Clinton book with Jeff Gerth) chats with Amy, a Times reporter, about Hillary Clinton, and the pair trade war stories about the blowback the Clinton camp has dished out to journalists who write unauthorized books about Clinton. They also evaluate the media's approach to the 2016 election and talk about Hillary's press team, a notorious group Amy refers to as "The Guys." 

This week's episode contains explicit language.

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'I Killed Them All.'

“Look, Jose,” the cop said to the genial grandfather sitting across the desk. “The fact is, you’re being charged with murder.”

Tim McWhorter, the chief investigator for the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office in rural Alabama, was reaching. He had very little to tie Jose Manuel Martinez — a soft-spoken man with an easy smile who’d spent much of the last few months playing soccer and make-believe with his grandchildren — to the bloody body of a young man found in a nearby hayfield.

But Martinez seemed to make a decision. “You guys have been real respectful to me, and I appreciate that,” he said. “Do you want me to tell you the truth?”

McWhorter nodded.

“Yeah, I killed that son of a bitch.” Martinez’s eyes, which McWhorter had found so friendly moments before, were now black and cold. “He said some bad stuff about my daughter. I stand up for my family. I don’t let anyone talk about my family.”

McWhorter was still trying to make sense of that when Martinez delivered a much bigger revelation: “I’ve killed over 35 men in my life.”


The Promise of Vaping and the Rise of Juul

“People definitely stress-Juul. But everything we do is like Tide Pods. Everyone in this generation is semi-ironically, like, We’re ready to die”

-Katie McCracken, a college freshman


Inside the Final Days of Robin Williams
By Dave Itzkoff


How Ryan Murphy Became the Most Powerful Man in TV
By Emily Nussbaum

The Original Blog Boy

By Bryan Curtis



By Alex Belth

Tom Wolfe, the Man in the White Suit, one of the most entertaining stylists who ever practiced journalism, died this week at the age of 88. Wolfe’s feature writing for the New York Herald Tribune, Esquire, New York, and later, Rolling Stone, was the Gold Standard for wit and satire during the Sixties and Seventies. If you’ve never read Wolfe’s reporting, head on over to The Stacks Reader, where we’ve assembled the best of his work available online, including a handful of his most famous magazine stories:  “There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy Kolored (Thphhhhhh!) Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby…” (1963)—the one that started it all for Esquire“The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!” (1965) and “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s” (1970) and, finally, “The ‘Me Decades’ and the Third Great Awakening” (1976).

Wolfe was a controversial figure—think of him as the conservative version of his buddy Hunter Thompson, debunking pretension and hypocricy with vigor and glee—as you’ll discover in anything written about him, like Christopher Hitchen’s acerbic 1983 profile for Mother Jones or James Woolcott’s review of The Purple Decades, an anthology of Wolfe’s magazine work. Going back, Richard Kluger covered Wolfe’s early days at the Herald Tribune in his great book, The Paper. It wasn’t easy profiling a master, just ask David Kamp, who did a fine job of it for Vanity Fair, as did his colleague Michael Lewis. Ed Caesar also delivered a winning portrait of Wolfe (this one for British GQ) but perhaps my favorite is Lisa Grunwald’s 1990 profile for Esquire. She dubbed Wolfe, “The Ice Cream Man.  He wears a white suit and an amiable grin, and he stands by a truck filled with cold, cold comfort … American writers are supposed to ache, burn, hunger, punish, brood, and rail. Tom Wolfe watches, chuckles, cavorts, rebels, and pisses people off.”

Check out this 1966 Q&A with Vogue, the 1981 Rolling Stone interview with Wolfe, as well as his conversation with The Paris Review a decade later. Love Wolfe or hate him, there will never be another like him, so you’ll also want to dig into thoughtful appreciations from James Rosen, Corey Seymour, Ben Yagoda, Dwight Garner, and Tom Junod, who reminds us that what inspires awe about Wolfe is “simply that he fucking got away with it.”

Alex Belth is the editor of Esquire Classic as well as the proprietor of The Stacks and The Stacks Reader, a site dedicated to preserving great journalism and writing about the arts and culture.

What Life Is Like on Gaza’s Side of the Fence
By Neil Collier, Yousur Al-Hlou and David M. Halbfinger
 (~5 minutes)


This eye-opening short doc provides much needed context to the Gaza protests from The New York Times. A dispatch from the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief David M. Halbfinger, we peel back the curtains on life in an occupied territory: from a high school prom to a Hamas rally to protest camps set up along the border fence for a revealing look at this flashpoint for conflict. Visually rich— we are treated to just enough style to make this video compelling but not too much flair that there is a disconnect from the subject matter.
The Long View is curated by Justine Gubar, Vice President, News Narratives at Fusion and the author of Fanaticus: Mischief and Madness in the Modern Sports Fan. Reach out to Justine at if you have a suggestion for next week's long view.


By Benjamin Clymer

 (~30 minutes)

Apple’s legendary Chief Design Officer discusses watches, for the first time. 

The Oral History of DMX’s ‘It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot’

By Alex Wong

 (~15 minutes)


It’s been 20 years since DMX’s debut record. This is how that ground-breaking album came to be.
The Oral History of a Hungover David Wells’ Unlikely Perfect Game

By Rob Neyer

 (~20 minutes)


Nineteen years ago last Thursday, David Wells pitched a perfect game while nursing a mammoth hangover. Wells, his Yankee teammates and the batters who couldn’t touch him recall how it all went down.
The Last Days of Time Inc.

By Sridhar Pappu & Jay Stowe

 (~25 minutes)


How the pre-eminent media organization of the 20th century ended up on the scrap heap.


Playing Through
To document residents of Hawaii's Big Island living with the recent and ongoing eruption of the Kilauea volcano, Getty Images photographer Mario Tama went to the Volcano Golf and Country Club to get an unobstructed view of volcanic activity. He found himself obstructing the game of two golfers as they tried to get a round in. Tama moved aside and the golfers and the photographer were all able to continue shooting. Tweeted by ESPN, the image snagged more than 26,000 likes and 6,000 retweets, while championed the golfers’ devotion to tee-time.

Patrick Farrell, the curator of The Sunday Still, is the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winner for Breaking News Photography for The Miami Herald, where he has worked since 1987. He is currently a Distinguished Executive-in-Residence in Emerson College’s Department of Journalism.

Cover story: We Made Plastic. We Depend On It. Now We’re Drowning In It.
By Laura Parker

 (~20 minutes)
Cover story: We Deeply Regret Our 2018 Comedy Issue Cover
By the Editors of GQ
Photo by Martin Schoeller

 (~5 minutes)


Ryan Rodenberg is off this week. He will return to this space soon.



From the Columbia Journalism Review:

"Nothing online is quite as it appears, now less than ever." 

From Tim:

The grain of salt reporters take
To gather news that is not fake
Increases hypertension so
That to the doctor they must go.
With online stories hard to check
they soon become a 
briney wreck! 

Tim Torkildson is a retired circus clown who fiddles with rhyme. All his verses can be found at Tim's Clown Alley.


A Guide to Midwestern Conversation

By Taylor Kay Phillips

 (~5 minutes)


The true meaning of “Oh my gosh, I didn’t see you there!”


The Sunday Ampersand is chosen by Erik Malinowski. Erik is a freelance features writer based in the Bay Area and the author of Betaball.


Myriad Harbour
By The New Pornographers

Read Later

Founder, Curator: Don Van Natta Jr.
Producer, Curator: Jacob Feldman
Producer, Curator: Étienne Lajoie
Senior Recycling Editor: Jack Shafer
Senior Limerick Editor: Tim Torkildson
Senior Podcast Editor: Jody Avirgan
Senior Editor of Esoterica: Ryan M. Rodenberg

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

Header Image: Elizabeth Renstrom 

Contributing Editors: Bruce Arthur, Shaun Assael, Alex Belth, Sara J. Benincasa, Sara Blask, Greg Bishop, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Chris Cillizza, Rich Cohen, Pam Colloff, Maureen Dowd, Charles Duhigg, Brett Michael Dykes, Geoff Edgers, Lea Goldman, Michael N. Graff, 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, Chris Lehmann, Will Leitch, Glynnis MacNicol, Drew Magary, Erik Malinowski, Jonathan Martin, Betsy Fischer Martin, Ana Menendez, Kevin Merida, Heidi N. Moore, Eric Neel, Joe Nocera, Ashley R. Parker, Anne Helen Petersen, Jo Piazza, Joe Posnanski, S.L. Price, Jennifer Romolini, Julia Rubin, Albert Samaha, Bruce Schoenfeld, Michael Schur, Joe Sexton, Jacqui Shine, Rachel Sklar, Dan Shanoff, Ben Smith, Matt Sullivan, Wright Thompson, Pablo Torre, Kevin Van Valkenburg, John A. Walsh, and Seth Wickersham

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.

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