Enjoy the best longform journalism. Every Sunday.

Theresa May’s Impossible Choice by Sam Knight for The New Yorker.


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



      Brighten Our Sunday!

   SUNDAY — July 29, 2018   

EDITORS’ NOTE: Happy Sunday! Before we get going with this week's list, please say hello to Kelly Dearmore, The Dallas Morning News’ music critic, who will curate a new regular feature for us called The Sunday Long Player. (The Sunday Soundtrack, a song selected by one of us or a guest editor, will now serve as the sidebar to Kelly’s musical musings.)

Born and raised in Texas, Kelly has loved music since he first heard Waylon Jennings sing the Dukes of Hazzard theme song on television as a sheltered young lad growing up in Lone Star, Texas (yes, that’s the tiny East Texas town’s real name). He thinks the Rolling Stones are more country than most of what is called country music these days and he unapologetically, and without irony, views Avril Lavigne’s “Under My Skin” as a proper modern masterpiece. Welcome, Kelly!

Secondly, if you are involved in art, design, and/or media, and are interested in curating our popular Sunday Cover, please send us an email

And now, on with the newsletter. 

Don and Jacob

The Untold Story of Otto Warmbier, American Hostage
By Doug Bock Clark
 (~45 minutes)


Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was sent home brain-damaged from North Korea, was hailed by President Trump as the catalyst of the summit with Kim Jong-Un. Warmbier’s return home swiftly came and went on America’s rage-rinse-repeat news cycle, but Doug Bock Clark invested six months of reporting to find out what had really happened to him.

“What made an American college student go to Pyongyang?” Clark writes. “What kind of nightmare did he endure while in captivity? How did his brain damage occur? And how did his eventual death help push America closer toward war with North Korea and then, in a surprising reversal, help lead to Trump’s peace summit with Kim Jong-Un? The story I uncovered was stranger and sadder than anyone had known. In fact, I discovered that the manner of Otto’s injury was not as black-and-white as people were encouraged to believe. But before he became a rallying cry in the administration’s campaign against North Korea, he was just a kid.”

This is one sad, gut-punch of a read. 

Sidebar: I Know What Incarceration Does to Families. It Happened to Mine.

Judgment Days
By Stephanie McCrummen 
 (~25 minutes)


This is one for the journalism textbooks. Months after winning the Polk award for her reporting on Roy Moore, Stephanie McCrummen returned to Alabama to tell the story of a small-town pastor, his evangelical congregation, and the way they talk about Donald J. Trump. The quotes will likely shock you, but the most amazing thing about this story is how McCrummen infuses suspense into a report from a seemingly quiet little place.​

Sidebar: Summer meant popsicles and pogo sticks. Then a 10-year-old was shot to death.
Schlitterbahn’s Tragic Slide
By Skip Hollandsworth 
 (~10 minutes)


Kansas City’s Schlitterbahn Waterpark is home of the infamous Verruct, the world’s tallest water slide. A 10-year-old boy named Caleb Schwab was decapitated on that ride two years ago, leading to the ride’s owner and designer being charged with second-degree murder. Skip Hollandsworth’s meticulously reported piece will likely stun you.
Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man: Mel Brooks in his 90s
By David Denby

 (~20 minutes)

Mel Brooks just turned 92. As David Denby explains, the ageless comic genius remains “prodigal in expression, memory and imagination.” To wit:

“At one of his recent appearances, Brooks asked for questions from the audience. An urgent inquiry went as follows: ‘What do you wear: Briefs or boxer shorts?’

“ ‘Depends.’ ”
The Man Who Captures Criminals for the D.E.A. by Playing Them
By Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

 (~35 minutes)

A D.E.A. confidential source traps narcotics and weapons traffickers by effectively playing roles, from the cartel boss to a drug ring money manager. By effortlessly slipping into every new role, Spyros Enotiades has become the most prolific and successful confidential informant over the last 30 years, his supervisors say—the Meryl Streep of the undercover government informant racket. “He’s got huge balls,” a recently retired D.E.A. supervisor marvels about Enotiades. “He can command a room.”

“I don’t feel like a snitch,” Enotiades says.
While We Sleep, Our Mind Goes on an Amazing Journey
By Michael Finkel
 (~20 minutes)

A science-rich study of the “startling metamorphosis” each of us undergoes while we sleep.
How to Spend It: The Shopping Guide for the 1%
By Andy Beckett 
 (~25 minutes)

For a jaw-dropping glimpse of the ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, you just need to peek inside the Financial Times’ gilded, over-the-top luxury magazine. How to Spend It is published 34 times a year, runs 80 to 100 pages, with about half devoted to slick ads for the most sought after luxury brands in the world, as well as artwork and property. “To read How to Spend It, depending on your income level and attitude to extravagance, is to enter a world that is seductive or ridiculous, escapist or intimidating, a voyeuristic thrill or utterly enraging—and possibly all at the same time.”

Sidebar: This Company Wants to Send You to the Stratosphere in a Balloon
Theresa May’s Impossible Choice
By Sam Knight 
 (~50 minutes)


In my prior life as a New York Times correspondent, I once interviewed Theresa May at the Home Office in London. During our 30 minutes together, she listened politely to my questions, murmured a few barely responsive responses and then briskly ushered me out of her office. 

Now Prime Minister, May is struggling to navigate Brexit, while battling President Trump, Europe and emboldened factions inside her own party. At a critically important moment for the UK, as its economy, in just two years, went from the fastest-growing major economy in the world to the slowest, May’s cautious reticence is seen, increasingly, as a liability. Practically no one in the UK wants to trade places with her. “She sits, you talk. She sits. She looks at you, and then you leave,” a former Cabinet colleague tells Sam Knight.

Sidebar: The Impermanence of Importance
The Crane Who Fell in Love With a Human
By Sadie Dingfelder 
 (~25 minutes)


The unlikeliest courtship of the year.
The Spy Who Drove Me
By Julia Ioffe
 (~15 minutes)


In Aspen, as America’s top national security experts met, an insatiably curious Uber driver had people wondering: Is she some kind of covert agent “or simply a figment of these hyper-paranoid times?”
For One Last Night, Make it a Blockbuster Night
By Justin Heckert
 (~45 minutes)

To mourn the closure of the last three Blockbuster video stores in Alaska, Justin Heckert explains how these outposts managed to survive and why their customers still rented videos and returned them through the store’s drop-off slots long after the parent company ceased operations.

Sidebar: “We’re in This Amazing Golden Era of Documentary”  
Meet the People Who Grind Out the Best Movie Trailers In the World
By Matthew Kitchen
 (~10 minutes)


We could have guessed that producing those must-see movie trailers is an art form all its own. But we didn’t know that the trailer-making is a cutthroat competition among supremely talented filmmakers who all scramble to get the studios to bite on that one perfect vision of their movies. An irresistible look inside of The Process.

Sidebar: How Movie Trailers Manipulate You
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Historic Win and the Future of the Democratic Party
By David Remnick
 (~30 minutes)


The left’s rising star gets the David Remnick treatment.

Sidebar: Leader of the Persistence (Rebecca Traister on Elizabeth Warren)
By David Marchese 
 (~35 minutes)


Joel: "Now, I do have an idea for a farewell tour."

Marchese: "What is it?" 

Joel: "The stage is a living-room set: couch, TV, coffee table, food. And there’s bulletproof glass between me and the audience. Then I come out and lay down on the couch. I grab the remote and start watching TV. The crowd after a couple minutes goes, 'Fuck this,' and starts throwing shit at the glass."

Marchese: "And that’s the whole concert?"

Joel: "Yeah. I’ll have created a bond between me and the audience where I know they will never pay another nickel to see me again."
Refinery29, Kylie Jenner, and the Denial Underlying Millenial Financial Resentment
By Jia Tolentino 
 (~10 minutes)


A smart, rewarding rule to follow is always read Jia Tolentino.

How Goop’s Haters Made Gwyneth Paltrow’s Company Worth $250 Million
By Taffy Brodesser-Akner
 (~40 minutes)


A smart, rewarding rule to follow is always read Taffy Brodesser-Akner. This entry, on the woman everyone calls G.P. and what wellness really means, is a stunner.

Listen to Taffy Brodesser-Akner on The Sunday Long Read Podcast

Sidebar: How Sellers Trick Amazon to Boost Sales [$]
Meek Mill’s Life Really Is Like a Movie
By Rembert Browne 

 (~15 minutes)


#FreeMeek was called out by everyone from Joel Embiid to Colin Kaepernick. Now Philly rap icon Meek Mill is free and tells Rembert Browne, “I really feel like I’m caught up in the middle of a movie. And everybody’s watching it.”
The Ambien Diaries
By Shuja Haider 
 (~20 minutes)


“The first thing I always notice, after the mild cottonmouth that serves as the universal announcement of a chemical taking effect on the body, is that I’m not alone,” Shuja Haider writes. “I don’t mean that I start to feel a more intimate bond with the people nearby—there’s usually no one around. I mean that I feel as though others are there who are not there. Sometimes they speak to me, but mostly they speak to each other.”
When a Stranger Decides to Destroy Your Life
By Kashmir Hill 
 (~10 minutes)


Monika Glennon defended a teenager online. That's when she met the true ruthlessness of social media. She lost her reputation and then regained it. And learned a lot along the way.
“Georgia Has a Coast?”
By Benjamin Galland
 (~10 minutes)


Let’s finish up with some nice photos of boats. And water. And Georgia.



   Washington Post
Black and White and All Over (1991)
By Henry Allen 
 (~10 minutes)

Destined for that permanent engagement in the hereafter sooner rather than later, the New York Daily News shall forever be remembered via this Henry Allen piece from 1991, which captures the tabloid's newsroom in all its paste pot, cigarette smoke, and telephone-ringing glory. 

Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.

Mothers of Invention: All Rise (iTunes | Spotify)

One of my favorite things about this newsletter is when Don starts a blurb by saying “my good friend so-and-so has written…” I don’t have as many brilliant friends as Don, but one of my brilliant friends, the comedian Maeve Higgins, has a new podcast. Maeve is Irish, and as you’ll hear in the brilliant cold open, she somehow found herself sitting next to her former president hosting an ambitious new show. It’s “a radically different look” at climate change by focusing on the women at the front lines. It’s important work but, also, it’s super fun, because of Maeve.

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


No new podcast this week, but in case you missed it last week, Brett Michael Dykes, aka “The Cajun Boy,” had a fun conversation with Don about the wondrous John Kennedy Toole novel “A Confederacy of Dunces,” and other writerly inspirations (including rescue dogs).

Subscribe to The Sunday Long Read Podcast today!

This Company Wants to Send You to the Stratosphere in a Balloon

The chicken sandwich has to get to space.


Gaming’s Toxic Men, Explained

“All of a sudden you have some women who are saying, ‘Hey, wait a second. We’ve been here. We’ve been here this whole time, and we’re fucking sick of this.’”

-Anita Sarkeesian


Inside the Radical, Uncomfortable Movement to Reform White Supremacists
By Wes Enzinna 


Dead Man Walking
By Tisha Thompson and Kevin Shaw

The Insane Saga of the Fake Saudi Prince Who Scammed Miami's Rich and Famous
By Francisco Alvarado

Something in the Air
By Armando Aparicio (director) and Eyal Press (reporter)
 (~10 minutes)


This story will likely leave you angry, very angry. The Intercept found two whistleblowers who share how their health suffered because of dangerous conditions inside the slaughterhouse where they worked.

The Long View is curated by Justine Gubar, former 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.


Fashioning a fresh view

Perspective is everything. So is composition, light, lack of light and framing. Photographer Jordan Mansfield, shooting for Getty Images, had it all in his image of U.S. pole vaulter Scott Houston at the Muller Anniversary Games in London Stadium on July 21. The shadow of the cloud-bound athlete framed by the stadium’s upper rim captures beauty and action in one shot. Mansfield’s bio on his website reveals training as a fashion photographer at the London College of Fashion, which may explain his aesthetic eye. Some photographers are great at documenting what takes place in front of everybody. Some see things that others do not. Mansfield belongs in that second category, and the world is a more fascinating place as a result.

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: Leader of the Persistence
By Rebecca Traister
Photo by Andres Kudacki 

 (~35 minutes)


On July 6, Clemson University political science professor Steven V. Miller released a timely new academic working paper titled "Economic Anxiety or Racial Resentment? An Evaluation of Attitudes Toward Immigration in the U.S. from 1992 to 2016."  From the abstract of the yet-to-be-published paper: "My analyses are unequivocal that racial resentment is reliably the largest and most precise predictor of attitudes toward immigration." 

A link to Professor Miller's paper and the underlying replication materials can be found here. 

Ryan 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.


From The Wall Street Journal:
"The two letters cited goals for Wells Fargo product sales that led employees to push customers into products that generated more fees or to move client assets between different products or investing platforms to generate more revenue—and bigger bonuses for employees." 

From Tim:
Of course not all bankers are sharks,
and some of them sing with the larks.
But I'd rather trust
my precious gold dust

with anyone else, like Karl Marx.

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



Amy Winehouse - Back to Black: B-Sides 
(iTunes | Spotify)


Last week marked the seventh anniversary of the death of iconic British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse. Her recorded output isn't exactly overflowing, but instead of going straight to the album responsible for her rocket ride to fame, 2006's mega-selling Back to Black, featuring the Motown-flavored signature hit "Rehab," there's another album worthy of the moment. The 2007 collection Back to Black: B-Sides, isn't a proper Winehouse record, per se, yet it offers a daring, intimate glimpse into the magnetic pull she possessed. 

Not that I suggest skipping to the end, but the acoustic demo version of "Love is a Losing Game" is sparse, raw, and so wholly powerful it would be the artistic high-water mark for almost any other neo-soul singer. The other tracks certainly offer a window into her frozen-in-time greatness, but the jazz-inflected, crawling pace of that specific tune generates a dual sensation of awe and sadness for a voice that will be forever 27. 

Kelly Dearmore is the Music Critic for the Dallas Morning News. Yes, he's heard your son's demo tape, and he thinks it's fantastic. 


Rock & Roll Is Cold
By Matthew E. White 


The Sunday Ampersand is chosen by Nick Aster. Nick most recently served as founder of, a leading publication focused on sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

The Most Important Meal of the Day

By Larry David 

 (~5 minutes)

Larry David, the crack investigative reporter, has figured out the real reason General John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, grimaced before breakfast in Brussels two weeks ago. It has something to do with dashed hopes when you were counting on pancakes with real maple syrup.
Truly Incredible Bill Murray Sightings

By Seth Reiss 

 (~5 minutes)

“Bill Murray’s the best.” Let Seth Weiss count the ways... 

Sidebar: If Comedy Is Making You Feel Bad, You’re Not Paying Attention

Read Later

Founder, Curator: Don Van Natta Jr.
Producer, Curator: Jacob Feldman
Producer, Curator: Étienne Lajoie
Senior Recycling Editor: Jack Shafer
Senior Long View Editor: Justine Gubar
Senior Photo Editor: Patrick Farrell
Senior Music Editor: Kelly Dearmore
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

Contributing Editors: Bruce Arthur, Shaun Assael, Nick Aster, Alex Belth, Sara J. Benincasa, Sara Blask, Greg Bishop, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Maria Bustillos, Chris Cillizza, Anna Katherine Clemmons, Rich Cohen, Pam Colloff, Maureen Dowd, Charles Duhigg, Brett Michael Dykes, Geoff Edgers, Lea Goldman, Michael N. Graff, 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, Seth Wickersham and Karen Wickre.

Header Image: Andrea Ventura

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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