We’ve gathered the best of Slate’s 2012 longreads below, on everything from the crisis in American walking to the rise and fall of Prog rock. Perfect for long flights and traffic-clogged car rides!
“Where’s _why? What happened when one of the world’s most unusual, and beloved, computer programmers disappeared,” by Annie Lowrey. As Lowrey challenges herself to learn computer programming, she stumbles onto the case of a “Ruby on Rails,” a coding whiz who mysteriously vanished in 2009.
“The Chickens and the Bulls: The rise and incredible fall of a vicious extortion ring that preyed on prominent gay men in the 1960s,” by William McGowan. When the FBI and the NYPD uncovered a network of blackmailers shaking down gay targets in 1965, they did something unexpected. Rather than shrugging, or arresting the victims, they worked their way into the ring and broke it open, using, for the first time, the resources of law enforcement to defend the rights of persecuted gay men.
“The Crisis in American Walking: How we got off the pedestrian path,” by Tom Vanderbilt. What strolls on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening? Not man, anymore, says Vanderbilt, digging into the strange and unsettling decline of on-foot ambulation in the United States. His four-part series explores reasons for the drop-off, pedestrian walking habits, urban “walkability” scores, and strategies for getting America back to bipedalism.
“The Wedding: Will and Erwynn met at church and fell in love. But they had a big problem—‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ The unlikely story of the first gay military union,” by Katherine Goldstein. Goldstein follows two men in the armed forces down the winding road to marriage, just nine months after the repeal of the ban on openly gay soldiers.
“Georgia’s Hunger Games: Fewer than 4,000 adults in the southern state receive welfare, even as poverty is soaring. How Georgia declared war on its poorest citizens—leaving them to fight for themselves,” by Neil deMause. Rising poverty rates, plunging welfare rolls, and a state government that sees financial aid as a gladiatorial contest: The dystopian reality in Georgia could have risen from the pages of a Suzanne Collins novel. Combining grim statistics and face-to-face conversations with poor Americans, deMause argues for a policy overhaul.
“The Conversion: How, when, and why Mitt Romney changed his mind on abortion,” by William Saletan. Saletan follows the candidate’s fluctuating attitude on abortion from pro-choice to pro-life—and explains the significance of the shift.
“Prog Spring: The brief rise and inevitable fall of the world’s most hated pop music,” by David Weigel. Weigel explores the overstuffed, visionary madness of progressive (“prog”) rock.
“How To Measure for a President,” by John Dickerson. What does it take to be an effective commander (and everything else)-in-chief? Dickerson proposes a checklist of traits—note the absence of leadership—we should look for whenever we evaluate candidates for the highest office in the land.
“The Case of the Mormon Historian: What happened when Michael Quinn challenged the history of the church he loved,” by David Haglund. Faith and intellectual inquiry don’t always go hand-in-hand, especially when that (Mormon) hand wants to chronicle the “problem areas” of the LDS past. In his study of historian Michael Quinn, Haglund paints a moving portrait of a man torn between loyalty to his church and hunger for the truth.
“Free To Be: Forty years ago this fall, a bunch of feminists released an album. They wanted to change … everything,” by Dan Kois. In 1972, one record revolutionized the way a generation of kids—and their parents—thought about gender. Interlacing the history of Free To Be You and Me with anecdotes from his own life as a father, Kois explains why the oddball hippie album still matters in 2012.