Longform’s Top 10 Stories of 2011

Longform.org's guide to the greatest long articles ever written.
Dec. 30 2011 7:01 AM

Longform’s Top 10 Stories of 2011

The best overall long-form articles published this year.

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Susan Dominus • New York Times Magazine

The shared life of Tatiana and Krista Hogan:

"Twins joined at the head — the medical term is craniopagus — are one in 2.5 million, of which only a fraction survive. The way the girls' brains formed beneath the surface of their fused skulls, however, makes them beyond rare: their neural anatomy is unique, at least in the annals of recorded scientific literature. Their brain images reveal what looks like an attenuated line stretching between the two organs, a piece of anatomy their neurosurgeon, Douglas Cochrane of British Columbia Children's Hospital, has called a thalamic bridge, because he believes it links the thalamus of one girl to the thalamus of her sister. The thalamus is a kind of switchboard, a two-lobed organ that filters most sensory input and has long been thought to be essential in the neural loops that create consciousness. Because the thalamus functions as a relay station, the girls' doctors believe it is entirely possible that the sensory input that one girl receives could somehow cross that bridge into the brain of the other. One girl drinks, another girl feels it."

Guy Lawson • Rolling Stone

How two American kids became big time weapons dealers:

“His business plan was simple but brilliant. Most companies grow by attracting more customers. Diveroli realized he could succeed by selling to one customer: the U.S. military. No government agency buys and sells more stuff than the Defense Department — everything from F-16s to paper clips and front-end loaders. By law, every Pentagon purchase order is required to be open to public bidding. And under the Bush administration, small businesses like AEY were guaranteed a share of the arms deals. Diveroli didn't have to actually make any of the products to bid on the contracts. He could just broker the deals, finding the cheapest prices and underbidding the competition. All he had to do was win even a minuscule fraction of the billions the Pentagon spends on arms every year and he would be a millionaire. But Diveroli wanted more than that: His ambition was to be the biggest arms dealer in the world — a young Adnan Khashoggi, a teenage Victor Bout."

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Ashlee Vance • Businessweek

The big problem with today's big ideas:

"After a couple years at Facebook, Hammerbacher grew restless. He figured that much of the groundbreaking computer science had been done. Something else gnawed at him. Hammerbacher looked around Silicon Valley at companies like his own, Google (GOOG), and Twitter, and saw his peers wasting their talents. 'The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,' he says. 'That sucks.' "

Alex French and Howie Kahn • Grantland

An oral history of the National Sports Daily:

"Frank Deford: You'd be amazed by the number of people who stop me, bring me papers to autograph. I give a speech and ask for questions afterwards, this is 20 years on, and somebody always asks about The National. People do remember it fondly. The thing they always say is, 'I read every issue.' And I think, 'Bullshit.' I know you didn't read every issue because you couldn't get every issue."

Liliana Segura • Color Lines

Faith-based slavery in a Louisiana prison:

"I’ve come to Angola for the area’s biggest tourist attraction: the sole surviving prison rodeo in the country. Five Sundays a year, thousands of visitors drive down this road toward an inmate-constructed, 10,000-seat arena to watch Louisiana’s most feared criminals compete in harrowing events like ;convict poker' (four prisoners sit around a card table and are ambushed by a bull; last one seated wins); 'guts and glory' (a poker chip is tied to the forehead of a bull and inmates try to grab it off); and the perennial crowd pleaser, ‘bull riding.’ Prisoners can win prize money, but have no chance to practice before entering the ring. Critics and fans alike compare them to the gladiators of ancient Rome.

"The rodeo long precedes Cain, but today it has become an extension of his philosophy of submission through 'Experiencing God,' as the Southern Baptist instructional course he’s instituted at Angola is called. Proceeds pay for inmate funerals, maintenance on Angola’s inmate-constructed chapels, and programs aimed at 'moral rehabilitation.' Cain once told Christianity Today that the program helps inmates 'accept they’re in prison and that it’s God’s will that maybe they don’t get out—and that while you’re here you do your best for him.' The rodeo may break bodies, but Cain is in the business of saving souls."