The Longform Guide to 2013’s Best History Stories

Longform.org's guide to the greatest long articles ever written.
Dec. 24 2013 8:45 AM

Longform’s Best History Stories of 2013

Exiled Russians, Nazi anatomists, and trashy New Yorkers.

An illustration from Eduard Pernkopf's Atlas of Topographical and Applied Human Anatomy. Historians believe there is a great likelihood that the drawings depict victims of the Nazis. The book is still in use.
An illustration from Eduard Pernkopf's Atlas of Topographical and Applied Human Anatomy. Historians believe there is a great likelihood that the drawings depict victims of the Nazis. The book is still in use.

Eduard Pernkopf/Urban & Schwarzenberg. Scans via Codex99.

This week on Slate, we’ll be sharing our favorite articles of the year. For our full list—including the top 10 of the year, plus picks in sports, politics, tech, and more—check out Longform’s Best of 2013.

A long vacation to the Siberian wilderness.

Thus it was in the remote south of the forest in the summer of 1978. A helicopter sent to find a safe spot to land a party of geologists was skimming the treeline a hundred or so miles from the Mongolian border when it dropped into the thickly wooded valley of an unnamed tributary of the Abakan, a seething ribbon of water rushing through dangerous terrain. The valley walls were narrow, with sides that were close to vertical in places, and the skinny pine and birch trees swaying in the rotors' downdraft were so thickly clustered that there was no chance of finding a spot to set the aircraft down. But, peering intently through his windscreen in search of a landing place, the pilot saw something that should not have been there. It was a clearing, 6,000 feet up a mountainside, wedged between the pine and larch and scored with what looked like long, dark furrows. The baffled helicopter crew made several passes before reluctantly concluding that this was evidence of human habitation—a garden that, from the size and shape of the clearing, must have been there for a long time.
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How the corpses of Hitler’s victims haunt modern science.

In 1941, Charlotte Pommer graduated from medical school at the University of Berlin and went to work for Hermann Stieve, head of the school’s Institute of Anatomy. The daughter of a bookseller, Pommer had grown up in Germany’s capital city as Hitler rose to power. But she didn’t appreciate what the Nazis meant for her chosen field until Dec. 22, 1942. What she saw in Stieve’s laboratory that day changed the course of her life—and led her to a singular act of protest.

When New Yorkers lived knee-deep in trash.

It’s tempting to think of sacred tombs and ancient monuments as our best window into other cultures. But archaeologists have long known that if you really want to understand a civilization, to know its people’s passions, weaknesses, and daily rituals, look no further than their garbage.

How the Hollywood publicity racket evolved.

On September 10, 2012, the gossip sites were whispering: Two stars had been married, in secret, over the weekend, and readers were clamoring for details. Where had the marriage taken place? In front of how many people? Who designed the bride’s dress? What did the ring look like? What did the groom’s ex-fiancée (famous) and ex-wife (even more famous) think of the union? Most importantly, how did the pair manage to evade the public eye?

What people have eaten when they’ll never eat again.

The idea of a meal before an execution is compassionate or perverse, depending on your perspective, but it contains an inherently curious paradox: marking the end of a life with the stuff that sustains it seems at once laden with meaning and beside the point. As Barry Lee Fairchild, who was executed by the state of Arkansas in 1995, said in regard to his last meal, “It’s just like putting gas in a car that don’t have no motor.”

For more of the year’s great writing, check out Longform’s Best of 2013.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The NFL Has No Business Punishing Players for Off-Field Conduct. Leave That to the Teams.

Meet the Allies the U.S. Won’t Admit It Needs in Its Fight Against ISIS

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Medical Examiner

How to Stop Ebola

Survivors might be immune. Let’s recruit them to care for the infected.

History

America in Africa

The tragic, misunderstood history of Liberia—and why the United States has a special obligation to help it fight the Ebola epidemic.

New GOP Claim: Hillary Clinton’s Wealth and Celebrity Are Tricks to Disguise Her Socialism

Why the Byzantine Hiring Process at Universities Drives Academics Batty

Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 3:29 PM The Fascinating Origins of Savannah, Georgia’s Distinctive Typeface
  News & Politics
History
Sept. 23 2014 11:45 PM America in Africa The tragic, misunderstood history of Liberia—and why the United States has a special obligation to help it fight the Ebola epidemic.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Education
Sept. 23 2014 11:45 PM Why Your Cousin With a Ph.D. Is a Basket Case  Understanding the Byzantine hiring process that drives academics up the wall.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 23 2014 11:37 PM How to Stop Ebola Could survivors safely care for the infected?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?