The Top 10 Longform Stories of 2013

Longform.org's guide to the greatest long articles ever written.
Dec. 27 2013 8:15 AM

Longform’s Top 10 of 2013

Newtown, Dasani, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and the guy who sent ricin to the White House.

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6) Invisible Child
Andrea Elliott • New York Times

The story of one of New York City’s 22,000 homeless children.

Dasani’s own neighborhood, Fort Greene, is now one of gentrification’s gems. Her family lives in the Auburn Family Residence, a decrepit city-run shelter for the homeless. It is a place where mold creeps up walls and roaches swarm, where feces and vomit plug communal toilets, where sexual predators have roamed and small children stand guard for their single mothers outside filthy showers.
It is no place for children. Yet Dasani is among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belongs to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.
Nearly a quarter of Dasani’s childhood has unfolded at Auburn, where she shares a 520-square-foot room with her parents and seven siblings. As they begin to stir on this frigid January day, Dasani sets about her chores.
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7) Jahar's World
Janet Reitman Rolling Stone

The multiple lives of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

An uneasy panic settled over Boston when it was revealed that the Tsarnaev brothers were not, as many assumed, connected to a terrorist group, but young men seemingly affiliated with no one but themselves. Russian émigrés, they had lived in America for a decade—and in Cambridge, a city so progressive it had its own "peace commission" to promote social justice and diversity. Tamerlan, known to his American friends as "Tim," was a talented boxer who'd once aspired to represent the United States in the Olympics. His little brother, Jahar, had earned a scholarship to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and was thinking about becoming an engineer, or a nurse, or maybe a dentist—his focus changed all the time. They were Muslim, yes, but they were also American—especially Jahar, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen on September 11th, 2012.

8) 19: The True Story of the Yarnell Fire
Kyle Dickman • Outside

How 19 of the 20 Granite Mountain Hotshots lost their lives.

His first sighting of the Yarnell Hill Fire would have come after rounding a bend just south of Rancho El Oso Road, eight miles from the blaze and on the outskirts of the horse ranches in Peeples Valley, a dispersed community of 428 people five miles north of Yarnell. For the team’s four rookies, like Robert’s cousin Grant McKee, whom Robert had talked into joining the crew that winter, the fire would have seemed entirely unimpressive: a few strands of white smoke drifting near the top of the ridge. Desert fires are deceptive, though, and Robert knew it. He’d worked blazes in the redwoods of California, the spruce stands of Minnesota, and the lodgepole thickets of Montana, but chaparral, where the Yarnell Hill Fire was burning, is a mix of scrub oak and brush that grows so dense it’s a struggle to walk through. When it’s dry, it’s a tinderbox. “It’s the brush that scares me most,” he used to tell his dad. “Fires just move faster in it.”

9) The American Cloud
Venkatesh Rao • Aeon

How America’s heartland powers its coastal fantasies.

Gilman anticipated, by some 30 years, the fundamental contours of industrial-age selling. Both the high-end faux-naturalism of Whole Foods and the budget industrial starkness of Costco have their origins in the original A&P retail experience. The modern system of retail pioneered by Gilman—distant large-scale production facilities coupled with local human-scale consumption environments—was the first piece of what I’ve come to think of as the ‘American cloud’: the vast industrial back end of our lives that we access via a theatre of manufactured experiences. If distant tea and coffee plantations were the first modern clouds, A&P stores and mail-order catalogues were the first browsers and apps.

10) Blood Spore
Hamilton Morris • Harper's

The murder of magic mushroom pioneer Steven Pollock.

In July 2011, on the hottest day of the year, I received a fragile-looking Maxell compact cassette from a retired psychology professor and gerbil-aggression researcher named Gary Davis. I had been told the cassette contained a recording of two police officers discussing their involvement in the robbery and murder of one Steven Pollock, a physician and pioneering mycologist who—despite invaluable contributions to the field, including an improved technique for growing psychedelic mushrooms on Purina Dog Chow—remains largely unknown. Carefully labeled police crook 6/17/81, the cassette had for thirty years been stored in a toolbox under two dozen inoperative WWII-era Geiger counters in Davis’s mother’s house. I had offered to pay for the tape but Davis refused, insisting he just wanted it to be heard by as many people as possible, then backtracking and suggesting he wouldn’t mind terribly if I sent him twenty dollars for beer. I was worried about the tape’s integrity and had been reading anxiously about the myriad problems that befall aging magnetic media—binder embrittlement, remanence reduction, even fungal contamination—and the transaction was further charged by a stern warning from another source: “This information should be treated with due caution. Some of these cops, if still living, could be very dangerous.” ”

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

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