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‘Ace Book Desk Longreads 2021 News’

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#AceBookDesk says here is Longreads Best of 2021: Here’s every story that was chosen as No. 1 in our weekly Top 5 email according to

All “best of” featured images by Kjell Reigstad.


— January —

The American Abyss

Timothy Snyder | The New York Times Magazine | January 9, 2021 | 18 minutes

“A historian of fascism and political atrocity on Trump, the mob, and what comes next.”

* * *

The Doctor vs. #MeToo

Caitlin L. Chandler | Columbia Journalism Review | January 19, 2021 | 25 minutes

“How an HIV specialist in Germany is using media law to erase reporting of sexual abuse allegations against him.”

* * *

The Climate Crisis Is Worse Than You Can Imagine. Here’s What Happens If You Try.

Elizabeth Weil | ProPublica | January 25, 2021 | 17 minutes

“A climate scientist spent years trying to get people to pay attention to the disaster ahead. His wife is exhausted. His older son thinks there’s no future. And nobody but him will use the outdoor toilet he built to shrink his carbon footprint.”

* * *


— February —

Luck, Foresight and Science: How an Unheralded Team Developed a COVID-19 Vaccine in Record Time

Gus Garcia-Roberts, David Heath | USA Today | January 26, 2021 | 35 minutes

Credit for the COVID-19 vaccine “belongs to a series of uncelebrated discoveries dating back at least 15 years – and a constellation of unsung scientists.”

* * *

Stories of Slavery, From Those Who Survived It

Clint Smith | The Atlantic | February 9, 2021 | 29 minutes

“The Federal Writers’ Project narratives provide an all-too-rare link to our past.”

* * *

Dying on the Waitlist

David Armstrong, Marshall Allen | ProPublica | February 18, 2021 | 22 minutes

“In Los Angeles County and around the country, doctors have had to decide who gets a lifesaving COVID-19 treatment and who doesn’t.”

* * *

Inside Xinjiang’s Prison State

Ben Mauk, Matt Huynh | The New Yorker | February 26, 2021 | 28 minutes

“Survivors of China’s campaign of persecution reveal the scope of the devastation.”


— March —

Did James Plymell Need to Die?

Leah Sottile | High Country News | March 1, 2021 | 26 minutes

The toll of criminalizing homelessness in small cities and towns across the American West.

* * *

The Lost Year: What the Pandemic Cost Teenagers

Alec MacGillis | ProPublica | March 8, 2021 | 38 minutes

“In Hobbs, New Mexico, the high school closed and football was cancelled, while just across the state line in Texas, students seemed to be living nearly normal lives. Here’s how pandemic school closures exact their emotional toll on young people.”

* * *

Anti-Asian Violence Must Be a Bigger Part of America’s Racial Discourse

Alexander Chee | GEN Magazine | March 15, 2021 | 12 minutes

“White people still drive the narrative about Asian Americans. We have yet to have control over our own stories.”

* * *

The Coal Plant Next Door

Max Blau | ProPublica | March 22, 2021 | 9,852 words

“Near America’s largest coal-fired power plant, toxins are showing up in drinking water and people have fallen ill. Thousands of pages of internal documents show how one giant energy company plans to avoid the cleanup costs.”


— April —

How an Upper West Side Hotel Came to Embody the City’s Failure on Homelessness

Megan Evershed | The New Republic | March 31, 2021 | 5,900 words

During the pandemic, men housed at the Lucerne hotel have seen the worst side of New York’s self-described liberals. They’ve also exposed a decades-long policy of neglect.

* * *

Poisoned

Eli Murray, Rebecca Woolington, Corey G. Johnson | Tampa Bay Times | March 24, 2021 | 6,560 words

“Hundreds of workers at a Tampa lead smelter have been exposed to dangerous levels of the neurotoxin. The consequences have been profound.”

* * *

Seeing in the Dark

Breai Mason-Campbell | Pipe Wrench | April 13, 2021 | 5,129 words

“I have to wear all of these dolls, you see, so that Whiteness does not have to wear any.”

* * *

How We Survived Covid-19 in Prison

Nicole Lewis | The Marshall Project | April 22, 2021 | 3,610 words

“At the start of the pandemic, we asked four incarcerated people to chronicle daily life with the coronavirus.” Bruce Bryant, Jennifer Graves, James Ellis, and Christopher Walker “reveal what they witnessed and how they coped with the chaos, fear, isolation and deaths.”


— May —

‘We are Witnessing a Crime Against Humanity’: Arundhati Roy on India’s Covid Catastrophe

Arundhati Roy | The Guardian | April 28, 2021 | 5,369 words

“The system has not collapsed. The ‘system’ barely existed. The government – this one, as well as the Congress government that preceded it – deliberately dismantled what little medical infrastructure there was.”

* * *

Teshuvah

Peter Beinart | Jewish Currents | May 11, 2021 | 6,500 words

“For Jews to tell Palestinians that peace requires them to forget the Nakba is grotesque. In our bones, Jews know that when you tell a people to forget its past you are not proposing peace. You are proposing extinction.”

* * *

A Day in the Life of Abed Salama

Nathan Thrall | New York Review of Books | March 19, 2021 | 20,500 words

“One man’s quest to find his son lays bare the reality of Palestinian life under Israeli rule.”

* * *

Locked Out

Desiree Stennett, Caroline Glenn | Orlando Sentinel | May 13, 2021 | 9,200 words

A three-part investigative series about how the pandemic exposed Florida’s eviction crisis.

* * *


— June —

The Women Who Preserved the Story of the Tulsa Race Massacre

Victor Luckerson | The New Yorker | May 28, 2021 | 2,882 words

“Today, the work done by Parrish in the nineteen-twenties and Gates in the nineteen-nineties forms the bedrock for books, documentaries, and a renewed reparations push that, a century after the massacre, is experiencing a groundswell of support.”

* * *

The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How the Wealthiest Avoid Income Tax

Jesse Eisinger, Jeff Ernsthausen, Paul Kiel | ProPublica | June 8, 2021 | 5,717 words

“ProPublica has obtained a vast cache of IRS information showing how billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett pay little in income tax compared to their massive wealth — sometimes, even nothing.”

* * *

Kip Kinkel Is Ready to Talk

Jessica Schulberg | HuffPost | June 13, 2021 | 15,200 words

“At 15, he shot and killed his parents, two classmates at his school, and wounded 25 others. He’s been used as the reason to lock kids up for life ever since.”

* * *

Qualified Immunity: How ‘Ordinary Police Work’ Tramples Civil Rights

Lyle C. May | Scalawag Magazine | June 23, 2021 | 2,807 words

“There is little to no accountability behind the closed doors of police work.”


— July —

The Night Gary Drove Me Home

Jill McCabe Johnson | Slate | June 16, 2021 | 2,422 words

“It is not a normal thing to do—to acknowledge to yourself that you may have slept with a serial killer.”

* * *

The Future Dystopic Hellscape is Upon Us

Sam Biddle | The Intercept | July 5, 2021 | 12,142 words

“The rise and fall of the ultimate doomsday prepper.”

* * *

The Barn

Wright Thompson | The Atlantic | July 22, 2021 | 7,350 words

“In 1955, just past daybreak, a Chevrolet truck pulled up to an unmarked building. A 14-year-old child was in the back. Hi name was Emmett Till.”

* * *

The Jessica Simulation: Love and Loss in the Age of A.I.

Jason Fagone | San Francisco Chronicle | July 23, 2021 | 10,801 words

“The death of the woman he loved was too much to bear. Could a mysterious website allow him to speak with her once more?”

* * *


— August —

The Fugitive and the Chameleon

Ciara O’Rourke | Deseret News | August 2, 2021 | 6,154 words

“Mario’s father had gone by many names. Luis Archuleta. Lawrence Pusateri. The man the son knew as Ramon was just a fraction of his way into what may be one of the longest fugitive runs in U.S. history — a 50-year game of cat-and-mouse that played out across the West, from the streets of Colorado to the shores of California and many dusty, sun-bleached points in between.”

* * *

What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind

Jennifer Senior | The Atlantic | August 9, 2021 | 13,254 words

“Grief, conspiracy theories, and one family’s search for meaning in the two decades since 9/11.”

* * *

Trying—and Failing—to Save the Family of the Afghan Who Saved Me

David Rohde | The New Yorker | August 17, 2021 | 2,539 words

“We saw the city full of these strange armed men. With strange clothing and hair styles. We are back in the nineties, you can’t believe these people are back.” The last time the Taliban had seized power, in 1996, their reign had begun with relative calm, but they quickly started conducting house raids, making arrests, and inflicting other abuses.”

* * *

How the State of California Failed Noah Cuatro

Matt Hamilton, Garrett Therolf | Los Angeles Times | August 19, 2021 | 5,000 words

“Before a 4-year-old boy’s killing, authorities wavered on rescuing him.”


— September —

The Enduring Legacy of Elijah McClain’s Tragic Death

Robert Sanchez | 5280 Magazine | September 1, 2021 | 4,454 words

“In summer 2020, the nation’s attention turned to the killing of a 23-year-old Aurora man. His death prompted a flood of more than 8,500 letters from outside the state of Colorado—all begging Governor Jared Polis for justice. We read every one.”

* * *

The Other Afghan Women

Anand Gopal | The New Yorker | September 6, 2021 | 9,900 words

“In the countryside, the endless killing of civilians turned women against the occupiers who claimed to be helping them.”

* * *

Courtney’s Story*

Diana Moskovitz | Defector | September 13, 2021 | 13,800 words

Diana Moskovitz’s investigation of Ohio State’s handling of domestic violence allegations against one of its football coaches centers the survivor, a young wife and mother named Courtney Smith. It shows how some of the most powerful people in Ohio, and in college football, worked to protect themselves and their reputations, all at Smith’s expense. In the dictionary, “Courtney’s Story” should be found under the listing for “damning.” —Seyward Darby

*Subscription required

* * *

My Time with Kurt Cobain 

Michael Azerrad | The New Yorker| September 22, 2021| (7,102 words)

Music journalist Michael Azerrad’s piece about his friendship with Kurt Cobain is honest and lucid. Azerrad recounts a number of moments with the late Nirvana singer, starting with the first time they met in 1992, when he visits the small Los Angeles apartment Cobain shared with Courtney Love to interview him for Rolling Stone. As a journalist, Azerrad gains Cobain’s trust, and eventually goes on to write a book about the band, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, which was published in September 1993, the same month their third and final album, In Utero, was released. Azerrad remembers encounters over the next few years — an epic show at the Reading Festival, a business dinner with executives (“the grownups,” as Cobain referred to them), tense moments between band members while on tour, flashes of Cobain’s heroin addiction. My favorite bits, though, are Azerrad’s quiet, beautiful descriptions of Cobain away from the spotlight: the intimate hours the two spent in a Seattle hotel room as Cobain read Azerrad’s manuscript, and the time they wandered around an eerily empty downtown Dallas with daughter Frances, who was just 15 months old at the time. —Cheri Lucas Rowlands


— October —

They Went to Bible College to Deepen Their Faith. Then They Were Assaulted—and Blamed for It.

Becca Andrews | Mother Jones | September 30, 2021 | 8,500 words

“But you drank the alcohol, right?” he asked. “What did you do to deserve to be hit?” That’s what Dean Timothy Arens of Moody Bible Institute asked student Anna Heyward when she described abuse, including rape, perpetrated by her boyfriend, who was also a student. That’s just the tip of the iceberg: Becca Andrews’ investigation into the impact of “purity culture” on MBI’s response to reports of sexual abuse and harassment on campus is deep and far-reaching. It’s enough to make your blood boil. Andrews exposes a robust culture of blaming victims and side-stepping accountability, all in the name of God. She describes the weakening of Title IX protections at religious institutions under Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, which makes future Anna Heywards more vulnerable to judgment, humiliation, or worse at MBI, Liberty University, and other evangelical colleges. “All the women I spoke to who were survivors of sexual violence at Moody say they experienced … difficulty in finding the language to express what had happened, because it was impossible to see beyond the constraints imposed by Moody’s specific interpretation of Christianity,” Andrews writes. “It can be hard to recognize harassment when it is at the hands of a brother or a sister in Christ.” —SD

* * *

White Riot

Laura Nahmias | New York Magazine | October 5, 2021 | 4,250 words

Did you know that in 1992, thousands of New York City cops rioted outside their own City Hall, shouting racist chants about the metropolis’ first-ever Black mayor, David Dinkins? Neither did I. This article refers to the riot as “forgotten” for good reason. But why did it slip from public memory? You could ask the same question about any number of events that have shaped the history of race and power in the United States, and find the same answers Laura Nahmias does in this fascinating story: entrenched power structures that bitterly resist change; a media apparatus that’s often complicit in maintaining the status quo; and a widespread inability among white Americans to view white violence as a real threat. “Somehow, police only identified 87 of the estimated 10,000 officers and their supporters who participated. Just 42 faced disciplinary charges. And only two officers were suspended,” Nahmias writes. In short, it’s easy to understand why today, “only some of what ailed the NYPD 30 years ago has been mended.” It’s also easy to understand why the same can be said about America. —SD

* * *

A Peer-Reviewed Portrait of Suffering

Daniel Engber | The Atlantic | October 6, 2021 | 7,200 words

The best science stories are human stories, ones that show the impact of lab experiments, clinical investigations, and complicated data on people’s lives. Daniel Engber’s poignant profile of the Sulzer family falls squarely in this camp. When three-year-old Liviana suffered a traumatic brain injury in the Sulzers’ backyard, her mother and father — a bioengineer who specializes in regenerative medicine and a professor of rehabilitative robotics, respectively — were forced to bring their work home. They mustered their expertise to help Livie, but quickly met the limits of the technology they’d spent their careers developing and championing. How, then, could they heal her, and themselves? The answers are surprising. I was moved by Engber’s portrayal of scientific minds challenged to reconsider the lens through which they analyze the world; of a family navigating protracted trauma; and of the love, patience, and curiosity that keep the Sulzers’ hope alive. —SD

* * *

The Last Days Inside Trailer 83

Hannah Dreier | The Washington Post | October 17, 2021 | 4,400 words

Hannah Dreier spent a month on the ground reporting this story about a California couple on the verge of being kicked out of FEMA housing, their refuge in the wake of 2018’s devastating Camp Fire. With the clarity and compassion that are the hallmarks of her work, Dreier bears witness to what it means to suffer on the front lines of climate change, to grapple with a thinning social safety net, and — after all that — to stare down homelessness. She portrays the couple’s frustration and anger, as well as their love and resilience. But why, Dreier asks, is this happening at all? Doesn’t the government owe the displaced more, and better, than this? It’s a pressing question: More Americans will be soon displaced by fires, floods, and extreme weather. This is a quiet, intimate story, and seemingly small in scope, but don’t let it fool you — it offers a terrifying glimpse into the future. —SD

* * *

Has Witch City Lost Its Way?

Kathryn Miles | Boston Magazine | October 22, 2021 | 3,758 words

Modern-day witchcraft is big business, and Salem, Massachusetts, is its epicenter. Witch-themed boutiques along Essex Street sell everything a 21st-century witch needs, from tarot card decks and spell kits to $300 custom wands. Stores like these cater not only to self-identifying witches and warlocks, but also Halloween tourists making their pilgrimage to the city each October and people claiming ancestral ties to Colonial settlers (or those accused as heretics in the 1692 trials). Kathryn Miles captures a festive, bustling local scene, but are shop owners simply commodifying a spiritual practice? And is there a better way for Salem to address and educate people about its ugly past? Miles’ own ancestral history is marked with a dark moment in 1660 — one that has left generations of her family to make sense of their legacy. She examines present-day Salem from this perspective, and asks: “Is a witch-based tourism economy the best way to honor the legacy of executed individuals who weren’t even witches in the first place?” With Halloween just days away, this Boston magazine story is a fitting read, and offers a glimpse into Salem’s lively community — as well as the past that it grapples with. —CLR


— November —

Homegrown and Homeless in Oakland*

Kevin Fagan, Sarah Ravani, Lauren Hepler, J.K. Dineen | San Francisco Chronicle | November 3, 2021 | 4,639 words

There’s not a major city in the state of California that hasn’t found itself grappling with a decade-long explosion of homelessness, and not a discussion that doesn’t devolve into blaming decades-older canards like deinstitutionalization and drug abuse. But as this exhaustively and empathically reported piece shows, it’s never as simple as a talking point. For the sixth in the Chronicle’s annual Homeless Project series, the paper crosses the Bay to profile four unhoused people in Oakland — all of whom grew up in the city, and all of whom owned their own home at one time. In their stories of loss and perseverance, accompanied by photography and data visualizations that are breathtaking for all the wrong reasons, we find ever-present reminders that there is no one cause for this epidemic. The only universal, it seems, is the tragedy and struggle that ensues when this country fails its own citizens. —PR
*Requires a subscription

* * *

“Judge, Lawyer, Help, Case Dismissed”

George Chidi | The Intercept | October 31, 2021 | 8,064 words

This is a story of political indifference and a system woefully unequipped to truly help unhoused people with mental illness. It is also the story of Harmony, a woman living on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia in her own filth, in a state that ranks 51st in the U.S. for investment in mental health spending. “Harmony is unique,” writes George Chidi, “And yet there are at least 100 Harmonys on the streets of Atlanta. The county knows each of them by name. There’s a list.” Harmony does not want to be in hospital or incarcerated; she does want her story told. As Chidi grapples with Harmony’s living conditions, he unravels who might be able to help and who should be held accountable. And while various entities and government departments play “hot potato” with her life and liberty, Harmony’s wishes go mostly ignored. She would very much like to be left alone. “And yet despite millions in resources, much of which the state cannot figure out how to spend, Harmony remained unhoused at the foot of the iconic Coca-Cola sign above the Walgreens at Five Points — in the heart of Atlanta — as she has on and off for years, in a state of abject human degradation, with all of this misery taking place less than 100 yards from the very steps of Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities headquarters.” —KS

* * *

1. The Notorious Mrs. Mossler

Skip Hollandsworth | Texas Monthly | November 17, 2021 | 12,033 words

Candace Mossler, mother of six, was a Houston socialite who lived in a mansion with a steam-heated pool. She loved to throw lavish parties. Charm and philanthropy were the super powers Mossler used to divert attention from rumours of a double life that included sex work, running her own escort service, and a clandestine affair with Mel Powers, her then 22-year-old nephew. The affair was heinous enough, but did Mossler conspire to commit murder — more than once? For this surreal whodunnit — complete with a salacious sideshow trial — Skip Hollandsworth pored over pages of old news clips, court records, and interviewed aging people in Mossler’s orbit to attempt to find out. “Rarely had circumstances converged to produce such a sensational story, one that, as the Houston Chronicle put it, was teeming with ‘love, heat, greed, savage passion, intrigue, incest and perversion.’” —KS

* * *

Check out all the categories in our Best of 2021 year-end collection.

#AceNewsDesk report …………Published: Dec.03: 2021:

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