Top 5 Longreads of the Week

sinners

Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle and Readmill users, you can also get them as a Readlist.

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1. Sinners in the Hands

Sonia Smith | Texas Monthly | January 27, 2014 | 35 minutes (8,773 words)

The town of Wells, Texas, grapples with a church that appears to be a cult:

But as the number of church members crept upward, residents of the tiny town started to feel uneasy. The recent arrivals systematically visited other churches to accuse the congregations of spiritual bankruptcy. They roamed the streets listening to the elders’ sermons on headphones, and they were frequently confrontational. A few church members, including Ringnald, moved in across from Gertrude Hearne, an 84-year-old grandmother of ten. Almost every afternoon, as she sat in a tan recliner in her wood-paneled living room, watching Jimmy Swaggart, church members would drop by to read her the Bible or sing hymns. At the sight of the Pentecostal televangelist, they’d flick off her television and declare Swaggart a false prophet. Finally, she’d had enough. “When I asked them to stop, they told me I was going to die, and I said, ‘You are too.’ ”

More Texas Monthly: “The Things They Buried” (Domingo Martinez)

 

2. There’s No Place Like Home

Garrison Keillor | National Geographic | January 25, 2014 | 20 minutes (5,197 words)

The author and radio personality reflects on living in one place for most of his life:

When a man has lived in one place for most of his life, he walks around hip-deep in history. He sees that life is not so brief; it is vast and contains multitudes. I drive down Seventh Street to a Twins game and pass the old Dayton’s department store (Macy’s now but still Dayton’s to me), where in my poverty days I shoplifted an unabridged dictionary the size of a suitcase, and 50 years later I still feel the terror of walking out the door with it under my jacket, and I imagine the cops arresting my 20-year-old self and what 30 days in the slammer might’ve done for me. From my seat above first base, I see the meatpacking plant where those men wrestled beef carcasses into trucks and the old Munsingwear factory with the low rumble and whine of machines, and I remember an intense dread of spending one’s days at a power loom making men’s underwear. The building is today an enormous emporium of interior design showrooms, the place to go if you feel the urge to spend a hundred grand on a new bathroom, but to me it’s still the coal mine I was afraid I’d spend my life in. I think about this along about the eighth inning if the Twins are down by a few runs.

More National Geographic: “On the Trail with the First Skiers” (Mark Jenkins)

 

3. The Secret Life of Johnny Lewis

Bill Jensen | Los Angeles Magazine | January 30, 2014 | 21 minutes (5,380 words)

Johnny Lewis was a Hollywood actor who starred in series such as The O.C. and Sons of Anarchy. He soon began exhibiting troubling behavior that led to a grisly murder:

In late October 2011, Lewis lost control of his Triumph motorcycle near Twentynine Palms. At the hospital the staff checked him for signs of a concussion, but he was allowed to leave after tests came back negative. Michael Lewis, however, noticed that his son’s behavior was becoming erratic and bizarre. Had the accident shaken something loose in his brain? he wondered. The elder Lewis scheduled two MRIs, which Johnny refused to undergo. Friends picked up on Lewis’s change in behavior, too. During an acting class in December, he kept speaking in a vaguely British accent. “I asked him about it because I was confused,” Tucker says, “but he shrugged it off.” By the new year Lewis’s behavior would turn from curious to dangerous.

More Los Angeles magazine: “The Northridge Earthquake: ‘Like a Punch Delivered from Below'” (Ed Leibowitz)

 

4. No Second Chance For Stephen Glass: The Long, Strange Downfall of a Journalistic Wunderkind

Adam Penenberg | Pando | January 27, 2014 | 27 minutes (6,993 words)

In May 1998, Adam Penenberg was an editor at Forbes Digital Tool, Forbes magazine’s website, when an angry editor showed him a copy of Stephen Glass’ article “Hack Heaven,” demanding to know why Penenberg hadn’t come across the story himself. Kicking himself for missing the scoop, Penenberg started to investigate and stumbled upon a massive case journalistic fraud:

After I finished reading, I’m pretty sure I muttered “Holy shit!” I had never heard of Jukt Micronics, digital extortion deals or hacker agents. Glass cited anti-hacker legislation, a hacker organization and a law enforcement agency that was news to me. I had never encountered an organization called the National Assembly of Hackers, wasn’t aware of any recent conventions, had never read a hacker newsletter titled “Computer Insider,” nor did I know any hacker with the nom de hack “Big Bad Bionic Boy.” In fact, I didn’t recognize one single fact in “Hack Heaven” save perhaps for the existence of the Internet. But how could I have missed such a big story? At Forbes.com, I covered business and technology, but also explored music and software piracy, computer hacking, phone phreaking, identity theft, credit card fraud, cyber-spooks and all things relating to the dark side of the Internet. These weren’t part of my job description but were popular with readers, often attracting traffic from people who wouldn’t have known Forbes from Fodors. They quickly became my specialty.

More on Glass: Famous Cases of Journalistic Fraud: A Reading List (Michael Hobbes)

 

5. The Botmaker Who Sees Through the Internet

Leon Neyfakh | Boston Globe | January 28, 2014 | 9 minutes (2,258 words)

A profile of Darius Kazemi, who is turning Twitter bots into an art form: He’s created dozens of automated programs whose purposes can run the gamut from cultural commentary to complete nonsense:

Kazemi is part of a small but vibrant group of programmers who, in addition to making clever Web toys, have dedicated themselves to shining a spotlight on the algorithms and data streams that are nowadays humming all around us, and using them to mount a sharp social critique of how people use the Internet—and how the Internet uses them back.

More from Neyfakh: “Why Russia’s Drinkers Resist AA”

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Photo: LeAnn Mueller

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