Longreads Best of 2015: Here Are All of Our No. 1 Story Picks from This Year


All through December, we’ll be featuring Longreads’ Best of 2015. To get you ready, here’s a list of every story that was chosen as No. 1 in our weekly Top 5 email.

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The Tragedy of the American Military

James Fallows | The Atlantic | Dec. 31, 2014 | 41 minutes (10,355 words)

The story of “a country willing to do anything for its military except take it seriously.” How the public and politicians became disconnected from those who serve.

The Troll’s Lawyer

Adam L. Penenberg | Backchannel | Jan. 5, 2015 | 26 minutes (6,716 words)

Tor Ekeland, unemployed and burned out from his job working at a corporate law firm, decided to defend Andrew Alan Escher Auernheimer, a Jew-hating hacktivist also known as weev, and challenge a sweeping computer crime law.


Mariya Karimjee | The Big Roundtable | Jan. 14, 2015 | 42 minutes (10,508 words)

The author, who spent her childhood in Pakistan, underwent a female genital mutilation procedure when she was seven years old. Having lived in the States for many years as a young adult, she reflects on the effects of this procedure on her sexuality and her relationship to her family, especially her mother.

How Listening to Music and Fighting with Susan Sontag Helped Me Cope with Chemo

Trisha Ready | The Stranger | Jan. 21, 2015 | 24 minutes (6,152 words)

An essay about dealing with stage IV cancer and developing coping techniques.

Your Son Is Deceased

Rachel Aviv | The New Yorker | Jan. 26, 2015 | 33 minutes (8,359 words)

An examination of police misconduct in Albuquerque, New Mexico—a city with one of the highest rates in the country of fatal shootings by police.

What Really Happened to Baby Johan?

Elizabeth Weil | Matter | Feb. 2, 2015 | 30 minutes (7,565 words)

After a father drops his three-month-old son, a family tragedy becomes a criminal case that raises questions about controversial nature of shaken baby syndrome.

Me and My Girls

David Carr | The New York Times | 2008 | 32 minutes (8,005 words)

An excerpt from The Night of the Gun, by David Carr. The acclaimed New York Times journalist died this year at age 58. He will be sorely missed.

Remembering David Carr: See a reading list about his life and work.

The Trouble With Oxy

Mona Gable | Los Angeles Magazine | Feb. 10, 2015 | 26 minutes (6,563 words)

Occidental, a small liberal arts college, has been the subject of two federal complaints over the way it has handled sexual assault cases. The school is currently bitterly divided: faculty and students are fighting for justice, while the administration is battling bad publicity.

The Disappeared

Spencer Ackerman | Guardian US | February 24, 2015 | 11 minutes (2,753 words)

A Guardian investigation reveals that Chicago police kept a secret interrogation site where abuses occurred, including at least one detainee death.

‘The residents of Ferguson do not have a police problem. They have a gang problem’

Ta-Nehisi Coates | The Atlantic | March 5, 2015 | 9 minutes (2,364 words)

Ta-Nehisi Coates on what the Justice Department’s investigation revealed about Ferguson police. “The ‘focus on revenue’ was almost wholly a focus on black people as revenue. Black people in Ferguson were twice as likely to be searched during a stop, twice as likely to receive a citation when stopped, and twice as likely to be arrested during the stop, and yet were 26 percent less likely to be found with contraband.”

The Brief, Extraordinary Life of Cody Spafford

Allecia Vermillion | Seattle Met | March 10, 2015 | 19 minutes (4,910 words)

Cody Spafford had found solace and redemption working in the kitchen of one of Seattle’s hottest restaurants. What turned a promising chef into a bank robber?

The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous

Gabrielle Glaser | The Atlantic | March 16, 2015 | 33 minutes (8,292 words)

Glaser examines the history of the popular, faith-based 12-step program that dominates alcohol abuse treatment in the U.S. and asks why we’ve ignored several other effective treatments.

Life Lines

Daniel Zalewski | The New Yorker | March 23, 2015 | 40 minutes (10,032 words)

An artist with amnesia finds comfort and stability by drawing. She’s also helping researchers learn more about the way our brains work.

This Is How We Lose Them

Linda Vaccariello | Cincinnati Magazine | April 1, 2015 | 26 minutes (6,550 words)

What can be done about Cincinnati’s woeful infant mortality rate?

The Rookie and the Zetas

Joe Tone | Dallas Observer | April 1, 2015 | 27 minutes (6,940 words)

How the Feds took down a drug cartel’s horse-racing empire.

How Kicking a Trash Can Became Criminal for a 6th Grader

Susan Ferriss | Center for Public Integrity | April 10, 2015 | 16 minutes (4,050 words)

An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity: In Virginia, students are being referred to law enforcement for behavioral issues that should be sorted out at school. Black and special needs students are disproportionately referred to the court system at a national level.

Where Are the Children?

Sarah Stillman | The New Yorker | April 20, 2015 | 37 minutes (9,381 words)

Undocumented migrants are being held for ransom by extortionists who know that they aren’t likely to report the crime.

ZPM Espresso and the Rage of the Jilted Crowdfunder

Gideon Lewis-Kraus | New York Times Magazine | April 30, 2015 | 22 minutes (5,555 words)

A Kickstarter project gets fully funded by backers, who become irate and consider legal action when the project fails to deliver. The creators explain what went wrong.

The Price of Nice Nails

Sarah Maslin Nir | New York Times | May 7, 2015 | 26 minutes (6,634 words)

A New York Times investigation into the abuse and exploitation of nail salon workers.

The Friend

Matthew Teague | Esquire | May 10, 2015 | 24 minutes (6,032 words)

Matthew Teague’s wife, Nicole, was only 34 years old and dying of cancer. This is the story of how a friendship, deep, true, and strong, became prophylactic against the dizzying litany of indignities involved in a slow, painful death.


Eva Holland | SB Nation | May 21, 2015 | 31 minutes (7,907 words)

Eva Holland explores what it means to comprehend and embrace your limits —to know yet avoid the precipice between courage and humility—on a climbing expedition to the Yukon Territories’ famed Cirque of the Unclimbables.


Win Bassett | Poetry Foundation | May 27, 2015 | 15 minutes (3,780 words)

On poetry and dying: Win Bassett reflects on a summer spent working as a hospital chaplain.

The Agency

Adrian Chen | The New York Times | June 4, 2015 | 33 minutes (8,452 words)

Adrian Chen takes a trip to Russia to search for a massive army of internet trolls—who then turn their sights on him.

What Is Code?

Paul Ford | Bloomberg Businessweek | June 11, 2015 | 152 minutes (38,000 words)

Paul Ford and Bloomberg Businessweek collaborate on a 38,000-word essay meant to answer the big and small questions of what it means to be a coder: how programming works, why it matters, and whether you should start learning yourself.

The Wetsuitman

Anders Fjellberg | Dagbladet | June 15, 2015 | 31 minutes (7,792 words)

Last winter two bodies washed ashore wearing identical wetsuits. They were found 67 days apart, in two separate countries. The effort to identify them reads like a crime thriller, crossing borders and delving deep into Europe’s migrant crisis.

‘They Ask for Equal Dignity in the Eyes of the Law’ (pdf)

Justice Anthony Kennedy | The Supreme Court of the United States | June 26, 2015 | 35 minutes (8,784 words)

A Long Walk’s End

William Browning | SB Nation | July 1, 2015 | 37 minutes (9,320 words)

James T. Hammes embezzled $8.7 million from an Ohio-based Pepsi distributor, and then he went on the run. Or rather on the hike—he took off on the Appalachian Trail for six years.

The Lost Girls

Jason Cherkis | Huffington Post | July 8, 2015 | 34 minutes (8,555 words)

A decades-long secret revealed: The Runaways bassist Jackie Fuchs was drugged and raped by their producer Kim Fowley, in front of bandmates.

The Myth of the Ethical Shopper

Michael Hobbes | Huffington Post | July 17, 2015 | 20 minutes (5,079 words)

Why boycotting and shopping smarter won’t eliminate sweatshops.

You Just Got Out of Prison. Now What?

Jon Mooallem | The New York Times Magazine | July 16, 2015 | 26 minutes (6,606 words)

Mooallem follows two ex-convicts who pick up inmates the day they are released and help them navigate through their first day of freedom.

A Dream Undone

Jim Rutenberg | The New York Times | July 29, 2015 | 43 minutes (10,975 words)

Why do Americans have less voting rights today than they did 50 years ago? Rutenberg examines how the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was passed to prevent the disenfranchisement of black Americans, has been gutted.

As the Met Abandons Blackface, a Look at the Legacy of African Americans in Opera

Alison Kinney | Hyperallergic | Aug. 3, 2015 | 16 minutes (4,038 words)

A history of African American artists facing racism in the opera world. This year the Metropolitan Opera has announced that, for the first time ever, the company’s production of Otello will not use blackface.

ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape

Rukmini Callimachi | New York Times | Aug. 13, 2015 | 16 minutes (4,011 words)

Twenty-one women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority escaped the Islamic State and revealed how they were systematically raped by their captors. The Islamic State uses a selective reading of the Quran to argue that they have a religious right to enslave and rape those who practice a religion other than Islam.

Amor Prohibido

Jeff Winkler | Texas Monthly | Aug. 20, 2015 | 36 minutes (9,000 words)

Twenty years after Selena’s death, devotion to the legendary singer is as strong as ever. But who owns her legacy?

Beyond the Breach

Wright Thompson | ESPN Magazine | Aug. 24, 2015 | 107 minutes (26,875 words)

Ten years after Katrina, Wright Thompson reports on the transformation of New Orleans, meeting with athletes, activists, community leaders, journalists, and legislators to get a sense of how far the city has come, and the difficult work that still needs to be done.

That Which Divides Us

Nick Swartsell | CityBeat | August 26, 2015 | 20 minutes (5,183 words)

A look at the history of racial and economic segregation in the city of Cincinnati.

Whatsoever Things Are True

Matthew Shaer | The Atavist | Sept. 8, 2015 | 61 minutes (15,311 words)

A Chicago man is convicted and sentenced to death for a double murder that occurred in 1982. Years later, a journalism school teacher and his students work to free him, and in 1999 another man confesses to the crime, but later recants. Shaer walks us through a very complex story of how a broken system failed for decades to render justice in a 33-year-old crime.

Why the Best War Reporter in a Generation Had to Suddenly Stop

Mark Warren | Esquire | Sept. 14, 2015 | 21 minutes (5,464 words)

After 14 bloody years of covering conflict for The New York Times, C.J. Chivers had established himself as one of the foremost war reporters of his generation. And then he decided to come home.

The Avenger

Patrick Radden Keefe | The New Yorker | Sept. 21, 2015 | 41 minutes (10,307 words)

Ken Dornstein’s brother David was killed in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, and he’s spent most of his life searching for the truth.

Ina Garten Does It Herself

Choire Sicha | Eater | Sept. 30, 2015 | 19 minutes (4,783 words)

The fascinating story of Ina Garten, queen of cookbooks.

Inside the Race to Stop the Next Mass Shooter

Mark Follman | Mother Jones | Oct. 5, 2015 | 21 minutes (5,481 words)

Mass murder is not an impulsive crime—so can threat assessment teams prevent it from happening? Follman looks at the legion of cops, psychologists, and federal agents scrambling to stop the bloodshed.

Manhunting in the Hindu Kush

Ryan Devereaux | The Intercept | Oct. 15, 2015 | 20 minutes (5,230 words)

The Intercept examines secret documents on drone strikes. “During a five-month stretch of the campaign, nearly nine out of 10 people who died in airstrikes were not the Americans’ direct targets. By February 2013, Haymaker airstrikes had resulted in no more than 35 ‘jackpots,’ a term used to signal the neutralization of a specific targeted individual, while more than 200 people were declared EKIA — ‘enemy killed in action.'”

Lost Girls

Sarah Dohrmann | Harper’s | Oct. 19, 2015 | 29 minutes (7,314 words)

Sarah Dohrmann on women and prostitution in Morocco.

The Tragic Tale of Mt. Everest’s Most Famous Dead Body

Rachel Nuwer | BBC | Oct. 8, 2015 | 22 minutes (5,510 words)

The first installment in a two-part series about the bodies that remain on Mount Everest.

Insane. Invisible. In Danger.

Anthony Cormier, Michael Braga, and Leonora LaPeter Anton | Tampa Bay Times | Nov. 2, 2015 | 15 minutes (3,999 words)

How $100 million in cuts created chaos in Florida’s mental hospitals. A Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune investigation.

How Do You Forgive a Murder?

David Von Drehle, Jay Newton-Small, and Maya Rhoda | Time Magazine | Nov. 12, 2015 | 59 minutes (14,865 words)

The families and survivors of the Charleston massacre share their stories and talk about faith and forgiveness.


Adrian Chen | The New Yorker | Nov. 16, 2015 | 42 minutes (10,643 words)

How social media changed the beliefs of a devout member of the Westboro Baptist Church, which pickets the funerals of gay men and of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Who Gets a Public Defender?

Steven Hsieh | Pacific Standard | Nov. 18, 2015 | 10 minutes (2,679 words)

In St. Louis, Missouri—where someone can qualify for food stamps but not a public defender—hundreds of the city’s poorest are left without a lawyer.

The Life and Times of Strider Wolf

Sarah Schweitzer | Boston Globe | Nov. 30, 2015 | 26 minutes (6,618 words)

Sarah Schweitzer’s moving story of a young boy and his brother, rescued from near-fatal abuse, now in the care of grandparents who have their own difficulties making things work.

A Survivor’s Life

Eli Saslow | Washington Post | Dec. 5, 2015 | 23 minutes (5,980 words)

Cheyeanne Fitzgerald, 16, was the youngest person shot in a classroom at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Though the community is moving on, the trauma has continued to affect Cheyeanne and her family.