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History

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1491

The Western Hemisphere before Columbus.

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Fascinating Fascism

On a book of photographs shot by Leni Riefenstahl in the 1950s and 1960s depicting an African tribe.

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Deep into Green

The history of a color.

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The Marquise de Brinvilliers

On Marie-Madeline Marguerite, a 1600s French serial killer.

This is the second installment in The Hairpin's "Lady Killers" series. Previously: "The Blood Countess."

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The Torture Colony

A utopian German settlement in Chile had already turned darkly cultish by the time it became a secret torture site for enemies of the Pinochet regime.

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Mystic Nights

The making of Blonde on Blonde in Nashville.

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Mother Earth Mother Board

A 42,000-word, 3-continent spanning “hacker tourist” account of the laying of the (then) longest wire on earth.

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Bernard Went Fishing with Cicero

A narrator shares a philosophical discussion with the late orator.

"Cicero and I mounted a johnboat banked in the mud along this near finger of Mark Twain Lake. Neither of us wanted to do the shoving off. Our feet would have to get wet."

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Michael Jordan, in general

A brief history of the world and the late 1990s Chicago Bulls.

"This is the version of him that has no future or past. No ex-wife or kids, no off-court life. He lives in the United Center. He doesn't fuss with food or water. There are whole months in the air, between the floor and the rim. This moment of quiet and loud gets stuck on repeat. Michael Jordan shoots, swishes, but a lot of times he just stands, lit. An occasional swivel. Rotates like a figurine. Television size. He could dribble his basketball in the palm of your hand."

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Pafko At the Wall [Excerpt]

The beginning of Don DeLillo's Underworld, in memory of Andy Pafko.

"Pafko is out of paper range by now, jogging toward the clubhouse. But the paper keeps falling. If the early paper waves were slightly hostile and mocking, and the middle waves a form of fan commonality, then this last demonstration has a softness, a selfness. It is coming down from all points, laundry tickets, envelopes swiped from the office, there are crushed cigarette packs and sticky wrap from ice-cream sandwiches, pages from memo pads and pocket calendars, they are throwing faded dollar bills, snapshots torn to pieces, ruffled paper swaddles for cupcakes, they are tearing up letters they've been carrying around for years pressed into their wallets, the residue of love affairs and college friendships, it is happy garbage now, the fans' intimate wish to be connected to the event, unendably, in the form of pocket litter, personal waste, a thing that carries a shadow of identity -- rolls of toilet tissue unbolting lyrically in streamers."

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Gibbeted

On the hanging of James Murphy, murderer.

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Angel Wings

An oral history of a murdered prep basketball star.

"All I can think is how narrow the drive-through is and how it's full of exhaust and grease and the vent where the air blows out and how they couldn't move, couldn't go backward or forward 'cause there were five LAPD cars and how Tenerife must have been trying to call me. Trying. I just took two more. I know I had some wine. I don't care."

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The Passion of Lew Wallace

How a disgraced Civil War general became one of the best-selling novelists in American history.

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Scavengers In the Boneyard

While being stripped and sold, old ships reflect on their long histories and the generations of men associated with them.

"But we were the ones they came back to, dawn after dawn, year after year. We were the ones who brought them home, hoary and frail, to Snug Harbor. The nurses tucked them into wooden wheelchairs. They spent the landlocked hours making models of us in bottles, the Nellie P. and the Golden Eagle, the Sallie Ann and the Spirit of Victory. Hunched between the wall with the clock and the wall with the crucifix, they assembled us from memory. Their fingers traced each narrow bottleneck. They slipped inside as far as they could reach."

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EST, Werner Erhard, And the Corporatization of Self-Help

How Human Potential Movement workshops permeated our lives and our businesses.

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The Other Shooter

The afterlife of 486 frames of Kodachrome II 8mm film shot by Dallas clothing manufacturer Abraham Zapruder.

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A Complete History of Gerbiling So Far

Richard Gere, AIDS anxiety and the search for the “Original Gerbil.”

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Life on Matinicus Island

How modernity – and an eruption of violence – changed “the most remote inhabited island on the Atlantic seaboard.”

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Birds With Teeth

Two nineteenth century paleontologists, once friends and colleagues, become bitter enemies.

"But years ago, there was room for friendship. They talked for hours at Haddonfield, grinning in helpless academic passion and exclaiming at their own twin hearts. They ate breakfast together on a heap of rock in the marl pits, black bread and coffee as the sun swam into the sky. Cope in shirtsleeves, a boy's face, looking more like Marsh's son than his contemporary."

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In the Shadow of Wounded Knee

How the Oglala Lakota healed from a massacre.

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The Slave Who Sailed Around the World

On Enrique of Malacca, “the closest thing there is to a hero in the story of Ferdinand Magellan’s horribly botched attempt to circumnavigate the world.”

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An Odd Bird

When U.S. customs law met abstract art in the form of a bird, “shimmering and soaring toward the ceiling while the lawyers debated whether it was an ‘original sculpture’ or a metal ‘article or ware not specially provided for’ under the 1922 Tariff Act.”

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Nietzsche Is Dead

The 1900 death of Fritz and the battle to define his legacy.

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The New Yorker Records: Historical Note

A history of The New Yorker and its editors, from founder Harold Ross through Tina Brown.

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Las Casas

Two under-the-influence friends discuss a history of human violence.

"...for years and years they would do this, it’s all in the Las Casas, and for years and years Spanish soldiers were just like falling over themselves, they couldn’t believe it, just completely climbing over one another, trying to get out of their boats and get to their swords fast enough to get a quick, easy lead-off beheading of a holy tribal king without even thinking that maybe it might violate, oh, I don’t know, the entire Christian moral code or, that whole thing aside, that it might go against just obvious, timeless, and basic human good versus evil restraint, you know, something like that was around even with cavemen, the totally simple idea that maybe needlessly causing excruciating, savage, horrifying, life-ending pain to another being, to a brother, to somebody like yourself, might not be the thing you should do. They found their heaven and they turned it into a hell. On purpose."

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Quite Likely the Worst Job Ever

The sewer hunters, or “toshers,” of 19th century London.

Knowing where to find the most valuable pieces of detritus was vital, and most toshers worked in gangs of three or four, led by a veteran who was frequently somewhere between 60 and 80 years old. These men knew the secret locations of the cracks that lay submerged beneath the surface of the sewer-waters, and it was there that cash frequently lodged.

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A Brief History of Money

The evolution of currency as “a complete abstraction.”

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Pafko At The Wall [Excerpt]

A fictionalized account of a moment in baseball history from a contemporary master of detailed Americana.

"Russ wants to believe a thing like this keeps us safe in some undetermined way. This is the thing that will pulse in his brain come old age and double vision and dizzy spells -- the surge sensation, the leap of people already standing, that bolt of noise and joy when the ball went in. This is the people's history and it has flesh and breath that quicken to the force of this old safe game of ours. And fans at the Polo Grounds today will be able to tell their grandchildren -- they'll be gassy old men leaning into the next century and trying to convince anyone willing to listen, pressing in with medicine breath, that they were here when it happened."

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The Long History of the Espresso Machine

“Good espresso depends on the fourM’sMacchina, the espresso machine; Macinazione, the proper grinding of a beans; Miscela, the coffee blend and the roast, and Mano is the skilled hand of the barista, because even with the finest beans and the most advanced equipment, the shot depends on the touch and style of the barista.”

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Chris Bell: That Don't Get Him Back Again

Listening to the Big Star songwriter, who left the group before dying in a solo car crash at 27.

His voice, on the recordings, is too sensitive. That's meant not as an aesthetic judgment. It wasn't too sensitive for the material, in other words. It was too sensitive for life. You listen to him sing, closely, and if you don't know another thing about what happened to him, you know that the guy with that voice is not going to last.

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Salesmen

A random conversation with a street salesman is not what it seems.

"I pass him every day. Melons, he is usually selling, although I've seen him with whole truckloads of other fruit, and in the fall with unshucked ears of corn. He has a lawn chair with an umbrella fixed over it. He sits and watches the traffic pass. Sometimes he stands with the forearms on the rim of the bed of his truck, looking out over his produce. There is something reassuring in his form. Maybe it is his placidity, the way he stands. Maybe it is because his produce always looks fresh and healthy. Seeing him means that the long hectic drive, with the traffic of the beltway and mad stop and start of the city, is almost done."

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The Games We Play

A young man shares a conversation with a barfly.

"'I gotta story to tell,'a drunk said to Mike. His thick hands slathered in black, greasy paste, the drunk maintained his balance by propping his elbows onto the bar counter. 'You look like an upstanding fella and I think you’ll appreciate my story.' 'No thanks,' Mike said and sipped his beer. He frowned as he swallowed. 'I’m waiting for someone.'"

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Suddenly That Summer

The people behind San Francisco’s Summer of Love.

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Neighbors

In 1941, hundreds of Jedwabne’s Jews were massacred by their neighbors.

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The Underground Press

On the mid-sixties birth of America’s underground newspaper movement and the rise of The Realist, East Village Other, Berkeley Barb, and more.

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Gay Marriage’s Jewish Pioneer

Meet Faygele ben Miriam, the radical activist “beyond the leading edge” of the same-sex marriage fight.

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There She Blew

The history of American whaling.

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The Real War 1939-1945

The cold, forgotten realities of “conventional warfare.”

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It Took a Village

A history of the Village Voice.

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How Chicago House Got Its Groove Back

A look at Chicago’s DJ culture in the ’90s.

One day in 1997, Sneak promised his friend and fellow Chicago DJ Derrick Carter a new 12-inch for Carter's label Classic, then spent hours fruitlessly laboring over a basic, bustling four-four beat. Finally, Sneak gave in and smoked the J he'd had stashed for later in the day. When he came back inside, he carelessly dropped the needle onto a Teddy Pendergrass LP, heard the word "Well . . . ," and realized, "That's the sample, right there." He threaded Pendergrass's 20-year-old disco hit "You Can't Hide From Yourself" through a low-pass filter to give it the effect of going in and out of aural focus, creating one of the definitive Chicago house singles.

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The Oakling and the Oak

On “Poor Hartley,” the son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

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Sears – Where America Shopped

An uncertain future for the retailer.

"Sears was so powerful and so successful at one time that they could build the tallest building in the world that they did not need," says James Schrager, a professor of entrepreneurship and strategy at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. "The Sears Tower stands as a monument to how quickly fortunes can change in retailing, and as a very graphic example of what can go wrong if you don't 'watch the store' every minute of every day."

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On the Origins of the Arts

A sociobiologist on how we evolved into artists.

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All Hail the Chairmen

On office chairs.

In the 1950s and '60s, the distinctions between rank found blunt expression in chair design, naming and price point; Knoll, for example, produced "Executive," "Advanced Management," and "Basic Operational" chairs in the late 1970s. Recall the archetypal scenes where the boss, back to the door, protected by an exaggerated, double-spine headrest, slowly swivels around to meet the eyes of his waiting subordinate, impotent in a stationary four-legger.

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Ring My Bell

A history of the cell phone ringtone.

Many recent hip-hop songs make terrific ringtones because they already sound like ringtones. The polyphonic and master-tone versions of “Goodies,” by Ciara, for example, are nearly identical. Ringtones, it turns out, are inherently pop: musical expression distilled to one urgent, representative hook. As ringtones become part of our environment, they could push pop music toward new levels of concision, repetition, and catchiness.

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Why the Titanic Still Fascinates Us

How movies, music and literature reproduce the disaster.

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The Mysterious Mr. Zedzed: The Wickedest Man in the World

Few men have acquired so scandalous a reputation as did Basil Zaharoff, alias Count Zacharoff, alias Prince Zacharias Basileus Zacharoff, known to his intimates as “Zedzed.” Born in Anatolia, then part of the Ottoman Empire, perhaps in 1849, Zaharoff was a brothel tout, bigamist and arsonist, a benefactor of great universities and an intimate of royalty who reached his peak of infamy as an international arms dealer -- a “merchant of death,” as his many enemies preferred it.
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The Comedians, The Mob and the American Supperclub

It didn't matter if these clubs were in Cleveland, Portland, Corpus Christi or Baton Rouge—if it was a nightclub, the owners were the Mob. For a good forty years the Mob controlled American show business.
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The first sexual revolution: lust and liberty in the 18th century

A history.

 The explosion of publishing created a much more democratic and permanent network of public communication than had ever existed before. The mass proliferation of newspapers and magazines, and a new-found fascination with the boundaries of the private and the public, combined to produce the first age of sexual celebrity.

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Mengele’s Skull

Tracking the Nazi doctor’s bones through South America.

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Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Cary Grant's Intimate Bromance

The phrase “knew how to wear clothes” is a loaded one. To “know how to wear clothes” is another way of saying that Cary Grant embodied class, which is to say high class: Grant wore well-tailored clothes, and he knew how to hold himself in them. But he came from nothing, and the way he wore clothes was just as much of a performance as his refined trans-Atlantic accent, his acrobatic slapstick routines, and his masterful flirtation skills.
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Star Babies

Affluent star babies, much like regular humans, experience nature and transgressions in this slightly surreal fable.

"Similar promises were made at the Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls and the Hoover Dam, where unwitting star babies were brought to the edges in hopes of seeing god and instead were hurled over the edges, smashing their skulls on the rocks or impaling themselves on branches. In the Everglades, Mushroomites proclaiming themselves to be Alligatorians, walked their foes into the mouths of waiting predators who swallowed them in single bites."

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You Say You Want a Devolution?

Why little has changed in popular American style in the last 20 years.

Why is this happening? In some large measure, I think, it’s an unconscious collective reaction to all the profound nonstop newness we’re experiencing on the tech and geopolitical and economic fronts. People have a limited capacity to embrace flux and strangeness and dissatisfaction, and right now we’re maxed out.

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Grief and Solemnity

On the American way of death, burial, and mourning, from war heroes to Elvis:
At the scene of his mother’s funeral, Elvis Presley — invincible sex symbol, cocksure performer, the man who changed the world and music forever — was reduced to a pathetic, blubbering mama’s boy. “Mama, I’d give up every dime I own and go back to digging ditches, just to have you back,” he told her body while it lay in repose the night before the funeral. At the service, according to biographer Peter Guralnick, "Elvis himself maintained his composure a little better until, towards the end, he burst into uncontrollable tears and, with the service completed, leaned over the casket, crying out, 'Good-bye darling, good-bye. I love you so much. You know how much I lived my whole life just for you.' Four friends half-dragged him into the limousine. 'Oh God,' he declared, 'everything I have is gone.'"
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Kennedy Is Killed By Sniper As He Rides In Car In Dallas; Johnson Sworn In On Plane

Tom Wicker was without a notebook on November 22, 1963. Instead, reported Gay Talese, he “scribbled his observations and facts across the back of a mimeographed itinerary of Kennedy’s two-day tour of Texas.”

Here’s the 3,700-word masterpiece he filed.

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From Silver Lake to Suicide: One Family's Secret History of the Jonestown Massacre

How the People's Temple tore one family apart, told in part via letters:
We have at long last opened our hearts to you, expressing the sorrow and agony which we have restrained over six long years. Any time you express the wish to resume normal relations and exchange with us, the past will be forgotten. For after all we do love you and the children more than any other persons. We shall continue to cherish you to our last day on earth. The peerless joy of raising you from childhood to youth is a unique life experience, indeed. Your father and mother
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A One-Man Market

A look at Andy Warhol’s enduring popularity and power in the art market.

Warhol’s art was not supposed to be a matter of emotion, introspection or spiritual quest; it was to be an image, pure and simple. “During the 1960s,” he wrote knowingly in 1975, “I think, people forgot what emotions were supposed to be. And I don’t think they’ve ever remembered.”

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Moving The Obelisk

A rumination on an ancient relic.

"At its apex there was a chamber that might have contained relics. Some say it preserved the ashes of a great conqueror. Others believe it held the bones of a crucified rebel. But troubled times came, and the barbarians swept through our lands. The obelisk toppled over, and for a thousand years it lay in an abandoned field."

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Excuse Me, Weren't You in the Fall?

Tracking down 40-odd members of the British band.

It's a Tuesday morning in December, and I'm ringing people called Brown in Rotherham. "Hello," I begin again. "I'm trying to trace Jonnie Brown who used to play in the Fall. He came from Rotherham and I wondered if you might be a relative." "The Who?" asks the latest Mr Brown. "No. The Fall - the band from Salford. He played bass for three weeks in 1978." "Is this some kind of joke?"

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The Schleppers: Stale Gags & Stale Food in Mid-Century Manhattan

Midtown Manhattan. The highest concentration of showbiz havens and hangouts in the whole entire world. The Chorus Girls. The Drunk Newsmen. The Jazz Hepsters. The Mob. They converge with the force of a fly against a windshield. This is where American popular culture is born. Its influence permeates the nation. Walk the streets and weave through the hustlers, the gangsters, the bookies, the rummies... and somewhere among that crowd - you'll walk past a nondescript artistic genius or twelve, indiscernible from the dregs, biding time until they transform the American landscape. And high-above the loud, syncopated beat of Midtown you can hear... The Comedians.
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American Everyman

How Warren Buffett’s public image has aided his success.

As a successful investor, he merely moved markets; but as the charismatic, reassuring, quotable prototype of the honest capitalist (a sort of J. P. Morgan with a moral sense), he's capable of influencing elections, galvanizing rock-concert-size crowds, and in general defining how we Americans feel about the system that underlies our wealth.

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Who Killed Che?

He arrived in Bolivia in November 1966, disguised as a Uruguayan businessman. After desertions, drownings, and difficulty contacting their support group in La Paz, his small troop was surrounded the following October. The inside story of how they were found and destroyed.

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On the Travelogue

A cultural history of the travel-writing.

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My Life in Therapy

Assessing 40 years of treatment.

My abiding faith in the possibility of self-transformation propelled me from one therapist to the next, ever on the lookout for something that seemed tormentingly out of reach, some scenario that would allow me to live more comfortably in my own skin. For all my doubts about specific tenets and individual psychoanalysts, I believed in the surpassing value of insight and the curative potential of treatment — and that may have been the problem to begin with.

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Ostalgia Trips

On nostalgia for Communism.

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The Jewish Holly-Go-Lightly

Love advice from a beloved aunt.

I try to call my Great Aunt Doris every day. She's ninety-years old and lives alone. I love her desperately and as she gets older, especially of late as she becomes more feeble, my love seems to be picking up velocity, overwhelming me almost, tinged as it is with panic -- I'm so afraid of losing her.

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A History Of Violence

On the “Pacification Process,” or how we ended up in the least violent moment in our species’ existence.

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How Fast Can China Go?

On the railways of China and a trip aboard its latest spectacle, a $32 billion line carrying passengers between Shanghai and Beijing at 170 MPH.

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Dubya and Me

On witnessing the transformation of George W. Bush over 25 years.

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The Big Party

Life inside the original Playboy Mansion.

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High Explosive for Everyone

Madrid, 1937:

Then for a moment it stops. An old woman, with a shawl over her shoulders, holding a terrified thin little boy by the hand, runs out into the square. You know what she is thinking: she is thinking she must get the child home, you are always safer in your own place, with the things you know. Somehow you do not believe you can get killed when you are sitting in your own parlor, you never think that. She is in the middle of the square when the next one comes.
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Malibu's Lost Boys

The underground culture of big waves and wild times in 1961 Malibu, and the gang of teenage boys who worshiped at the feet of the beach’s dark prince, surfing legend and grifter Miki Dora.

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Murder, Suicide And Mayhem In Brooklyn Heights (Yes, Brooklyn Heights!)

An abridged history of violence in "America's first suburb."

Note: Elon Green is a contributing editor to Longform.

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A Last Whiff of Fulton's Fish, Bringing a Tear

On the closing of New York's Fulton Fish Market.
It smells of truck exhaust and fish guts. Of glistening skipjacks and smoldering cigarettes; fluke, salmon and Joe Tuna's cigar. Of Canada, Florida, and the squid-ink East River. Of funny fish-talk riffs that end with profanities spat onto the mucky pavement, there to mix with coffee spills, beer blessings, and the flowing melt of sea-scented ice. This fragrance of fish and man pinpoints one place in the New York vastness: a small stretch of South Street where peddlers have sung the song of the catch since at least 1831, while all around them, change. They were hawking fish here when an ale house called McSorley's opened up; when a presidential aspirant named Lincoln spoke at Cooper Union; when the building of a bridge to Brooklyn ruined their upriver view.
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Vodka Nation

How the spirit became a billion-dollar business.

Michael Roper, owner of Chicago’s Hopleaf bar and restaurant, recalls what bartending was like in the early seventies. While Smirnoff was considered top shelf, he remembers lesser varieties such as Nikolai, Arrow, Wolfschmidt, and another brand that was then ubiquitous called Mohawk. “Mohawk was cheap, cheap, cheap,” Roper remembers. “Mohawk had a factory just outside Detroit along the expressway and .  .  . all their products were made there. It’s almost like they turned a switch—whiskey, vodka, gin. And it was all junk.” Still, by 1976, vodka had surpassed bourbon and whiskey as the most popular spirit in America. Roper attributes vodka’s rise partially to women, who started drinking more spirits and ordering them on their own: “Women were not going to like Scotch—that was for cigar-smoking burly men,” he speculates. “And .  .  . it was unladylike to drink Kentucky whiskey. But it was considered somewhat ladylike to have a fancy cocktail with an olive in it.” He also remembers when a salesman first brought Miller Lite into his bar, explaining “it’s for women.” In a similar vein, Roper considers vodka a low-calorie option with “a less challenging flavor.”

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The Secret History of Guns

On America’s relationship with the right to bear arms, from the Founding Fathers to the Black Panthers and the Ku Klux Klan.

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Not So Fast

The history of management consulting.

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Balanced Diets

On the history and study of pica:

Indeed, we have long defined ourselves and others by what we do and do not eat, from kashrut dietary restrictions described in Leviticus to the naming of Comanche bands (Kotsoteka—buffalo eaters, Penateka—honey eaters, Tekapwai—no meat) to insults—French frogs, English limeys, German krauts. But poya seemed to beg a different question: what was one to make of people who ate food that wasn’t food at all?

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The Ghost of Wrath

Part one of a planned nine-part serialized biography of Harrison Gray Otis, the “inventor of modern Los Angeles.”

Future installments will include Otis’s interlude as “emperor of the Pribilofs,” his military atrocities in the Philippines, his bitter legal battles with the Theosophists, the Otis-Chandler empire in the Mexicali Valley, the Times bombing in 1910, the notorious discovery of fellatio in Long Beach, and Otis’s quixotic plan for world government.
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When Country Was King

Uncovering Southern California’s country music roots.

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Mysterious Disappearances

On the rise of the modern city – and the rise of missing persons.

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A Short History of the Campsite

On the evolving design and industrialization of the American outdoors.

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In Which Cristobal Balenciaga and Christian Dior Bring A New Dawn

The intertwining histories of two men who defined twentieth century European style.

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John Demjanjuk: The Last Nazi

John Demjanjuk has had a huge year. Twenty years after being sentenced to die, he finally climbed to the pinnacle of the Wiesenthal Center's list of Nazi war criminals this April, shortly after the Germans filed the arrest warrant that allowed the OSI to put him on the jet to Munich.
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The Last Two Veterans Of WWI

Nearly 10,000,000 men were killed in the conflict, 65 million participated, and now we are left with two.
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A Terrorist's Tale

In June, 1942, a German submarine dropped four young Nazi agents off on a Florida beach. Their mission was to blow up bridges, factories, and Jewish-owned department stores. Among them was Herbert Haupt, the 22-year-old son of a German-American family in Chicago.

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Picasso’s Erotic Code

When they met, he was 45 and she was 17. In her 14 years as his mistress, she appeared in countless paintings, including Guernica.

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Fort Sumter: The Civil War Begins

The Civil War started 150 years ago today. A primer on how and why.

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Heartbreak Hotel

When Chicago’s Stevens Hotel opened in 1927, it was the biggest hotel in the world. By the time it was closed, it had bankrupted and caused the suicide of a member of the Stevens’ family (which included a seven-year-old future Justice John Paul Stevens), and changed the city forever.

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The Man Who Shot the Man Who Shot Lincoln

The strange life of Boston Corbett, the soldier who killed John Wilkes Booth in 1865.

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How Slavery Really Ended in America

Like hundreds of other local slaves — [they] had been pressed into service by the Confederates, compelled to build an artillery emplacement amid the dunes across the harbor. They labored beneath the banner of the 115th Virginia Militia, a blue flag bearing a motto in golden letters: “Give me liberty or give me death.”
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Utopia & Dystopia

Why utopias are best understood as fiction games, and how they quickly become dystopias when realized.

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The Saga of the Scientific Swindler!

In the 1880’s, a shabbily dressed man popped up in numerous America cities, calling upon local scientists, showing letters of introduction claiming he was a noted geologist or paleontologist, discussing both fields at a staggeringly accomplished level, and then making off with valuable books or cash loans.

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Baseball’s Loss of Innocence

After the 1919 Black Sox scandal, Ring Lardner, America’s first great sportswriter, walked away from the game.

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Autism's First Child

The long, happy, surprising life of 77-year old Donald Gary Triplett, the first person ever diagnosed with autism.

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Absolute PowerPoint

The definitive story of a ubiquitous software. PowerPoint’s origins, its evolution, and its mind-boggling impact on corporate culture.

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A Memory of Webs Past

The challenges facing the historians of the internet.

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Hasids vs. Hipsters

The abridged history of a Brooklyn culture war.

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Humanity's Endless Quest to Invent a Death Ray: A History

From the Greeks to George Lucas, 2,200 years of failure.

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1989!

On the illusion of the inevitable and the revolutions that ended the Eastern Bloc.

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From That Day Forth

A quasi-oral history of the party that was JFK’s 1961 inauguration.

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Giving Hitler Hell

Arnold Weiss escaped Germany as a kid in 1938, leaving his family behind. He returned seven years later, now a U.S. intelligence officer tasked with tracking down fugitive Nazis. The ultimate revenge story.

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Bring Back the Rails! [Part 2]

“It is simply not possible to envision any conceivable modern, urban-based economy shorn of its subways, its tramways, its light rail and suburban networks, its rail connections, and its intercity links.”

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The Glory of the Rails [Part 1]

“The world before the railways appeared so very different from what came afterward and from what we know today because the railways did more than just facilitate travel and thereby change the way the world was seen and depicted. They transformed the very landscape itself.”

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Combinations of Jacksons

The author of True Grit on growing up in Arkansas during World War II.

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The Real American Pie

Mince pie was once more American than the apple variety. It was also blamed for “bad health, murderous dreams, the downfall of Prohibition, and the decline of the white race,” among other things. Then it disappeared.

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In Search of Lost Paris

“Most cities spread like inkblots; a few, such as Manhattan, grew in linear increments. Paris expanded in concentric rings, approximately shown by the spiral numeration of its arrondissements.”

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To Have Is to Owe

An archaeology of debt.

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Amakusa: Islands of Dread

The history of a Japanese archipelago and its inhabitants, through rebellions and famine, a 20th century exodus for prostitution work across Asia, and finally depopulation and isolation.

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Inhaling the Spore

A trip to the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles.

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The Assassination

The story of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, written and published the following week.

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A Death in the Sanchez Family

An oral history of a family in Mexico City, in transition from poverty to the lower-middle class, as they scramble to organize the burial of a slum-dwelling aunt.

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Start-Up City

A history of entrepreneurship in New York City, starting with shipping magnate Jeremiah Thompson’s big gamble in the 1820s: scheduled departures.

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The Gun

Adapting from his book The Gun, Chivers traces how the design and proliferation of small arms, originating from both the Pentagon and the Russian army, rerouted the 20th century.

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The Great Sorting

Part two of the history of the Educational Testing Service.

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The Structure of Success in America

The first article in a two-part history of the Educational Testing Service, the institution behind the SAT.

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Abd el-Kader and the Massacre of Damascus.

Nineteenth century Muslim-Christian hero Abd el-Kader, the “Algerian George Washington.”

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From Russia With Blood

Mikhail Kalashnikov’s brainchild, Avtomat Kalashnikovais aka the AK-47, is the most stockpiled firearm in the world and has altered the last century like no other product. C.J. Chivers, author of The Gun, discusses.

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The Life and Times of Rusty Warren

The life and times of female comedy LP sensation Rusty Warren, whose bawdy hits like ‘Knockers Up’ commanded the charts and the lounges of the 1960s Midwest.

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Germany's Unlikely Diplomatic Triumph

A behind-the-scenes account of the tense negotiations, involving Gorbachev, Kohl, Bush, and Thatcher, that led from the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall to a reunified Germany. (Translated from German.)

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Welcome to the Monkey House

In 1906, Enrico Caruso was arrested for molesting a young woman inside the Monkey House of Central Park Zoo, paving the way for the first celebrity trial of the 20th century.

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Rubber Stamp

The story of Charles Goodyear, who dedicated his life to inventing usable rubber yet has little to show for it, aside from his name on the side of a blimp.

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The Mega-Bunker of Baghdad

Foreign policy as architecture; how embassies went from lavish social hubs to reinforced strongholds.

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Skin

A Holocaust detective story: could a lampshade pulled from the ruins of Katrina really be Buchenwald artifact made of human remains?

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Plaboy Interview: Malcolm X

Alex Haley interviews the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s number two - Malcolm X - in a Harlem restaurant.

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Whirl

For sixty years, the weekly Evening Whirl attacked the drug lords, whoring preachers, and hypocritical bourgeoisie of St. Louis’ black community, sometimes in rhyming Iambic couplets.

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Journeys Into History

Inside Rebecca West’s vast Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, an eerily timeless travelogue of the Balkans written on the eve of WWI.

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Pandora’s Briefcase

In “Operation Mincemeat” a vagrant’s corpse, raided from a London morgue, washed up on a beach in Spain, setting in motion an elaborate piece of espionage that fooled Nazi intelligence. Or did it?

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The Genesis of the Gang

Jacob Riis, writing in 1899, on how a childhood spent in New York City’s tenements led a 15-year-old boy to be convicted of murder.

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Vanishing Act

The forgotten life of Eva Tanguay, perhaps America’s first rock star.

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The Stories of One Brooklyn Block

Vignettes of the residents of South Elliot Place.

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What Makes Us Happy?

In 1937, Harvard researchers began following the lives of 268 students. Year after year, the men were interviewed and given medical and psychological exams. The goal? Find a formula for happiness.

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The Story Behind a Nonfiction Novel

In January 1966–the same month In Cold Blood was first published–Truman Capote sat down with George Plimpton to discuss the new art form he liked to call “creative journalism.”

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David Mitchell Bends Fiction

A interview with David Mitchell, author of the recent The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Cloud Atlas, on stretching a fictional universe across multiple novels and centuries of real history.

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The Anosognosic’s Dilemma (Parts 1-5)

Through a series of interviews and historical inquiries, Errol Morris dissects Anosognosia, ”a condition in which a person who suffers from a disability seems unaware of or denies the existence of his or her disability.”

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Taman Shud Case

An unidentified body found near the beach in Australia in 1948. An unclaimed suitcase. A coded note.

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The Day They Hanged An Elephant

In 1916, a down-on-its-luck traveling circus hung its star elephant.

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The Founders’ Great Mistake

The founding fathers deserve at least some of the blame for the worst presidencies in American history—they created an office that’s vaguely defined and ripe for abuse. Plus: how to fix it.

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A Jazz Age Autopsy

The lonesome death of Arnold Rothstein, notorious gambler, inspiration for a the character Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby, alleged fixer of the 1916 World Series, opiate importation pioneer, mobster and Jew.

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The Liberation of Tam Minh Pham

In 1970, he was plucked from Saigon to attend West Point. He got his degree and went home to fight, but instead spent six years in a reeducation camp. Then, somehow, he ended up teaching high school in D.C.

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Lincoln’s Great Depression

Today, Abraham Lincoln’s struggle with clinical depression would make him “unfit for office.” Back then, it was the key to his presidency.

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The Secret Court

In 1920, Harvard University officials suspected that some students were gay. So they kicked them all out.

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Piecing Together the Stasi’s Dark Legacy

In the chaotic days before the Berlin Wall fell, the East German secret police shredded 45 million pages. Fifteen years later, a team of computer scientists figured out how to put it all back together.

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Up and Then Down

The lives of elevators.

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Detroit Arcadia

Wanders through the emptied post-American landscape.

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The Falling Man

In the days after 9/11, a photo of an unknown man falling from the South Tower appeared in publications across the globe. This is the story of that photograph, and of the search to find the man pictured in it.

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Inside the Bunker with Holocaust Deniers

The inner workings of a surprisingly amiable Holocaust denial conference.

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Atomic John

The truck driver who reverse engineered the atomic bomb.

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The Death of a Civil Servant

An uneasy friendship forms in colonial Ceylon between the future husband of Virgina Woolf and a socially repulsive police magistrate.

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The Man Who Turned off the Taps

Prohibition couldn’t have happened without Wayne B. Wheeler, who foisted temperance on a thirsty nation 90 years ago.

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Tea and Sympathy

The city of Boston, the Tea Party movement, and the rightful heir to the American Revolution.

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“Oh My God—We Hit a Little Girl”

The true story of M Company: from Fort Dix to Vietnam in 50 days.