Each week we round up some of the best writing on the web in order to cut through the flood and highlight the best original online reporting, interviews, and writing. 2013 saw fantastic coverage of the NSA leaks, Silicon Valley’s larger aspirations to change the world, DNA testing, and much more, and many publications continued pushing the boundaries of movement, video, illustration, and design. And so as 2013 draws to a close, we’re taking a look back at the stories, profiles, and characters that stayed with us: we’ve narrowed it down to 25 essential reads from Grantland, Mother Jones, domus, The London Review of Books, The Awl, Fast Company, and many more.
Grab the entire list as a Readlist.
Vanity Fair: Michael Lewis - Did Goldman Sachs Overstep in Criminally Charging Its Ex-Programmer?
Serge was six feet tall but weighed roughly 130 pounds: to hide him you needed only to turn him sideways. He resisted none of these actions, but he was genuinely bewildered. The men in black refused to tell him his crime. He tried to figure it out. His first guess was that they’d gotten him mixed up with some other Sergey Aleynikov. Then it occurred to him that his new employer, the legendary high-frequency trader Misha Malyshev, might have done something shady. Wrong on both counts. It wasn’t until the plane had emptied and they’d escorted him into Newark Airport that they told him his crime: stealing computer code owned by Goldman Sachs.
The New Yorker: Michael Spector - The Operator
Oz also presides over a rapidly expanding empire of social media. He recently launched You Feel, an app on his Web site that lets users “enhance” their response to the question “How are you feeling today?” by “adding an image from their computer, a picture from Facebook, or a YouTube video.” The You Feel community is an outgrowth of doctoroz.com, which has become a kind of Merck Manual for the layman, addressing nearly every imaginable ailment, but pitched particularly to those who feel constrained by the rules of conventional medicine. Thousands of videos are available on the Web site, and they deal with every issue of mind and body, from facts about stomach cancer to the value of shrink-wrap liposuction.
domus: Joanne McNeil - Prêt à travailler: workaholic holograms
Hardly anyone feels aversion to the life-size cardboard cut-outs of grinning employees that sometimes greet you in banks, pharmacies and post offices. Holographic announcers like Carla seem to fall somewhere in between. She may not reside in the uncanny valley, but for the time being, Carla’s presence among the living is definitely uncanny.
Mother Jones: Kevin Drum - America's Real Criminal Element: Lead
But if it's everywhere, all at once—as both the rise of crime in the '60s and '70s and the fall of crime in the '90s seemed to be—the cause is a molecule.
A molecule? That sounds crazy. What molecule could be responsible for a steep and sudden decline in violent crime?
Well, here's one possibility: Pb(CH2CH3)4.
Wired: Daniel Engber - The Plastinarium of Dr. von Hagens
“My hand trembles, my language is vague,” he stammered. Two years before, he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and the symptoms had grown so intense, so rapidly, that he could no longer keep them secret. There is no cure for his disorder, no way to prevent his brain from shrinking. With each passing month, von Hagens’ limbs will get more rigid and his face more like a mask. After a career spent staving off rot and giving life to stiffened corpses, the man the tabloids call “Dr. Death” faces his own. "
Smithsonian: Mary Roach - The Gut-Wrenching Science Behind the World’s Hottest Peppers
The mood is one of stoic grimness. No one is screaming in pain. No one will be scarred by the heat. That’s not how capsaicin works. It only feels hot. The human tongue has pain receptors that respond to a certain intensity of temperature or acid. These nerve fibers send a signal to the brain, which it forwards to your conscious self in the form of a burning sensation. Capsaicin lowers the threshold at which this happens. It registers “hot” at room temperature. “It trips the alarm,” says Bruce Bryant, a senior researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. “It says, ‘Get this out of your mouth right now!’” The chili pepper tricks you into setting it free.
The New Yorker: John Seabrook - The Doctor Is In
Lukasz Gottwald—his given name—has co-written or co-produced more than thirty Top Ten singles since 2004, a run to rank with the greatest hitmakers in pop-music history: Phil Spector, the Beatles, Michael Jackson. At forty, he’s still going strong: last week’s No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball,” and the previous No. 1, Katy Perry’s “Roar,” are both Dr. Luke songs. Many of his hits—like “Roar”—are written with Max Martin, Gottwald’s Swedish mentor and frequent collaborator. If Luke is the Skywalker of pop songcraft, Max is the Obi-Wan: the reclusive master.
The Baffler: Ann Friedman - All LinkedIn with Nowhere to Go
To understand the appeal of the site, it’s necessary to reach back to the beginnings of the modern American gospel of success. The roots of the LinkedIn vision of prosperity-through-connectivity lie in the circular preachments of the positive-thinking industry, a singularly American gloss on the sunny doctrine of achieving personal success through inoffensive sociability. This modern branch of the thought-leading discipline began about a century ago, in true rags-to-riches fashion, when an unsuccessful door-to-door salesman named Dale Carnegie started teaching courses in public speaking at his local YMCA.
New York: Maureen O'Connor - All My Exes Live in Texts: Why the Social Media Generation Never Really Breaks Up
There was also a time, I am told, when staying in touch was difficult. Exes were characters from a foreclosed past, symbols from former and forgone lives. Now they are part of the permanent present. I was a college freshman when Facebook launched. All my exes live online, and so do their exes, and so do their exes, too. I carry the population of a metaphorical Texas in a cell phone on my person at all times. Etiquette can’t keep up with us—not that we would honor it anyway—so ex relationships run on lust and impulse and nosiness and envy alternating with fantasy. It’s a dozen soap operas playing at the same time on a dozen different screens, and you are the star of them all. It’s both as thrilling and as sickening as it sounds.
The New York Times: Amy Harmon - A Race to Save the Orange by Altering Its DNA
An emerging scientific consensus held that genetic engineering would be required to defeat citrus greening. "People are either going to drink transgenic orange juice or they’re going to drink apple juice," one University of Florida scientist told Mr. Kress.
And if the presence of a new gene in citrus trees prevented juice from becoming scarcer and more expensive, Mr. Kress believed, the American public would embrace it. "The consumer will support us if it’s the only way," Mr. Kress assured his boss.
The New York Review of Books: Nathaniel Rich - Diving Deep into Danger
Not everybody is cut out for the job. A diver cannot be claustrophobic or antisocial, because he must spend much of his time in a tiny sealed capsule with several other divers. He must be well-disciplined and perceptive, for he is likely to encounter a variety of unexpected hazards on the job. Many divers are military veterans, or have worked as roofers or mechanics. “The best are those who have a great deal of confidence in themselves and their abilities,” one former diver, Phil Newsum, told me. “You have to be willing to adapt to any situation. Philosophically, when you go out on a dive job, you’re expecting something is going to go wrong.”
Quiet Babylon: Tim Maly - Mark Zuckerberg's Hoodie
Is there a style of garment more iconically late 20th/early 21st century than the hoodie? Worn by CEOs and street kids. Worn by teens who wanna look like cats and rappers who wanna look hard. Worn by punks and skaters and breakdancers and taggers and Occupy protesters and college kids and sports fans. Worn by Rocky Balboa and the Wu-Tang and Ted Kazynski and Paris Hilton and Trayvon Martin and Mark Zuckerberg.
The New Yorker: George Packer - Change The World
"When financiers say that they’re doing God’s work by providing cheap credit, and oilmen claim to be patriots who are making the country energy-independent, no one takes them too seriously—it’s a given that their motivation is profit. But when technology entrepreneurs describe their lofty goals there’s no smirk or wink. "Many see their social responsibility fulfilled by their businesses, not by social or political action," one young entrepreneur said of his colleagues.
The New York Times: Jon Mooallem - There’s a Reason They Call Them ‘Crazy Ants’
The Hungarian-born philosopher Aurel Kolnai gave the horrifying qualities of bugs some serious thought. Kolnai ultimately decided that what upsets us is “their pullulating squirming, their cohesion into a homogeneous teeming mass” and their “interminable, directionless sprouting and breeding.” That is, it’s the quantity of crazy ants that’s so destabilizing. As the American psychologist James Hillman argued, an endless swarm of bugs flattens your perception of yourself as precious and meaningful. It instantly reduces your individual consciousness to a “merely numerical or statistical level.”
London Review of Books: Rebecca Solnit - Day of the postman
It’s hard, now, to be with someone else wholly, uninterruptedly, and it’s hard to be truly alone. The fine art of doing nothing in particular, also known as thinking, or musing, or introspection, or simply moments of being, was part of what happened when you walked from here to there alone, or stared out the train window, or contemplated the road, but the new technologies have flooded those open spaces. Space for free thought is routinely regarded as a void, and filled up with sounds and distractions.
The New York Times: Jay Caspian Kang - Should Reddit Be Blamed for the Spreading of a Smear?
"Almost every news outlet that came to us said the same three things," Sangeeta added. "The first was, ‘How was that night?’ The second was, ‘Is Sunny still missing?’ And the third was, ‘This is a silver lining because now you’re getting his name out.’ It was interesting to see how formulaically they processed that arc. The costs to somebody who is in a fragile state are immense and not undone by a casual apology," she said. "This is precedent-setting for what will happen for other individuals."
The Guardian: Carole Cadwalladr - My week as an Amazon insider
And to work in – and I find it hard to type these words without suffering irony seizure – a "fulfilment centre" is to be a tiny cog in a massive global distribution machine. It's an industrialised process, on a truly massive scale, made possible by new technology. The place might look like it's been stocked at 2am by a drunk shelf-filler: a typical shelf might have a set of razor blades, a packet of condoms and a My Little Pony DVD. And yet everything is systemised, because it has to be. It's what makes it all the more unlikely that at the heart of the operation, shuffling items from stowing to picking to packing to shipping, are those flesh-shaped, not-always-reliable, prone-to-malfunctioning things we know as people"
The Believer: Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah - If he hollers let him go
Chappelle didn’t seem to understand that these rumors of drugs and insanity, though paternalistic, were just the result of disbelief and curiosity. Like Salinger’s retreat from fame, Chappelle’s departure demanded an explanation: how could any human being have the willpower, the chutzpah, the determination to refuse the amount of money rumored to be Chappelle’s next paycheck: fifty million dollars. Say it with me now. Fifty. Million. Dollars. When the dust settled, and Chappelle had done interviews with Oprah and James Lipton in an attempt to recover his image and tell his story, two things became immediately apparent: Dave Chappelle is without a doubt his generation’s smartest comic, and the hole he left in comedy is so great that even ten years later very few people can accept the reason he later gave for leaving fame and fortune behind: he wanted to find a simpler way of life.
Foreign Policy: Ralph Langner - Stuxnet's Secret Twin
The vast majority of the attention has been paid to Stuxnet's smaller and simpler attack routine -- the one that changes the speeds of the rotors in a centrifuge, which is used to enrich uranium. But the second and "forgotten" routine is about an order of magnitude more complex and stealthy. It qualifies as a nightmare for those who understand industrial control system security. And strangely, this more sophisticated attack came first. The simpler, more familiar routine followed only years later -- and was discovered in comparatively short order.
Esquire: Tom Junod - Theater of Pain
For fans, injuries are like commercials, the price of watching the game as well as harrowing advertisements for the humanity of the armored giants who play it. For gamblers and fantasy-football enthusiasts, they are data, a reason to vet the arcane shorthand (knee, doubtful) of the injury report the NFL issues every week; for sportswriters they are kernels of reliable narrative. For players, though, injuries are a day-to-day reality, indeed both the central reality of their lives and an alternate reality that turns life into a theater of pain.
The Awl: Jeb Boniakowski - We Must Build An Enormous McWorld In Times Square, A Xanadu Representing A McDonald's From Every Nation
The central attraction of the ground floor level is a huge mega-menu that lists every item from every McDonald's in the world, because this McDonald's serves ALL of them. There would probably have to be touch screen gadgets to help you navigate the menu. There would have to be whole screens just dedicated to the soda possibilities. A concierge would offer suggestions. Celebrities on the iPad menus would have their own "meals" combining favorites from home ("Manu Ginóbili says 'Try the medialunas!'") with different stuff for a unique combination ONLY available at McWorld. You could get the India-specific Chicken Mexican Wrap (“A traditional Mexican soft flat bread that envelops crispy golden brown chicken encrusted with a Mexican Cajun coating, and a salad mix of iceberg lettuce, carrot, red cabbage and celery, served with eggless mayonnaise, tangy Mexican Salsa sauce and cheddar cheese.”
The New Republic: Jeffrey Rosen - Free Speech on the Internet: Silicon Valley is Making the Rules
At Facebook, the deciders are led by Dave Willner, the head of the company’s content policy team. His career provides a kind of case study in how the Deciders’ thinking has evolved. Now 28, Willner joined Facebook five years ago, working night shifts in the help center, where he answered e-mails from users about how to use the photo uploader. Within a year, he had been promoted to work on content policy. Today, he manages a crew of six employees who work around shared desks at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park; rather than a global hub for content control, their space, festooned with colorful posters, more closely resembles a neater-than-usual college dorm. Toiling under Willner’s team are a few hundred “first responders” who review complaints about nudity, porn, violence, and hate speech from offices in Menlo Park, Austin, Dublin, and Hyderabad, India.
BusinessWeek: Sam Grobart - How Samsung Became the World's No. 1 Smartphone Maker
Such striving for efficiency and excellence wasn’t always a priority. In 1995, Chairman Lee was dismayed to learn that cell phones he gave as New Year’s gifts were found to be inoperable. He directed underlings to assemble a pile of 150,000 devices in a field outside the Gumi factory. More than 2,000 staff members gathered around the pile. Then it was set on fire. When the flames died down, bulldozers razed whatever was remaining. “If you continue to make poor-quality products like these,” Lee Keon Hyok recalls the chairman saying, “I’ll come back and do the same thing.”
Fast Company: Elizabeth Murphy - Inside 23andme founder Anne Wojcicki's $99 DNA revolution
I took that money and got my daughter's genes tested, ordering up an analysis of the composition of her very small self and its odds of living a long and healthy life. And in so doing, I in some small way tied her fate to the success of the company doing the analysis, a genetic-testing startup called 23andMe in Mountain View, California
San Francisco Magazine: Kitty Morgan - Stop That Bus (I Want to Get On)
There is nothing like a shining white chariot sailing through the streets to remind us on the sidewalk that we are not the anointed. The implication pisses off a fair number of San Franciscans.
But what if you don’t hate, or resent, or self-righteously mock the Bus? What if you want to be on the Bus? What if, when you are pedaling madly at 6:45 in the morning and watching the Bus pull away, the emotion you feel is not anger, but envy?