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20 Amazing Long Reads From 2013

The journalism that has made our jaws drop over the past 12 months

20 Amazing Long Reads From 2013

Every Sunday, we round up our pick of the best long reads we've found written by colleagues at newspapers, magazines and blogs around the world.

They are, every one of them, reassuring signs that in a world of endless memes and funny lists (which we love too, let it be noted), there is still room for thorough reports and hard-to-tell stories that open your eyes and stick in your mind for days or weeks afterwards.

Here are 15 of our favourites from this year, along with five from our own pages.  

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1 | Ann O'Neill was the reporter behind this emphatic CNN investigation into a half-century year-old murder of a 7-year-old girl in 1957 – dubbed the coldest case ever solved.

2 | Roy Sullivan was hit by lightning seven times – the odds of which are 4.15 in 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Writing for The Washington Post Tom Dunkel went inside of the life of ‘The Spark Ranger’

3 | Tired of a busy modern life, a 70-year-old man flees into the wild. “If you suspect your heart has a hole in it – take yourself out of the world," says Dave Glasheen. A true desert island story from The New Republic, written by Kent Russell. 

4 | The Atlantic's Yochi Dreazen reported from Mali, the first sovereign country to be largely taken over by al-Qaeda, turning it into the world's newest terrorist training ground. The result was a far-reaching account arguing why the new face of global terror is like to be African

5 | A Harper's writer paid a visit to Tokyo's first "co-sleeping café" – where men pay a premium to nap with beautiful hostesses. It's a strictly non-sexual experience, but you can pay for extras, like having her stare into your eyes, or spoon. Gideon Lewis-Kraus evokes the strangeness of the experience beautifully.

6 | 'Thanksgiving In Mongolia', Ariel Levy's piece in The New Yorker, was an account of a personal tragedy that is one of the most powerful pieces of writing we read all year. To say anymore would be to give too much away.

7 | In 2011, hundreds of men applied to a Craigslist post advertising what sounded like a 'dream job' managing a farm in Ohio. In fact, they were being lured away to their death. Writing for The Atlantic, Hanna Rosin told the story of the Craigslist Killers, and in the process revealed a surprising truth about the emotional lives of men in a time of recession and family breakdown.

8 | "The trove of documents from Snowden were kept on these computers, in encrypted file containers. Accessing each container required three passwords, and no individual knew more than one." The New Yorker's extensive profile of Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and how he broke the Edward Snowden story, by Ken Auletta, read, at times, like a political thriller. A fascinating, thorough account of one of the biggests news stories of the year.

9 | What is social media doing to the sex lives of our teenagers? Transforming it beyond recognition, according to this report by Vanity Fair. Bling Ring author Nancy Jo Sales interviewed several young people about hook-up culture, pornography and how we may be "raising our kids to be performers".

10 | In Japan, young people are no longer having sex. Writing for the Guardian, Abigail Haworth visited a society trapped in a alarming population crisis, where the country's young are increasing uninterested in sex or relationships, to try and find out why.

11 | For The New Yorker, Elizabeth Rubin told the story of the Shannon Davis, the Texan philanthropist who is helping to fund the hunt for Jospeth Kony. Using funds from a charitable organisation she heads, Davis has hired private military contractors to train an African army determined to capture the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army and one of the world's most wanted war criminals. And they're getting very, very close. 

12 | "I just don't know if I can do this": not words you'd expect to hear from a president, least of all Barack Obama. But in the wake of his disastrous first debate with Mitt Romney during the 2012 election, the most charismatic and self-assured politician of recent times was a wreck. An excerpt in the New York Times Magazine of Double Down, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, this was a fascinating insight into the moment the wheels nearly came off the president's reelection campaign. 

13 | James Arthur Ray is an American self-help guru who became a millionaire after his teachings were endorsed by Oprah Winfrey. But in 2009, he led three people to their death in a lodge. On The Verge, Matt Stroud told the story of a charlatan they dubbed 'The Death Doctor'.

14 | Writing for The New York Times Magazine, Kevin Sack told the remarkable story of Jacob Deng Mach, a Sudanese immigrant who escaped war, poverty and crocodile attacks to find himsef on the verge of passing the entry exam to join the Atlanta police academy.

15 | In a stunningly presented piece for The Verge, Katie Drummmond exposed the devastating health consequences facing soliders serving in Iraq and Afghanistan who were exposed to 'burn pits' – the multi-acre, continual fires used to eradicate everything from everyday rubbish to human body parts, and the US government's reluctance to recognise the problem.


And here are 5 long reads written for Esquire UK over the past 12 months.


1 | Giles Coren gives up booze, and explains why he's never felt better.

2 | Will Self sets sail for St. Kilda, Scotland's inaccessible wilderness.

3 | Ben Anderson travels to Afghanistan, to tell the soldiers' story (and it's not the one you hear on the news).

4 | Will Hersey on being an accidental golfer, and learning to accept his fate.

5 | Tim Adam reports on how Belgium became the hottest country in world football.