Long Reads Of The Year: 2015

50 amazing stories you may have missed from around the web

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As we emerge from the clickbait age, the popularity of long form journalism (#longreads, if you're on Twitter) is soaring, with new digital companies investing in it for the first time and older publications harnessing digital media to make their features look better than ever before.

Every week on this website, we publish a selection of the five best long form features that have been published on other websites around the world.

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Here is a selection of the best of the best from 2015 – feats of journalism that uncover important truths and get under the skin of remarkable people who shape the world today, or in other cases, simply tell amazing stories that otherwise would not have been heard. 

In the same list, broken down by month, Esquire's editor-in-chief Alex Bilmes selects his highlights from a year commissioning work with the same aspirations.

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Bookmark the ones that interest you, and spend some time this Christmas break absorbing more than just mince pies and sherry. Or, of course, sit back and do all three at once.

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January

1 | "For the last eight years, I have travelled everywhere with seven trained bodyguards in two bullet-proof cars." In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks author Roberto Saviano, who helped expose the workings of the Italian mafia, wrote a piece for the Guardian about what it is like living under police protection and the threat of death for something you wrote.

2 | In the most widely-read article ever to appear on Esquire UK, Max Olesker investigated the rise and rise of the spornosexual and spent three gruelling months in the gym to find out what being 'ripped' really feels like.


February

3 | Mother Jones's Mariah Blake meet Warren Farrell, the one-time feminist hero who now leads America's 'Men's Right Movement'.

4 | "He wrote pirate porn, ghost porn, science-fiction porn, vampire porn, historical porn, time-travel porn, secret-agent porn, thriller porn, zombie porn and Atlantis porn," author Chris Offutt's father was one of the most prolific pulp writers in American history. In this extract from his memoir for the New York Times, he describes unconvering the extent of his unusual family legacy.

5 | Paul Kalanithi is a young surgeon with metastatic lung cancer. His letter to his baby daughter, 'Before I Go', published on Stanford Medicine Magazine, was both deeply moving and a reminder how much we take our own health for granted. Kalanithi died only weeks later aged 37.

6 | In 'Remembering My Father' Andrew O’Hagan, one of Britain’s best writers of fact and fiction (and an Esquire editor-at-large), writes movingly about his father and his battle with alcohol.

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March

7 | In this extract from his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson investigates a peculiar case of online retribution, and asks how we arrived at a situation where the fake indignation particular to social media can have such devastating real-world consequences.

8 | Esquire editor-at-large Will Self travelled to the American deep south with his 16-year-old son in search of an authentic taste of the blues. Ostensibly a travel piece, it was really about a journey all fathers and sons will recognise.

9 | 'Journalist goes to a porn convention' has long been something of a cliche in magazines. But this feature, from Grantland's Molly Lambert, was an unusually even-handed and thoughtful look at the industry and its rising female stars.

10 | In 'The Unhappy King of Snooker', The New Yorker's Sam Knight profiled Ronnie O’Sullivan, the game's greatest – and most tortured – genius.


April

11 | Fans of The Sopranos were delighted to hear creator David Chase finally explain, shot-by-shot, the show's famous final scene, for the Directors Guild of America. So were we.

12 | As part of a New York Times shoot, Game Of Thrones actresses Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams explained what it's like spending your teenage years on the biggest show in the world to Emily Shur.
 

May

13 | When will the last all-male clubs admit women? The Guardian's Amelia Gentleman investigated The Garrick Club in London, where a new vote on whether to admit women members was about to take place.

14 | Chances are, you've heard about an online event called 'gamergate' but not known exactly what it is. Here for Boston Magazine, Zachary Jason had the story of the online stalker who found an army – and ruined several lives in the process.

15 | American journalist Jeff Sharlet uses Instagram to 'tell the stories you won't see in magazines', profiling everyday people. Here for Mic, Sophie Kleeman interviewed him and compiles some of his best work.

16 | A deeply moving and difficult to read piece from US Esquire; 'The Friend' is one writer's account of losing his wife to cancer, and the best friend who gave up everything to help him get through it. By Matthew Teague.

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17 | Four years after the death of Osama Bin Laden, the truth about the assassination is still not fully known. Seymour M. Hersh, writing in the London Review Of Books, unpicked some of what he claims are the lies perpetuated by the Obama administration.

18 | As the most comprehensive book yet written on the Utøya massacre was published, Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard went inside the mind of serial killer Anders Breivik, for the New Yorker.

19 | The mystery of who owns London's most expensive mansion is the subject of this excellent and painstakingly researched New Yorker piece by Ed Caesar.

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June

20 | What is it like to be truly alone in 2015? Esquire writer Sam Parker spent seven days cut off from the world – and the internet – in a remote cabin in Scotland in order to find.

21 | Almost a month after the general election, the Guardian's Patrick Wintour provided what remains the definitive account of what went so terribly wrong for Ed Miliband and the Labour party. 

22 | Slate's Dan Kois visited the writing room of Onion-spinoff and internet parody site ClickHole, and declared it 'the institutional voice of the Internet'.

23 | Writing for the Guardian, Michael Scott Moore told the incredible story of when he was kidnapped by Somali pirates and held hostage for 977 days.


July

24 | In 'The Lonely End', Matthew Bremner meet the man who clears up after Japan's growing number of kodokushi cases – elderly people, forgotten by society and dying alone. For Roads And Kingdoms.

25 | For the London Review of Books, Ian Penman wrote a masterful essay on the life and legacy of Frank Sinatra.

26 | Esquire's Deputy Editor Johnny Davis told the story of how 6 Music defined what we listen to today as part of our special music issue.

27 | In 'The Mixed-Up Brothers of Bogota', New York Times Magazine's Susan Dominus told the remarkable story of two pairs of Colombian identical twins who were raised as two pairs of fraternal twins following a hospital mix up – and how they found each other.

28 | In 'A Journey Into The Battle Of Waterloo, 200 Years On', Esquire editor-at-large Tom Barber followed in the footsteps of the Duke of Wellington’s army on a journey into this bloody chapter in British history – and his own boyhood obsession with it.

29 | Esquire's Sanjiv Bhattacharya had a front row seat at the Suge Knight murder case in LA. In 'Taking The Rap', he explores how the man who was once the most powerful and feared figure in hip-hop became barely a shadow of his former self. 


August

30 | What happens if, like some of the world's greatest minds, you wear the same clothes every day? Esquire's Will Hersey found out.

31 | For the New Yorker, Jake Halpern profiled Darren Wilson, the cop who was not indicted for shooting Michael Brown in the incident that sparked the Ferguson riots.

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32 | In one of the most harrowing and enraging articles you're ever likely to read, New York Times' Rukmini Callimachi uncovered sex slavery in the Islamic State and how ISIS has 'enshrined a theology of rape'.


September

33 | In 'Murder on the Appalachian Trail', Earl Swift wrote for Outside about his encounter with a young couple who were murdered on America's most famous hiking route twenty-five years ago, and how the horrendous crime changed the way the nature thought about the outdoors forever.

34 | A.E. Hotchner, in this extract from his new book Hemingway In Love published in Smithsonian Magazine, recalled the writer telling him the story of how he lost – and forever longed for – his first wife Hadley.

35 | In this meticulously researched and often harrowing account, Foreign Policy Magazine's Tristan McConnell tells the story of the 2013 terrorist attack at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall.


October

36 | The Guardian's Joris Luyendij spent two years interviewing hundred of City insiders to reveal 'How the banks ignored the lessons of the crash'. It's a fascinating – and worrying – glimpse inside our financial system.

37 | Jennifer Percy, from the New York Times, flew to Syria to meet the ragtag group of Americans and Europeans who have flown there voluntarily to help fight ISIS. Some are ex-soldiers chasing former glories. Some are youngsters looking for adventure. But do any of them actually know what they're doing?

38 | "Mars has always had a certain fascination for us Earthlings," wrote Game Of Thrones author George RR Marin in the Guardian, "it was one of the original planets, the Fab Five of antiquity, the “wanderers” who refused to march in step with the stars, but made their own way through the heavens." His plotted history of the red planet's presence in science fiction is a delight.

39 | "[He] is the same boorish, brash and grandiose showman we’ve known across many realms. And for some reason, that character has proved an incendiary match with this political moment." The New York Times Magazine's Mark Leibovich went on the road with Donald Trump. The result is a brilliant, vivid profile of the man who would be president.

40 | In 2013, a 5-year-old boy was kidnapped from a school bus in Alanta and held in an underground bunker by a disturbed man with a grudge against the government. It turned into one of the most complex hostages situations ever handled by the FBI. Here, Michael M. Phillips and the Wall Street Journal compile an account of what happened from interviews and exclusive access to audio and video recordings.

41 | In 'The Death and Life of the Great British Pub', the Guardian's Tom Lamont told the story of the Golden Lion in Camden and how it fought back against the trend of Britain's public houses closing down at an alarming rate.

42 | In 'The Strange Case of Anna Stubblefield', New York Times Magazine's Daniel Engber had the story of the woman who told the family of a severely disabled man that she could help him to communicate with the outside world, and ended up the subject of the criminal trial.


November

43 | Writing for Matter, Josh Dean investigated Elisa Lam, the Canadian student whose mysterious death in an LA hotel became a online conspiracy magnet.

44 | Elizabeth Haysom and Jens Soering were young lovers who both ended up in jail for the brutal murder of the former's parents in 1985. All these years later, why has the case become an international cause? The New Yorker's Nathan Heller had this briliantly researched account of a astonishing story.

45 | Sometimes, real life is more astonishing than fiction. This gripping and harrowing account of Salvador Alvarenga, a fisherman who spent over a year lost at sea fighting for survival while on the brink of madness, is one such story. For the Guardian, Jonathan Franklin spoke with Alvarenga to tell his tale.

46 | Boot camps for troubled teens is billion-dollar industry in America. But a lack of regulation means some of them are places of starvation, torture and even death. Rolling Stone's Jesse Hyde had the tragic story of Bruce Staeger and the Tierra Blanca Ranch in New Mexico.

47 | In Texas, an evangelic academy goes to extreme lengths to keep its young followers 'pure'. Writing for Lapham's Quarterly, Jeff Sharlet visited the 'Hell House' to watch a theatrical display of sex and violence with some young Christians fighting their urges. 


December

48 | Esquire's Giles Coren swapped gritty north London for a pile in the Cotswolds. What could possibly go wrong?

49 | In 'The Machiavelli of Maryland', the Guardian's Thomas Meaney profiled Edward Luttwak, the military strategist and scholar who has the ear of presidents, prime ministers and the Dalai Lama. Why do very powerful people pay vast sums for his advice?

50 | Finally, Esquire's Tim Lewis travels to the remote mangrove forests of Bangladesh where an uneasy truce exists between man and man-eater exists, to ask 'What is the Future of the Bengal Tiger?'