Above the Crowd

Favorite Longreads of 2012

December 26, 2012:

Over the past several years, I have become a huge fan of Mark Armstrong’s web service, Longreads. For those of you that don’t know, Longreads is a Twitter handle (@longreads), and a web service (www.longreads.com) that points to the best long form content on the Internet. At its core, it’s an amazingly effective editorial and discovery engine. Combined with a product like Instapaper, it creates an online/offline reading experience that feels purpose-built for a tablet world. Many short form articles can be read quickly while you browse through your Twitter feed. But the really great articles that make you think and help you learn (the ones that use Daniel Kahneman’s System 2), require more dedicated reading time. Longreads+Instapaper is basically “time-shifting” for the written word. I am an addict.

Several others have posted their favorite longreads of the year (you can find them here).  Unfortunately, I did not keep track as much as I should have. Next year I aim to do better. With that caveat, here are a few of my favorite long-form articles from last year.

A Basketball Fairy Tale in Middle America, by Sam Anderson (New York Times Magazine)

This article ran as a cover story in the November 8th issue of the New York Times Magazine. Like many great longreads, this article is about much more than its core subject, which in this case is a basketball team. It dives deep into the ethos of the city, and the elements of the Thunder team that make it much more special than your ordinary NBA team. Durant of course plays a huge role, but there are many more nuanced elements certain to drive any Seattle basketball fan to the edge of tears. Thanks to Sam Anderson for making me even more of an OKC fan than I already was.

The Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever, by Michael Mooney (D Magazine)

It really doesn’t matter if you are into bowling or even if you are a sports fan. You still should read The Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever, from the July issue of D Magazine. Well written nonfiction begs you to finish it all in one sitting. In The New Journalism, Tom Wolfe argued that properly written nonfiction could be more compelling than fiction. If the world ever wants a movie about bowling, the screenplay is already written. Prior to this article, I was unfamiliar with Michael Mooney’s work, but I will be watching going forward. Fantastic.

The Man Who Broke Atlantic City, by Mark Bowden (Atlantic Magazine)

This article chronicles the gambling success of Don Johnson, who more than once walked away from Atlantic City casinos with outsized wins. What is great about this story is how the hero capitalizes on the greed of the casino managers. He was able to persuade them to relax their rules, which allowed math back into the equation. You wonder how many of these stories never get told (which would seem appropriate).

Scamworld by Joseph Flatley (The Verge)

Turning towards the Internet, Joseph Flatley’s Scamworld is a look inside the dark underbelly of “Internet Marketing.” For many, the trick of the close is much more important than what is actually sold. Flatley is focused specifically on online criminals, but the tools they use are eerily similar to a subset of startups that live in the vast grey-zone of Internet marketing activities.

Why the Clean Tech Boom Went Bust, by Juliet Eilperin (Wired Magazine)

Ambition, passion, intelligence, and a boat-load of money can only take you so far. You still need physics and economics on your side. Wired Magazine often surprises with a contrarian viewpoint, and in this case published an article everyone else was afraid to write. If you want your venture to succeed, it must succeed as a business – eventually.

Is Sugar Toxic, by Gary Taubes (New York Times Magazine)

Technically, this article was published in 2011, but that should not stop it from being further distributed. Gary Taubes, as well as others, have uncovered the real cause of America’s obesity. Michael Bloomberg may look silly trying to outlaw mega-sodas, but at the very least he is calling attention to the proper villain. This is an amazing lesson in how everyone can get it wrong for decades – the scientists, the government, and the doctors.

Cormac McCarthy’s Apocalypse by David Kushner (Rolling Stone)

This one will cost you money, but the subject matter is interesting and the money goes to a great cause. Cormac McCarthy’s Apocalypse (originally published in 2007) is offered as premium content behind the Longreads subscription wall. America’s most treasured modern novelist happens to be a consistent presence at one of America’s most interesting research institutions, the Santa Fe Institute. Friends I know close to Santa Fe confirm that he is not merely present, but also an active and skilled participant. I also understand he may have “edited” one of my favorite longreads of all time, Brian Arthur’s Increasing Returns and the Two Worlds of Business from HBR in 1996.

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek by John Branch (New York Times Magazine)

This is perhaps the most interesting longread of the year. The subject matter is backcountry skiing, but that has little to do with Branch’s phenomenal achievement. The concept of computer generated “multi-media” dates back to the early 1990’s, which is the first time we could imagine text, pictures, audio, and video all combined in a single content offering. However, most efforts over the past 20 years appear to be a technology looking for a solution – there is no flow. Snow Fall may be a seminal accomplishment in multimedia where the insertion of each media type builds upon the story in a remarkably compelling way. I wouldn’t be surprised if this article takes on historical journalistic importance. Bonus: Q&A with the author.

In addition to longreads, I am equally enamored with great non-fiction video on the Internet. I have no doubt that one day there will be a very important and valuable company that categorizes and helps users discover great non-fiction Internet video. If you see a company in that space, please do me a favor and let me know. Until then, I will append a few video recommendations to my longreads list.

Jeff Bezos on Charlie Rose, November 16, 2012

Any interview with Jeff Bezos is a “must watch,” but this particular interview is my favorite of all time. Bezos is simultaneously admired on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, filling the void left by Steve Jobs as the most admired leader in technology. He offers advice on everything from running a BOD meeting to maintaining innovation in a large company. The whole time he is remarkably on message (per Amazon) and remarkably happy. Eighteen years in and killing it.

Adam Darwin: Emergent Order in Biology and Economics by Matt Ridley

Two of my favorite innovative thinkers from history are Charles Darwin and Adam Smith. Left leaning philosophies favor Darwin and not Smith. Those on the right espouse Smith but not Darwin. Ironically, Darwin borrowed many of his ideas from Smith. Ridley discusses their similarities and why we would should embrace both perspectives.

Everything You Need to Know About Finance and Investing in Under an Hour by William Ackman

If you have studied finance or business you can easily skip this video. If however, you have never studied finance or business, and you are working on a startup, I would highly encourage you to spend 44 minutes with this video. It is quite enlightening and dense in data. Worth your time. Thanks to @vanninicapital.


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