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sitdown sunday

Sitdown Sunday: 7 deadly reads

The very best of the week’s writing from around the web.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair. We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. An icon is born
Patrick Radden Keefe dusts off the notes from a ‘spitballing’ session between George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. The outcome? A character by the name of Indiana Jones. (New Yorker)

The hero, Lucas explains, is a globe-trotting archaeologist, “a bounty hunter of antiquities.” He’s a professor, a Ph.D. – “People call him doctor.” But he’s a little “rough and tumble.” As the men hash out the Jones iconography, they refer, incessantly, to other films, invoking Eastwood, Bond, and Mifune. He will dress like Bogart in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” Lucas says: “the khaki pants…the leather jacket. That sort of felt hat.” Oh, and also? “A bullwhip.” He’ll carry it “rolled up,” Lucas continues. “Like a snake that’s coiled up behind him.” “I like that,” Spielberg says. “The doctor with the bullwhip.”

2. Surviving the horror
Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev strive to separate fact from fiction and uncover the true story of the dwarfs of Auschwitz. (The Guardian)

“We looked up to the ceiling to see why the water was not coming. Suddenly we smelled gas. We gasped heavily, some of us fainting on the floor. With our last breath we cried out. Minutes passed, or maybe just seconds, then we heard an angry voice from outside – ‘Where is my dwarf family?’ The door opened, and we saw Dr Mengele standing there. He ordered us to be carried out and had cold water poured on us to revive us.”

3. The not-so-futuristic future
David Bauer looks back at the year 2000, and all the things we take for granted now that didn’t exist then. (Medium)

You wake up at 7am on a wonderful morning in early 2000. Dreamy as you are, you grab your phone to check the news and your email. Well, the news is that no one has texted you while you were sleeping and that your phone doesn’t connect to the internet. Because, well, you don’t have a smartphone. Just like everyone else doesn’t. Actually, a bestselling mobile phone launched in 2000 looked like this. You could still play a round of Snake, though.

4. Meeting Ivan
Megan Garber remembers the Russian mannequin that beat everyone to space. (The Atlantic)

His nickname was Ivan Ivanovich – “John Doe” – and he was, in his way, the first person in space. (He beat Yuri Gagarin to that honor, technically, by four weeks.) Today Ivan is displayed, still in his Tang-orange suit, in the Smithsonian – a steely-eyed relic of a time when space travel inspired not just wonder, but something else, too: fear.

5. The poisoned potato
Maggie Koerth-Baker recalls the ‘Lenape’ potato, and how its high solanine levels gave crisp fans more than they bargained for. (BoingBoing)

In the late 1960s, researchers from the US Department of Agriculture, Penn State University, and the Wise Potato Chip Company teamed up breed a very special potato, which they named the Lenape. More than 30 years later, one of their colleagues still thought fondly of that spud. “Lenape was [wonderful],” Penn State scientist Herb Cole told journalist Nancy Marie Brown in 2003. “It chipped golden.” Yes, the Lenape made a damn fine potato chip. Unfortunately, it was also kind of toxic.

6. The hostage
Richard Engel writes a personal tale about every war correspondent’s worst nightmare – being kidnapped in Syria. (Vanity Fair)

I got out of the car. Two of the gunmen were already marching Aziz to the truck. He had his hands up, his shoulders back, his head tilted forward to protect against blows from behind. Maybe I should run. Maybe I should run right now. But the road is flat and open. The only cover is by the trees near the truck. Maybe I should run. But where? I saw John standing by the minivan. Gunmen were taking Ian toward the truck. It was his turn. Like me, John hadn’t been touched yet. Maybe they’ve forgotten us? Maybe they don’t want us? Our eyes made contact. John shrugged and opened his hands in disbelief. Time was going very slowly now, but my mind was racing like a panicked heart in a body that can’t move. “Get going!” a gunman yelled at me in Arabic, pointing his weapon at my chest.


In 2010, Bill Geerhart wrote in CONELRAD ADJACENT about a 1955 episode of the popular American show ‘This Is Your Life’ which, for many, went a step too far.

On May 11, 1955, before an audience of millions of viewers, a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing was shocked to receive a handshake from the co-pilot who flew the mission to destroy his city. This Is Your Life, the show that engineered this stunt, was an enormously popular “testimonial” program, but one that was frequently criticized for its tendency to go overboard in exploiting the emotional responses of its usually unwitting subjects. The Hiroshima episode is so far off the charts in this regard that – even today – it is unsettling to watch the one clip that is available online.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday >

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