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Sitdown Sunday: The secret story of the man who found the Pentagon Papers

Settle back in a comfy chair and sit back with some of the week’s best longreads.

President Nixon
President Nixon

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. The Pentagon Papers

Neil Sheehan was the person who obtained the Pentagon Papers – which led to the showdown between the Nixon administration and the press – but he did not want to tell the story while he was alive. 

(New York Times, approx 12 mins reading time)

Recounting the steps that led to his breaking the story, Mr. Sheehan told of aliases scribbled into the guest registers of Massachusetts motels; copy-shop machines crashing under the burden of an all-night, purloined-document load; photocopied pages stashed in a bus-station locker; bundles belted into a seat on a flight from Boston; and telltale initials incinerated in a diplomat’s barbecue set. He also revealed that he had defied the explicit instructions of his confidential source…

2. Shrunken heads

A man named Wilburn Ferguson thought that shrunken heads from the Amazon could hold the secret to curing cancer – and spent a lifetime trying to prove it.

(The Atavist, approx 78 mins reading time)

The notion that he was on the brink of curing cancer is so alluring that the Ferguson faithful are willing to overlook a few things. For one, Ferguson wasn’t a doctor. What’s more, many details of his early years in the Amazon are impossible to verify; the only sources are his own writings, a recording of a lecture he gave in the late 1970s, scattered letters, his stories as other people remember them, and news articles in which he was sometimes the only person quoted. And his approach to the indigenous people his work depended on was deeply problematic. He exoticized their traditions even as he believed in the power those traditions held. 

3. Pete Docter and Pixar

The story of how Pete Docter reinvigorated Disney’s Pixar after the exit of John Lasseter.

(Hollywood Reporter, mins reading time)

Nineteen months into taking the job, Docter is ushering in a new, more diverse generation of filmmakers at the studio, developing a pipeline of projects to feed Disney’s 13-month-old streaming service, Disney+, and grappling with taking the place of the complicated, larger-than-life figure that Lasseter represented at Pixar. More than any studio executive since Walt Disney, Lasseter was personally associated with the movies his company made, projecting a public persona of a friendly genius in a Hawaiian shirt responsible for Pixar’s unbroken string of critical and commercial successes. Lasseter’s departure during the heat of the #MeToo movement punctured that myth and left Pixar employees anxious and adrift. Since taking the job, Docter has been trying to evolve the company while holding on to the principles of creative risk-taking that enabled him to direct some of the studio’s most inventive movies — Inside OutUpMonsters, Inc. and Soul

4. The last white rhinos

The last two northern white rhinos on earth are called Najin and Fatu.

(New York Times, approx 35 mins reading time)

Sudan was 45 years old, ancient for a rhino. His skin was creased all over. Wrinkles radiated out from his eyes. He was gray, the color of stone; he looked like a boulder that breathed. For months now, his body had been failing. When he walked, his toes scraped the ground. His legs were covered with sores; one deep gash had become badly infected. The previous day, shortly before sunset, he collapsed for the final time. He struggled, at first, to stand back up — his caretakers crouched and heaved, trying to help — but his legs were too weak. The men fed him bananas stuffed with pain pills, 24 pills at a time. Veterinarians packed his wounds with medical clay.

5. The catch

The story of how a group of men in Grenoble saved the lives of two boys after their apartment went on fire. 

(BBC, approx 11 mins reading time)

Hechmi, Walid, and Lucas – the men who tried to force the boys’ door – have run back down the tower block stairs to join four others outside. They are Elyasse, Guelord, Mouhsine and Bilal. None of the men knows each other. The suburb in Grenoble, south-eastern France, is home to several thousand people – a town within a town. A crowd is looking on, panicked by the scene unfolding before them. Mouhsine asks if anyone knows the name of the eldest boy. “Sofiane,” someone replies.

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6. 40 days to learn film

Something a little different for you here – Mark Cousins, the Edinburgh-based, Belfast-born film expert and author, put this video together during lockdown. If you want to look a bit closer at the films you watch, and learn more about ways of seeing and films from across the world, take a gander at this.

(Vimeo, 2hrs 16 mins total viewing time)

PastedImage-51824 Source: Twitter


The rapper MF Doom died unexpectedly at the end of last year. Here’s a look at his career, from 2009.

(The New Yorker, approx mins reading time)

When Dumile began performing as MF Doom, he extended hip-hop’s obsession with façades. While other m.c.s fashioned themselves after outlaws, thugs, or drug dealers, Dumile, whose handle is inspired by the Fantastic Four villain Dr. Doom, called himself “the Supervillain.” When he raps, he often refers to Doom in the third person. Other m.c.s are obsessed with machismo; Dumile is obsessed with “Star Trek” and “Logan’s Run.”

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday>

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