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Sitdown Sunday: The best longreads of 2019

One great longread a month from the year that was.

EVERY SUNDAY WE pick the week’s best longreads for you to savour. 

Here’s our pick of the best reads from the past year – but there are even more than below, so catch up with all of the Sitdown Sunday longreads here

January

A stunning piece of investigative work by the NYT looks at the killing of a medic on the Gaza strip, and what really happened. Both sides had different stories – so the paper delved into the mystery.

(New York Times, approx 27 mins reading time)

To the Palestinians, she was an innocent martyr killed in cold blood, an example of Israel’s disregard for Palestinian life. To the Israelis, she was part of a violent protest aimed at destroying their country, to which lethal force is a legitimate response as a last resort. Palestinian witnesses embellished their initial accounts, saying she was shot while raising her hands in the air. The Israeli military tweeted a tendentiously edited video that made it sound like she was offering herself as a human shield for terrorists.

February

There is just one full-time forensic anthropologist in Canada, Kathy Gruspier. She was the one charged with finding out if something weird was buried in planters found on a quiet suburban drive. Jeremy McArthur has been accused of the murders. (Contains details some may find disturbing.)

(Vanity Fair, approx 16 mins reading time)

“I think there’s going to be something in these planters,” Idsinga remembers Gruspier saying. “But it could just be a chunk of ice, I don’t know.” He and his team drove to the lab. By then, the containers had been there for 10 days and were starting to emit a foul odor. In the forensic-examination bay, the police watched Gruspier saw the planter she had X-rayed in half. She peeled away the sides to reveal a human head, torsos, and limbs. Through dental and fingerprint analyses, Gruspier’s team eventually separated seven sets of remains.

March

John Barker was a British psychiatrist who began collecting stories of people’s visions. But his work had an intense impact on him.

(The New Yorker, approx 37 mins reading time)

 Barker was intrigued. He believed that he had treated at least two men during his career whose extreme agitation had either killed them or hastened their demise. Medicine seemed only partly able to explain what had happened. In 1942, Walter Cannon, the head of physiology at Harvard Medical School, had used the phrase “voodoo death” to describe a potential biological mechanism by which someone could be frightened to death—an overload of the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal glands. 

April 

What is going on with Brexit? This essay tries to get to the bottom of it…

(The LRB, approx 16 mins reading time)

During the centuries in which Britain maintained its global empire, this sense of being special did not rest on a simple identity. The British Empire looked alternately towards the European continent, where it sought to maintain the balance of power, and towards the seas, where it reigned supreme. This dual perspective began to weaken when a second type of empire – Ellen Meiksins Wood called it the empire of capital – replaced the earlier one, especially during the Thatcher years.

May

The BBC journeys to Cork to look at the mother and baby home Bessborough,  where unmarried mothers were sent to have babies in 1960s Ireland.

(BBC, approx 26 mins reading time)

Once through the door, her clothes, her savings book, her small stud earrings and her bracelet were taken from her. She was given a uniform – clogs and a starched denim dress. Bridget – like the other arrivals – was told not to speak about her life outside. All of them were given a different name. Hers was Alma – but she couldn’t get used to it.

June

A peek into the bizarre world of incels, some of whom are going under the knife in order to attract women – even though they don’t seem to like women very much at all.

(The Cut, approx 38 mins reading time)

The sight of certain women began to bother him. When a woman he hired turned out to be beautiful, he fumed online: “An 8/10 girl works for me since today. I’m going to dominate the hell out of her. Trust me, I’m going to kill her confidence.” Women with babies ignited anger, too. “Every time I pass by a pram, it fills me with disgust to know that she has ruined her body and chose to reproduce with another guy,” he wrote. 

July

Susan McKay writes about the late journalist Lyra McKee, and her legacy.

(The New Yorker, approx 24 mins reading time)

She grew up on Belfast’s Cliftonville Road, where swathes of decaying Victorian mansions front narrow red-brick terraces. It was known during the Troubles as Murder Mile, notorious for drive-by shootings and as a hunting ground for a sectarian gang called the Shankill Butchers; Lyra said there were certain streets that her mother still warned her to avoid, including one on which she’d seen a young man murdered. 

August

Ben Shenton speaks about the 15 years he spent living in a doomsday cult in Australia.

(BBC, approx 6 mins reading time)

Ben and the other children were told that Anne was their mother. She taught them to avoid outsiders and if any approached them – on the shore of the lake perhaps – to follow the mantra Unseen, Unheard, Unknown. “It was very much a thing of: you do not tell any outside person who is not a sect member anything,” Ben says. “If I had any interaction with them, I would check through what I said to make sure that I hadn’t revealed anything.”
September

A longread about the Brazilian president and how he “borrows from the Trump playbook”. 

(The New Yorker, approx 34 mins reading time)

Like many autocrats, Bolsonaro came to power with a suddenness that alarmed the élites. He had run a low-budget campaign, consisting mostly of a social-media effort overseen by his son Carlos. At events with supporters, he posed for selfies making a gesture as if he were shooting a machine gun. He promised to “reconstruct the country”—and to return power to a political right that had been in eclipse for decades. In the inaugural ceremony, he vowed to “rescue the family, respect religions and our Judeo-Christian tradition, combat gender ideology, conserving our values.”

October

In 1992, Yoshihiro Hattori knocked on a door – the wrong door. This would have deadly consequences for him.

(BBC, approx 10 mins reading time)

The two boys, decked out in fancy dress, thought they had found the right place. But they’d made an innocent mistake that cost Yoshi his life. A media frenzy followed, and later a massive campaign to change America’s gun laws. Twenty-seven years on, Yoshi’s parents, his host family in the US, and a Louisiana lawyer recalled the day that changed their lives.

November

A deep dive into the issue of immigration and how it’s been treated by political parties in the UK.

(The Guardian, approx 20 mins reading time)

Just as communities were exposed to the shocks of an unrestrained free market and a shrinking state, they were simultaneously bombarded with stories about “Slovak spongers” and cheating Czechs. Politicians of all stripes fell in line, producing hostile rhetoric and policies in response – and defining the issue as a reflection of supposed concerns over the exact number of arrivals, the “pace of change” in local communities and the need to exert control over migration. This was the catalyst for David Cameron’s foolish 2010 election pledge to introduce a target figure for “net migration” – which the Conservative party failed to meet, again and again, only inflaming public resentment and mistrust over the issue 

December

 You’d expect ‘values votes’ to reject Trump… but they don’t. Why?

(Rolling Stone, approx 29 mins reading time)

And without the evangelical voting bloc, no Republican candidate could hope to have a path to the presidency. Evangelicals — a term that today refers to people who believe that Jesus died for their sins, that the Bible is the word of God, that every believer has a “born again” or salvation moment, and that the good news of Jesus should be widely disseminated — make up as much as a quarter of the country, or close to 80 million people. Around 60 percent vote, more than any other demographic, and among white evangelical voters, more than three-quarters tend to go to Republicans, thanks to wedge issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgender rights.

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