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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week [16]

| Mon May 23, 2011 4:14 PM EDT

Mother Jones guest blogger Mark Armstrong is the founder of Longreads, a site devoted to uncovering the best long-form nonfiction articles available online. And what better time to curl up with a great read than over the weekend? Below, a hand-picked bouquet of five interesting stories, including word count and approximate reading time. (Readers can also subscribe to The Top 5 Longreads of the Week by clicking here.)

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1. Oprah: Built in Baltimore | David Zurawik | Baltimore Sun | May 18, 2011 | 13 minutes (3,295 words)

Before the success, there was misery, harassment and an overhyped local TV ad campaign that asked: "What is an Oprah?" The Baltimore Sun revisits Oprah's rocky early years working at local station WJZ, and her early clashes with her co-anchor, the late Jerry Turner:

"'At every chance he could get, he would embarrass me or, like, try to make me feel bad about where I went to school,' Winfrey says. 'That's when I first learned that, oh, where you went to school is an important thing, because he'd go, "Where'd you go to school again? What little college or university?" So I would have to say my memories of Jerry Turner are not fond ones.'

"Richard Sher, her ultimate WJZ onscreen partner, says her time with Turner was "an almost impossible situation" for Winfrey.

"'Well, she was paired with the king, King Jerry, right?' Sher says. 'They brought in this young, African-American Miss Tennessee State from Channel 5 in Nashville, Tenn., and the show did not do well. And Jerry certainly did not get blamed for it. I mean, what's different about it? Well, for the first time, somebody was sitting next to the king of local television, the ruler, the best.'"

See also: "When Oprah Was Ours" (Jane Marion, Baltimore Magazine)


2. Too Young to Wed: The Secret World of Child Brides
| Cynthia Gorney | National Geographic | May 17, 2011 | 17 minutes (4,411 words)

The cultural issues that make stamping out child marriage more complicated than it might seem in countries including India, Yemen and Afghanistan. In a rural village in India, Gorney reports on a ceremony involving three brides—15, 13 and 5. She spoke to a 17-year-old who was married at age 8:

"Yes, she said, she had seen her young husband since the wedding. But only briefly. He is a few years older. So far she had managed to postpone the gauna, the transition to married life in his household. She looked away when I asked her impression of him and said, he is not educated. We regarded each other, and she shook her head; there was no possibility, none, that she would disgrace her parents by delaying the gauna forever: 'I have to be with him. I'll make him study and understand things. But I will not leave him.'

"She wanted to go to college, she said. Her intense wish was to qualify for the Indian police force so she could specialize in enforcement of the child marriage prohibition law. She had been keeping a diary throughout high school. One of the entries read, in carefully lettered Hindi: 'In front of my eyes, I'll never ever allow child marriages to happen. I'll save each and every girl.'"

More from National Geographic: "Opium Wars" (Robert Draper, Feb. 2011)


3. May 21: The Rapture Meets My 40th Birthday
| Maud Newton | The Awl | May 19, 2011 | 13 minutes (3,406 words)

The writer awaits the End of the World—which happens to fall on her 40th birthday—and recalls her upbringing with a mother who had warned her from an early age that the apocalypse was coming:

"Rapture Readiness is a hilarious cliche in the popular culture now, but it's no joke when you live it. I can't tell you how many nights I lay awake, obsessively begging the Lord for forgiveness, at the age of eight.

"You get steeped in this stuff as a kid, even if some part of you was always skeptical, it's hard to lose the residual sense that everything unfolding in the world—from natural disasters to commerce and geopolitics—signals some approaching doomsday. Or maybe this sort of existential dread is actually just genetic. It seems to run in my mom's family."

See also: "Here We (Don't) Go Again: Revisting the Millerites' 1844 Rapture Prediction" (Kathryn Schulz, "Being Wrong")


4. Nanolaw with Daughter
| Paul Ford | FTrain | May 16, 2011 | 8 minutes (2,031 words)

If the apocalypse *doesn't* happen, there's always this. Ford envisions a future in which you teach your 10-year-daughter how to fight her own lawsuits:

"My daughter was first sued in the womb. It was all very new then. I'd posted ultrasound scans online for friends and family. I didn't know the scans had steganographic thumbprints. A giant electronics company that made ultrasound machines acquired a speculative law firm for many tens of millions of dollars. The new legal division cut a deal with all five Big Socials to dig out contact information for anyone who'd posted pictures of their babies in-utero. It turns out the ultrasounds had no clear rights story; I didn't actually own mine. It sounds stupid now but we didn't know. The first backsuits named millions of people, and the Big Socials just caved, ripped up their privacy policies in exchange for a cut. So five months after I posted the ultrasounds, one month before my daughter was born, we received a letter (back then a paper letter) naming myself, my wife, and one or more unidentified fetal defendants in a suit. We faced, I learned, unspecified penalties for copyright violation and theft of trade secrets, and risked, it was implied, that my daughter would be born bankrupt."

More from Ford: "The Web Is a Customer Service Medium" (Jan. 2011)


5. How Rajat Gupta Came Undone
| Suzanna Andrews | Businessweek | May 19, 2011 | 19 minutes (4,987 words)

The downfall of the former head of McKinsey, who's accused of leaking confidential details from a Goldman Sachs boardroom discussion about its earnings in 2008. The SEC's charges have raised questions about the consulting company itself, and whether its trustworthy reputation has been tarnished by the charges:

"The firm's culture may have shaped Gupta more than he shaped it. McKinsey had a culture of superiority, says one longtime client, who declined to be identified, adding that consultants at the firm really seemed to think they were better than anyone else in the business world. This CEO is still shocked recalling an incident in the late 1980s, when a McKinsey team offered to provide him with a road map of what his competitors were doing. When asked how they could produce such information, he was told that McKinsey also worked with his competitors, but he could trust McKinsey to know what was confidential information and what was to be kept private. He says arrogance permeated the firm. The usual rules seemed not to apply. When this CEO listened to a wiretapped phone call from July 2008, in which Gupta relayed to Rajaratnam the details of the Goldman board's discussions about buying a commercial bank, it sounded to him just like Gupta consulting a client."

More Businessweek: "Glock: America's Gun" (Paul M. Barrett, Jan. 2011)


Featured Longreader: Dan Shanoff @danshanoff

Dan is the founder of Quickish, a short-form, real-time news company

"Sportswriting has never been better, in part because new platforms have allowed brilliant indie publishers to push boundaries creatively. An under-the-radar site called Pitchers and Poets has spent the past two weeks running more than 40 essays from writers well-known and less-known about their favorite baseball first basemen of the 1990s, a seemingly random category that nonetheless captures a particular slice of baseball—and the writers' passion for it—just before the whole 'steroid era' thing made fandom more complicated. The essays are all wonderful. This past Wednesday, one ran by Pete Beatty, an editor at Bloomsbury Press, about erstwhile Indians slugger Jim Thome, both evocative ('When Thome really connects, it's almost like he's swinging an oar') and provocative ('Jim Thome is ruin porn.') Dipping through the entire 'First Basemen of the 1990s' series will keep you entertained from now until the Rapture comes."

Jim Thome Takes His Rips | Pete Beatty | Pitchers and Poets | May 18, 2011 | 13 minutes (3,227 words)