Longform’s Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.


Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

Murder of an Idealist, by Sean Flynn. GQ.

The life and last days of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

For Stevens, sailing on a ghost ship into a revolution really was an adventure. True, there was a good measure of altruism to what Stevens did for a living, which appears to be a family trait: His father, Jan, was a lawyer in the California attorney general’s office who worked on water rights and public-land access and such; his brother, Tom, left a career as a civil litigator to prosecute federal white-collar crimes; his sisters, Anne and Hilary, are doctors. Like them, Stevens did want to make the world a better place. But he also thought his job was a terrific amount of fun. In fact, when he was posted to Libya under the Qaddafi regime, he told a foreign-service officer named S. Sita Sonty that she and her family should come, too. “This is gonna be awesome,” he told her. “It’ll be like the Wild, Wild West. We’ll have a great adventure.”


The World is Watching. Roads and Kingdoms.

The U.S. election as witnessed by 25 reporters in 23 countries from Barcelona to Bangkok.

The city didn’t seem to care. The traffic ground on. And it did not take long for us to realize that our table of expats was not split between Democrats and Republicans, but pessimists and masochists. We could agree that no matter how the elections went Russia was getting worse, like a man getting crankier with age until he sits all day on his stoop with a shotgun and a bible, minding the lawn. The choice was either to embrace this as an interesting historical development or move the hell out of the away. On this we could not agree. “In some sense it would be good,” said one of the journalists at the table. “If Romney wins things might pick up. It’d be like Russia becoming the Weimar Republic. The apocalypse, you know?” [Simon Shuster reporting from Moscow]


Rio: The Fight for the Favelas, by Misha Glenny. Financial Times.

On the experimental favela police force UPP (aka “The Big Skull”) and their efforts to clean Rio’s largest slum in advance of the World Cup and Olympics.

In contrast with the townships of South Africa, which are almost all several miles from the city centre, a large number of Rio’s 900-odd favelas sit cheek by jowl with some of the fanciest real estate in Brazil. Several of these slums creep up the mountains, which ascend steeply just hundreds of yards from the city’s fabulous beaches. Favelas take their name from a hardy plant which survives in the arid northeast of the country (which happens to be where most of the slum dwellers hail from). Not only do vicious thorns protect the favela against predators but, if ingested, its leaves can kill you with a poison that mimics the effects of cyanide.


Kafka in Beijing, by John Garnault. Foreign Policy.

One woman’s futile quest for justice in modern China.

Rape allegations are notoriously tricky to prosecute throughout the world. In China, the problems are compounded because the Communist Party explicitly controls the courts, and money can buy almost anything that isn’t seen as challenging the party’s grip on power. Whatever took place between Long and Zhou at 3 p.m. on Jan. 8, 2009, it’s not clear that the Chinese legal system can deal with it. Cases of this sort are depressingly common. In August of this year, a woman was sentenced to 18 months of re-education in a labor camp for protesting in front of government buildings in Hunan province to petition for justice on behalf of her daughter who, at age 11, had been reportedly kidnapped, raped, and forced into prostitution in October 2006 by local officials. The mother was released after a nationwide outcry.  


The Truth Behind the Myth of Pancho Villa, Movie Star, by Mike Dash. Smithsonian.

Stories have circulated for years claiming that the Mexican revolutionary signed a contract allowing a Hollywood motion picture company to direct and film his battles in return for $25,000. Mike Dash digs for the truth.

It sounds outlandish — not to say impractical. But the story quickly became common currency, and indeed, the tale of Pancho Villa’s brief Hollywood career has been turned into a movie of its own. Accounts sometimes include elaborations; it is said that Villa agreed that no other film company would be permitted to send representatives to the battlefield, and that, if the cameraman did not secure the shots he needed, the División del Norte would re-enact its battles later. And while the idea that there was a strict ban on fighting outside daylight hours is always mentioned in these secondary accounts, that prohibition is sometimes extended; in another, semi-fictional, re-imagining, recounted by Leslie Bethel, Villa tells Raoul Walsh, the early Hollywood director: “Don’t worry, Don Raúl. If you say the light at four in the morning is not right for your little machine, well, no problem. The executions will take place at six. But no later. Afterward we march and fight. Understand?”


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