Longform’s Picks of the Week

Longform’s Picks of the Week

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.

The Expendables, by William Langewiesche. Vanity Fair.

Life in the French Foreign Legion, a motley fighting force unlike any other.

What man has not considered climbing onto a motorcycle and heading south? The Legion can be like that for some. Currently it employs 7,286 enlisted men, including non-commissioned officers. Over just the past two decades they have been deployed to Bosnia, Cambodia, Chad, both Congos, Djibouti, French Guiana, Gabon, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Kuwait, Rwanda, and Somalia. Recently they have fought in Afghanistan, as members of the French contingent. There is no other force in the world today that has known so much war for so long. A significant number of the men are fugitives from the law, living under assumed names, with their actual identities closely protected by the Legion. People are driven to join the Legion as much as they are drawn to it. That went for every recruit I met on the farm.


The Last Laughing Death, by Jo Chandler. The Global Mail.

A 50-year medical riddle in Papua New Guinea, the man who made solving it his life’s work, and the medical breakthroughs — including insights into mad cow disease, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s — this work made possible.

Alpers remembers the tragedy all too well. In medical literature, the investigation of this “extraordinary disease… will continue to have long-standing significance for neurology, infectious disease and public health”, as papers to the landmark Royal Society kuru meeting in London in 2008 observed. But for Alpers it is a story populated by individuals with names and faces, children and mothers he tended and held in his arms in the days and weeks before they died, some of whom he cut open within hours of their deaths, searching for the truth of the powerful agent that had claimed them.


Going Souterrain, by Will Hunt. Intelligent Life.

Traversing Paris’s parallel universe of tunnels, caverns and catacombs with six urban explorers.

Parisians say their city, with all of its perforations, is like a wedge of Gruyère cheese and nowhere is so holey as the catacombs. They are a vast, earthy labyrinth, 320km (200 miles) of tunnels, mainly on the Left Bank of the Seine. Some of the tunnels are flooded, half-collapsed, riddled with sinkholes, others are finished with neatly mortared brick, spiral staircases and elegant archways. These were the quarries that supplied the limestone blocks that make up the grand buildings along the Seine, 18 metres (60 feet) above our heads. The oldest had been carved to construct the Roman city of Lutetia, traces of which can still be found in the city’s Latin Quarter. Over the centuries, as the city expanded, quarrymen brought more limestone to the surface, and the underground warren spread like the roots of a great tree.


Last Champions of the Third Reich, by Noah Davis. SB Nation.

The story of the 1944 German national soccer championship game.

As Schön prepared to lead his club on to the field, Olympic Stadium — a massive monolith that seated up to 100,000 screaming fans — remained an important symbol, the only place left in the crumbling empire that could hold the match and provide a measure of symbolism for the country’s leadership, linking it to a time when the future of the Third Reich seemed limitless. Hitler had opened the 1936 Games with a rousing speech in the hulking structure designed for the event by the architect brothers Werner and Walter March. Now, for propaganda purposes, the government needed to have the final played in the same place it had been held since 1936, for even as the iron grasp of the Third Reich loosened around Europe, Nazi ideals still held strong inside the stadium’s 40-foot tall limestone walls. The grand setting allowed an alternative narrative to exist, a fantasy, one where things were not as bad as they seemed.

AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Think Again: The BRICS, Antoine Van Agtmael. Foreign Policy.

On the financial influence of BRICS-an economic association between Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — who collectively claim 40 percent of the world’s population, and 20  percent of global GDP.

Until the beginning of the 1990s, Russia was still behind the Iron Curtain, China was recovering from the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square unrest, India remained a bureaucratic nightmare, and Brazil experienced bouts of hyperinflation combined with a decade of lost growth. These countries had largely muddled along outside the global market economy; their economic policies had often been nothing short of disastrous; and their stock markets were nonexistent, bureaucratic, or supervolatile. Each needed to experience deep, life-threatening crises that would catapult them onto a different road of development. Once they did, they tapped into their vast economic potential. Their total GDP of close to $14 trillion now nearly equals that of the United States and is even bigger on a purchasing power parity basis.