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.

Reincarnation in Exile
Tim McGirk • The Believer

Growing up in the modern world as the reincarnation of a famous Tibetan lama.

Along with Osel, there are over a thousand other monks and laymen who are revered as the incarnations of past teachers. Among them, the Dalai Lama stands supreme. Below him are several dozen high lamas, also rinpoches, who are great teachers and whose spirituality is unquestioned. In old Tibet, the rinpoches were powerful men possessing monasteries, lands, treasure, and thousands of followers. Like any system of dynastic succession, this one was vulnerable to political intrigue, manipulation, and mistake; apparently, there’s no easy science for finding one’s reincarnation. The searchers rely on visions, divinations, and clues left behind by the old rinpoche, and sometimes things go awry. Nor do these rinpoches always behave as expected: the sixth Dalai Lama loved wine, carousing, and singing songs to his favorite Lhasa courtesans. He came to a bad end.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Image

Animal Spirits
Stephen T. Asma • Aeon

Observing mammals in Africa reveals insights into human intelligence. 

Time on the Serengeti makes you think a lot about the inner life of animals. While the wildebeest is screaming, is it feeling fear like we do? Is it relieved when it’s suddenly free? Is the croc filled with regret? It might seem self-evident to the sentimental pet owner that our fellow creatures have emotions, but science has long been loath to admit it. Yet Jaak Panksepp, professor of veterinary anatomy at Washington State University College, says this is one area where our anthropomorphic tendencies are probably in the right: animals do have complex emotional lives.


Syria’s Secular Revolution Lives On
Omar Hossino • Foreign Policy

The movement countering the rise of radical jihadists.

Such scenes, which I saw on my recent trip to war-torn northern Syria, point to the worrying growth of jihadi and Salafi groups — but these forces are not the only players emerging in the new Syria. The secular and nationalist spirit that initially sparked the Syrian revolution is also still alive and well. Many grassroots activists and religious leaders are working to forge a country that is built on secular principles, against sectarian revenge, and supportive of equal rights for all its citizens. Even some of the sharia courts that have sprung up to administer justice in areas the Syrian government has abandoned contain surprising, nonsectarian trends.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Drone Home
Lev Grossman • Time

How the radical new technology is changing life both at home and abroad.

Having transformed war, drones are getting ready to transform peace. A year ago Obama ordered the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to expedite the process of integrating “unmanned aerial vehicles,” as drones are primly referred to within the trade, into civilian airspace. Police departments will use them to study crime scenes. Farmers will use them to watch their fields. Builders will use them to survey construction sites. Hollywood will use them to make movies. Hobbyists will use them just because they feel like it. Drones are an enormously powerful, disruptive technology that rewrites rules wherever it goes. Now the drones are coming home to roost.


If They Build It, Will the Kardashians Come?
Peter Savodnik • New York Times Magazine

In a new economy fueled by an oil boom, some Azerbaijani entrepreneurs are taking a page from Dubai’s playbook.

When the whole project is complete, according to Avesta, 800,000 people will live at Khazar Islands, and there will be hotel rooms for another 200,000, totaling nearly half the population of Baku. It will cost about $100 billion, which is more than the gross domestic product of most countries, including Azerbaijan. “It will cost $3 billion just to build Azerbaijan Tower,” Ibrahimov said. “Some people may object. I don’t care. I will build it alone. I work with my feelings.”