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.

Death in Singapore
Raymond Bonner and Christine Spolar • FT Magazine

An American engineer’s mysterious death after working on a project involving a Chinese telecom giant.

Security and technology experts consulted by the FT reviewed the project plan and all noted its civilian and potential military applications. Robert York, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara – a world leader in GaN research and where Shane earned a doctorate in silicon devices – said it would be “unnerving but not surprising” if Huawei were to be trying to advance its GaN technology. The high-powered amplifier has civilian use but “could be used for a number of military applications: high-powered radar, electronic warfare including signal jamming and even potentially some weapons”, Professor York added.

Shane, it turns out, had deep misgivings about the project he was working on and feared he was compromising US national security. His family wants to know whether that project sent him to his grave.


Lauren Collins • New Yorker

France, wealth, and the saga of tax exile Gérard Depardieu.

Nouns get all the good parts-potato, macaca, the Appalachian Trail-but this winter, in Paris, a jobbing three-syllable adjective set off a political scandal. Minable, meaning “pathetic” or “shabby,” débuted on the breakfast show “Télématin” on December 12th. The host asked the French Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, what he thought of Gérard Depardieu’s decision to establish residency in Néchin, a Belgian village of two thousand souls, and nearly as many beet fields, in order to escape a seventy-five-per-cent tax that the French government had promised to impose on income exceeding a million euros. The normally urbane Ayrault replied, “Je trouve ça assez minable.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Royal Bodies
Hillary Mantel • London Review of Books

The author’s controversial speech on the public perceptions and purposes of British royalty.

I used to think that the interesting issue was whether we should have a monarchy or not. But now I think that question is rather like, should we have pandas or not? Our current royal family doesn’t have the difficulties in breeding that pandas do, but pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment. But aren’t they interesting? Aren’t they nice to look at? Some people find them endearing; some pity them for their precarious situation; everybody stares at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage.


The KGB Oscars
Simon Shuster • Foreign Policy

In Putin’s Russia, it’s the spies that are handing out the awards for the year’s best films.

The Federal Security Service, the KGB successor known as the FSB, has been ascendant in Russian society ever since its former director, Vladimir Putin, became president in 2000. Since then, the agency has been obsessed with finding ways to bring Russian movies and TV under its patronage. As early as 2001, the agency began financing Russian whodunits and spy thrillers; in 2006, it handed out the first FSB Awards — glass statuettes embossed with its sword-and-shield insignia — to the filmmakers, actors, and novelists who had “most accurately” portrayed the warriors of the secret front. The galas had all the pomp of a Western awards ceremony, except they were held at the FSB’s notorious headquarters on Lubyanka Square, inside the hulking mass of orange stone that many Russians still associate with the KGB’s interrogation chambers. 

Peeter Viisimaa/Getty Images

Warrior Petraeus
Thomas Powers • New York Review of Books

A review of the retired general’s combat career.

It was the full spectrum of the game-the nature of modern people’s war, as fought and lost by the Americans in Vietnam-that engaged Petraeus. Confronting that failure, of which the Army for years could barely bring itself to speak, has been the central work of Petraeus’s life. It is the great theme of the best of the new books, Kaplan’s The Insurgents, which relates the history of Army thinking about counterinsurgency. It is the reason Petraeus has attracted so much attention for so long, and it is what lends a somber note of broader loss to the recent end of Petraeus’s public career, which came so abruptly last fall, for reasons so entirely irrelevant to any issue of substance, that one is almost embarrassed to cite the details.

Alex Wong/Getty Images