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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.

 

Ghosting, by Andrew O’Hagan, London Review of Books

What it’s like to ghostwrite for Julian Assange.

‘I’m sorry I’m late,’ he said. He was amused and suspicious at the same time, a nice combination I thought, and there were few signs of the mad unprofessionalism to come. He said the thing that worried him was how quickly the book had to be written. It would be hard to establish a structure that would work. He went on to say that he might be in jail soon and that might not be bad for writing the book. ‘I have quite abstract thoughts,’ he said, ‘and an argument about civilization and secrecy that needs to be got down.’

He said he’d hoped to have something that read like Hemingway. ‘When people have been put in prison who might never have had time to write, the thing they write can be galvanizing and amazing. I wouldn’t say this publicly, but Hitler wrote Mein Kampf in prison.’ He admitted it wasn’t a great book but it wouldn’t have been written if Hitler had not been put away. He said that Tim Geithner, the US secretary of the Treasury, had been asked to look into ways to hinder companies that would profit from subversive organizations. That meant Knopf would come under fire for publishing the book.

 

A Star in a Bottle, by Raffi Khatchadourian, the New Yorker

An audacious plan to create a new energy source could save the planet from catastrophe. But time is running out.

For the machine’s creators, this process-sparking and controlling a self-sustaining synthetic star-will be the culmination of decades of preparation, billions of dollars’ worth of investment, and immeasurable ingenuity, misdirection, recalibration, infighting, heartache, and ridicule. Few engineering feats can compare, in scale, in technical complexity, in ambition or hubris. Even the ITER organization, a makeshift scientific United Nations, assembled eight years ago to construct the machine, is unprecedented. Thirty-five countries, representing more than half the world’s population, are invested in the project, which is so complex to finance that it requires its own currency: the ITER Unit of Account.

No one knows ITER’s true cost, which may be incalculable, but estimates have been rising steadily, and a conservative figure rests at twenty billion dollars-a sum that makes ITER the most expensive scientific instrument on Earth. But if it is truly possible to bottle up a star, and to do so economically, the technology could solve the world’s energy problems for the next thirty million years, and help save the planet from environmental catastrophe. Hydrogen, a primordial element, is the most abundant atom in the universe, a potential fuel that poses little risk of scarcity. Eventually, physicists hope, commercial reactors modelled on ITER will be built, too-generating terawatts of power with no carbon, virtually no pollution, and scant radioactive waste. The reactor would run on no more than seawater and lithium. It would never melt down. It would realize a yearning, as old as the story of Prometheus, to bring the light of the heavens to Earth, and bend it to humanity’s will. ITER, in Latin, means “the way.”

 

How to Keep Ukraine’s Revolution Alive, by Christopher Ingalls Haugh, Politico Magazine

Advice from the architect of Georgia’s Rose Revolution.

As I arrive again in Ukraine, I am reminded of my first trip there after the Orange Revolution, in 2005, when I was Georgia’s newly elected president, also fighting to forge a democracy that would move our nation from beneath the shadow of the former Soviet Union. On that trip, five months after Ukrainians had swept aside their old government, I was startled to learn that virtually none of the critical reforms needed to transform the country had even been initiated or planned. It was heartbreaking because I know the energy it takes to win a revolution – and because it was probably already too late to get that one right.

This time, we should avoid those mistakes. This time, we should get it right. 

 

Could the NSU Murders Have Been Prevented?, by Hubert Gude, der Spiegel

Michael von Dolsperg provided Germany with intelligence from neo-Nazis for years. Why was his file shredded?

Now, he keeps a wooden club next to his bed. Not because of the wolves, but because of German neo-Nazis out for revenge. Before Michael von Dolsperg, 39, moved to the Swedish outback, he was an informant for the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence agency. His alias was Tarif.

Blonde and bearded, Dolsperg stands next to his cast-iron stove and lights a cigarette. He gazes out through the kitchen window at the forest. One evening, his phone rang. “We’re coming soon,” breathed a voice down the line. Dolsperg immediately took down the signpost to his house on the main road, but the phone call left him shaken. “I know from the past that the neo-Nazi scene is well-networked in Sweden,” he says. “They know exactly where I am.”

The fact that Dolsperg’s informant past has now been exposed is a disaster for German intelligence as well. Tarif wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill mole in the neo-Nazi scene. His case raises a number of questions about the investigation into the NSU neo-Nazi terrorist group, which murdered 10 people between 2000 and 2006. One question stands out above all: Why did Tarif’s file mysteriously disappear from the BfV archive?

 

Demolition Man, by Gianni Riotta, Foreign Policy 

Italy’s new 39-year-old prime minister is in a race against time to save his country. Will Rome destroy him first?

In 1994, a nerdy-looking, bespectacled, 19-year-old kid wearing a suit way too big for him staged an impressive run on the Italian version of the American TV show Wheel of Fortune. Racking up correct answer after correct answer, the kid took home 48,000,000 Italian lira — at the time, about $40,000 — and even charmed the show’s host, TV veteran Mike Bongiorno, with his easy confidence: “Of course this kid has a way with words,” Bongiorno cried. “He’s from Florence, guys!”

You can still enjoy the clip on YouTube, knowing that this affable kid is Matteo Renzi — the 39-year-old former mayor of Florence, who was sworn in Feb. 22 as Italy’s youngest-ever prime minister. Renzi will beat even Benito Mussolini: Il Duce was also 39 when he came to power, but Renzi squeaks in at just a few weeks younger. His suits fit much better now.