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In Today’s Issue:

  • We’re on a mission to find the one great piece of journalism everyone should read. We’ve enlisted Atlantic writers and Masthead members to help us.

  • Introducing, the Longreads Bracket. We’re narrowing down 16 stories to one eventual winner. Twelve judges spent last week evaluating the candidates.  

  • Today we reveal the results of round one: the top four longreads. These four semifinalists make for some great end-of-summer reading.  


Meet the Contenders

Our candidates for the best read of the summer are 16 long works of journalism published anywhere but The Atlantic. We took submissions from members on the forums and curated staff favorites. Our panel of judges helped us whittle the list down to four, and now it’s your turn to vote. Read through the top four contenders, and pick your favorite here. (All images by Thanh Do)


Round One Results

Sixteen contenders, four semifinalists

Group 1 Winner:How E-Commerce Is Transforming Rural China,” by Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker

E-commerce isn’t just for urbanites. In the most remote towns in rural China, Fan writes, the industry is thriving. She tracks the growth of JD.com, the second-largest e-commerce site in China, often called “Chinese Amazon,” demonstrating its impact on even the smallest, most isolated local restaurants and convenience stores. Fan “constructs a grounded, engaging narrative that clarifies the connections between social, economic, and technological trends, between the broad and the specific, without ever feeling convoluted or esoteric,” The Atlantic’s Annika Neklason writes. Edward, a Masthead member, says he came away with a better understanding of the Chinese economy and the “blistering growth” it’s experienced in recent years. JD.com, he learned, is “prompting population shifts while transforming the Chinese economy.” All that, and a great story.

Here’s what lost out:

Judged by: Matt Peterson (The Masthead), Annika Neklason (The Atlantic), Edward (member)


Group 2 Winner:The Obsessive Search for the Tasmanian Tiger,” by Brooke Jarvis, The New Yorker

In lush detail, Jarvis describes the lore of the Tasmanian tiger, which supposedly went extinct in the 1920s. She tells the story through the eyes of several wildlife enthusiasts who have spent their lives searching for the animal. The author challenges the reader to consider why human interest in a species only piques after the animal is gone. Jarvis gracefully reveals “how the tigers’ story mirrors Australia’s colonial history, but also how it foreshadows debates about humans’ impact on the world,” The Atlantic’s Rosa Inocencio Smith writes. She and the other judges in this bracket agreed: “The Obsessive Search for the Tasmanian Tiger” was the best of the bunch. It has Masthead member Hannah considering an impromptu trip to Tasmania.

Here’s what lost out:

Judged by: Caroline Kitchener (The Masthead), Rosa Inocencio Smith (The Atlantic), Hannah (member)


Group 3 Winner:The World’s Most Peculiar Company,” by Nick Greene, Chicago

Hammacher Schlemmer is the longest-running mail-order catalog in U.S. history. Our judges thoroughly enjoyed reading Greene’s piece about the oddities found throughout what the judge Karen Yuan calls Hammacher Schlemmer’s “Wonka-factory-like headquarters.” There are Superman-logoed Bluetooth headphones, Wi-Fi doorbells, and employees in lab coats counting needles on the “World’s Best Prelit Fraser Fir” (to confirm that the tree has more needles than any other on the market, of course). “Greene emphasizes just what complicated, entertaining, and serious business it is for the company to put out its seasonal catalog, resulting in an extremely delightful read,” The Atlantic’s Tori Latham wrote. “I may just sign up to receive my own copy.”

Here’s what lost out:

Judged by: Karen Yuan (The Masthead), Tori Latham (The Atlantic), Sergio Marxuach (member)


Group 4 Winner:Been Down So Long It Looks Like Debt to Me,” by M. H. Miller, The Baffler

When Miller graduated from NYU, he was more than $100,000 in debt. Around the same time, his parents both lost their jobs in the financial crisis, and the bank took possession of his childhood home. Miller’s deeply personal essay, the Atlantic executive editor Matt Thompson writes, “brings the reader into the claustrophobic sensation of being indebted, the hopelessness of the burden, the ubiquity of it.” The piece will stick with you. “I won’t soon shake off Miller’s description of the debt as an unwanted relative, lurking and randomly malevolent, so ever present that even self-harm comes to seem like a practical means of escape,” Matt writes.

Here’s what lost out:

Judged by: Matt Thompson (The Masthead), Vernon Loeb (The Atlantic), Barbara Didrichsen (member)


Here’s What’s Next

  • You can vote now on which of the four semifinalists should move forward.

  • Our judges will weigh in on which of the four stories should move on to the finals. We’ll use the outcome of the member vote as the tiebreaker.

  • Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion.


Today’s Wrap-Up

  • Today’s Question: Read our four semifinalists. Which piece is your favorite? Vote here.

  • What’s Coming: Tomorrow Tara Westover joins us on our forums to discuss her No. 1 New York Times best-selling memoir, Educated. Post your questions here, or email them to us at themasthead@theatlantic.com.

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