This Week's Must-Read Journalism

From seeing the Japan disaster as a sign of God to the crazy genius of “modernist” cooking, The Daily Beast picks the best longform journalism from around the web this week.

03.19.11 2:05 PM ET

Don’t miss this week’s special edition of Longreads featuring the best archived stories on nuclear power.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs: Seeing God in Tsunamis and Everyday Events
Jesse Bering, Scientific American

Religious leaders and TV personalities are already interpreting the disasters in Japan as signs from God. What drives the human impulse to ascribe divine meaning to tragic events? The author did a study with young children, and found that only children older than seven could connect random happenings with the will of an invisible being. The finding was surprising: the more mature a human brain, the more eagerly it looks for meaning in the most mundane scraps of life. And tragedy intensifies that drive. “When the emotional climate is just right, there’s hardly a shape or form that "evidence" cannot assume,” Bering writes. “Our minds make meaning by disambiguating the meaningless.”

The Boy From Gitmo
Michael Paterniti, GQ

Mohamed Jawad remains one of the most tragic stories of Guantanamo Bay: a 12-year-old boy snatched from a crowded marketplace in Afghanistan and accused of throwing the grenade that killed two U.S. soldiers. The jaded American lawyer tasked with defending him almost immediately realized Jawad had been abused. As the government’s case against the boy unraveled, military officers gave countless contradictory justifications for his detainment. Meanwhile, Jawad’s weight dropped precipitously as he was deprived of recreation and comforts; he once even violently attempted suicide. He was returned to Afghanistan at age 17, deprived of his youth, and so deeply scarred that he has given up the dreams he had as a child. Paterniti travels to Afghanistan to chart the incredible relationship between Jawad and Maj. Eric Montalvo, his lawyer, who’s made saving the boy his life project.

A Boom Behind Bars
Graeme Wood, Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Privately-run prison companies house 10 percent of the United States' federal and state inmates. Their profits depend on taking in the overflow from the government prison system, which makes them strong supporters of policies that fill their cells. Recently, they have lobbied for immigrant-crackdown laws like the controversial Arizona law that encourages ethnic profiling. Private prison companies insist their guards are the most professional in the business, but some critics say they cut corners to serve the bottom line.

Incredible Edibles: The Mad Genius of Modernist Cuisine
John Lanchester, The New Yorker

Nathan Myhrvold is an unlikely hero of haute cuisine: a former chief technology officer at Microsoft who retired at 40 and began writing about sous vide cooking online. French for “under vacuum,” sous vide is a wonky method where food is placed in a sealed plastic bag and cooked to precise temperatures with hot water. It has opened the door for new heights of culinary creativity and forged the “molecular” or “modernist” school that believes the first step of making art in the kitchen is understanding cooking scientifically.

Why Yasir Qadhi Wants to Talk About Jihad
Andrea Elliot, New York Times Magazine

Yasir Qadhi is a Ph.D. candidate in religious studies at Yale who refers to his undergraduates students as “dude.” But away from the New Haven spotlight, he's a leading conservative Muslim cleric, and a “rock star” among young Muslims struggling with their allegiance to faith an country. In this stunning, sprawling profile, Elliot examines the tension between Qadhi's desire to address ultraconservative Islamic topics like Jihad in a Western university environment, and how his unique position between two worlds has made him a figure of suspicion for the U.S. government.

" Swallowed by the Sea"
Simon Winchester, Newsweek

"One grievous day and night, Atlantis was swallowed up by the sea and vanished," Plato wrote of the legendary city that supposedly existed 9,000 before Athens’ golden age. But this month, amidst the disaster in Japan, a research team discovered what appears to be the city of Atlantis itself, buried deep in thousands of years of mud in what is now southern Spain. And the evidence points to its being buried, just like Plato said, "by the sea." In this week’s NEWSWEEK, Winchester delves into the debate over what happened to Atlantis, and how the disaster in Japan may explain how the great civilization was consumed by the ocean.

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