Best Longform Journalism: Wall Street Criminals to Artificial Intelligence
From The Atlantic’s account of a man’s training to match his wits against a supercomputer to The Guardian’s profile of the chemical engineer whose lies launched the Iraq War, check out The Daily Beast’s favorite longform journalism pieces this week.
This weekly column is The Daily Beast's contribution to the growing longreads community on Twitter, where fans of longform journalism collect and share their favorite stories. Follow along through the hashtag #longreads, and visit Longreads.com and Longform.org for suggestions throughout the week. To take these stories on the go, we recommend using smartphone applications such as Instapaper or Read It Later. You can download either at your mobile phone's application store. To send us suggestions, tweet the story to @ thedailybeast on Twitter with the hashtag #longreads.
1. “Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail?” Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone
Wall Street’s most tenacious enemy examines how the American regulatory structure manages to protect financial criminals rather than prosecute them. The habit of turning a blind eye to white-collar plunder of our economic system is “so deeply ingrained in Washington,” Taibbi writes, “that it raises a profound and difficult question about the very nature of our society: whether we have created a class of people whose misdeeds are no longer perceived as crimes.”
2. “The Bobby Fischer Defense”Gary Kasparov, The New York Review of Books
“It would be impossible for me to write dispassionately about Bobby Fischer,” begins Russian chess master Gary Kasparov, describing his nemesis in the battle to be known as the best chess player of all time. Kasparov grew up dreaming of playing Fischer, but by the time he was winning world championships, Fischer had disappeared into a strange life of politically incorrect outbursts, illness, and exile. Still, the two were always compared as the press speculated about Fischer’s whereabouts. “Occasionally I felt as though I were playing a one-sided match against a phantasm,” Kasparov recalls in this fascinating excavation of the history of chess and the strange life of its brightest star.
3. “The Muslim Brotherhood After Mubarak” Carrie Rosefsky Wickham, Foreign Affairs
“Portraying the Brotherhood as eager and able to seize power and impose its version of sharia on an unwilling citizenry is a caricature,” Wickham writes in this examination of Egypt’s most powerful and widely misunderstood Islamist group. The Brotherhood began as a religious outreach group, but, after continually shedding its more radical factions, it has become a democratic movement savvy enough to keep itself removed from Egypt’s new political scene lest it alarm the West or squander its hard-earned respect among Egyptians. It is unclear whether the Brotherhood will continue to show such restraint, but it has “earned a place at the table in the post-Mubarak era.” (For more background on the Muslim Brotherhood, see the special Egypt edition of The Daily Beast’s Longreads column.)
4. “Mind vs. Machine” Brian Christian, The Atlantic
After months of preparation, the author travels to Bristol, England for the Turing Test—an annual experiment in which humans compete with supercomputers to convince judges that they are, in fact, human. Alan Turing proposed the test in 1950, predicting that computers would beat the humans at being human by the year 2000. Christian’s anxious preparation leads him through an investigation of human selfhood and the meaning of language. “It’s an odd twist,” he says, recalling the days when “computer” meant a human calculator. “We’re like the thing that used to be like us.”
5. “Curveball” Martin Chulov and Helen Pidd, The Guardian
The Guardian unveils Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, an Iraqi chemical engineer whose deliberately false reports of bio-nuclear weapons helped justify the U.S.-led invasion of his country. Janabi admits that he lied to Germany's intelligence for months and was shocked to see the United States citing evidence based almost wholly on his deceptions. Although war has plunged his nation into chaos, Janabi claims he would still make the same choice: "There was no other way to bring freedom to Iraq.”
6. “The Dirty Little Secrets of Search” David Segal, The New York Times
Welcome to the outlaw world of search engine optimization—the "black hat" methods that corporations like J.C. Penney have been using to game search engine results and Google's attempt to play sheriff by burying websites that cheat. “Mr. Stevens,” a pseudonymous black hat operative who keeps a low profile to avoid Google's punishment, explains the intricacies of the fiercely competitive SEO game that can make retailers kings of the Web.