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How to Fail in Business While Really, Really Trying: The True Story of J.C. Penney (Member Pick)

This week, we’re thrilled to share a new Longreads Member Pick from Fortune magazine. “How to Fail in Business While Really, Really Trying” is Jennifer Reingold's definitive account of what really happened inside J.C. Penney—from the dramatic reinvention of the company, led by new CEO Ron Johnson, to its disastrous unraveling (and Johnson’s firing) less than two years later.

PUBLISHED: April 3, 2014
LENGTH: 28 minutes (7108 words)

The True Story of 'The Poorest Rich Kids in the World'

Longreads Best of 2013 continues with a postscript by Rolling Stone's Sabrina Rubin Erdely, on her story about Georgia and Patterson Inman, heirs to the Duke fortune.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 17, 2013

How to Build a Car and Car Company, in Three Notebooks

A look inside the early notebooks of the Dodge brothers, who broke away from Henry Ford to build their own startup 100 years ago:

While they already made two fortunes from their relationship with Ford, by 1913 they were not thrilled about continuing to make parts for the Model T. If you think automotive technology changes rapidly today, imagine how quickly things advanced a century ago. In five years the Model T went from state of the art to technologically lagging its competitors but Henry thought it was the perfect car. Ironically, by the time the T started selling in really huge numbers in the nineteen teens it was obsolete and being technologically surpassed by by more modern cars. The Dodges were good engineers, probably the best machinists in Detroit next to Henry Leland. The term “mechanical genius” could have been coined for Horace Dodge and his brother John was almost as adept with his own management skills. By 1914 the Dodge brothers, who already owned and operated what was probably most advanced automotive plant in the world in the Detroit enclave of Hamtramck, wanted to build modern machines.

PUBLISHED: Nov. 24, 2013
LENGTH: 7 minutes (1810 words)

Thanksgiving in Mongolia

Ariel Levy’s devastating personal essay on losing her baby:

I had been so lucky. Very little had ever truly gone wrong for me before that night on the bathroom floor. And I knew, as surely as I now knew that I wanted a child, that this change in fortune was my fault. I had boarded a plane out of vanity and selfishness, and the dark Mongolian sky had punished me. I was still a witch, but my powers were all gone.

That is not what the doctor said when he came back to the clinic in the morning.

AUTHOR:Ariel Levy
PUBLISHED: Nov. 11, 2013
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3906 words)

The Vulture Transcript: 'Arrested Development' Creator Mitch Hurwitz

Hurwitz offers serious advice on creativity and writing, as well as a brief history of how he came to cast actors like Jason Bateman and Michael Cera:

“And Michael Cera, I had seen him in a pilot and I reached out through the casting director, like, ‘there was this kid in this pilot, can you please try to track him down.’ Two weeks went by, and we’d seen all these — you know, kid actors in Hollywood, a lot of them come up through that Disney channel, or through — back then it was Barney. So you get really, like, these hammy kids. Precocious, you know. So I’m waiting to hear, and finally the casting director says to me, ‘great news, Michael Cera likes the script.’ And I’m like, ‘who’s Michael Cera?’ ‘The kid that you wanted us to get.’ ‘That was Michael Cera? We’ve been waiting to see whether this 12-year-old likes the material? Good, uh, I’m glad he likes the material.’ And, you know, that’s Michael Cera — you know what I mean? Only Michael Cera would be as a 12-year-old, ‘Yeah, I like this. This is good.’ It’s such an important part — television is so much about continuing to work with people, and I mean, that was just fortune. All of them.”

PUBLISHED: Oct. 23, 2013
LENGTH: 39 minutes (9861 words)

The Poorest Rich Kids in the World

Georgia and Patterson are teenage heirs to the $1 billion Duke family fortune—the same Dukes who controlled the American tobacco market and established Duke University. But they were also raised by drug addicts who neglected and abused them for years:

"Georgia and Patterson survived a gilded childhood that was also a horror story of Dickensian neglect and abuse. They were globe-trotting trust-fund babies who snorkeled in Fiji, owned a pet lion cub and considered it normal to bring loose diamonds to elementary school for show and tell. And yet they also spent their childhoods inhaling freebase fumes, locked in cellars and deadbolted into their bedrooms at night in the secluded Wyoming mountains and on their ancestral South Carolina plantation. While their father spent millions on drug binges and extravagances, the children lived like terrified prisoners, kept at bay by a revolving door of some four dozen nannies and caregivers, underfed, undereducated, scarcely noticed except as objects of wrath."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 12, 2013
LENGTH: 38 minutes (9653 words)


An examination of Margaret Thatcher's life as chronicled in the authorized biography by Charles Moore:

"It’s depressing to suppose that fortune favours the people who can keep going longest. But it does. That is one of the clear lessons from the first volume of Charles Moore’s exhaustive and exhausting authorised biography of Margaret Thatcher, which takes the story up to the Falklands War in 1982. The person on display here is not more intelligent than her rivals, or more principled. She chops and changes as much as they do. But she is a lot more relentless: if anything, she keeps chopping and changing long after they have gone home. She didn’t outsmart or outperform her enemies. She outstayed them."
PUBLISHED: June 11, 2013
LENGTH: 36 minutes (9110 words)

Freeway Rick is Dreaming

The writer, who has written about the notorious crack kingpin Freeway Rick for nearly two decades, profiles Ricky Ross once more as Ross attempts to legitimately hustle his way back to success:

"On the streets he once flooded with drugs, Freeway Rick is hawking weaves. A staple of the African American cosmetology industry, the weave—or 'hair integration' piece—inspires cultlike reverence: a beauty secret that transforms an age-old preoccupation into a declaration of fabulousness. Rick has no training in hair care, no affinity for it either, but he knows that weaves cost a fortune, more than the average customer can sanely afford. A 3.5-ounce bundle, depending on length, retails for $150 to $175, and most women need several bundles to achieve a full, versatile coif, which means $1,000 or more to have the whole thing anchored and styled. In Freeway Rick’s brain, that adds up to opportunity. 'It could be milk, tires, fertilizer—I don’t care,' he says. 'They’re just products.'"
AUTHOR:Jesse Katz
PUBLISHED: May 22, 2013
LENGTH: 33 minutes (8295 words)

Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week's picks include Fortune Magazine, the Dallas Observer, Priceonomics, Project Wordsworth, the Toronto Sun, fiction from The New Yorker and a guest pick by Emily Schultz.
PUBLISHED: May 18, 2013