The singular mind of Terry Tao

How a young prodigy became one of the world’s greatest mathematicians

“Tao now believes that his younger self, the prodigy who wowed the math world, wasn’t truly doing math at all. ‘‘It’s as if your only experience with music were practicing scales or learning music theory,’’ he said, looking into light pouring from his window. ‘‘I didn’t learn the deeper meaning of the subject until much later.’’”

Gareth Cook | The New York Times Magazine

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The plot to overthrow Africa’s most absurd dictator

How a former US army officer launched a disastrous coup the Gambia

“Political movements are viral, but conspiracies are bacterial. They thrive in dark recesses, fed by self-reinforcement, shielded from the disinfecting light of contrary opinion. The Gambian coup plotters confided their intentions to very few, and were especially careful to conceal their activities from those who were closest.”

Andrew Rice | The Guardian

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Follow the leaders

Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, and the story of how hip-hop grows old

“Big Daddy Kane was Rakim’s chief competitor for rap supremacy in the late 1980s. At the time, rap fans believed that the two were engaging in a subliminal war of words…That Kane, the upstart at the time, was deemed a worthy challenger to Rakim said enough. But by the early ’90s, Kane and Rakim’s reign was over. The end arrived in swift and brutal fashion.”

Thomas Golianopoulos | Grantland

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Joe Gould’s teeth

Jill Lepore tells the long-lost story of the longest book ever written

“It was a gamble to say that the Oral History didn’t exist when he couldn’t prove it. He clipped obituaries. Cummings died in 1962. After The New Yorker published “Joe Gould’s Secret,” in September, 1964, what Mitchell must have feared came to pass: people began writing and calling to tell him that he was wrong.”

Jill Lepore | The New Yorker

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Comic conman

A riveting true crime tale of comic books and corruption

“Whoever was after the Sub-Mariners and All Star Comics at the Heritage Auction wasn’t a collector. Their bids were too erratic, they didn’t know the market, and chances were, they weren’t terribly smart. It was also clear that they had a lot of money on their hands — too much money, maybe — and they were eager to spend it.”

Russell Brandom and Colin Lecher | The Verge

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Murder at sea

A video shows four unarmed men being shot, but their killers remain free

“Three other men floating in the ocean, some clinging to what looks like the wreckage of an overturned wooden boat, are surrounded by several large white tuna longliners. The sky above is clear and blue; the sea below, dark and choppy. As the ships’ engines idle loudly, at least 40 rounds are fired as the unarmed men are methodically picked off.”

Ian Urbina | The New York Times

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The American who joined Mao’s revolution

On the extraordinary life of American communist Sidney Rittenberg

“The communists lived in caves and simple dwellings — which made it easy to mingle. If someone wanted to talk to Mao, all they had to do was knock on a door and request a meeting. “That’s what changed drastically when they took power and went to the cities,” Rittenberg says. He met Mao on his first day in the town.”

Kevin Knodell | War Is Boring

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The data hoarders

How medical research is being ruined by scientists unwilling to share

“A decade later, in 2013, these two economists did something that very few researchers have ever done. They handed over their entire dataset to independent researchers on the other side of the world, so that their analyses could be checked in public. What happened next has every right to kick through a revolution in science and medicine.”

Ben Goldacre | BuzzFeed

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The secret world of Russia’s Cold War mapmakers

On the retired British software developer researching Soviet-era maps

“The year was 1989. The Soviet Union was falling apart, and some of its military officers were busy selling off the pieces. By the time Guy arrived at the helipad, most of the goods had already been off-loaded from the chopper and spirited away. The crates he’d come for were all that was left.”

Greg Miller | Wired

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Divide and conquer

On the abstract lines that continue to shape America

“Its virtual invisibility belies the huge psychological power of the Mason-Dixon Line. Originally a reason-based resolution to a claims dispute, the Line soon marked increasingly fierce political and cultural divisions.”

Mark Ruwedel, Colin Stearns and Aaron Rothman | Places Journal

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The Vegas Plot

How do you know who’s really dangerous in the world of right-wing extremism?

“Devon and David’s Las Vegas hadn’t lost its sheen in the recent recession; it had none to begin with. It was a Vegas of dollar stores, check-cashing services, EZPawn shops, gas-station slot machines, and storefronts stripped of fancy names — they offered DOG GROOMING and NAIL TIPS, nothing more.”

Ashley Powers | The California Sunday Magazine

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Pride and shame over a small town’s atomic legacy

How the plutonium dropped on Nagasaki still divides Richland, Washington

“At the height of the Cold War, news reporters flocked to Richland to hear the student body chant “Nuke ‘em till they glow!” across football fields and basketball courts. In 1985, one newspaper said the logo gave the impression that Washingtonians viewed the atomic industry with “chilling flippancy.””

Leah Sottile | Al Jazeera America

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