Weekend Reads | The conversation

Our five favourite feature-length reads from the week just gone.

With the civil war in Syria soon to enter its fifth year, our pick of the week is Jonathan Tepperman’s exclusive interview with Bashar al-Assad. Meeting with the Syrian president in Damascus, the Foreign Affairs managing editor covers subjects including torture, US air strikes and the Islamic State. With Assad surprisingly frank, if expectedly delusional, it’s a fascinating insight into the regime. (1st February 2015)

1. A conversation with Bashar al-Assad (28 min)

Jonathan Tepperman for Foreign Affairs sits down with the Syrian president

2. Wake no more (26 min)

Virginia Hughes for Matter on the exhasting world of the hypersomniac

3. Your son is deceased (37 min)

Rachel Aviv for The New Yorker on an out-of-control police force in Albuquerque

4. The Gacy files (30 min)

Tim Stelloh for BuzzFeed on the unidentified victims of the ‘killer clown’

5. Getting out of Afghanistan (49 min)

E.B. Boyd for Fast Company on the incredible logistical effort of closing down a war

Click the individual stories above or head over to Readlists.com to get this whole collection as a reading list. To get the Weekend Reads newsletter sent straight to your inbox every Sunday just enter your email here.

Steamrolled

How did US mega-contractor Bechtel sell Kosovo a $1.3 billion road?

“That contract was real: The 48-mile, four-lane Kosovo Highway, as it is known, was completed in November 2013 for roughly $1.3 billion…It was the most expensive public works project in Kosovo’s modern history, and it is arguably one of the highest-quality roads in the Balkans. But today, the highway is practically empty…” Image Credit

Matthew Brunwasser | Foreign Policy

Read It Now (21 min)

Passport tales

Getting a new passport in Pakistan

“His 1974 passport also contains Bangla. The script had lingered even if the people who could read that script were brutally excised. In the 1980 passport Arabic had replaced Bangla. The front proclaimed “The Islamic Republic of Pakistan”. It opened left to right. This was the passport of the Zia ul Haq regime.” Image Credit

Manan Ahmed | Chapati Mystery

Read It Now (7 min)

The pursuit of beauty

On Yitang Zhang and an unsolvable problem

“Zhang moved to Beijing when he was thirteen, and when he was fifteen he was sent with his mother to the countryside, to a farm, where they grew vegetables. His father was sent to a farm in another part of the country. If Zhang was seen reading books on the farm, he was told to stop. “People did not think that math was important to the class struggle,” he said.” Image Credit

Alec Wilkinson | The New Yorker

Read It Now (26 min)

People or parchment?

Should the US Constitution be sacred?

“But no other country invests such authority in a single document dating from the era of silk knee britches and powdered wigs. Sealed in moisture-controlled, bullet-proof glass containers that are on display in a special rotunda at the National Archives Museum in Washington DC by day and lowered into a multi-ton bomb-proof vault by night…” Image Credit

Daniel Lazare | Aeon

Read It Now (10 min)

Out of steppe

On the $28bn plan to modernise Mongolia’s Ulan Bator

“Mongolia is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, a land of desert, steppe and mountains of dizzying expanse. Ulan Bator, though, is brimming. In 1989 and 1990, when the Soviet Union collapsed and Mongolia became a democratic market economy, 27 per cent of the country’s population lived in the city. ” Image Credit

Nicola Davison | The Financial Times

Read It Now (8 min)

The Gacy files

On the unidentified victims of the ‘killer clown’

“He thought he must have missed something — maybe he had an incomplete report. Maybe he’d read something wrong. How could it be that over three decades later, no one knew the identities of one-quarter of Gacy’s victims? Moran tracked down some of the original investigators, but they didn’t know any more than he did.” Image Credit

Tim Stelloh | BuzzFeed

Read It Now (30 min)

Maternity test

What can a pregnant photojournalist cover? Everything

“Within seconds, government soldiers were upon us, pointing their guns and yelling in Arabic, their voices shot through with adrenaline. They ordered us facedown into the dirt, motioning with their hands. We all assumed this would be the moment of our execution. And then we all slowly crouched down and begged for our lives.” Image Credit

Lynsey Addario | The New York Times Magazine

Read It Now (21 min)

The greatest knight or a failed crusader?

On William Marshal

“The kingdom of Jerusalem had been in an embattled state in 1183. That June, Saladin had finally managed to overcome Muslim rivals in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. This gave the sultan control of an arc of territory running south to Damascus, then on to Egypt and the great city of Cairo, effectively surrounding the Kingdom of Jerusalem.” Image Credit

Thomas Asbridge | History Today

Read It Now (15 min)

Spies, cover-ups and death in Argentina

On Alberto Nisman and Argentina’s overarching intelligence apparatus

“For years Antonio Stiuso, the general director of operations, had been the president’s eavesdropper-in-chief, helping Fernández use the state intelligence agency as a weapon against opposition politicians, journalists and critics, according to human rights monitors. Now, though, he and Nisman had begun plotting to indict the president.” Image Credit

Jonathan Watts | The Guardian

Read It Now (9 min)