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The best writing of the week, December 1

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We all know the feeling. You're sleepless in the sad hours of the night or stumbling around early on a hazy weekend morning in need of something to read, and that pile of unread books just isn't cutting it. Why not take a break from the fire hose of Twitter and RSS and check out our weekly roundup of essential writing from around the web about technology, culture, media, and the future? Sure, it's one more thing you can feel guilty about sitting in your Instapaper queue, but it's better than pulling in vain on your Twitter list again.

Grab the entire list as a Readlist.

On Polonium-210

Will Storr reports on the death and radioactive poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.

Matter: Will Storr - How radioactive poison became the assassin’s weapon of choice

The men eventually left, and Andrade cleared the table. As he poured the remaining tea away, he noticed that the consistency of the liquid that tipped into the sink was strange. Gooey. He couldn’t have known it as he puzzled over its weird yellow tinge, but the man who’d been sipping the tea was a 43-year-old Russian dissident called Alexander Litvinenko, and the tea itself, draining away into the London sewers, was lethally radioactive.

On the angry period

Ben Crair looks at how the use of the period is changing as we struggle with tone while texting, tweeting, and instant messaging.

The New Republic: Ben Crair - The Period Is Pissed

In most written language, the period is a neutral way to mark a pause or complete a thought; but digital communications are turning it into something more aggressive. “Not long ago, my 17-year-old son noted that many of my texts to him seemed excessively assertive or even harsh, because I routinely used a period at the end,” Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, told me by email. How and why did the period get so pissed off?

On animal abuse

Gary Baum investigates the American Humane Association's failings to prevent and identify animal abuse in Hollywood in everything from Life of Pi to The Hobbit.

The Hollywood Reporter: Gary Baum - No animals were harmed

A year later, during the filming of another blockbuster, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 27 animals reportedly perished, including sheep and goats that died from dehydration and exhaustion or from drowning in water-filled gullies, during a hiatus in filming at an unmonitored New Zealand farm where they were being housed and trained.

On the art world

Nick Paumgarten profiles art dealer David Zwirner and the art market's massive growth over the past two decades.

The New Yorker: Nick Paumgarten - Dealer's Hand

The globalization of the art market—the interest in contemporary art among newly wealthy Asians, Latin Americans, Arabs, and Russians—has furnished it with scores of new buyers, and perhaps fresh supplies of greater fools. Once you have hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s hard to know where to put it all. Art is transportable, unregulated, glamorous, arcane, beautiful, difficult. It is easier to store than oil, more esoteric than diamonds, more durable than political influence. Its elusive valuation makes it conducive to extremely creative tax accounting.

“These are the highest-luxury goods man has ever known,” a dealer told me. “If you’re in the business of selling art, you’re an idiot if you don’t respond to that.”

On Kirbati

Jeffrey Goldberg explores the effects of climate change in the island nation of Kirbati, which is threatened to be underwater in less than a century.

Bloomberg Businessweek: Jeffrey Goldberg - Drowning Kiribati

Like the other small island countries of the Pacific, Kiribati has always been a stepchild of the international system, an unappreciated, mainly ignored ward of wealthy nations. And then, in recent years, it has become the object of a pitiless experiment. We now have an idea of what will happen to people in low-lying places when the industrial powers of the world burn fossil fuels with reckless abandon. Climate change is the ultimate gift of the West, of those who produce greenhouse gasses, to the people of Kiribati, who don’t.

For more great longreads, visit our friends at Longreads.

Have any favorites that you'd like to see included in next week's edition? Send them along to @thomashouston or share in the comments below.

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