Longform's Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform's new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

Reincarnation in Exile
Tim McGirk • The Believer

Growing up in the modern world as the reincarnation of a famous Tibetan lama.

Along with Osel, there are over a thousand other monks and laymen who are revered as the incarnations of past teachers. Among them, the Dalai Lama stands supreme. Below him are several dozen high lamas, also rinpoches, who are great teachers and whose spirituality is unquestioned. In old Tibet, the rinpoches were powerful men possessing monasteries, lands, treasure, and thousands of followers. Like any system of dynastic succession, this one was vulnerable to political intrigue, manipulation, and mistake; apparently, there's no easy science for finding one's reincarnation. The searchers rely on visions, divinations, and clues left behind by the old rinpoche, and sometimes things go awry. Nor do these rinpoches always behave as expected: the sixth Dalai Lama loved wine, carousing, and singing songs to his favorite Lhasa courtesans. He came to a bad end.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Image

Animal Spirits
Stephen T. Asma • Aeon

Observing mammals in Africa reveals insights into human intelligence. 

Time on the Serengeti makes you think a lot about the inner life of animals. While the wildebeest is screaming, is it feeling fear like we do? Is it relieved when it's suddenly free? Is the croc filled with regret? It might seem self-evident to the sentimental pet owner that our fellow creatures have emotions, but science has long been loath to admit it. Yet Jaak Panksepp, professor of veterinary anatomy at Washington State University College, says this is one area where our anthropomorphic tendencies are probably in the right: animals do have complex emotional lives.


Syria's Secular Revolution Lives On
Omar Hossino • Foreign Policy

The movement countering the rise of radical jihadists.

Such scenes, which I saw on my recent trip to war-torn northern Syria, point to the worrying growth of jihadi and Salafi groups -- but these forces are not the only players emerging in the new Syria. The secular and nationalist spirit that initially sparked the Syrian revolution is also still alive and well. Many grassroots activists and religious leaders are working to forge a country that is built on secular principles, against sectarian revenge, and supportive of equal rights for all its citizens. Even some of the sharia courts that have sprung up to administer justice in areas the Syrian government has abandoned contain surprising, nonsectarian trends.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Drone Home
Lev Grossman • Time

How the radical new technology is changing life both at home and abroad.

Having transformed war, drones are getting ready to transform peace. A year ago Obama ordered the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to expedite the process of integrating "unmanned aerial vehicles," as drones are primly referred to within the trade, into civilian airspace. Police departments will use them to study crime scenes. Farmers will use them to watch their fields. Builders will use them to survey construction sites. Hollywood will use them to make movies. Hobbyists will use them just because they feel like it. Drones are an enormously powerful, disruptive technology that rewrites rules wherever it goes. Now the drones are coming home to roost.


If They Build It, Will the Kardashians Come?
Peter Savodnik • New York Times Magazine

In a new economy fueled by an oil boom, some Azerbaijani entrepreneurs are taking a page from Dubai's playbook.

When the whole project is complete, according to Avesta, 800,000 people will live at Khazar Islands, and there will be hotel rooms for another 200,000, totaling nearly half the population of Baku. It will cost about $100 billion, which is more than the gross domestic product of most countries, including Azerbaijan. "It will cost $3 billion just to build Azerbaijan Tower," Ibrahimov said. "Some people may object. I don't care. I will build it alone. I work with my feelings."



What Richard III Can Teach Us Today

The world is grown so bad that wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch. Can Shakespeare’s fallen tyrant help us set it to rights?

I like the idea of the hunchbacked Richard III, newly exhumed from his final resting spot beneath a parking lot in Leicester, England, visiting the Oval Office. You can imagine the late, unlamented English monarch exchanging pleasantries with U.S. President Barack Obama about horseback riding and complaining about what a pain it is to deal with the intolerable French. They might also exchange notes on the inevitable headaches of leadership -- though, in Obama's case, he's not likely to take his skeet-shooting gun and parachute into Helmand province to battle the Taliban.

But the conversation could quickly take a more somber turn. If there is a lesson from the 1485 fall of Richard's House of York, it's that there are worse things than judicious appeasement.

In general, the Wars of the Roses -- the 30-year civil war between Richard's Yorkist family and their Lancastrian cousins -- continued a three-way policy dance that dated far back into the Hundred Years War. The Lancastrians often found support among the French; their bitter enemies, the Yorkists, found their friends among the powerful Dukes of Burgundy. In 1475, Edward IV, Richard's older brother, became the first solvent English king in decades by finally cutting a good deal with the French. In exchange for no longer pressing his dubious claim to be the legitimate king of France, the French gave him a cozy pension and lucrative trading benefits. Yes, Richard's very distant cousin Henry V had been more dashing in all his belligerence at Agincourt, but it had cost his realm dearly. Edward was learning that diplomatic success was easier and cheaper to achieve than military victory, and often had longer lasting results.

By the end of Edward's reign, however, that agreement between France and Yorkist England was starting to weaken. Edward's brother Richard III came to the throne determined to ignore it and to readopt a more swashbuckling attitude toward France. Huge mistake: France eagerly dumped money and resources into the invasion planned by Richard's Lancastrian enemy, Henry Tudor. (Henry had been living in exile first in Brittany and later in France itself.) If Richard had not antagonized the French, they almost certainly would not have supported Henry -- whose claim to the succession was weak at best -- and Richard might have escaped the double ignominy of death in battle and eventual burial under a parking lot, though perhaps he would not have been immortalized by history's greatest playwright.

In general, Richard III is less explicitly focused on foreign policy than Shakespeare's other early history plays. In terms of dramatic interest, murdering little princes and drowning people in malmsey butts trumps treaty negotiations and ambassadorial exchanges. But as Richard rallies his troops to fight Henry, he speaks disparagingly of the "overweening rags of France" who have accompanied Henry back to England. Discounting the significance of French support was a mistake. A fatal one.

Lessons for today? Richard's radically unstable England does not look much like a 21st-century democracy. It lacked the clear principles of succession and state monopolies on violence that characterize the United States and its Western European allies. But with its armed factions marauding over the country, 15th-century England does resemble some of the countries with which the American president has to deal. Shakespeare's hunchbacked monarch would not be the last world leader to muscle himself into power through murder and intimidation. Nor would he be the last to swashbuckle on the international front in a desperate effort to solidify support at home.

Although writing at a moment when dynastic ambition still dictated policy, Shakespeare intuited the intimate relationship between foreign and domestic affairs that later characterized the Westphalian state. What was true of the feudal past remains true of failed states that trouble the modern world. Countries without reliable successions and whose rulers fail to achieve a governing consensus pose a constant threat to their neighbors. From Mali to Eritrea to Syria, strongmen and would-be dictators are the first to disregard international agreements and rake up old quarrels in the vain hope of legitimizing their regimes.

Fortunately for England, Henry Tudor learned from his predecessors' mistakes. Although Henry VII's claim to the throne was even shakier than Richard's, he learned quickly that making peace with his neighbors was a better route to legitimacy than belligerence. The treaties he negotiated with France, Spain, and Scotland brought his realm a stability and prosperity that it had not known for two centuries.

Obama and his advisors should take note of how England's neighbors, France in particular, availed themselves of Richard's fall to settle years of border disputes and to integrate England into a more cooperative set of interstate relations. France even provided Henry a generous annual subsidy that helped him stabilize his realm. At least until the accession of Henry's foolhardy son Henry VIII two decades later, England and all its neighbors profited from his wise domestic governance. There is hope for failed states. They can be reclaimed and integrated within the community of nations. But world governments must recognize and support a potential leader, like Henry Tudor, who work with them to forge lasting, stabilizing agreements.

And what lessons does Richard III hold for the world's petty tyrants? Nothing is more tempting when you have trouble at home than shaking fists at your traditional enemy. That strategy rarely works and often even backfires. Damaging your credibility on the international front will only exacerbate your problems at home. It might even get you buried under a parking lot.

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images