Graeme Wood


Big Hunk o’ Love

Originally published in The Daily.

In 1992, the U.S. Postal Service asked the nation to vote by postcard on whether the new Elvis Presley stamp should depict Elvis as a young man — slickly pompadoured, tie loose, cool as a diner malt — or as the jonesing, sequined lard-ass he later became. The decision wasn’t a hard one: Voters overwhelmingly chose the young Elvis, preferring to remember their idol in the days when he put Crisco in his hair rather than into his face. Memories of Presley’s shape late in life remain painful for some fans, who prefer the image of a lithe young star with a pelvis so provocative that, even fully clothed, it could not be shown on television. But Elvis morphed into something much worse, burying himself in his own pudge, until on Aug. 16, 1977, his heart decided it could no longer work under those conditions and left the King dead on his bathroom floor. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Daily, , ,

Brain Power

Doctor solves mystery of ‘silent killers’ linked to mad cow disease

Originally appeared in The Daily.

A staple of kung fu movies is the “silent killer” punch that feels like a tap when delivered but that minutes, hours or years later causes the victim to keel over, stone dead. Biology has many such silent killers, such as cancer and HIV, but none is stealthier or more insidious than the family of diseases uncovered by American neurologist Stanley Prusiner in 1982. And, he found, to deal a death blow, these diseases needed nothing more exotic than a plain old delicious steak. Read the rest of this entry »

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Running the Asylum

For The Atlantic, I profiled Maj. Gulzar Wazir, mental health activist in Peshawar.

Filed under: Atlantic Monthly

Knights of the Castle

Originally published in The Daily.

In 1921, in the early days of meat inspection, an American cow’s journey from factory to restaurant was still long and uncertain, a public-health gamble for everyone but vegetarians. Ground beef was especially suspect. If you, the diner, dared to sink your fangs into a burger, your greasy mouthful might contain an unpleasant surprise: if you were lucky, part of a cow; if you were not — something else. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Fakir of Ipi

Originally appeared in The Daily.

They don’t make Pakistani safe houses like they used to.

Contrary to popular opinion, the most successful fugitive jihadist that Pakistan has ever known was not shot through the eye by a Navy SEAL over the weekend. He died peacefully, surrounded by friends and admirers in his home district of Waziristan, on April 16, 1960, when Osama bin Laden was still a 3-year-old brat in Saudi Arabia. Mirza Ali Khan — known to the British as the Fakir of Ipi — evaded a 12-year manhunt, then basked for another 13 years in the warm glow of victory. If bin Laden had studied up on the Fakir’s evasion techniques, he might have lasted a few years longer. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bob the Destroyer

The Fear

Reviewed by Graeme Wood

The word “autogenocide” came to English from a French coinage in the 1970s, meant to convey the self-slaughter of Cambodia in the 1970s by the Khmer Rouge. The category has been a rather lonely one since then, with just a few instances of mass death that were truly self-inflicted, and could not plausibly be explained away as collateral damage in a fight against an outside enemy. The pre-eminent current example of autogenocide is Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, and Peter Godwin’s new book The Fear is the most enraging account of what has happened there yet published.

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Filed under: Barnes & Noble Review, ,

Portrait of a Pope

Carl Franzen and I produced a file on Karol Józef Wojtyła (Pope John Paul II) for The Daily.  Check it out here.

Filed under: Daily,

Far-Future Shock

In the Boston Globe Ideas section, I consider what will happen to the human species a billion or more years from now.

Filed under: Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News, ,