Best of Slow Journalism: A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite
The Atavist Magazine has been producing award-winning, long-form narrative journalism for some time now. With one monster piece per month (generally 10,000 to 20,000 words), their proposition is to deliver “blockbuster nonfiction” with “cinematic tales built off of in-depth reporting and writing from the best journalists and essayists out there.”
We’re fans, so we got excited when a few weeks ago they launched a pilot season of a new podcast in which Atavist writers read their stories. The pilot story, released as five 30-minute audio files of which two are still forthcoming, is Adam Higginbotham’s ‘A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite’.
With ample attention to detail, Higginbotham tells the story of John Birges Sr, or ‘Big John’, who in 1980 was a “terminally ill, broke, twice divorced” gambling addict with nothing left to lose. In an attempt to change his fortune, he plots to extort the very casino at which he’d racked up his enormous debts by using an improvised bomb packed with 1,000 pounds of stolen explosives.
By carefully bringing together the stories of the people involved in the extortion plot, and of those who frantically tried to stop it, Higginbotham succeeds in creating an article of cinematic proportions – indeed, in 2014 it was announced that Bradley Cooper and Todd Phillips were set to produce a big screen adaptation of the story.
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