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Cranky Little Bastards, Carmageddon, and Bachmann’s “Ex-Lesbian” Friend

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

The Strange Career of Uncle Tom: How the little Yankee woman’s book got so big,” by Adam Goodheart. Ever since Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in 1852 *, it has lived an impressive life of its own, writes Goodheart. In a biography of the book, author David Reynolds explores the secret behind the novel’s global popularity (even Lenin called it his favorite childhood book) and impact on the formation of American democracy pop culture.

Carmageddon Challenge: The Bikes Won! How a team of cyclists—and a guy on the subway and a Rollerblader—beat a JetBlue flight from Burbank to Long Beach,” by Tom Vanderbilt. As detailed in Part One of his impromptu two-part series, the author’s idle tweet spurred a group of cyclists to race a JetBlue plane from Burbank to Long Beach in response to the closure of Interstate 405. In this triumphant follow-up, Vanderbilt recounts the cyclists’ improbable victory and ponders its significance for urban transportation.

Cranky Little Bastards: Taking stock of the centipede,” by Constance Casey. The earth’s oldest terrestrial animal needs to relax to keep its 20 to 300 legs in order when it sprints around at 42 centimeters per second. Though not very smart and quite cranky (centipedes do not copulate but exchange mating material via light antennae taps), centipedes impress with the variety of their diet and motherly instincts. In this profile, Casey encourages us to embrace the little creature in memory of our common ancestor.

How To Get Ahead in Tabloid Journalism: Murdoch’s minions have nothing on the journalists of 1897,” by Paul Collins. While writers elsewhere were bemoaning the decline of journalism, Collins reached back more than a century to recall a tabloid war between two of the profession’s most venerated names—a battle so bloody it makes Murdoch’s misdeeds look mild. Severed heads, stolen evidence, and sensational stories were all part of the business for William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.

Top Right: Slate’s list of the 25 Americans who combine inventiveness and practicality: our best real-world problem-solvers,” by Slate staff. Slate launched its inaugural list of the top 25 problem solvers of our time. They’re innovators from five industries: business, culture, technology, government, and design. We’ll reveal their names gradually over the next five weeks. This week we began with business, investigating the brains behind Lady Gaga, the Forever 21 empire, Twitter, Netflix, and a green movement with style.

Readers Without Borders: What killed the big-box retailer? Hint: It wasn’t the Internet,” by Annie Lowrey. The nation’s second-to-last major bookstore chain blamed its demise on the usual suspect: the Internet. Not so fast, Lowrey writes. The real culprit was a series of head-in-the-sand decisions by Borders itself: It outsourced its online sales to Amazon and neglected the e-reader market. Lowrey’s postmortem finding: death by self-inflicted paper cuts.

The Guys Who Sign the Checks: We asked all nine living former treasury secretaries what they thought of the debt ceiling. Here’s what we found,” by Annie Lowrey. When unsure about what to do with the debt ceiling, why not check with those who would know best? Lowrey asked nine experts the unthinkable (or obvious): Should the debt ceiling exist at all? Let’s just say this: Time might be running out for the debt ceiling.

You’re Hired! Readers tell Great Recession stories of triumphing over long-term unemployment,” by Emily Yoffe. In a dismal job market, long-term unemployment can spawn hopelessness. Yoffe offers a dose of optimism by telling the stories of readers who beat the odds to find work after years of searching. From their stories—a middle-aged receptionist who went back to school to become a medical assistant, a telecommunication lawyer who bounced back from five layoffs, and others—we learn the secrets of job-market resilience.

The End of 140: Why Twitter should double its character limit,” by Farhad Manjoo. On the occasion of Twitter’s fifth birthday, @fmanjoo calls for the inconceivable: a loosening of its famous 140-character limit on tweets. It sounds like sacrilege, but the restriction is antiquated, explains Manjoo. Twitter is no longer used simply for status updates as its founders envisioned. Manjoo’s mantra: 280 or bust.

Meet the Bachmann’s ‘Ex-Lesbian’ Friend: Janet Boynes discusses her 14 ‘miserable’ years as a lesbian and her ministry to those who want to ‘leave the homosexual lifestyle,’ ” by Libby Copeland. Republican presidential contender Michele Bachmann has tried to downplay her husband’s controversial “reparative” therapy for gay patients by talking about her friend Janet Boynes: She successfully “overcame” homosexuality. Here, Copeland speaks to Boynes about her path in resisting “

Correction, July 25, 2011: This article originally gave the incorrect date for the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (Return to corrected sentence.)