Our Top 10 Stories of 2010

From scientific mysteries to secrets from the Revolutionary War, here are the most-read stories on Smithsonian.com this year

Top 10 Articles of 2010
Smithsonian magazine's top 10 articles of 2010. Smithsonian.com

1. Henrietta Lacks’ Immortal Cells
Journalist Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has been on the top of many notable “Best Books of 2010” lists, so it is no surprise that this interview with Skloot was our most popular article. In 1951, scientists at Johns Hopkins University created a human cell line that became invaluable to medical research. But where did those cells come from? Skloot discusses how she tracked down the source to a black tobacco farmer from Virginia named Henrietta Lacks.

2. The Search for the Guggenheim Treasure
In 1903, a barge loaded with over 7,700 silver-and-lead bars sank somewhere in Arthur Kill, the narrow body of water between Staten Island, New York, and New Jersey. While much of the loot was recovered soon after the sinking, some 1,400 bars, valued at up to $20 million, were never found. Follow treasure hunter Ken Hayes as he dives into the murky waters off New York City searching for this buried fortune.

3. Myths of the American Revolution
What lies did your teacher tell you? That the Battle of Saratoga changed the momentum of the war? That the colonies united in their fight against the British? Re-learn the history of the Revolutionary War battles that gave the United States its freedom.

4. An Earth Day Icon Unmasked
Smithsonian magazine celebrated its 40th anniversary this summer, and as part of our special issue marking the occasion, we devoted our Indelible Images department to revealing the identity of an individual behind an iconic photograph shot 40 years ago on the first Earth Day. In the article, Peter Hallerman, a student at Pace College at the time, recalls exactly what happened when he posed for the photograph wearing a gas mask his mother had saved from her time as a nurse in World War II.

5. Top 10 Daily Consequences of Having Evolved
Despite being published only weeks ago, this list explaining some of Homo sapiens oddest characteristics has already proved to be a popular read. Why do we hiccup, have goose bumps or gain weight? They are all thanks to the untidy process of evolution.

6. The 10 Most Disturbing Scientific Discoveries
What were the discoveries that shocked the world? Most famously, Copernicus announced that the Earth was not the center of the universe. But some of the more recent revelations include the possibility that viruses are evolving faster than we can fight them and that we could be in the midst of an era of mass extinction. Disturbing, indeed!

7. The Curious London Legacy of Benedict Arnold
One historical event that is most definitely not a Revolutionary War myth is that Benedict Arnold betrayed the young country when it needed him most. But what happened to the treasonous general after the war? And why is he buried in the basement of a small London church? Writer John Hanc traveled to the crypt to discover how Arnold is remembered on the other side of the Atlantic.

8. Lincoln’s Missing Bodyguard
The story of John Wilkes Booth assassinating Abraham Lincoln is legendary, but why was it so easy for Booth to invade the President’s suite in Ford’s Theatre? Because John Parker, a police officer with a long history of incompetence, was grabbing a drink across the street. Read the story that will have you shaking your head in disbelief and wondering what might have been had Parker simply stayed at his post.

9. Abraham Lincoln: True Crime Writer
It’s unsurprising that the country’s greatest president would be the subject of two stories on our Top 10 list. Long before he occupied the White House, Lincoln practiced law in Springfield, Illinois and saw fit to write about one of the strangest and most memorable murder cases he ever argued before a court.

10. Uncovering the Secrets of the Sphinx
The ancient Egyptian sculpture has long been one of the world’s greatest mysteries, and archaeologist Mark Lehner has devoted his life to unraveling its secrets, including how the 240-foot-tall structure was built and whether the Sphinx and the Giza Pyramids have a unique astronomical connection.

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