This American Life

This American Life is a journalistic non-fiction program hosted by Ira Glass. It features essays, memoirs, field recordings, short fiction, and found footage.



All Episodes

Note: This American Life limits the episodes available in its RSS feed, which is how this list is populated. As a result, episodes broadcast before 2016 are not listed here. Any rebroadcasts from before that date are listed by their date of rebroadcast.
September 8, 2017

In the fall of 1967, two black freshmen arrived at an all-white private boarding school in Virginia. They were the first black students ever to attend the school. One of the main reasons they were there? To benefit the white kids. This week, we hear their story, and others about being enlisted to benefit another person’s educational experience. A version of this story appears in The New York Times Magazine.

September 3, 2017

Everyone walks around on their own private map of the world. The places we’re from and how they made us, whether we like it or not.

August 27, 2017

After four lawyers fail to get an innocent man out of prison, his friend takes on the case himself. He becomes a do-it-yourself investigator. He learns to read court records, he tracks down hard-to-find witnesses, he gets the real murderer to come forward with his story. In the end, he’s able to accomplish all sorts of things the police and the professionals can’t.

August 20, 2017

One of our producers, Neil Drumming, has recently become fascinated with Afrofuturism. It’s more than sci-fi. It’s a way of looking at black culture that’s fantastic, creative, and oddly hopeful—which feels especially urgent during a time without a lot of optimism.

Featuring the new song “The Deep” by Clipping. Original artwork by Paul Davey. Click to enlarge.

August 13, 2017

Favorite stories by our longtime contributor and friend David Rakoff.

August 6, 2017

When everything goes wrong, one of the first things we think is, “Who do I call?” This week, stories of lucky people who have found the exact right person to ring up for help.

July 30, 2017

Stories of babysitters, and what goes on while mom and dad are away that mom and dad never find out about. Including the story of two teenagers who decide to invent children to babysit, as an excuse to get out of their own house.

July 23, 2017

This week we look at two different towns grappling with a question the country is trying to make sense of – who do we let in? One town has immigrants that became the focus of national news. The other, a small town in Alaska, hardly has any immigrants at all.

July 16, 2017

Most of the time, we show the world a pretty superficial version of ourselves. “How about that weather?” But this week—people who try to go deeper, to get to something real, in some unexpected places: war, magic and porn.

July 9, 2017

Stories of summer camp. People who love camp say that non-camp people simply don’t understand what’s so amazing about camp. In this program, we attempt to bridge the gap of misunderstanding between camp people and non-camp people.

July 2, 2017

Just a few years before he got the internship at NPR that started him in radio, our host Ira Glass had another career. He performed magic at children’s birthday parties. A powerful sense of embarrassment has prevented him from ever doing an episode on the subject, but when he learned that producer David Kestenbaum was also a kid conjurer, they decided to dive in together. Photo: David P. Abbott demonstrates his floating ball routine.

June 25, 2017

We take it for granted that the majority calls the shots. But in one NY school district, that idea — majority rules — has led to an all-out war. School board disputes are pretty common, but not like this one. This involves multimillion-dollar land deals, lawyers threatening to beat up parents, felony criminal charges, and the highest levels of state government. Meanwhile, the students are caught in the middle.

June 18, 2017

Does talking about it really help? Stories where it does, and stories where it doesn’t, including a man who tried to battle his fears by listing them. He ended up with a list 138 items long.

June 4, 2017

Stories of very unusual pen pals, including a ten-year-old girl from Michigan who befriends Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. A show from 2003 that we’re bringing back with news this week of Noriega’s death.

May 28, 2017

The way people talk about being fat is shifting. With one-third of Americans classified as overweight, and another third as obese, and almost none of us losing weight and keeping it off, maybe it’s time to rethink the way we see being fat. A show inspired by Lindy West’s book Shrill.

May 14, 2017

We devote this entire episode to one story: Over the course of six months, reporter and This American Life contributor Jack Hitt followed a group of inmates at a high-security prison as they rehearsed and staged a production of the last act—Act V—of Hamlet.

May 7, 2017

To be, or not to be a pirate? This week, that is the question. Hold fast, mateys! We have stories about both historical and modern-day swashbucklers who loot, pillage, and question their choices.

April 30, 2017

Before Donald Trump started his presidential campaign in 2015, there was a congressional race that redefined what was possible in American politics. Steve Bannon and Breitbart News got involved in that race early, just like they later got deeply involved Donald Trump’s race. On this week’s show: What happened in that campaign, what it made it work, and how we got to now.

April 23, 2017

At first, it’s super annoying, getting told it’ll make sense when you’re older. Then, when you’re a teenager, hard lessons are learned, despite your best efforts to be too cool to care. By the time you’re actually old, you know a bunch of stuff— and you’re desperate to hold onto it. You might even wonder HOW you know all the things you know. Hosted by Chana Joffe-Walt and featuring SNL’s Sasheer Zamata.

April 16, 2017

Since Russia meddled in our election, there’s been concern that the fake news and disinformation that’s so prevalent there could be taking hold in this country. But is that hyperbole? This week we look at what it’s actually like to live in the confusing information landscape that is Putin’s Russia.

April 2, 2017

Stories of people who decide that they are the best person for the job, no matter how dangerous. Including a story about a stay-at-home mom with a history of gun running for a guerilla organization, and a surgeon who does surgery…on himself.

March 26, 2017

Stories of people getting more testosterone and coming to regret it. And of people losing it and coming to appreciate life without it. The pros and cons of the hormone of desire.

March 19, 2017

Stories from people who need a grown-up. Featuring teenage girls asking for advice about their love lives and Ira’s tribute to his his very grown-up friend Mary.

March 5, 2017

A show about rules and what happens when they’re vague and randomly enforced.

February 26, 2017

On a summer day in 1951, two baby girls were born in a hospital in small-town Wisconsin. The infants were accidentally switched, and went home with the wrong families.

February 19, 2017

This week we have stories of people going to very extreme measures to demonstrate their feelings. Elna Baker makes a questionable trip to Africa, while a man in Florida commits a series of disturbing acts in the name of love. Ira also goes to a high school to talk to kids before a dance.

February 5, 2017

This week we document what happened when the President’s executive order went into effect temporarily banning travel from seven countries, and we talk about the way it was implemented. A major policy change thrown into the world like a fastball with no warning. It’s hard not to ask: “What just happened? What was that all about?”

February 5, 2017

This week we document what happened when the President’s executive order went into effect temporarily banning travel from seven countries, and we talk about the way it was implemented. A major policy change thrown into the world like a fastball with no warning. It’s hard not to ask: “What just happened? What was that all about?”

January 29, 2017

We asked listeners to send us their best coincidence stories, and we got more than 1,300 submissions! There were so many good ones we decided to make a whole show about them. From a chance encounter at a bus station to a romantic dollar bill to a baffling apparition in a college shower stall. See more of your coincidence stories — with photos — here.

January 8, 2017

We’ve fought two wars since 9/11. We got help from tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans—some were targeted or killed because they helped us. We owe these people. We’ve passed laws that say so. So why has it been so hard for us to get many of them to safety?

January 8, 2017

We’ve fought two wars since 9/11. We got help from tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans—some were targeted or killed because they helped us. We owe these people. We’ve passed laws that say so. So why has it been so hard for us to get many of them to safety?

January 1, 2017

For the New Year, as people everywhere make resolutions, we have stories of people deciding to make very big changes. A prisoner who hasn’t talked to anyone in years comes up with a bold plan to re-introduce himself to the world. A 90-year-old woman shocks her family when she falls in love.

December 25, 2016

Stories from people who want something desperately—for Christmas or otherwise—and then have their wishes fulfilled. Or do they?

December 18, 2016

Stories of kids using perfectly logical arguments, and arriving at perfectly wrong conclusions.

An updated version of an episode from 2001, with one story swapped.

December 11, 2016

Samantha Broun talks to cops, politicians, inmates, and family closest to the crime that changed policy 20 years ago for inmates serving life sentences in Pennsylvania. It’s a crime Samantha knows well, because it happened to her mom.

December 4, 2016

Stories of people who decide to rethink the way they’ve been doing things… or try to get others to do that. Including the story of a veteran who finds a new way to talk about war. <!– BEEPED VERSION –>

November 27, 2016

Emily Dickenson said “The heart wants what it wants.” This week stories from people who take that notion to extremes, and are unapologetic about it.

November 20, 2016

Josh’s mother and younger brother were a mess. His mother drank too much. His brother got arrested a lot. Josh hadn’t lived with them since he was nine, and they didn’t play much of a role in his daily life—until duty called, and they took over his life.

Josh told the sequel to this story at our live show in 2014.

November 13, 2016

People around the country talking about the coming four years. Some of them exalted, some of them, as President Obama said Wednesday, “less so.”

November 6, 2016

A story about Hillary Clinton that offers a different picture than what we’ve been hearing from both sides during this campaign. And some funny stuff, because everyone’s tired of the election.

October 23, 2016

Watching lies become the truth in this year’s election. And a few people who try to bridge the gap between the way the two sides see the facts.

October 16, 2016

A journalist named Meron Estefanos gets a disturbing tip. She’s given a phone number that supposedly belongs to a group of refugees being held hostage in the Sinai desert. She dials the number, and soon dozens of strangers are begging her to rescue them. How can she ignore them?

October 9, 2016

San Francisco’s Spider-Man burglar was remarkable. He dropped into buildings from skylights, leapt 10 feet from one roof to another. But mostly, his talent got him into trouble. This week, his story, and stories of other undesirable talents.

October 2, 2016

A story about someone who’s desperately trying – against long odds – to make it to the United States and become an American. Abdi is a Somali refugee living in Kenya and gets the luckiest break of his life: he wins a lottery that puts him on a short list for a U.S. visa. This is his ticket out. But before he can cash in his golden ticket, the police start raiding his neighborhood, targeting refugees.

September 25, 2016

Words can seem so puny and ineffective sometimes. On this show, we have stories in which ordinary people make last ditch efforts to get through to their loved ones, using a combination of small talk and not-so-small talk.

September 18, 2016

Right now, all sorts of people are trying to rethink and reinvent education, to get poor minority kids performing as well as white kids. But there’s one thing nobody tries anymore, despite lots of evidence that it works: desegregation. Nikole Hannah-Jones looks at a district that, not long ago, accidentally launched a desegregation program.

September 11, 2016

This week, stories about people trying their best to turn themselves into something else—like a badger. Or a professional comedian, in a language they didn’t grow up speaking.

September 4, 2016

Often we see someone’s situation from the outside and think we know exactly what’s going on. This week we get inside and find out just how much more interesting the reality of it is. Including a teenaged girl who records a remarkable story about the boyfriend who abuses her, and why it’s so hard to break up with him. Here are the videos by Bianca Giaever mentioned in the episode.

August 28, 2016

What do you do when you’re thrown into a situation you’re not prepared for? And while you’re flailing around—what happens to the people who depend on you? This week we present stories of people who find themselves in over their heads, including an attorney who knows little about criminal law assigned to defend a young man facing twenty years in prison. ANNOTATED COURT DOCUMENT

August 21, 2016

What do you get when you take a private investigation firm, toss in a bunch of sexy soccer moms, then add official sponsorship from Glock firearms, a lying boss, and delusions of grandeur? This week’s show. That’s what you get.

Pete Crooks’ original article and book about the P.I. Moms.

August 14, 2016

Summer is a time when change seems more possible than ever. But is that really how it happens? Can people actually reinvent themselves in the warmer months? This week we present stories — and some comedy — about people and their summer selves.

August 7, 2016

We return to Greece with stories of people trying to move on with their lives in whatever way they can. We meet a couple who fell in love even though they weren’t expecting anything like that to happen, and even though her family didn’t approve. We also meet a shopkeeper in a camp who’s running what amounts to a cigarette charity. INTERACTIVE TOUR

July 31, 2016

A bunch of us from our show went to refugee camps all over Greece. We found people falling in love, kids mad at their parents for dragging them to Europe, women doing their laundry in a baseball stadium locker room, and hundreds of people living at a gas station—sitting next to the pumps, smoking. Also: wild pigs. 57,000 refugees are stuck in Greece, making homes in some surprising locations. We hear what that’s really like. INTERACTIVE TOUR

July 24, 2016

A captain’s log is a simple thing: the date, the time, maybe the weather — and the current status of a long journey. You wouldn’t know from the cryptic notations what weird worlds lurk beneath. On this week’s show, stories behind those cryptic notations — including a concentration camp in China that housed groups of Girl Scouts. Also, Aziz Ansari explains the significance of a Thanksgiving text message, and Etgar Keret destroys a marriage piece by piece.

July 17, 2016

Stories of people trying to make sure they get what they paid for, from political change to bedroom slippers. We follow a donor as he vets presidential candidates, and go inside a company wrestling with the consequences of its “no questions asked,” lifetime return policy.

July 10, 2016

There are all sorts of situations in which we suspect the fix is in, but we almost never find out for certain. On today’s show, for once, we find out. The whole program is devoted to one story, in which we go inside the back rooms of one multinational corporation and hear the intricate workings—recorded on tape—of how they put the fix in. (Pictured: former ADM executive Mark Whitacre)

June 26, 2016

Stories of people making the wrong choice, even though the right one is staring them squarely in the eye. Basketball players making a conscious decision to not do the thing that makes them better, pollsters refusing to see the truth of Donald Trump, and more.

June 19, 2016

The way people talk about being fat is shifting. With one-third of Americans classified as overweight, and another third as obese, and almost none of us losing weight and keeping it off, maybe it’s time to rethink the way we see being fat. A show inspired by Lindy West’s book Shrill.

June 12, 2016

Some information is so big and so complicated that it seems impossible to talk to kids about. This week, stories about the vague and not-so-vague ways to teach children about race, death and sex – including a story about colleges responding to sexual assault by trying to teach students how to ask for consent. Also, a story about how and when to teach kids about
the horrors of slavery and oppression in America.

June 5, 2016

Stories of people who try simple mind games on others, and then find themselves in way over their heads.

June 5, 2016

Shalom Auslander goes on vacation with his family, and suspects the beloved, chatty old man in the room next door is an imposter—and sets out to prove it. This and other stories about the pitfalls of making snap judgments about others.

May 29, 2016

Stories about mysteries that exist in relationships we thought couldn’t possibly surprise us, and the strangeness of putting our wants on the line with someone who may not share them at all– and how much we’re willing to risk for someone we may never see again.

May 22, 2016

Stories from faraway, hard-to-get-to places, where all rules are off, nefarious things happen because no one’s looking, and there’s no one to appeal to.

May 15, 2016

For millennia, people have tried to reach a spiritual promised land by fasting. Jesus did it. Buddha did it. Monks and saints and new age gurus have done it. And, for for this episode, the late David Rakoff tried it. He did a 20-day fast, to find out if it would bring him any form of enlightenment. Also, contributor Starlee Kine tells a story about getting as close to one promised land as you possibly can, without actually going in.

May 8, 2016

It’s nice to belong, to feel connected to others. But what happens when you realize that your fundamental beliefs don’t line up with the people you want to be close to? Do you bring it up? And, what does that conversation sound like? Guest host Sean Cole sits in for Ira.

May 1, 2016

While the seniors danced at Prom Night 2001 in Hoisington, Kansas—a town of about 3,000—a tornado hit the town, destroying about a third of it. When they emerged from the dance, they discovered what had happened, and in the weeks that followed, they tried to explain to themselves why the tornado hit where it did. Plus other stories that happen on Prom Night.

April 24, 2016

Exactly how incompetent you are. What your ex’s best friend really thinks of you. The approximate time that you will die. Some things in life are better not to know about. And sometimes there can be a benefit to not knowing. In this episode – examples of ignorance truly being bliss, or even being an asset

April 17, 2016

This week, at the suggestion of a 14-year-old listener, we bring you stories from the awkward, confusing, hormonally charged world of middle school. Including a teacher who transforms peer pressure into a force for good, and reports from the frontlines of the middle school dance.

(Pictured: 7th graders at a costume dance, dressed as characters from The Outsiders.)

April 10, 2016

The older and wiser we get, the more bewildering our past decisions can seem. This week, people revisit those decisions — and we revisit a story we aired a year ago with new, fascinating updates about a groundbreaking study that turned out to be false.

April 3, 2016

Stories of people who are tied together, but imagine radically different futures. In one case, a movie star and her ex-husband plot against Kim Jong-Il. In another, a woman stalks her doppleganger. And sometimes, one bed is the basis for an entire relationship, even for a man who almost never sees the person who shares his bed.

March 27, 2016

At first, it’s super annoying, getting told it’ll make sense when you’re older. Then, when you’re a teenager, hard lessons are learned, despite your best efforts to be too cool to care. By the time you’re actually old, you know a bunch of stuff— and you’re desperate to hold onto it. You might even wonder HOW you know all the things you know. Hosted by Chana Joffe-Walt and featuring SNL’s Sasheer Zamata.

March 20, 2016

Stories about people in trouble, who look for help in mystifying places. A 15-year-old boy travels more than 1,000 miles, alone, to seek out his hero, whom he’s never met. And from the archive of Wiretap, Jonathan Goldstein and David Rakoff tell the story of a man with a terrible medical problem, hoping for a cure from a famous doctor — who only communicates in rhyme.

March 13, 2016

We human beings think we run the world, that we’ve got things under control. And then an animal shows up, and things don’t go as planned. We have stories this week where seals, wolves and a moose drop in and show us who isn’t boss.

March 6, 2016

The radio version of an episode we did live on stage and beamed to movie theaters. David Sedaris, Tig Notaro, Ryan Knighton, and the late David Rakoff, in his final performance on the show.

The other half of this two-hour show was visual, including dancers, animation, and more. You can download video of the entire show.

February 21, 2016

Forget the easy way. This week, stories about people who come up with very innovative…and unusual…solutions to their problems. Including the story of a young voter who defies political categorization.

February 12, 2016

The brain! It’s powerful! We have the story of how one man’s delusions lead him to a situation that’s just as strange as the worst thoughts his mind is cooking up. That story’s a collaboration with the New York Times. Our second story is about a man using the power of his own mind to deal with a problem.

Pictured: Alan Pean, with visible scar from a bullet wound. Photo by Chad Batka for The New York Times.

February 7, 2016

This week, stories of people who are in put into positions they’re completely unqualified to handle … but who try to make it work anyway. Including one story of a tough group of soldiers who attempt to save lives through the power of show tunes.

January 31, 2016

This week, stories of people who are feeling the ground shift underneath them when people they are close to change. Including conservative radio host Tony Beam in South Carolina who is completely baffled by the candidate his audience has decided to get behind this election season.

January 24, 2016

We take the stately laws of physics—laws which mathematicians and scientists have spent centuries discovering and verifying—and apply them to the realm of human relationships, to see if they shed useful light on our daily lives.

January 17, 2016

When you’re the only one who can see something, sometimes it feels like you’re in on a special secret. The hard part is getting anyone to believe your secret is real. This week, people trying to show others what they see—including a woman with muscular dystrophy who believes she has the same condition as an Olympic athlete.

January 3, 2016

It’s safe to say whatever you want on the Internet; nobody will know it’s you. But that same anonymity makes it possible for people to say all the awful things that make the Internet such an annoying and sometimes frightening place. This week: what happens when the Internet turns on you? (If you prefer, here’s a bleeped version.)