This American Life is a weekly public radio show, heard by 2.2 million people on more than 500 stations. Another 2.5 million people download the weekly podcast. It is hosted by Ira Glass, produced in collaboration with Chicago Public Media, delivered to stations by PRX The Public Radio Exchange, and has won all of the major broadcasting awards.
We spend a month at a Jeep dealership on Long Island as they try to make their monthly sales goal: 129 cars. If they make it, they'll get a huge bonus from the manufacturer, possibly as high as $85,000 — enough to put them in the black for the month. If they don't make it, it'll be the second month in a row. So they pull out all the stops.
A different kind of #MeToo story, about several women who worked for the same man. They tell us not only about their troubling encounters with him, but also about their lives beforehand. Who were they when they entered the workplace, and how did their personal histories shape the way they dealt with his harassment?
There’s a program that brings together kids from two schools. One school is public and in the country’s poorest congressional district. The other is private and costs $43,000/year. They are three miles apart. The hope is that kids connect, but some of the public school kids just can’t get over the divide. We hear what happens when you get to see the other side and it looks a lot better.
Right-wing groups like the Proud Boys say they have no tolerance for racism or white supremacist groups. Their leader Gavin McInnes disavowed the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. But the Proud Boys believe “the west is the best,” which, one of them points out, is not such a big jump from “whites are best.” And one of the Proud Boys organized the Charlottesville rally. (The group now claims he was a spy.) What should we make of groups like this?
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.
Two towns where people got really upset about undocumented immigrants, even though in both places, that did not seem to be the most important thing happening at all. One of the towns, a small town in Alaska, has no undocumented immigrants at all, but the possibility of them arriving put the whole town at each other’s throats.
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.
Dr. Benjamin Gilmer gets a job at a rural clinic. He finds out he’s replaced someone — also named Dr. Gilmer — who went to prison after killing his own father. But the more Benjamin’s patients talk about the other Dr. Gilmer, the more confused he becomes. Everyone loved the old Dr. Gilmer. So Benjamin starts digging around, trying to understand how a good man can seemingly turn bad.
The man whose views on immigration are a cornerstone of Trump administration policy—Attorney General Jeff Sessions—apparently came to his opinions on the issue from seeing what happened in the poultry plants of Alabama. He believes undocumented workers showed up in those plants, stole American jobs, and drove down wages. Was he right? We have an economist crunch the numbers, and visit to see for ourselves.
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.
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.
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.
Our most ambitious live show ever! We pulled together a massive team of theater pros at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Opera House—nearly 50 singers, actors, dancers and musicians. The result? Journalism turned into a Broadway musical (hear the cast album), into opera. Mike Birbiglia, Sasheer Zamata, Stephin Merritt, Josh Hamilton, Lindsay Mendez, Lin-Manuel Miranda and others. Watch a video of the live performance or download it for $5.
Stories about one person single-handedly taking charge of a situation gone wrong—including one man's mission to rescue two kids who were kidnapped by alleged murderers and taken to Mexico, and another about a professor's mission to keep the educators of a liberal arts college from extinction.
Students all over are starting college this month, and some of them still have a nagging question: what, exactly, got me in? An admissions officer tells us the most wrongheaded things applicants try. And Michael Lewis has the incredible story of how a stolen library book got one man — Emir Kamenica — into his dream school.
Democrats are desperate to retake part of Congress. Their best shot is the House. This fall, they’ll be slugging it out with Republicans—but in the meantime, they’re slugging it out with each other. The progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party are going head-to-head in Democratic primaries all over the country right now, wrestling over what the party should be and stand for. This week, we have the story of a candidate in one primary like that.
Before he leaves the Senate for good, Republican Jeff Flake is trying to get a bill passed. He has his work cut out for him, with a Senate that barely brings anything to the floor, a party he feels estranged from, and a president who seems to hate his guts. Producer Zoe Chace hung out with him for four months.
In this politically charged climate, it feels like you have to be super careful with your language, no matter who you are or what side you're on. Stories about people who say the “wrong” thing and suffer the consequences, including a very conservative Republican from Louisiana who's lambasted for being too liberal.
In 1912 a four-year-old boy named Bobby Dunbar went missing in a swamp in Louisiana. Eight months later, he was found in the hands of a wandering handyman in Mississippi. In 2004, Bobby Dunbar's granddaughter discovered a secret beneath the legend of her grandfather's kidnapping, a secret whose revelation would divide her own family, bring redemption to another, and become the answer to a third family's century-old prayer.
So many people in Albertville, AL wondered what it cost them in taxes when thousands of undocumented immigrants moved to their town. One woman drove our host Ira Glass to the grocery store to watch a random Latina mom buy some milk with government assistance, to try to prove her point. So what’d all the newcomers really cost? And what was their effect on crime, schools, and politics? (Part one)
There are so many facts about the world that we take for granted—without ever questioning how we know them. Of course the earth revolves around the sun. Of course my dog loves me. But how exactly do we know things like that are true? This week, stories of people trying to unspool some of life’s certainties, and what they find.
We all love to travel to different places, but not many of us like the stressful, banal process of the journey. This week, stories about delays—including a town known entirely for its speed trap, and a woman who comes up against bureaucratic nightmares every time she wants to go just a few blocks away.
Stories about mysteries that exist in relationships we thought couldn't possibly surprise us, 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.
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.
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 clppng. Original artwork by Paul Davey. Click to enlarge.
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.
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. Pictured: Alan Pean, with visible scar from a bullet wound. Photo by Chad Batka for The New York Times.
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.
Dec 9th • 1:03:43
Documents you don't normally think of, showing you things you didn't expect.
Dec 2nd • 1:04:49
Growing up in Mankato, Minnesota, John Biewen says, nobody ever talked about the most important historical event ever to happen there: in 1862, it was the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Thirty-eight Dakota Indians were hanged after a war with white settlers. John went back to Minnesota to figure out what really happened 150 years ago, and why Minnesotans didn’t talk about it much after.
Nov 18th • 1:03:33
Stories of people who believe there is always a way. And also those who don’t.
Nov 4th • 59:16
Stories of people who tell a lie and then believe the lie more than anyone else does. In other words: Stories about people pulling hoaxes...on themselves.
Oct 28th • 1:00:34
Stories of people who try to revisit their childhoods—what they find and what they do not find.
Oct 7th • 1:00:58
Making big decisions about other people's lives can feel pretty awful. Zoe Chace followed Senator Jeff Flake as he decided to force the Senate to delay its vote on Judge Kavanaugh. And other stories.
Sep 30th • 1:01:39
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.
Sep 23rd • 1:03:13
A bunch of teenagers go missing from a town in Long Island. For months, the police treat them as runaways, ignoring the kids' parents, who keep trying to tell them otherwise. They keep trying to tell them that something much worse might have happened.
Sep 16th • 1:18:27
Yes, youʼve heard about the family separations. Youʼve heard about the travel ban. But there are dozens of ways the Trump administration is cracking down on immigration across many agencies, sometimes in ways so small and technical it doesnʼt make headlines. This week, the quiet bureaucratic war that’s even targeting legal immigrants.
Aug 26th • 59:05
What happens when unadventurous people end up in adventurous situations. Like an astronaut who goes to places no one has gone before, even though he’s not really into outer space.
Aug 12th • 1:05:18
A flute player breaks into a British museum and makes off with a million dollars worth of dead birds.
Jul 29th • 59:39
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.
Jul 22nd • 1:05:41
Dispatches from a government agency in its tumultuous teenage years.
Jul 15th • 0:00
Every crime scene hides a story. In this week's show, we hear about crime scenes and the stories they tell.
Jul 8th • 1:01:19
Three people grapple with the question, “Are we alone?”
Jul 1st • 1:03:22
An innocent man forgives the cop who framed him. An Argentinian talk show that usually treats women as objects suddenly gets really interested in feminism. This week, stories about changes that seem too tidy to be true.
Jun 17th • 1:03:57
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. Abdi has a memoir out on Tuesday called "Call Me American." He's also going on a short book tour.
Jun 3rd • 0:00
Stories of people starting over, sometimes because they want to, other times because they have to.
May 20th • 0:00
Cryptic messages on a cell phone and a teeter totter at a construction site: these are clues people found, trying to make sense of a death.
May 6th • 0:00
Conservative students don't feel like their ideas are welcome on campus. So they're fighting back. We go to Nebraska, where one skirmish spins out of control.
Apr 22nd • 0:00
The story of Reverend Carlton Pearson, a rising star in the evangelical movement, who cast aside the idea of hell, and with it everything he'd worked for over his entire life.
Apr 15th • 0:00
It’s one thing to weigh pros and cons. But sometimes all you have is con and con. This week, stories of people having to make a choice, when no good options exist. The group Ira mentions at the end of Act One is the UN World Food Programme; their donation page is here.
Mar 25th • 0:00
A girl signs up for a class. A couple hires an accountant. A group of co-workers decides to pool their money and buy a couple of lottery tickets. In the beginning, they're full of hope and optimism...and then something turns. Stories of good ideas gone bad.
Mar 18th • 0:00
Stories from border walls around the world, where one place ends and another begins. And the strange ecosystems that arise.
Dec 29th, 2017 • 0:00
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.
Dec 22nd, 2017 • 0:00
Even the best laid plans can go catastrophically wrong when humans get involved. This week, people bungle simple operations on some of the most dangerous weapons in the world.
Oct 16th, 2017 • 58:25
Stories that take place on the edge of civilization, just out of sight.
Sep 4th, 2017 • 1:00:34
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.
Jun 19th, 2017 • 59:59
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.
Jun 5th, 2017 • 1:00:17
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 8th, 2017 • 1:08:20
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.
Apr 24th, 2017 • 59:16
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.
Apr 17th, 2017 • 1:06:23
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.
Apr 10th, 2017 • 1:04:28
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.
Apr 3rd, 2017 • 1:03:35
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.
Mar 6th, 2017 • 1:05:28
A show about rules and what happens when they’re vague and randomly enforced.
Feb 27th, 2017 • 1:00:51
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.
Feb 20th, 2017 • 1:01:11
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.
Feb 6th, 2017 • 1:03:06
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?”
Jan 23rd, 2017 • 1:07:57
Some people are super-stoked for the political changes that are coming. We hear from them. And others.
Jan 16th, 2017 • 59:24
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.
Jan 9th, 2017 • 1:03:59
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?
Jan 2nd, 2017 • 1:01:40
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.
Dec 26th, 2016 • 1:02:08
Stories from people who want something desperately—for Christmas or otherwise—and then have their wishes fulfilled. Or do they?
Dec 19th, 2016 • 1:00:55
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.