Ira Glass Recommends These ‘This American Life’ Episodes

The New York Times and “This American Life” formed a new partnership this year, and one of my favorite things about it is that we get to bring the show’s vast archive (more than 700 episodes!) to The Times’s audience.

For Thanksgiving listening in a year when so many of us are not with our families because of the pandemic, I’ve picked some shows about family, and some episodes about other stuff, too. I’ve included my favorite interview, possibly my best, I’ve ever done. Listen while cooking or traveling (if you’re risking it) or while doing your Black Friday shopping online.

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

The interview that ends this show is my favorite interview I’ve ever done, and maybe my best.

Because we love our pets, they can also awaken all the other feelings that can accompany love: jealousy, anger, dependence. An episode about dogs, cats and armadillos that live in our homes — and how much they alter family dynamics.

Among these family stories, I wanted to include a family mystery. Yes, this is a dark one! In 1912, a 4-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 — or was he?

So many families this year have lost people to Covid-19. It got me thinking about the wind telephone, which a man set up after the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. It’s an old-fashioned telephone booth families use to “call” their loved ones who died in that natural disaster. That story’s paired in this episode with the story of a father and son trying to sidestep future grief and regret, by staging a very awkward family reunion.

One of my public radio colleagues, John Biewen, grew up in Mankato, Minn., and 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, at the order of Abraham Lincoln. He set out to uncover the story, and to figure out why nobody talked about it when he was a kid.



In these dark, combative times, my co-worker Bim Adewunmi suggested we try the most radical counterprogramming imaginable: an episode made up entirely of stories about delight. She co-hosts the episode, which is inspired partly by the poet Ross Gay, who said people who don’t take the time to honor the things they take delight in are negligent. But more important, they should share the things they take delight in.

Credit…Barry Glass

Just a few years before I landed the internship at NPR that started me in radio, I had another career: I was a kid magician. So was my colleague at “This American Life,” David Kestenbaum. In this episode, we dive into something we were too untalented for back then — how magicians go about inventing incredible tricks.


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6 thoughts on “Ira Glass Recommends These ‘This American Life’ Episodes

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