#516 : January 17, 2014

Stuck In The Middle

Jan Brady is not the only one who hated being in the middle. This week we have stories about how it sucks to be in limbo or be the mediator, but we also hear from a man who absolutely loves being in that uncertain and boring middle most of us dread — on hold, listening to hold music.

#515 : January 10, 2014

Good Guys

Lots of men think of themselves as "good guys." But what does it actually take to be one? To be a truly good guy. Stories of valiant men attempting to do good in challenging circumstances: in war zones, department stores, public buses, and at the bottom of a cave 900 feet underground.

#514 : December 20, 2013

Thought That Counts

It's the thought that counts. So true. Unfortunately, sometimes it's not always so clear what that thought was. And sometimes, when it is clear, we wish it wasn't. This week, during this, the season of giving, we turn our spotlight on the givers and exactly whatever it was they could've possibly been thinking.

#513 : December 13, 2013

129 Cars

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. Photo gallery here. NOTE: the Internet version of this episode includes un-bleeped curse words. Bleeped version here.

#512 : November 22, 2013

House Rules

Where you live is important. It can dictate quality of schools and hospitals, as well as things like cancer rates, unemployment, or whether the city repairs roads in your neighborhood. On this week's show, stories about destiny by address. Much of this story is told to Nancy Updike by ProPublica reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose series on the Fair Housing laws — with more stories, research and interviews — is here.

#511 : November 8, 2013

The Seven Things You're Not Supposed to Talk About

Producer Sarah Koenig's mother lives by a set of rules about conversation. She has an actual list of off-limits topics, including how you slept, your period, your health, your diet and more. You don't talk about these things, she says, because nobody cares. This week we try to find stories on these exact topics that will prove her wrong.

#510 : November 1, 2013

Fiasco!

Stories of when things go wrong. Really wrong. When you leave the normal realm of human error, fumble, mishap, and mistake and enter the territory of really huge breakdowns. Fiascos. Things go so awry that normal social order collapses. An updated version of a classic episode, now including one of the most popular stories we've ever aired... about a police officer and a squirrel.

#509 : October 25, 2013

It Says So Right Here

Everyone knows you can't always believe what you read, but sometimes even official documents aren't a path to the truth. This week we have stories of people whose lives are altered when seemingly boring documents like birth certificates and petitions are used against them. And a family wrestles with a medical record that has a very clear, but complicated diagnosis.

#508 : October 18, 2013

Superpowers 2013

This is an updated version of a classic episode, featuring a new story from Snap Judgment. We answer the following questions about superpowers: Can superheroes be real people? (No.) Can real people become superheroes? (Maybe.) And which is better: flight or invisibility? (Depends who you ask.) Chris ware's comic mentioned in the episode is here.

#507 : October 11, 2013

Confessions

Two crime scenes, two murders. One crime is solved, the other case went cold. Both raise the question: What should a person suspected of murder say?

#506 : October 4, 2013

Secret Identity

A bank robber on an undercover mission. A teenage girl with the powers of a tiger. A vigilante seeking vengeance in Ciudad Juarez. All have secret identities. But not all of them chose those identities for themselves. WEB EXTRA: A drawing by Alice Leora Briggs accompanies the text of "Diana, Hunter of Bus Drivers."

#505 : September 20, 2013

Use Only as Directed

One of the country's most popular over-the-counter painkillers — acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol — also kills the most people, according to data from the federal government. Over 150 Americans die each year on average after accidentally taking too much. And it requires a lot less to endanger you than you may know. We reported this alongside ProPublica. Their stories here and here.

#504 : September 6, 2013

How I Got Into College

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. (Photo: Emir as a Harvard undergrad. Credit Terri Wang.)

#503 : August 16, 2013

I Was Just Trying To Help

Stories of people doing the noble thing and stepping up to help, only to find out that others think what they're doing isn't helping at all. Planet Money looks at a charity that's decided to just give people money, and a sheriff in California devises a plan to let farmers grow weed — as long as they register with him.

#502 : August 9, 2013

This Call May Be Recorded... To Save Your Life

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?

#501 : July 26, 2013

The View From In Here

It's so easy to lose perspective (or worry you've lost perspective) when you're deep inside some situation. For instance, an American woman who suddenly trades her life for one in a place most people might think twice about: Juarez, Mexico.

#500 : July 12, 2013

500!

To celebrate our 500th episode, Ira asked the producers of This American Life to talk about their very favorite moments on the show. Some chose stories that've been more or less forgotten for years; others chose just one line of script, or a segment that secretly made them cry. So for our 500th, we bring you the best of This American Life — the way we've been hearing it, behind the scenes, all these years.

#499 : June 28, 2013

Taking Names

The truly incredible story of a guy named Kirk Johnson who started a list of hundreds of Iraqis who needed to get out of their country. They were getting death threats, and he was their only hope. Only 26 and living in his aunt's basement, he had no idea what to do. How Kirk kind of succeeded spectacularly and failed spectacularly at the same time. INTERACTIVE: "Emails From a Dead Man"

#498 : June 21, 2013

The One Thing You're Not Supposed To Do

This week, stories about people who know something's a bad idea, but convince themselves to do that thing anyway. Including the story of a bunch of illegal immigrants who turn themselves in to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, hoping to be sent into detention.

#497 : June 14, 2013

This Week

This week we return to one of our favorite themes: This Week! All of the stories in the show are things that have taken place in the last seven days. We've got our own take on the big, national stories of the week but we also turn a searchlight across America and find the smaller, more personal and more spectacular stories that most of us never hear.

#496 : May 31, 2013

When Patents Attack... Part Two!

Two years ago, we did a program about a mysterious business in Texas that threatens companies with lawsuits for violating its patents. But the world of patent lawsuits is so secretive, there were basic questions we could not answer. Now we can. And we get a glimpse why people say our patent system may be discouraging, not encouraging, innovation.

#495 : May 17, 2013

Hot In My Backyard

After years of being stuck, the national conversation on climate change finally started to shift — just a little — last year, the hottest year on record in the U.S., with Hurricane Sandy flooding the New York subway, drought devastating Midwest farms, and California and Colorado on fire. Lots of people were wondering if global warming had finally arrived, here at home. This week, stories about this new reality.

#494 : May 3, 2013

Hit the Road

It's spring, so we're opening windows and going places. This week we have stories of people who, for reasons that they can't always explain, feel compelled to get out and go somewhere. Including the story of one man who decides to take a trip from Philadelphia to San Francisco — by foot.

#493 : April 19, 2013

Picture Show

This week, Israeli soldiers take snapshots of Palestinian boys, one house at a time, in the middle of the night. This and other stories where getting the picture gives you the upper hand.

#492 : April 12, 2013

Dr. Gilmer and Mr. Hyde

Dr. Benjamin Gilmer (left) gets a job at a rural clinic. He finds out he’s replaced someone — also named Dr. Gilmer (picture) — 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.

#491 : March 29, 2013

Tribes

A Native American tribe is doing exactly the opposite of what you'd think they'd do: they're kicking people out of the tribe, huge numbers of them, including people whose ancestors without question were part of the tribe. And the story of a white guy who only wants to date Asian women, who then has to adjust to the reality of a real actual Asian woman in his life. The phrase "finding your tribe" is a total cliche — but one that does apply to certain situations.

#490 : March 22, 2013

Trends With Benefits

The number of Americans receiving federal disability payments has nearly doubled over the last 15 years. There are towns and counties around the nation where almost 1/4 of adults are on disability. Planet Money's Chana Joffe-Walt spent 6 months exploring the disability program, and emerges with a story of the U.S. economy quite different than the one we've been hearing. Web Extra: here.

#489 : March 1, 2013

No Coincidence, No Story!

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.

#488 : February 22, 2013

Harper High School, Part Two

We pick up where we left off last week in our second hour from Harper High School in Chicago. We find out if a shooting in the neighborhood will derail the school's Homecoming game and dance. We hear the origin story of one of Harper's gangs. And we ask a group of teenagers: where do you get your guns? Harper has set up a donation page here.

#487 : February 15, 2013

Harper High School, Part One

We spent five months at Harper High School in Chicago, where last year alone 29 current and recent students were shot. 29. We went to get a sense of what it means to live in the midst of all this gun violence, how teens and adults navigate a world of funerals and Homecoming dances. We found so many incredible and surprising stories, this show is a two-parter; you can listen to Part Two here.

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