• Tue. Jan 19th, 2021

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.

ImageA mother in Madison, N.J. returns home to her three children and the babysitter in 1947.
Credit…Rae Russel/Getty Images


What really happens when family members babysit, and Ira’s true feelings about Mary Poppins. Original air date Jan. 5, 2001.

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.

Credit…Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

In Dog We Trust

To what degree can pets replace people in our lives and affect family dynamics? Original air date March 10, 2000.

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.

The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar

In 2004, Bobby Dunbar’s granddaughter discovered a secret beneath the legend of her grandfather’s kidnapping. Original air date March 14, 2008.

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?

Credit…The Asahi Shimbun, via Getty Images

One Last Thing Before I Go

Stories where ordinary people rise to see death standing there, open their mouths and something amazing happens. Original air date Sept. 23, 2016.

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.

Credit…Universal Images Group, via Getty Images

Little War on the Prairie

This show about Native Americans and settlers was first broadcast on Thanksgiving weekend Nov. 23, 2012, on the 150th anniversary of the war.

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.

Credit…Valero Doval

The Show of Delights

Counterprogramming against coronavirus, election news and everything else that was so hard this year. Original air date Jan. 31, 2020.

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

The Magic Show

Magicians say it can take years to create and polish a new magic trick. We’ll deconstruct one of them. Original air date June 30, 2017.

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.