Show cover of Throughline


The past is never past. Every headline has a history. Join us every week as we go back in time to understand the present. These are stories you can feel and sounds you can see from the moments that shaped our world.Subscribe to Throughline+. You'll be supporting the history-reframing, perspective-shifting, time-warping stories you can't get enough of - and you'll unlock access to our sponsor-free feed of the show. Learn more at


Everyone Everywhere All At Once
This year's Oscars were one of the most diverse in history, in all kinds of ways. Everything Everywhere All At Once swept some of the biggest categories, notching incredible victories for Asian and Asian American actors, directors, and writers. At the same time, huge gaps persist – to take just one example, only seven women have ever been nominated for Best Director, and only three have won.What does it mean to be seen? Can you measure it in numbers? Does representation matter? And if so, how much?In this episode, we take a trip through film history to explore how these questions have played out over the last century, and where we might have yet to go — starting when the American film industry was incredibly diverse, and the most successful director in Hollywood was a woman.
49:00 3/23/23
Meltdown (2020)
What happens when an accident puts the public at risk? In the early hours of March 28, 1979, a system malfunction set off what would become the worst nuclear accident in American history. What ensued punctured the public's belief in the safety of nuclear energy and became a cautionary tale about the consequences of communication breakdown during a crisis. This week, the fallout of a catastrophic event, and its ramifications for the public trust.
51:23 3/16/23
A More Perfect Human
The dream of AI — artificial intelligence — has been around for centuries: the idea of an intelligent machine without free will popped up in ancient Taoist scrolls, Buddhist fables, and the tales of medieval European courts. But it wasn't until the 20th century that science caught up to our imaginations.Today, AI is everywhere. Breakthrough technologies like ChatGPT make news, while less glamorous but more ubiquitous programs are woven into every part of our lives, from dating apps to medical care. In many ways, AI is the invisible architecture of modern life. It's a reality that's both mundane and terrifying. And it's accelerating at a rapid rate, even as we still grapple with some of the most fundamental questions it raises about what, if anything, is uniquely human. In this episode, we explore the tension between our love of AI and our fear of it — and try to decode the humans behind the machines.
52:33 3/9/23
Dance Yourself Free
Ever since Beyonce's Renaissance dropped last summer, house music has found its way back to mainstream audiences, prompting some to ask "Is house back?" But the truth is, it never went away. Born out of the ashes of disco in the underground clubs of Chicago by Black queer youth in the late 1970s and 80s, house music has been the continued soundtrack of parties around the world, and laid the groundwork for one of the most popular musical genres in history – electronic dance music. And yet, the deeper you dig into the origins of house music, the more clear it becomes that the history of house, like the history of rock and roll, is a complicated tale of Black cultural resistance.
50:18 3/2/23
Of Rats and Men (2022)
Rats. Love 'em or hate 'em, (though you probably hate 'em), they're part of our world. And they've been out in full force: In New York City, health data show rat sightings doubled in the past year. It turns out they're a lot like us: They've colonized the whole planet; they're incredibly adaptable; they go wherever the resources are. And, they share one-fourth of our genome—meaning that when you look in the mirror, you're kinda seeing a rat staring back at you. So for this episode, we dove into the history of our rodent doppelgängers. What we found was a story that spans thousands of years and nearly every continent on Earth, from the fields of ancient Mongolia to the palaces of Victorian England to the laboratories of 20th century Maryland... and probably to a burrow near you.
51:53 2/23/23
Throughline Presents: White Lies
It all started with a photograph. A photograph from 1991 of a prison takeover in rural Alabama. A photograph of a group of men on the roof of that prison holding a bedsheet scrawled with a message: "Pray for us." In the first episode of the new season of White Lies, hosts Chip Brantley and Andrew Beck Grace go searching for answers to the questions raised by this photograph. Who were these men? What on earth had made them want to take over that prison? And what became of them after? As they search, they uncover a sprawling story: a mass exodus across the sea, a secret list, and the betrayal at the heart of this country's ideals. This week, we're bringing you an episode of White Lies, a series by NPR's documentary podcast Embedded, which unearths the stories behind the headlines.
46:41 2/16/23
The Whiteness Myth
In 1923, an Indian American man named Bhagat Singh Thind argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that he was a white man and was therefore eligible to become a naturalized citizen. He based his claim on the fact that he was a member of India's highest caste and identified as an Aryan and therefore white. His claims were supported by the so-called Indo-European language theory, a controversial idea at the time that says nearly half the world's population speak a language that originated in one place. Theories about who lived in that place inspired a racist ideology that contended that the original speakers of the language were a white supreme race that colonized Europe and Asia thousands of years ago. This was used by many to define whiteness and eventually led to one of the most horrific events in history. On this episode of Throughline, we unpack the myths around this powerful idea and explore the politics and promise of the mother tongue.
50:27 2/9/23
The Real Black Panthers (2021)
In 1968, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said the Black Panther Party "without question, represents the greatest threat to the internal security of the country." And with that declaration he used United States federal law enforcement to wage war on the group. But why did Hoover's FBI target the Black Panther Party more severely than any other Black power organization? Historian Donna Murch says the answer lies in the Panthers' political agenda: not their brash, gun-toting public image, but in their capacity to organize across racial and class lines. It was a strategy that challenged the very foundations of American society. And it was working.
51:20 2/2/23
When Things Fall Apart
Climate change, political unrest, random violence - Western society can often feel like what the filmmaker Werner Herzog calls, "a thin layer of ice on top of an ocean of chaos and darkness." In the United States, polls indicate that many people believe that law and order is the only thing protecting us from the savagery of our neighbors, that the fundamental nature of humanity is competition and struggle. This idea is often called "veneer theory." But is this idea rooted in historical reality? Is this actually what happens when societies face disasters? Are we always on the cusp of brutality?
51:15 1/26/23
Extremist Futures
It's 2074 and a suicide bomber has killed the President of the United States. Months later Marines open fire on protesters killing dozens. The Second American Civil War has just begun and once again the North and South are pitted against each other. This is all according to the dystopian world chronicled in Omar El Akkad's novel, American War. El Akkad's imagined, yet familiar, world is reflective of today's deep political and societal fissures, but it also pushes us to understand the universal language of war and ruin, to what happens after the violence begins and why it's so hard to end.In this episode of Throughline, we immerse ourselves in El Akkad's 'what could be' to understand larger questions about history, humanity, and American exceptionalism.
48:36 1/19/23
Do Not Pass Go (2022)
There's more to Monopoly than you might think. It's one of the best-selling board games in history — despite huge economic instability, sales actually went up during the pandemic — and it's been an iconic part of American life at other pivotal moments: a cheap pastime during the Great Depression; a reminder of home for soldiers during WWII; and an American export during its rise as a global superpower. It endured even as it reflected some of the ongoing inequities in American society, from segregation and redlining, to capitalism run rampant. That's because Monopoly is also built on powerful American lore – the idea that anyone, with just a little bit of cash, can rise from rags to riches. Writer Mary Pilon, the author of The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game, describes Monopoly as "the Great American Dream in a board game – or, nightmare."This week: how a critique of capitalism grew from a seed of an idea in a rebellious young woman's mind into a game legendary for its celebration of wealth at all costs. And behind that legend — there's a lie.
51:25 1/12/23
Nancy Pelosi (2019)
Nancy Pelosi is the highest-ranking woman in American politics. She made her first run for public office at 47 years old and went on to become Speaker of the House twice. How has she had such an enduring career, and where does her power lie? As Pelosi steps down this week from her pivotal role, we look back on an episode that traces her rise.
23:47 1/9/23
The Monster of We (2021)
Are most modern problems caused by selfishness or a lack of it? Ayn Rand, a Russian American philosopher and writer, would say it's the latter — that selfishness is not a vice but a virtue — and that capitalism is the ideal system. Everyone from Donald Trump, to Alan Greenspan, to Brad Pitt have sung Ayn Rand's praises. The Library of Congress named her novel Atlas Shrugged the second most influential book in the U.S. after the Bible. Ayn Rand wasn't politically correct, she was belligerent and liked going against the grain. And although she lived by the doctrine of her own greatness, she was driven by the fear that she would never be good enough. In this episode, historian Jennifer Burns will guide us through Rand's evolution and how she eventually reshaped American politics, becoming what Burns calls "a gateway drug to life on the right."
58:44 1/5/23
The New Gilded Age (2022)
Philanthropic foundations are a fundamental part of our society: they support media, the arts, education, medical research, and more. NPR, and even this show, is supported by many personal and family foundations. But it wasn't always that way. In this episode, we go back to the beginning — the Gilded Age. We trace the birth and evolution of what many today call "big philanthropy," and ask what all this private wealth means for the public good.
50:19 12/29/22
God Wants You To Be Rich (2021)
In the New Testament, Jesus says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. In the United States today, many Christians believe in something radically different. In what's known as the prosperity gospel, wealth is a sign of virtue and God's favor. The effects of this belief can be seen throughout American life from business to politics to social Policy.
48:37 12/22/22
Road to Partition
What happens when a nation splits apart? It's a question many of us are asking ourselves today. It happened 75 years ago with Partition, when India and Pakistan became independent nations, divided by a somewhat arbitrary line that separated neighbors, families, and communities. 15 million people were displaced, leaving a trail of chaos and violence that in some ways has never ended. In today's episode, NPR politics reporter Asma Khalid takes us back in time to learn how the road to Partition was paved, and to try to understand how people and nations reach a tipping point when neighbors realize it's no longer possible to live side by side.
52:24 12/15/22
400 Years of Sweetness
In the 1970s, a savvy CEO named Dwayne Andreas hit on an idea: take surplus corn from America's heartland, process it into a sweetener, and start selling it to anyone who would buy, all in the name of patriotism. Within a decade, high fructose corn syrup dominated the U.S. sweetener market; today, American diets are saturated with sweeteners, including cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and dozens of others. But Andreas wasn't reinventing the wheel. He was just taking the next step in a 400-year journey that took sugar from a rare delicacy for the wealthy to an inextricable part of our lives, our culture, and our bodies. A journey that began on the brutal sugar plantations of Haiti and eventually went global, confronting us all with an impossible moral dilemma. In this episode, we journey across centuries and continents to visit the people who've schemed — and those who've suffered — to bring us sweetness.
52:21 12/8/22
The Nostalgia Bone (2021)
The global pandemic spawned a different type of epidemic, one of an entirely different nature: a nostalgia outbreak. Longing for 'simpler times' and 'better days', many of us turned to 90s dance playlists, TV sitcoms, and sports highlights. We looked for comfort and safety in the permanence of the past, or at least, what we think the past was. But, when it first appeared, nostalgia itself wasn't considered a feeling; it was a deadly disease. This episode traces the history of nostalgia from its origins as an illness to the dominating emotion of our time. And in doing so, we wrestle with its eternal paradox to both hold us back and keep us going.
57:18 12/1/22
La Última Copa: El sueño del pibe
Ésta semana te presentamos un episodio muy especial de nuestros amigos en NPR y Futuro Media — su primer episodio del podcast La Última Copa, en Español. Todo comenzó con una gambeta extraordinaria en una ciudad Argentina. A eso le siguió la llegada a España y el club de fútbol que definiría su carrera, el Barça. La periodista Jasmine Garsd explora el camino trazado por Lionel Messi antes de convertirse en uno de los mejores del mundo. En la Argentina, donde el fútbol a menudo se convierte en obsesión, Messi fue el chico que se marchó antes de tiempo.La historia se cruza con las vivencias de la propia Garsd durante el colapso social del 2001 en la Argentina y el impacto de la crisis en la vida de Messi.
41:40 11/26/22
The Last Cup: The Kid's Dream
This week we're bringing you something special from our friends at NPR and Futuro Media: the first episode of the podcast, The Last Cup. From his earliest goals on the soccer fields of his hometown in Argentina to his arrival at Spain's Barça Football Club, host Jasmine Garsd follows the journey of a gifted kid who would go on to become one of the best soccer players ever. In Argentina, where the national sport is a fierce obsession, Lionel Messi was the one that got away. As Garsd retraces Messi's early career, she examines the consequences of Argentina's devastating economic crisis of 2001, how it shaped Messi's path, and what it meant for her own life.
41:40 11/24/22
Qatar's World Cup
Football, aka soccer, is life. At least, it is for many people across the globe. There are few things that are universally beloved but this sport comes close. And as teams on nearly every continent prepare for the start of the World Cup, all eyes are on one tiny country at the tip of the desert. Qatar. The first Arab country ever to secure the World Cup bid. But it's been a long and complicated road to get to this moment. Espionage. Embargoes. Covert deals. This is the story of Qatar's decades-long pursuit of the World Cup bid and its role in the nation's transformation into a global power.
51:48 11/17/22
Dreams, Creatures, and Visions
We are in the season of chaos. It can feel like everything is happening at once: You might be sprinting across an airport; or around your kitchen, with a few too many dishes cooking at once. Your phone keeps pinging — texts, weather alerts, and more and more breaking news. Here at Throughline, we're always going to different places in time and space. So this week, come with us: to another time, another place, another realm. In this episode, we'll be your sonic travel guides on a journey through bite-sized pieces of Throughline's most immersive episodes, from the shadowy world of dreams, to the midst of the Revolutionary War, to the haunting music of Radiohead and their visions of the future.
48:10 11/10/22
The Most Sacred Right (2020)
Born into slavery in the early 1800s, Frederick Douglass would live to see the Civil War, Emancipation, Black men getting the right to vote, and the beginning of the terrors and humiliations of Jim Crow. And through all of that, he kept coming back to one thing, a sacred right he believed was at the heart of American democracy: Voting. Next week is the midterm election. So this week, we're bringing you an episode we originally published right before the 2020 election. And we're tackling a question that still feels very timely — a question that both haunted and drove Frederick Douglass his entire life. Is our democracy set up to include everyone? And if not... can it ever be?
62:51 11/3/22
The State of Disunion
Is the U.S. on the brink of civil war? It's a question that has been in the air for a while now, as divisions continue to worsen. Beyond the political speeches and debates in the halls of Congress, it's something you're likely feeling in your day-to-day life. Vaccines, school curriculums, climate change, what you define as a human rights issue, even who you call a friend. Some say we've moved beyond the point of discussion. But when words fail, what comes next? In conversation with Malcolm Nance, Anne Applebaum, and Peniel Joseph, we take a deeper look at what we mean when we say civil war, how exactly the country reached this political moment, and where we go from here.
49:09 10/27/22
The Woman Question
What's happening in Iran right now is unprecedented. But the Iranian people's struggle for gender equality began generations before the death of 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, also known by her Kurdish name, Jina Amini. The successes of this struggle, as well as its setbacks and horrors, are well-documented, but often misunderstood. Scholar Arzoo Osanloo argues that women have been at the center of Iran's century-long fight for freedom and self-determination. It's a historical thread that goes all the way back to Iran's Constitutional Revolution in the early 20th century: A complicated story of reform, revolution, and a fundamental questioning of whether Iranian people — and people around the Islamic world — will accept a government of clerics as the sole arbiters of Islam and the state.
50:05 10/20/22
The Dance of the Dead (2021)
Halloween — the night of ghost stories and trick-or-treating — has religious origins that span over two thousand years. Over time, the Catholic Church, pagan groups, and even the brewing company Coors have played a role in shape-shifting the holiday. How did Halloween turn from a spiritual celebration to a multi-billion dollar industry? From the Great Famine of Ireland to the Simpsons, we present the many evolutions of Halloween.
50:12 10/13/22
Silicon Island
In a world where computer chips run everything from laptops to cars to the Nintendo Switch, Taiwan is the undisputed leader. It's one of the most powerful tech centers in the world — so powerful that both China and the U.S. have vital interests there. But if you went back to the Taiwan of the 1950s, this would have seemed unimaginable. It was a quiet, sleepy island; an agrarian culture. Fifty years later, it experienced what many recall as an "economic miracle" — a transformation into not just one of Asia's economic powerhouses, but one of the world's.This transformation was deliberate: the result of an active policy by the Taiwanese government to lure its people back from Silicon Valley. In the 1970s and 80s the government of Taiwan, led by finance minister K.T. Li, the "father of Taiwan's Miracle," actively recruited restless and ambitious Taiwanese businessmen, many of whom felt like they'd hit a glass ceiling in the U.S., to return to Taiwan and start technology companies. Today, those companies are worth billions.In this special collaboration between Throughline and Planet Money, we talk to one such billionaire: Miin Wu, founder of Macronix, a computer chip company. When he left the U.S., he brought back dozens of Taiwanese engineers with him — one article called it a "reverse brain drain." This episode tells the story of his journey from California's Silicon Valley to Asia's Silicon Island, and the seismic global shift it kicked off.
47:15 10/6/22
Editing Reality
We live in divided times, when the answer to the question 'what is reality?' depends on who you ask. Almost all the information we take in is to some extent edited and curated, and the line between entertainment and reality has become increasingly blurred. Nowhere is that more obvious than the world of reality television. The genre feeds off our most potent feelings – love, hope, anxiety, loneliness – and turns them into profit... and presidents. So in this episode, we're going to filter three themes of our modern world through the lens of reality TV: dating, the American dream, and the rage machine.
52:14 9/29/22
Five Fingers Crush the Land (2021)
Over one million Uyghur people have been detained in camps in China, according to estimates, subjected to torture, forced labor, religious restrictions, and even forced sterilization. Last month, the United Nations released a report saying that China's treatment of Uyghurs could be considered "crimes against humanity." The vast majority of this minority ethnic group is Muslim, living for centuries at a crossroads of culture and empire along what was once the Silk Road. This week, we explore who the Uyghur people are, their land, their customs, their music and why they've become the target of what many are calling a genocide.
56:07 9/22/22
Getting to Sesame Street
In American history, schools have not just been places to learn the ABCs – they're places where socialization happens and cultural norms are developed. Arguments over how and what those norms are and how they're communicated tend to flare up during moments of cultural anxiety. Sesame Street was part of a larger movement in the late 1960s to reach lower income, less privileged and more "urban" audiences. It was part of LBJ's Great Society agenda. But Sesame Street is a TV show - not a classroom. And it was funded in part by taxpayer dollars. This story is about how a television show made to represent New York City neighborhoods – like Harlem and the Bronx – has sustained its mark in educating children in a divided country.
49:46 9/15/22