Stuff You Missed in History Class: The Boston Massacre, from 2013 (28:58)
American history is filled with embellishments, exaggerations and outright fabrications. On “Stuff You Missed in History Class,” Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey take a second look at an event that they say should have been called “the minor Boston kerfuffle with a few unfortunate casualties.” Just one of the many tidbits that emerge: accusations that a British soldier’s failing to pay for his wig stoked the flames that led to the fighting. The whole episode makes for a brisk history lesson that never feels dry or repetitive.
Planet Money: Peanuts and Cracker Jack, from 2016 (21:29)
Baseball, hot dogs and yelling — three quintessentially American things — merge beautifully in this “Planet Money” episode about baseball vendors, those restless souls who spend their summers hawking snacks and beer. The show introduces us to Fenway Park’s own Jose Magrass, a veteran salesman who considers himself the best of the Boston ballpark’s vendors.
His competitive strategies, and the efforts of a younger rival to catch up, make this one of many “Planet Money” episodes that go beyond the raw economics of the story to gesture at something more joyous.
Gravy: The New Old Country Store, from 2016 (26:03)
The food writer Besha Rodell, who was born in Australia but fell in love with the American South, takes a tour of the Cracker Barrel chain, which she calls “perhaps the country’s leading definer of Southern food culture.” As she points out, selling nostalgia is tricky in the region, given its long history of racial injustice, and Cracker Barrel has at times proven itself to be an emblem of the South in less-than-flattering ways. Still, she finds reasons to admire the restaurant and what it stands for, even as she takes a hard look at its flaws.
Whistlestop: Reagan’s Nashua Moment, from 2015 (13:12)
The inaugural episode of John Dickerson’s podcast contains one of the show’s better stories: the famed “Nashua Moment” in which Ronald Reagan showed his mettle to voters by lashing out at a moderator at a New Hampshire debate in 1980.
Mr. Dickerson, the host of “Face the Nation” on CBS, relies on firsthand accounts from the scene to grant insight into one of the more storied moments in presidential campaign history, and his enthusiasm imbues the tale of the future president’s outburst with fresh excitement.
More Perfect: The Imperfect Plaintiffs, from 2016 (1:03)
“More Perfect” is a podcast about the law, which to many people might seem like a good reason to avoid it. But the show’s selling point is its ability to trace some of the country’s most impactful Supreme Court decisions back to the human stories that informed them.
“The Imperfect Plaintiffs” tells the stories of two cases that had the potential to change civil rights in the United States. Throughout, the episode avoids any hint of partisan rhetoric, letting the parties tell their own stories and, in turn, providing a window into the process through which law is shaped.
Home of the Brave: Najibullah in America, from 2015 (21:16)
Reporting from Afghanistan in the early 2000s, the journalist Scott Carrier was assisted by a young translator named Najibullah Niazi, who had learned English by watching American movies over and over. Years later, when Mr. Niazi’s life was endangered by some of his work, Mr. Carrier helped him apply to Utah Valley University. In this episode, Mr. Carrier explores Mr. Niazi’s transition to the United States, and in his subdued, almost casual storytelling, manages to stumble upon some profound insights about the nature of freedom.
Song Exploder: Mitski, from 2016 (14:42)
On “Song Exploder,” musicians take apart their songs to show fans how they were built. But in this episode, the indie-rock artist Mitski pays special attention to the lyrics of her 2016 anthem, “Your Best American Girl.” The track is an ode of unbelonging, a heartbreakingly emotional testament to feeling like an outsider. For many, that feeling is essential to the American experience, and Mitski’s description of the events that inspired her song make this episode feel profound, far weightier than a simple discussion about musical mechanics.
State of the Re:Union: Who Is This Man? from 2010 (52:52)
This episode of “State of the Re:Union” — a series that usually tells stories of specific locations in the United States — trains its attention on Bayard Rustin, a gay, black Quaker who helped guide the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. toward nonviolent resistance tactics. The show’s host, Al Letson, explains that he was mystified, upon learning about Mr. Rustin, that he had never before heard of such an important figure. The show is dedicated not only to Mr. Rustin’s life but to discovering why someone so significant has remained so anonymous.
American Icons: This Land Is Your Land, from 2016 (21:27)
The journalist Kurt Andersen takes a long look at the song “This Land Is Your Land” and the story of its creator, Woody Guthrie. He finds that the hard-worn image of the folk icon was partly self-made, that the song itself used to be far more tongue-in-cheek, and that Guthrie was not exactly famous before another folk singer named Bob Dylan started to take an interest in him. Mr. Andersen also tracks the spread of the song, which he finds to be “a kind of unofficial national anthem.”
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