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Throughline
Mondays at 3pm

With Throughline, the past is never past. Every headline has a history. Join us Monday afternoon at 3pm 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.

  • Climate change, political unrest, random violence - Western society can often feel like what the filmmaker Warner 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.