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NPR's 40 Most Engaging And Popular Stories Of 2020

Mourning and celebrating; coping and distancing: 2020 has been a year of collective emotional dissonance. Even as the worst public health crisis in memory changed our lives, it also made us cherish bright moments where we found them.

We watched a high-stakes election play out — and sometimes we just wanted a distraction from it all.

Here are the NPR stories that hit home in 2020. They examine the complicated reality of life during a pandemic. They highlight moments of grace, surprise and persistence — and sometimes, stark disagreement.

Most-Viewed Stories

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — here in her chambers during a 2019 interview with NPR's Nina Totenberg — died Sept. 18, 2020, at the age of 87.
Shuran Huang / NPR
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — here in her chambers during a 2019 interview with NPR's Nina Totenberg — died Sept. 18, 2020, at the age of 87.

  • Coronavirus Is Surging: How Severe Is Your State's Outbreak?
    Tens of thousands of new cases are reported daily nationwide.
  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Champion Of Gender Equality, Dies At 87
    "Our nation has lost a justice of historic stature," Chief Justice John Roberts said.
  • From Camping To Dining Out: Here's How Experts Rate The Risks Of 14 Summer Activities
    Experts say to think of transmission risk with a helpful phrase: "time, space, people, place."
  • A Must For Millions, Zoom Has A Dark Side — And An FBI Warning
    The FBI says sessions were "disrupted by pornographic and/or hate images" and threats.
  • Mystery In Wuhan: Recovered Coronavirus Patients Test Negative ... Then Positive
    Four people in Wuhan told NPR about testing positive a second time.
  • No, You Don't Need To Disinfect Your Groceries. But Here's How To Shop Safely
    "The majority of transmission is probably going to be from respiratory droplets," an expert says.
  • CDC Director On Models For The Months To Come: 'This Virus Is Going To Be With Us'
    Dr. Robert Redfield said, "This virus does have the ability to transmit far easier than flu. It's probably now about three times as infectious as flu.
  • Supreme Court Says Trump Not 'Immune' From Records Release, But Hedges On House Case
    In a dissent, Justice Samuel Alito accused the court majority of providing "no real protection for the presidency."
  • Coronavirus World Map: Tracking The Spread Of The Outbreak
    In late summer and fall, countries that had flattened the springtime curve began to see cases rise swiftly.
  • 'We All Feel At Risk': 100,000 People Dead From COVID-19 In The U.S.
    In Alabama, Blacks made up 44% of COVID-19 deaths, despite being under 27% of the population.
  • Most Engaging Stories

    Comic journalist Sarah Mirk checked in with grocery workers from across the country to hear more about their experiences during the pandemic and what they want to change.
    / Sarah Mirk for NPR

  • COMIC: Grocery Workers Are Essential, And Feeling The Strain
    "I was surprised to see how much the grocery store had transformed. It even had a bouncer now."
  • The Man Behind Mister Rogers, Away From The Neighborhood Of Make-Believe
    Photographer Lynn Johnson says of Fred Rogers, "It was a delight being in his energy field."
  • Timeline: What Trump Has Said And Done About The Coronavirus
    The president downplayed the risk early on. He claimed "total" authority, before insisting the response is up to the states.
  • PHOTOS: Public Life Is Surreal In A Pandemic
    No one wants to touch anything in public — yet people still try to keep calm and keep up their spirits.
  • PHOTOS: Life And Work Amid The Outbreak
    "I don't have the heart to tell my workers that there's no work and 'Find something else.' "
  • Fact Check: Trump's Address To The Republican Convention, Annotated
    President Trump accepted his party's nomination and repeatedly invoked a sinister image of a "socialist agenda."
  • Need A Reminder Of How Gorgeous Earth Is? Peep These Photo Award Winners
    Stunning and colorful images trigger nostalgia for pre-pandemic life.
  • PHOTOS: Scenes From The Epicenter Of The Coronavirus Outbreak
    For more than two months, Wuhan's population of 11 million was put on a strict lockdown.
  • A Grandmother's Poem Reassures Us With Humor And Grace
    A 90th birthday party canceled: "My! What plans we had made, when his friends could be here / For a sunny picnic, some wine or some beer."
  • PHOTOS: How Lockdown Has Changed My Life
    "
    After some initial frustration, we realized we just need to do things at our own pace and make sure to have fun."
  • Most Listened-To Stories

    Caleb Anderson, 12, attends virtual calculus class at Chattahoochee Technical College in Marietta, Ga., where he is a sophomore.
    / Anderson family
    Caleb Anderson, 12, attends virtual calculus class at Chattahoochee Technical College in Marietta, Ga., where he is a sophomore.

  • Listen: The Sound Of The Hagia Sophia, More Than 500 Years AgoFor centuries, the Hagia Sophia's unique acoustics inspired composers to write music specifically to be sung there.
  • Weeks Before Virus Panic, Intelligence Chairman Privately Raised Alarm, Sold StocksSen. Richard Burr sold stocks worth between $628,000 and $1.72 million on Feb. 13, according to public disclosures.
  • TikTok Sensation: Meet The Idaho Potato Worker Who Sent Fleetwood Mac Sales SoaringNathan Apodaca says that after his truck broke down, "I grab my juice, grab my longboard, started heading to work." Then "Dreams" played.
  • Green, Yellow, Orange Or Red? This New Tool Shows COVID-19 Risk In Your CountyThough state and local dashboards provide lots of data, it can be hard to compare them.
  • A Dead Cat, A Lawyer's Call And A 5-Figure Donation: How Media Fell Short On EpsteinWith few exceptions, the national media infrequently covered Jeffrey Epstein's behavior and rarely looked at how he avoided accountability.
  • A Month After Emergency Declaration, Trump's Promises Largely UnfulfilledThe White House "significantly over-promised what the private sector was ready to do" to help fight the coronavirus, an expert said.
  • Ewenice The Sheep Loses 45 Pounds After Going Almost 4 Years Without Being Shorn
    "
    She looked like a big, woolly minibus with a head on it."
  • A Georgia Boy Started Reading At 6 Months Old. Now 12, He's In College"As a teenager, I remember downplaying my intelligence," Caleb Anderson's father says. He wanted his son to have more options.
  • Fetching With Wolves: What It Means That A Wolf Puppy Will Retrieve A BallA researcher got goosebumps when a wolf puppy ran after a tennis ball and brought it back. Then two more puppies did it.
  • The Rembrandt That Was Fake, Then Real AgainYears after the Allentown Art Museum's "Portrait Of A Young Woman" was invalidated, a new restoration revealed key details.
  • Popular Long Reads

    Pilar Quilantang Galang was one of more than 100 girls and women raped by members of the Japanese Imperial Army in the village of Mapaniqui on Nov. 23, 1944. She was 9 years old at the time. Even now, in her 80s, when she sees the ruins of the "Red House" (at rear of photo), where the rapes happened, she says, "I feel like I'm losing my mind. I wish it would be destroyed."
    / Cheryl Diaz Meyer for NPR
    Pilar Quilantang Galang was one of more than 100 girls and women raped by members of the Japanese Imperial Army in the village of Mapaniqui on Nov. 23, 1944. She was 9 years old at the time. Even now, in her 80s, when she sees the ruins of the "Red House" (at rear of photo), where the rapes happened, she says, "I feel like I'm losing my mind. I wish it would be destroyed."

  • PHOTOS: The Essence Of Mary Ellen Mark, The Invisible Made VisibleThe late documentary photographer's brilliant work is condensed from more than 2 million images to 515 plates for a retrospective.
  • PHOTOS: Why These World War II Sex Slaves Are Still Demanding JusticeNPR interviewed at least two dozen survivors across the Philippines who were victimized by Japanese soldiers.
  • 'Not A Paramilitary.' Inside A Washington Militia's Efforts To Go Mainstream"The true neo-Nazis hate us, which they should because we hate them too. And the far left, who we don't have any problems with, hate us because they believe that we're neo-Nazis."
  • An Uneasy July 4th In Richmond, Va., As Armed Groups Gather WarilyOne holiday, two visions of the future — for Richmond, and for America.
  • PHOTOS: Why South Africans Built An Illegal Settlement Called CovidThe settlement's official name, Izwelethu, means "Our Land" in Xhosa. Hardly anybody calls it that.
  • 'God ... Let Us Survive': Remembering Korean War's Chosin Battle And Evacuation"Chinese bullets were flying like rain, and nobody dared to climb on the truck." Then a Marine sergeant did.
  • The Front Line At Home: A Health Care Worker's New Normal"I'm glad I can take care of others. They're giving us their body to take care of. It's a beautiful job we are doing, but I wish it weren't to this magnitude." 
  • Why An Auto Plant Closure Looms Large In Presidential Contest In OhioIt isn't a booming facility. It's more of a ghost town with a fresh paint job.
  • Her Incredible Sense Of Smell Is Helping Scientists Find New Ways To Diagnose DiseaseA woman smelled disease on her husband more than a decade before his symptoms drove them to seek medical help.
  • 'He Will Be A Happier Elephant': Vet Describes What It Was Like To Rescue KaavanPutting an elephant on a plane during a pandemic was just one of the challenges in moving the animal to a conservation park.
  • NPR's Andy Bickerton contributed to this report.

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