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20 voters

The 25 Most Memorable 'This American Life' Episodes

June 11, 2020 223 votes 20 voters25 items

List RulesVote up the most essential 'TAL' episodes.

No matter how big or small, everyone has a story to tell, and no podcast quite captures them like This American Life. Hosted by Ira Glass, this thoughtful, deep-diving series examines a variety of subjects, from summer camp to Wall Street. With so many episodes to choose from, how do you know where to start? This list has all the best This American Life podcast episodes from over the years. 

Stories featured on This American Life episode list are funny, charming, and sometimes, quite terrifying. Depending on your taste, you're bound to find an episode that piques your interest. Want to learn more about breakups, mystery, or the evangelistic movement? This American Life has got you covered. Some episodes are dedicated to telling one individual story. Others feature a smorgasbord of several topics that will keep you engaged the entire hour. Either way, it's a fantastic way to spend 60 minutes of your afternoon. You'll certainly feel more informed after listening to an episode or two! 

Keep reading to find out the best This American Life episodes. Learn more about the contents of each episode, or if you're already a fan, vote up the episodes you enjoyed the most. 

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  • 5

    Episode 109 - "Notes On Camp"

    Photo: Kevin Eddy / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    A somewhat universal experience for many Americans, summer camp is responsible for some of our fondest childhood memories. But others just don't get the hype. Episode 109 of This American Life tries to bridge the gap between people who love camp and people who don't. There's lots of camp-themed anecdotes, and a profile on a camper-turned-counselor who has his own special methods he teaches his campers. And not to mention, ghost stories. 

    17
    10
    A must-listen?
  • 6

    Episode 513 - "129 Cars"

    Photo: International Man of Conundrums / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    "129 Cars" is a great This American Life Episode in that it tells a complete story from start to finish. A Jeep dealership in Long Island has a monthly sales goal of 129 cars. If they reach that goal, they get a handsome bonus from their manufacturer. The podcast follows the dealership over the course of a month, in which they need to hit their goal to stay on track. It's a fascinating microcosmic look at a business where salesmanship is everything. They'll go to great lengths to get those cars sold. 

    10
    1
    A must-listen?
  • 7

    Episode 47 - "Christmas and Commerce"

    Photo: Sergé / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    This early episode was originally broadcast in 1996. Like its title suggests, the episode looks at the relationship between Christmas and the retail industry. As you can imagine, there's a lot to unpack there. Plus, "Christmas and Commerce" features David Sedaris' iconic story "Santaland Diaries". It's worth listening to just to hear about Sedaris' time working as an elf at Macy's department store.

    8
    0
    A must-listen?
  • 8

    Episode 567 - "What's Going On In There?"

    Photo: matthewcunnelly / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    This episode is definitely more on the intense side, but that's what makes it so worthy of a listen. Often times, we think we know someone's story from the outside. But in this episode, we get to see someone's situation from within. We learn about a teenage girl who's in an abusive relationship with an older man, and how she views their dynamic. "What's Going On In There?" is an eye-opening look into the lives of others. 

    10
    2
    A must-listen?