10 episodes

Each week we choose a theme. Then anything can happen. This American Life is true stories that unfold like little movies for radio. Personal stories with funny moments, big feelings, and surprising plot twists. Newsy stories that try to capture what it’s like to be alive right now. It’s the most popular weekly podcast in the world, and winner of the first ever Pulitzer Prize for a radio show or podcast. Hosted by Ira Glass and produced in collaboration with WBEZ Chicago.

This American Life This American Life

    • Society & Culture
    • 4.6 • 82.9K Ratings

Each week we choose a theme. Then anything can happen. This American Life is true stories that unfold like little movies for radio. Personal stories with funny moments, big feelings, and surprising plot twists. Newsy stories that try to capture what it’s like to be alive right now. It’s the most popular weekly podcast in the world, and winner of the first ever Pulitzer Prize for a radio show or podcast. Hosted by Ira Glass and produced in collaboration with WBEZ Chicago.

    829: Two Ledgers

    829: Two Ledgers

    For years, Majid believed that if he could testify in court about what happened to him when he was held in a CIA black site, a judge and jury would give him a break. Finally, he got a chance to see if he was right.


    Prologue: Ira talks about the exciting new series that Serial is doing about Guantánamo Bay. We’re airing two of those episodes on the show – one this week and one next. (2 minutes)

    Act One: Majid Khan struggled with his identity when he was young. And then he realized exactly who he wanted to be – a member of Al Qaeda, carrying out orders for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He did bad things. But are the things that the U.S. Government did to him worse than his actual crimes?  (38 minutes)

    Act Two: Majid finally gets his day in court. At his sentencing hearing, he describes to the jury what his interrogators did to him. (20 minutes)

    • 1 hr 4 min
    186: Prom

    186: Prom

    While the seniors danced at Prom Night 2001 in Hoisington, Kansas—a town of about 3,000—a tornado hit the town, destroying about a third of it. When they emerged from the dance, they discovered what had happened, and in the weeks that followed, they tried to explain to themselves why the tornado hit where it did. Plus other stories that happen on Prom Night.


    Prologue: A high school boy explains how prom is the culmination of his effort to get in with a cool group of people. (5 minutes)

    Act One: Susan Burton reports on Prom Night 2001 in Hoisington, Kansas, a town of about 3,000. While the seniors danced, a tornado hit the town, destroying about a third of it. When they emerged from the dance, they discovered what had happened, and in the weeks that followed, they tried to explain to themselves why the tornado hit where it did. (25 minutes)

    Act Two: Host Ira Glass talks with Francine Pascal, who's written or invented the plot lines for over 700 books for teenagers in the various Sweet Valley High series....Sweet Valley Kids, Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley University, Sweet Valley Senior Year. She explains why a prom story is a must for teen movies and TV shows. (6 minutes)

    Act Three: For a more typical view of prom night, we hear prom night at Chicago's Taft High School. (9 minutes)

    Act Four: In this act, we argue that the epicenter of prom genius—the place where America's prom future is being born—is the town of Racine, Wisconsin. In Racine, they've added one ingredient to prom that takes it to a whole new level of intensity. Reported by Wendy Dorr. (10 minutes)

    • 59 min
    568: Human Spectacle

    568: Human Spectacle

    Gladiators in the Colosseum. Sideshow performers. Reality television. We've always loved to gawk at the misery or majesty of others. But this week, we ask the question: What's it like when the tables are turned and all eyes are on you?


    Prologue: Ira talks to Joel Gold, a psychologist and author, about a strangely common delusion known as the "Truman Show Delusion," in which patients believe that they are being filmed, 24/7, for a national reality television program. (6 minutes)

    Act One: Producer Stephanie Foo speaks to Nasubi, a Japanese comedian who, in the 90s, just wanted a little bit of fame. So he was thrilled when he won an opportunity to have his own segment on a Japanese reality TV show. Until he found out the premise: he had to sit in an empty apartment with no food, clothes or contact with the outside world, enter sweepstakes from magazines… and hope that he won enough sustenance to survive. (23 minutes)

    Act Two: Writer Ariel Sabar tells the story of Roger Barker, a psychologist who believed humans should be studied outside the lab. So Barker dispatched an army of graduate students to follow the children of Oskaloosa, Kansas, and write down every single thing they did. Sabar wrote a book about Roger Barker called "The Outsider." (8 minutes)

    Act Three: Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall were a comedy duo back in the mid-1960s, playing clubs around Los Angeles, when their agent called to tell them he'd landed them the gig of a lifetime: They were going to be on The Ed Sullivan Show. The only problem was that their performance was a total fiasco, for a bunch of reasons, including one they never saw coming. David Segal reports. (17 minutes)

    • 59 min
    306: Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time

    306: Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time

    A girl signs up for a class. A couple hires an accountant. A group of co-workers decides to pool their money and buy a couple of lottery tickets. In the beginning, they're full of hope and optimism — and then something turns. Stories of good ideas gone bad.


    Prologue: Paul was a cop. One night he was pulling second shift when he had a perfectly good idea: He'd stretch out in the back seat and take a little nap during his break. He fell right asleep, and slept well until he woke up and realized the funny thing about the back seats of cop cars: The doors don't open from the inside. Paul is author of the book Bad Cop: New York's Least Likely Police Officer Tells All. (8 minutes)

    Act One: It was two months into the tour. Katie Else and the rest of the Riverdance cast had been performing eight shows a week. They decided to pool their money for the Mega-Millions lottery. Lotto fever gripped the cast. They started to genuinely believe they would take home about $2 million each, and quit Riverdance the next day. They took the stage the night of the drawing and pulled off their best performance ever, "For the Lotto!," trying to direct their energy towards the win. An hour later, at the hotel bar, the numbers came in. (17 minutes)

    Act Two: After years of neglecting their personal finances, Joel and his wife finally decide to sort things out. They hire a tax accountant named Len, whose casual manner is a real comfort, at first. But then, "casual" turns into "drunk" and then it's clear that he's just plain delinquent. Joel tries to take his business elsewhere, but Len refuses to let go of their file. He begs for a second chance, which it seems, came too late. Joel Lovell is executive editor at Pineapple Street Media. (8 minutes)

    Act Three: Davy Rothbart was on a 136-city tour appearing on morning TV talk shows to promote his book Found: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World. Just before one appearance he had what seemed like a great idea at the time. Without letting the host know, he tested it out, live, on-air. Davy is the creator of Found Magazine and author of the book of essays My Heart Is An Idiot. (6 minutes)

    Act Four: When Elspeth was a girl, she wanted nothing more than her father's attention. He was busy, a doctor, and distant. One day he agrees to put on a volunteer seminar for their church, about his area of expertise: "The Function of the Heart." Elspeth and her best friend are the only two kids who show up, and Elspeth is attentive and engaged, the perfect student. It was an incredible experience for her, the best day she's ever spent with her dad...she thinks. That is, until her mother takes her aside and explains her big mistake. (8 minutes)

    • 59 min
    828: Minor Crimes Division

    828: Minor Crimes Division

    People taking it upon themselves to solve the tiny, overlooked crimes of the world.


    Prologue: Host Ira Glass bikes around Manhattan with Gersh Kuntzman, in search of illegal license plates. (11 minutes)

    Act One: Writer Michael Harriot reexamines the DIY criminal justice system his mom invented to deal with his bad behavior as a child. (20 minutes)

    Act Two: Producer Aviva DeKornfeld talks to Caveh Zahedi about a crime he may or may not have committed, depending on who you ask. (7 minutes)

    Act Three: Micaela Blei accidentally solves a crime that had been going on for a long time, right under her nose, and has to decide what to do next. She told this story onstage at The Moth. (7 minutes)

    Act Four: Editor Bethel Habte examines video evidence of two parents trying to get to the bottom of a minor crime committed in their own home. (7 minutes)

    • 59 min
    827: All the King's Horses

    827: All the King's Horses

    The things we break and the ones we can't fix.


    Prologue: Ira tells the stories of three things that broke–two of them in his own family. (8 minutes)

    Act One: A teenage whiz kid invents a new toy for Milton Bradley. Then the trouble starts. (28 minutes)

    Act Two: Reporter Dana Ballout sifts through a very long list—the list of journalists killed in the Israel-Hamas War—and comes back with five small fragments of the lives of the people on it. (10 minutes)

    Act Three: A skateboarding legend makes a final attempt at a high-flying trick. (6 minutes)

    • 1 hr

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5
82.9K Ratings

82.9K Ratings

Murrrrrrry ,

Beware Of This Show!

Oh sure, This American Life almost always begins with some rollicking, humors piece directly related to its theme. You’ll hear Ira interview someone to a backdrop of fun, upbeat or whimsical music….You can’t help but get sucked in.

But know this, and know it well: Ira Glass is an insidious and manipulative genius. Sure you’ll start out the hour laughing (maybe harder than you’ve ever laughed at a public radio show) but inevitably and seamlessly, in a completely unconscious manner your emotions will be turned inside out and you’ll end the hour sobbing in your car, in the Target parking lot you’ve been parked in for the last 40 minutes. And sometimes you won’t even know why you’re crying, all you’ll know is that some sort of emotional release is needed before reintegrating yourself into the outside world.

Remember how the television show The Outer Limits began with the warning, “We have taken control of your TV….” well, Ira Glass and Co. take control of your emotional state with full reign to raise you to dizzying heights of euphoric happiness or plung you down, down into unsettling depths of despair.

So beware. The stories within have the ability cling to you for days, weeks, month, or even a lifetime. That’s why I never miss a show.

Callipygian ,

The Last Remaining Reason to Own a Radio is Gone

The podcast itself is evidence of the producers' dedication to their art. I've purchased this program for the last couple of years from Audible. I held on to an XM Radio subscription only because they added TAL to their lineup. I've streamed it online. I even offered to help my local public radio station raise money to carry the program JUST so they could carry TAL. The fact that it is now available as a free podcast is a great public service. Since Audible will be refunding this year's subscription price, I plan to send the money to my local public radio affiliate. Thanks, Ira and Gang!!

wurdNinja ,

Wish I could give it six stars, because it outshines SO MUCH of radio.

I don't know if it's true for you, but I am SO very tired of listening to ridiculous, air-headed, disingenuous disc jockeys handing me "life trivia" stories of "public interest." Most of the time their false giggles make me want to puke.
This American Life is so very different from any other radio experience I've probably ever had or will have. It captures, as well as it can, in audible form, the human condition, in all its delicious and uncanny glory. Glass may well be suited to manipulate his audience into convulsive laughter or tears, but I have never finished broadcast feeling as though I were duped into feeling anything. Each one of the participating storytellers edits his or her tale brilliantly and with individual flourish. I would be loathe not to admit that it sometimes can be geekily playful, but really, my friends, if you're telling yourself you've never been a geek about anything, you need to check your pulse. You're downloading podcasts for goodness' sake. Regardless, this is an excellent, moving and already blazingly popular radio program, so if you don't listen to it already, you should at least give it a try. I have NEVER heard an unsatisfying show yet from Glass and his crew.

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