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This American Life Episodes I Keep Coming Back To

February 22, 2012


In late November, I became obsessed with listening to old This American Life episodes. It’s an amazing show, which explains complicated issues with intricate details in simple terms.

The following five tales are just five examples of how long style narratives are still compelling to listeners.

#293 A Little Bit of Knowledge

Ira describes the thing that we all do without thinking; talking expertly about things we don’t actually have expert knowledge about. That human misstep leads into four acts that expand with them other insights into behavior—and misbehavior. This piece also contains two of my favorite acts. Act Two: And Daddy Makes Three involves Dan Savage and his precocious son DJ who can’t see why his dads would want to get marries while Act Four: The Art of Adult Conversation finds thirteen year old Alexa straddles the line between child and adult.

#405 Inside Job

This episode only contains two acts, but Act One: Eat My Shorts is so fascinating and well reported that I keep coming back to it. As an institution This American Life never believed the financial crisis was unforeseeable—someone had to have profited from the crash. In a little more than thirty minutes the This American Life, Planet Money, and ProPublica staffs delve into a company that may have been the kingpin that started and escalated the crash. It also comes with a catchy Broadway tune which you can find below.

#408 Island Time

This affecting story of NGOs with more good intentions than good sense explores the many reasons Hati may have never gotten on its feet despite foreign aid and how the earthquake placed it in apposition to finally succeed.

#409 Held Hostage

From literal to physical kidnapping to the ways our bodies and emotions can take us hostage this story does its best to pull at your heartstrings as it introduces you to people struggling to survive.

#455 Continental Breakup

Another collaboration (with Planet Money exclusively) examines if Americans are required to care about the European debt crisis. Turns out we are, which is a good thing because the story of the rise and fall of the euro is more about failures of people than the failures of money managers.

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