My Favorite Podcasts

6 minute read

I’m a huge fan of podcasts. I walk to and from work everyday so I at least get in an hour a day.

Also, I do something blasphemous and listen to them at 1.5x or 2x speed, which is useful for all but the most intense (or music-laden like Song Exploder which would be truly counter-productive).

I use just the vanilla Podcast app on iOS, btw.

I tried to sort these in more or less descending order of my interest at this exact moment, but it’s like asking to choose a favorite child.

  • The Greatest Generation – Two guys (who are admittedly a little embarrassed to have their own podcast on this topic) are watching Star Trek: The Next Generation (in order). They are…quite funny. Literally my most favorite right now.

  • Slate’s Whistlestop – A look at presidential campaign history. Hosted by John Dickerson, host of Face the Nation, political correspondent and Political Gabfest panelist. He’s kind of my hero, and might be the most endearing human being alive.

  • 99% Invisible – “…about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.” Truly one of my favorites – the best to listen to while walking and observing the world around you.

  • On the Media – More in-depth than just the media, they cover the stories of our era with one of the most critical lenses out there. One of my favorites when it comes out on Fridays.

  • Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates – “Forum for intelligent discussion, grounded in facts and informed by reasoned analysis; to transcend the toxically emotional and the reflexively ideological; and to encourage recognition that the opposing side has intellectually respectable views.” One of my favorites as it presents real debate issues, managed by a staunchly rigid moderator (for the good of all), and really elaborates multiple sides to the arguments of our day.

  • Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men – The most adorable couple of all time discuss the X-Men comics in the most in-depth way possible. I wasn’t even that into the comics as a kid, but this podcast was so incredibly charming I couldn’t put it down. I binged on like 2 years of podcasts in just a couple of months. #noregrets.

  • Radiolab – A show about curiosity that is wide, deep, and insightful. One of my absolute favorites and I’ve been listening to it from the beginning. Some of my favorite episodes are Seeing in the Dark, Animal Minds, and Colors

  • Slate’s Political Gabfest – Weekly updates from Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson and David Plotz (all having moved on from Slate magazine, interestingly). Quite good conversation about the big political stories of the week and they move around quite a bit. Come for the cocktail talk discussion, stay for the bull-headed but still lovely David Plotz.

  • Song Exploder – Musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made. It’s a truly original idea, and has been one of my all-time favorites. I recommend the episodes that feature the Postal Service, the Tune-Yards, and Jeff Bea (of the main title of House of Cards fame).

  • O’Reilly Design Podcast – Explores how experience design – and experience designers – are shaping business, the Internet of Things, and other domains.

  • Invisibilia – A look at the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. It’s like Serial meets Radiolab. So, it’s pretty rad.

  • Seminars about Long-term Thinking – “Ideas about long-term thinking; to help nudge civilization toward our goal of making long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare.” I just found these seminars (after a friend sent me a link to the Neil Gaiman episode on ‘How Stories Last’).

  • O’Reilly Radar – Tracks the technologies and people that will shape our world in the years to come – interviews with industry thought leaders, with topics touching on everything from programming to mobile devices to the future of publishing.

  • The Ezra Klein Show – Power players and newsmaker interviews. It’s a new podcast, but I liked the interview with Bill Gates so far.

  • The StartUp Podcast – Alex Blumberg’s Planet Money chronicles his own start-up. A very self-aware look at starting up not just a business, but about pushing forward in one’s career and life choices.

  • Theoretically Speaking – Nerdy science, but only with three episodes and not updated recently so might be dead.

  • TED Radio Hour – Wunderkind Guy Raz synthesizes themes from different TED-stage speakers and also interviews some of them at greater length and detail. This isn’t just a reiteration of TED talks – it’s highly edited in a very compelling way.

  • Reply All – Broadly, a show about the Internet. One of the first shows on the Gimlet network (of Startup and Sampler fame). Can be a little too deep on non-consequential stories, but definitely catches the stories that fall through the cracks.

  • Data Skeptic – Short mini episodes and longer interviews on basic data science concepts. I really like the concepts, but I couldn’t listen to this on anything but 1.5x or 2x speed. It also makes me cringe as the format is basically the host mansplaining things to his girlfriend, which might want to make you set your hair on fire.

  • Serial – Sarah Koenig (of This American Life fame) tells one true story over the course of a season. Obviously the gorilla in the room as Season 1 went viral and helped define the podcast-aissance. I’m not as in love with Season 2 as I was with Season 1, but that’s not a reason to stop listening – it’s still superb.

  • Slate’s the Gist – A daily podcast from Slate’s Mike Pesca – he might have the most nimble linguistic chops of any host of all time.

  • The Economist Radio (All audio) – The official podcast from the magazine that walks through the weekly highlights and digs in a little deeper at times.

  • Freakonomics Radio – Stephen Dubner and Stephen Levitt take their popular book and film into the podcast realm.

  • More or Less: Behind the Stats – Tim Harford (of Undercover Economist fame) and the More or Less team try to “make sense of the statistics which surround us.” Super wonky but absolutely delightful if you’re skeptical of the stats espoused throughout the day.

  • Planet Money – A bunch of wonky and endearing nerds make sense of our rapidly changing global economy. They cut their teeth on the global economic crisis, and now cover stories large and small on a range of economic issues. Highly accessible and engaging.

  • The Dinner Party Download – Fast and funny hour of culture, food and conversation; essentially, it’s “public radio’s arts & leisure section.” Light-hearted and funny, I just started listening to it.

  • This American Life – The big daddy in the room (as opposed to the gorilla). Heretically, I don’t seem to catch every week’s episodes anymore, but Ira Glass still makes one of the best radio products out there and has created a generation of talent in the process.

  • Fareed Zakaria GPS – CNN’s Fareed Zakaria does a weekly roll-up of all the latest news. He has great interviews in a tight format. Helps keep me up to date.

  • The 7th Avenue Project – Science, philosophy, art, etc.–very deep into a topic, and not all are my cup of tea. But when they are, they are great. The interview with MIT Biophysicist Jeremy England and his new (revolutionary) theory of life got me started.

  • StarTalk Radio – All things space and cosmology hosted by astrophysicist celebrity Neil deGrasse Tyson. I like the format with comedians and write-in questions and the occasional celebrity. I’ll admit it’s beginning to feel marginally dated.

  • Futuropolois by Popular Science – Explores “what our everyday routines–eating dinner, commuting, walking the dog–will be like in the future.” It’s a good format, and I like the topics. I haven’t seen them update in some time.