A friend asked me for some favorite podcasts. This is an attempt to answer the question as of November 2019.
- Reply All: Show about interesting internet and technology stuff.
- WTF with Marc Maron: Maron interviews interesting people. Skip the first 10 mins to stay sane.
- Revisionist History: Gladwell doing Gladwell.
- Slate Money: Felix doing Felix.
- Longform Podcast: Interviews with journalists about their work.
- Rationally Speaking: Probably my all-around favorite podcast. Julia Galef goes deep with interesting folks about interesting ideas.
- 80,000 Hours Podcast: Similar to Rationally Speaking, going deep with people around rationality, effective altruism, etc. This episode on voting method is outstanding.
- Track Changes: Rich and Paul from Postlight cover a wide range of technology-related topics.
- Dunc’d On Basketball: Daily podcast about the NBA. (Their multi-part Mock Offseason episodes are like DnD for basketball nerds.)
- Lowe Post: Zach Lowe is the best NBA writer around.
- Shift+F1: F1 podcast covering races, season, random history, and other stuff.
- Chequered Flag Podcast: Best pre- and post-race podcast for F1
Limited Runs (all are now finished):
- Pop-Up Ideas: Tim Harford series with a bunch of fascinating lectures. This episode on Feral Cities is one of my favorite podcast episodes of all time.
- Last Seen: On the biggest modern art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston
- Slow Burn (Season 1): On Watergate
- American Fiasco: On the 1998 US debacle of a World Cup
- Caliphate: Amazing series tracking an ISIS trainee. (Also, listen to Rukmini Callimachi on Longform.)
A few particular outstanding episodes not in the lists below:
- Planet Money: Why Coke Cost A Nickel For 70 Years
- Bowery Boys: Nellie Bly: Undercover in New York’s Notorious Asylum for the Insane
- 99% Invisible: The Modern Moloch
Podcast episdoes that made my Best Lonform of 2018:
- “The Hollywood Edition” – Slate Money – March 31, 2018
- Calpihate – April, 2018
- “Jason Alexander” – WTF with Marc Maron – April 5, 2018
- “Alison Gopnik on ‘The wrong way to think about parenting, plus the downsides of modernity'” – Rationally Speaking – April 29, 2018
- “Invcel” – Reply All – May 10, 2018
- “Data, Decisions, and Basketball with Sam Hinkie” – Invest Like the Best – May 22, 2018
- American Fiasco – June, 2018
- “Charles Oakley Talks MJ Stories, LeBron, and His Favorite Fights” – The Bill Simmons Podcast – June 8, 2018
- “General Chapman’s Last Stand” – Revisionist History – June 13, 2018
- “The Crime Machine, Part 1” & “The Crime Machine, Part 2” – Reply All – October 11, 2018
- “Negative Mount Pleasant” – Reply All – December 6, 2018
Podcast episodes that made my Best Longform of 2017:
- Say what you will about Malcolm Gladwell, but the guy knows how to tell a story. Season 2 of his Revisionist History podcast was excellent and included two stand-out episodes for me: “A Good Walk Spoiled” (June 15, 2017) tells the story of how golf courses exploit tax loopholes to create giant private parks and “McDonald’s Broke My Heart” (August 10, 2017) tells the story of why Micky D’s changed the oil they use for their french fries.
- When I sent my podcast request out, Felix Salmon insisted I listen to Switched on Pop’s episode about Selena Gomez’s Bad Liar (July 14, 2017) which was amazingly (shockingly?) fascinating. There’s a lot more to that song than you ever imagined.
- Uncivil, a new Civil War podcast from Gimlet, offers the untold stories of race and the War. The show opened with an amazing episode, “The Raid” (October 4, 2017), telling the story of a covert operation you never learned about in your US History class.
- Last, but not least, was More Perfect’s “The Gun Show” (October 12, 2017), which explains just how recently we came to interpret the Second Amendment in the way we do today. Here’s a little taste from the description: “For nearly 200 years of our nation’s history, the Second Amendment was an all-but-forgotten rule about the importance of militias. But in the 1960s and 70s, a movement emerged — led by Black Panthers and a recently-repositioned NRA — that insisted owning a firearm was the right of each and every American. So began a constitutional debate that only the Supreme Court could solve. That didn’t happen until 2008, when a Washington, D.C. security guard named Dick Heller made a compelling case.”
Podcast episodes that made my Best Longform of 2016:
It just so happens that my two favorite podcast episodes this year were on foreign affairs. The first comes from the always amazing This American Life who spent time in refugee camps in Greece speaking to people about their lives. As always, This American Life gives the most accurate macro view by focusing on the micro. The second comes from a show I’d never heard of before on China called Sinica. In the episode they talk to Arthur Kroeber, author of China’s Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know, who basically argues that China is actually following America’s growth playbook (called the American System), which included lots of state-led development, high tariffs, and even tons of intellectual property theft (from Europe at that time). Basically he argues we should stop being so surprised by what’s happening there.
Beyond those two, I listened to a lot of Marc Maron’s WTF (always skip the first 10 minutes) and really enjoyed his interview with Louis Anderson, who I didn’t realize was a serious standup. (Part of why I really enjoy WTF is that it’s effectively a show about the creative process. When he goes deep with someone on how they do their craft I find it endless fascinating. While the Louis episode isn’t exactly that, it’s also just loads of fun to listen to anyone serious about anything talk to someone they so clearly respect.) Gladwell’s Revisionist History was pretty good (though sometimes a bit preachy). His episode on Generous Orthodoxy was just a very well told story (and when you’re done, go read the letter the show was based on).