Back in July of 2010, I did a post about podcasts I was enjoying. I was much newer to them then, having forsaken the radio for content that was actually new, original, and – gasp – educational. Well, it’s been a few more years, and my podcast listening has grown and expanded, so time to share a few more that I enjoy.
A History of the World in 100 Objects
Andrew turned me on to this one, which comes to us from the BBC. If you’ve ever watched a show like Britain’s Secret Treasures, this is quite similar, and one of the objects featured so far is one that was also on the show.
Each podcast they feature an item from world history and talk about what it is, when and where it came from, what it was for, and other socio-cultural contexts, often with interviews with really interesting folks. There’s already been some Attenborough.
Answer Me This!
Two British people get questions in from all over the world, though mostly from other British people, about anything and everything, and then they endeavour to answer them. Some of them relate to trivia, some actually require a bit of research about origins and such, and some of them are filthy and funny. Cuz, y’know, it’s the internets. Olly really, really loves his cat, Coco, and Helen hates cats.
How Stuff Works
These were some of the first podcasts I started listening to, and now that I’ve long since caught up on the backlog, still enjoying a few of them, specifically Stuff You Should Know, Stuff You Missed in History Class, Stuff Mom Never Told You, BrainStuff, TechStuff, and Stuff to Blow Your Mind. There are also some video ones that I catch up on while painting, doing dishes, etc.: Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know, Stuff of Genius, Stuff From the Future.
They cover pretty much anything and everything, and there’s enough of them that if the topic isn’t of interest, just skip forward.
Another Discovery one, technically. (Discovery bought How Stuff Works a while back.) The two hosts from TechStuff and another guy. Longer format, and topics cover a potentially broader range – e.g. science that’s not necessarily tech, as well as social implications and things like that.
The Memory Palace
Part of the Maximum Fun network now, though publishing is a bit inconsistent. Interesting little vignettes from history. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, often presented from a really unique and brain-twisting angle.
Dan Savage’s advice show wherein people call in and leave questions, comments, rants, etc. It’s human sexuality-centric, though there are cultural aspects as well, particularly those relating to non-vanilla, monogamous, heterosexual relationships and interactions.
I don’t listen to this one regularly, but will binge listen for a week or two until I’m tired of the weird problems of the young/old/gay/straight/bi/trans/kinky/etc. I don’t always agree with Savage’s perspectives or advice, but I learn a fair bit, too, which is even better than just being entertained.
Another one from Maximum Fun, and fairly new. Justin, the husband co-host, is also one of the three brothers on My Brother, My Brother, and Me. I tried listening to that one but wanted to punch all of them after about five minutes, so I don’t listen to it anymore.
In this one, Justin plays the dumb everyman to his wife, Sydnee, who is a doctor. They (mostly she) present a medical condition, phenomenon, etc. and discuss how it was perceived and treated throughout history. As you can imagine, many of them are rather horrifying from a modern perspective, but can also be kinda funny, hence the tagline, “A marital tour of misguided medicine”. Everything from headaches to fertility issues shows up, and if you’re the kind of person who makes it a point of visiting 19th century surgical museums while on vacation (yup), you’ll dig this.
Welcome to Night Vale
This is weird. That cannot be overstated. Ostensibly it’s a community updates radio broadcast from a desert town in the US. Except there are angels and aliens and wild dogs and homicidal wheat and wheat byproducts. There’s not just a local constabulary, but a Sheriff’s Secret Police. There’s a long and expensive boardwalk, except there is no water anywhere near the town.
There’s an eccentric old woman and a dreamy scientist, and random shadowy characters who come and go. Occasionally people get vaporized. Or there’s a bake sale. Anything could happen. Like I said, weird. But with fun music and compelling overall.
The Moth is a series of storytelling events that go on around the US, and are semi-professional. A lot of the speakers present more than once, there are awards and a championship and such. A lot of the speakers are also professional writers and the like, and I gather you call a hot line to pitch your story idea, and they work with you to polish it up and get it ready for prime time.
The podcast is a distillation of these stories (which are also played on the radio in the US, I gather), and rarely disappoint. In fact there’ve been a couple of times when I probably shouldn’t have been driving while listening, they’re that engrossing. There’s a book, too, of hand-picked stories, which I will be reading soon. Highly recommended.
This American Life
Probably the most well-known of any of these. I believe it remains the number one podcast in the US. I am not a fan of the host, Ira Glass’, voice, but you get used to it. It’s a bit like The Moth, in that it contains in-depth stories about lives often very unlike your own. But it’s also journalism, too, to get these stories, with a fair bit more socio-political commentary, whether it’s about a Chicago school with a lot of gun deaths, or just how dangerous acetaminophen is.
The topics cover an amazing wide range, and some shows are a lot more heart- or gut-wrenching than others, which is cool. The amount of work that must go into making these shows is staggering.
Quirks and Quarks
From the CBC, podcast version of the radio show. All manner of science, and plenty of dinosaurs – everyone likes dinosaurs! I’ve also noticed that there tends to be a lot of women among the scientists they interview, which I appreciate.
Same folks who wrote the books and whatnot, and similarly themed topics. Pick some aspect of society, dig into it, go “hmm”. Not consistently produced, and haven’t seen one in a while, but there’s a considerable backlog.
A great way to get to know the breweries and beers of Ontario, and the people who make them. (Craft brewing folks tend to be a lot of fun.) I find Mirella Amato, the host, to be fairly pretentious, but it’s not really about her. I also tend to only listen to every other podcast. They do two per brewer, first picking a couple of their beers and talking about them, as well as the brewery history and whatnot. Then in the second one they pair the beers with cheese, chocolate, etc. A podcast about people talking about tasting things strikes me as a bit dumb.
My newest pickup, recommended by two very different friends, which is a good sign. It’s about design in the world, architectural and otherwise. (A project of the American Institute of Architects, among others.) It looks at things you may never have seen, and things you look at every day. Mars could be talking about a specific iconic building, or about a guy who is trying to draw All the Buildings in New York. A good way of shifting your perspective a bit.
I find Chris Hardwick a little annoying sometimes, and things can get pretty in-joke-y when Matt and/or Jonah are there. However, they also interview really cool people, so those are fun. I don’t listen to all of them, and skip the ones where it’s only Chris and co. talking, or when the guest is someone I don’t know or care about. Plenty of great geek culture, though.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s space-y show/podcast. Have to admit I haven’t listened to this one in a while. He gets some really cool guests, but the musical bits are so annoying. Includes both Tyson talking science, and discussing with the guests. The cool part is that they’re not all boffins. Could be Dan Aykroyd or Tony Bourdain or Joe Rogan.
So there’s my current line-up. As a bonus, here are two video series of which I’m also a big fan.
Crash Course World History
John Green delivers the history of the world in 10-ish minute chunks. He explains the what, where, when, etc., as well as how those things affect the world now. He also has mad love for the Mongols, which never stops being funny. Aside from learning a more inclusive, less west’n’white version of history, you’ll also get fun tidbits, like how the Silk Road (which wasn’t just one route) helped bring the plague (Black Death, anyone) to Europe from Asia.
Big props to Dave for turning me on to this one. Sparky Sweets, PhD, delivers book/play summaries and analysis on classic works of literature, from Austen to Shakespeare, in 5-ish minute increments, accompanied by entertaining animations and charmingly colloquial language. Seriously, just go watch one to understand. Frankly, his summaries and analysis are better than a lot of the formal education in lit that I’ve received. And way funnier.