I don’t know why it took me so long to get onboard the podcast movement. I mean, I knew they existed but I just didn’t really pay much attention. Perhaps I assumed podcasts were a platform where people talked about politics and other banal topics. A description correct for at least for some percentage, but as I have since discovered, podcasts cover every topic you could imagine and plenty you haven’t. It’s probably not that surprising that I have become immersed in podcasts as I’m a closet talk back radio listener (long time listener, first time caller) from way back. It began when I was a teenager working night shifts at the local airport. On the drive home in the early hours of the morning, when the DJ’s had all gone home and the music was on repeat, I discovered the amusing and often times intriguing world of late night talk back radio while surfing the AM band. But my more recent discovery of podcasts began for me while searching for something to listen to while exercising.
I have a love hate relationship with music, I love it but only when I need it, which is not always. I find it a distraction when I am trying to write or study and, unless I am in the mood for an intense workout, I don’t find it engaging or distracting enough for exercise. Then I found podcasts. I think it was the Sam Harris podcast ‘Waking Up’ that, ironically, opened my eyes to this untapped world of knowledge. From there I have found many others and now I find myself with more unplayed podcasts than I have hours in the week for listening. I die a little every time I cull an episode or three that I haven’t been able to listen to as new ones populate my list while I sleep. I play podcasts at 1.25x or 1.5x speed so I can get in as much content as possible. I listen on buses, at airports, on planes, in queues, doing the shopping or while trying to get to sleep at night. I regularly come across new podcasts either through podcasts I am listening to or via posts on social media. It is a never ending stream of information about every conceivable topic, a conduit to knowledge I could never find on my own, mainly because I wouldn’t know where to look – you don’t know what you don’t know, you know?
For me, podcasts unlock knowledge. The hosts are often not the knowers, but they facilitate conversations with those that do. They provide the platform and ask the questions and the knowledge stream begins its journey. Contrary to so much other media, podcasts offer largely unedited, long form conversations which allow those with the knowledge to expound at great length and detail on their topic of interest. Rarely are questions left unanswered, often insights share more than the knowledge itself but the personality and nuance of the holder of the knowledge which is part of what makes podcasts so compelling. These are real people having real conversations and they invite you into their thread of consciousness. It’s addictive and one of the manifold gifts technology and innovation have given to the modern world.
Here are several of the podcasts that I listen to on a weekly basis with a short description of each.
The Guardian’s Science Weekly
Weekly insights into developments in all fields of science hosted by the UK’s Guardian newspaper. The episodes are generally around 30 minutes and cover topics from medicine to physics, chemistry and biology, all with interviews with leading experts in each field. This podcast inspired some research into I did recently into Huntington’s Disease as part of my graduate studies in psychology. Bite sized chunks of ‘wow, thats amazing.’
History Extra Podcast
The podcast of the BBC’s History Magazine. I am a great lover of history and this podcast provides roughly 30 minute episodes about mainly British history from all era’s and epochs. Often focused on a recently released book or historical commemoration, this podcast is fascinating and quaintly British.
In Our Time
A legendary podcast hosted by Melvyn Bragg. In Our Time was one of the first podcasts I began listening too and I still listen to almost every episode. Covering topics from classics in literature, to science, philosophy and history, there really is no stone left unturned in In Our Times’ quest for knowledge and understanding. Bragg’s format convenes a panel of learned experts and presses them for great detail on the topic but in a carefully navigated way so even complex topics are teased apart and made accessible to the layman. While I personally prefer the science based topics, there really is something here for everyone.
Perhaps the most unpolished podcast on my list, the description reads ‘podcast weblog for seminars presented at Manatū Taonga – the ministry for culture and heritage’. They are exactly that, infrequent with no introductions or commentary, they start abruptly, often have poor sound quality and offer no context. But, they are actually really interesting talks given by leading New Zealand historians and scholars.
Sean Carroll’s Mindscape
Sean Carroll is a cosmologist and author and probably one of the smartest people in the world. I had listened to him on several other podcasts and aside from his amazing knowledge and ability to make complex ideas digestible, his voice his hypnotic. He recently started his own podcast which covers a wide range of science related topics.
Waking Up with Sam Harris
As I mentioned, this was the first podcast I began listening to religiously. Admittedly, I have drifted from regular episodes to some extent, but Sam still provides clarity of thought and deep dives into a range of complex and timely topics that draw me into the rabbit hole time and time again. Sam is perhaps the most articulate modern thinker and his streams of consciousness offer insight, reason and pragmatism in a way which makes me believe that conversation is truly the pathway to solving many of the complex issues troubling modern society. I don’t listen to Sam for his politics, but I do listen for his wisdom and the way he challenges me intellectually.
The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast
Jordan Peterson has shot to fame in recent times for his sometimes controversial thoughts on social issues. Along with Sam Harris, Peterson is probably the leading thinker of social science issues of modern times. I listen to him not because I agree with everything he says (I can hardly understand a lot of it anyway) but because he offers constant and continual suggestions for material to read and digest. I’ve added whole genres to my virtual bookshelf from listening to Peterson and I think he is truly unlocking new pathways into understanding human psychology, consciousness and history.
Under the Skin with Russell Brand
I must admit, I was skeptical about Russell Brand doing a podcast at first, but he has really nailed it. Almost as articulate as Sam Harris, Brand has extremely interesting conversations with extremely interesting people. I don’t enjoy or even listen to every episode, and Russell’s seemingly endless hyperactive diatribes can get a little tiresome, but frequently buried within are golden nuggets of knowledge and insight that are worth the listening effort. Brand addresses a number of interesting issues and while I don’t necessarily agree with his take on all of them, the conversations often need to be had.
F1: Beyond The Grid
I like Formula 1 so sue me! This is a relatively new podcast that interviews past and present drivers and F1 personalities. If you enjoy motor sport or F1 it is not to be missed. Great interviews and a fascinating insight into the psychology of elite athletes and competitors.
The Fighter Pilot Podcast
Vincent ‘Jell-o’ Aiello is a retired US Navy F/A-18 fighter pilot and TOPGUN instructor and in his podcast he discusses a range of related topics with his contemporaries. Jell-o and his guests take a deep dive into a number of interesting topics related to military aviation and I probably look forward to this podcast more than any other on my list. It’s not as cerebral as some of the other podcasts in my list but I love the topic and can live vicariously through these conversations in a way that only the podcast format makes possible.
Houston We Have a Podcast
Continuing the aeronautical theme, NASA’s PR department puts this podcast together from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The podcast is targeted toward a general audience so it doesn’t often take a deep enough dive for the hardcore space enthusiast, but there is enough in there to keep one interested and up to date with developments at NASA.
The Joe Rogan Experience
If you haven’t heard of the JRE in the podcast world then you have been under a rock. Joe has unwittingly developed one of the most successful podcasts ever with well over 1000 shows produced. He really pioneered the long form, chit chat conversation. He has guests from every field and walk of life and the conversations are often mind blowing. I don’t listen to them all but those that pique my interest are among the best podcasts I’ve listened to. The depth and breadth of guests combined with Joe’s easy going style makes this podcast extremely compelling.
I was afraid to start listening to this podcast as I knew it would probably change me. I was right. Jocko Willink had appeared on several other podcasts I listen to so I was familiar with his background as a US Navy SEAL and leadership consultant. I subscribed to his podcast with apprehension but was pleasantly surprised that it was much broader in topics than I expected. It is difficult to describe, but it is part military history, part literature review, part self help, part philosophy, part marital arts and Brazilian Ju Jitsu. Jocko has an amazing ability to motivate and his words and mantras have literally changed the way I think and feel on a daily basis. More than that though, Jocko could read the back of a cereal box and make you cry, he is so good at reading moving passages from books, letters, speeches and other material, it just leaves you with a thousand yard stare wondering what the hell you are doing with your life.
I’ll leave it there. There are several others which I listen to regularly but not quite with the level of enthusiasm as those listed here. Oh, and if you are wondering – I use Overcast for listening to podcasts. I like that I can speed them up and it also cuts out silences to make sure your listening experience is as efficient as possible.
I will update this list as I continue to find new and interesting podcasts which make it onto my must listen’s and I’d love to hear your recommendations as well.