15 Incredibly Interesting Podcasts for 2018

By Patrick Metzger

It’s 2018, and times are not getting any more predictable or any less stressful. Podcasts to the rescue! Below are some podcasts to keep you alert, engaged, and thinking critically about the world around you this year.

I’ve been listening to long-form audio content all my life. As a young child, I would lie on my back in my bedroom listening to The Rescuers Read Along cassette tapes. In high school, I would ramble through the woods behind my father’s house, fighting trees with sticks while listening to Rob Inglis read aloud The Lord of the Rings on my trusty mp3 player (a Creative JukeBox Zen Extra, which I named Moonchild).

Podcasts are one of the most recent iterations of longform audio content. “Audioblogging” has been a phenomenon since the 1980s, but podcasts as we know them really took off in 2004 when the iPod put them in the pockets of millions of people worldwide. Writers, interviewers, and sound designers from all interest areas have gotten podcast production down to a science in recent years, and the public is listening. 40% of Americans over 12 have listened to a podcast at some point in their lives, and 42 million Americans listen to podcasts weekly. In the past year, the number of Americans who had listened to a podcast in the past month increased by 21%.

This recent podcast market explosion is great for podcast creators and listeners alike, but it does mean that there’s more chaff to sift through in order to find that golden wheat. Here are some of the most interesting podcasts that exist today:

Science, Philosophy, and Critical Thinking

Radiolab

  • What is it?: The OG evidence-based radio show that took sound design for radio to a whole new level. It’s existed in various incarnations since 2002, exploring scientific discoveries, ethical dilemmas, and human interest stories.
  • Hosts: Jad Abumrad, Robert Krulwich, and some of the best producers in the biz
  • Where should I start?:
    • Colors (2012) – On where color comes from and how our perceptions can sometimes deceive us.
    • From Tree to Shining Tree (2016) – Trees talk to each other through fungus networks in their root systems. For real.
    • CRISPR (Updated, 2017) – Just last year, the FDA approved the first gene editing therapies for humans, and this episode gives a great background on the development of one gene-editing method called CRISPR-Cas9.
    • Shots Fired (Part 1, Part 2; 2017) – Two episodes of in-depth investigative reporting on police shootings and how there should (and can) be fewer of them.

Invisibilia

  • What is it?: You will wish there were more episodes. The show is full of discussions on psychological concepts and how they impact our perceptions of and behavior in the world around us.
  • Hosts: Hanna Rosin, Alix Spiegel, and Lulu Miller
  • Where should I start?:

Rationally Speaking

Stuff to Blow Your Mind

  • What is it?: Coming out of the How Stuff Works studios, this podcast explores some of the most interesting discoveries and concepts of all time in an attempt to “blow your mind.” The enthusiasm of the hosts is genuine and incredibly infectious.
  • Hosts: Robert Lamb and Joe McCormick (and Allison Loudermilk for earlier episodes)
  • Where should I start?:

Philosophize This!

  • What is it?: The show typically discusses one philosopher or school of philosophy in-depth for a series of episodes, covering the concepts that they’re best-known for in an approachable, often comical, manner. The episodes go chronologically from the pre-Socratics up through modern day, including a few non-European thinkers, always focused on deeply engaging with philosophical concepts and whether they have relevance to our lives today.
  • Host: Stephen West
  • Where should I start?:
    • The Frankfurt School (2017-18, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
    • Nietsche (2016, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4)
    • Three Islamic Truths (2014) – Discussing Al Kindi, Al Ghazali, and Averroes.

A History of Philosophy without any gaps

Economics & Politics

The Ezra Klein Show

Pod Save the People

  • What is it?: Hard-hitting political and cultural analysis with an emphasis on one of the most pressing issues in this country: racial justice and equity.
  • Hosts: Some of the most intelligent political organizers and analysts in this country right now—DeRay McKesson, Brittany Packnett, Samuel Singyangwe, and Clint Smith.
  • Where should I start?:
    • Since the show discusses contemporary issues, starting with the most recent episode is not a bad idea.
    • Let’s Do Better in the New Year (Dec, 2017) – A discussion on prison reform with incredible guests like Piper Kerman (author of Orange is the New Black).
    • War on Science (Oct, 2017) – The crew talks to Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, former head of the EPA, discussing climate change and the urgency of our environmental predicament.

Freakonomics Radio

  • What is it?: If you enjoyed the book or the movie, you’ll love these regular installments that analyze quirky aspects of economics, sociology, and human behavior.
  • Host: Stephen J. Dubner
  • Where should I start?:

Culture & Storytelling

The Moth

  • What is it?: One of the most famous storytelling events in America. The podcast collects the best stories from live tellings all across the country.
  • Host: Dan Kennedy
  • Where should I start?:
    • The Apron Strings of Savannah (Edgar Oliver, 2006) – Edgar and his family create their own strange kind of culture, guided by their mother’s peculiar sense of reality. Also check out the sequel.
    • Life Support (Stephanie Summerville, 2007) – After facing homelessness and depression, Stephanie takes a job that brings her face to face with the racism that runs rampant in her home town.
    • Yes Means Yes? (Elna Baker, 2006) – Elna is a Mormon and doesn’t have sex. But she lives in New York and wants a relationship. Thus, a predicament.
    • Data Mining for Dates (Chris McKinlay, 2016) – Chris reverse engineers OKCupid’s algorithm in order to get dates.

This American Life

  • What is it?: Probably the single most influential radio program of the last 20 years. It showcases stories from all across America that exemplify (in extremely varied ways) the American experience.
  • Host: Ira Glass
  • Where should I start?:
    • The Problem We All Live With (Part 1, Part 2, 2015) – Schools are more segregated now than they were in the late 1960’s. These episodes go in-depth on the problem and potential solutions.
    • Mon Ami Ta-Nehisi (part of Status Update, 2015) – Neil Drumming talks with his friend, Ta Nehisi Coates, about how Coates is now famous and that can make things weird.
    • The Giant Pool of Money (2008) – Exploring (in plain English) how mortgage-backed securities caused the financial crisis of 2008.

Lightspeed

PodCastle

  • What is it?: A fantasy podcast showcasing stories from numerous writers. It won best fictional podcast at last year’s Academy of Podcasters Awards.
  • Where should I start?:
    • Crickets Sing for Naomi (by Eden Royce, 2017) – The crickets have followed Naomi all her life. It turns out they might be more helpful than she thought.

Steal the Stars

  • What is it?: Unlike the shows listed above, this one is a single sci-fi story spread across 14 episodes. Great storytelling, an immersive soundscape, and richly developed characters.
  • Writer: Mac Rogers
  • Where should I start?:
    • Since this is a coherent narrative, start at Episode 1 and keep going.

Spirituality and Unanswerable Questions

On Being

Honorable mentions (because, let’s be honest, we’re living in the golden age of podcasts):

The Adventure Zone
BBC Radio 4 – In Our Time (multiple programs including Philosophy, Science, History, etc)
Conversations with People Who Hate Me
Crimetown
Death, Sex, and Money
Ear Hustle
Harmontown
The Heart
Hello Internet
Hidden Brain
Homecoming
How Did This Get Made
Intercepted
Latino USA
LeVar Burton Reads
Limetown
The Longest Shortest Time
Love and Radio
The Many Moods of Ben Vaughn
Missing Richard Simmons
Modern Love
My Brother, My Brother and Me
Nancy
The Nerdist
The Nod
On the Media
Reply All

Revisionist History
S-Town
School of Greatness
Song Exploder
Spinning on Air
StarTalk Radio
Startup
Switched on Pop
TED Radio Hour
Twenty Thousand Hertz
Uncivil

The Weeds
Welcome to Night Vale
The West Wing Weekly

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