Swimming in a Sea of Podcasts

Technologically speaking, I’m a late adopter. Even though I worship my Kindle, I didn’t acquire my first smart phone until just six years ago. I don’t own an Apple Watch or Fitbit and even the car I drive is 20 years old. So I guess it shouldn’t be surprising I didn’t become a regular listener of podcasts until less than a year ago. For the last several years I merely explored the medium, listening to a rare single episode once every few months or so. On those few occasions when I did, there were three I briefly explored.

Early Forays  – Not knowing where to start I began I first checked out these.

Making Sense with Sam Harris – I loved his award winning bestseller End of Faith as well as his short follow-up book Letter to a Christian Nation. Positioning himself as a thought leader and public intellectual, Harris regularly interviews subject matter experts in a diverse array of fields including politics, science and history.

Book Riot: The Podcast– I began listening to this one after meeting co-host Jeff O’Neil at the conclusion of a silent reading party I attended in June of 2017. A nice lively round-up of what’s new in the world of book publishing.

For Real: A Podcast About Nonfiction Books – 11 years ago, when I began blogging on WordPress Kim Ukura’s blog Sophisticated Dorkiness was one of the first blogs I discovered. When I heard she’d be co-hosting a podcast focusing on nonfiction I was thrilled. I was not disappointed.

Getting Started – More recently, needing guidance I looked to the recommendations of others. By spring I was listening to these podcasts.

More Perfect – After hearing tons of positive word of mouth about this RadioLab spin-off I had to give it a try. Wanna understand the US Supreme Court? Start here.

Believed – My sister recommended this one season podcast investigating the horrible crimes of serial sexual abuser Larry Nassar and the parade of decades-long institutional failings that allowed it all to happen.

Bundyville – Another one recommended by my sis. Remember when a bunch of armed anti-government crazies occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in rural Oregon? This is the perfect podcast to explore why and how it happened.

Longform Podcast – In depth interviews with writers, journalists, filmmakers, and podcasters on how they create their acclaimed content. Must listening for aspiring writers.

The Daily– Five days a week the New York Times devotes 20 minutes to one news story. Definitely not sound-bite journalism. Plus there’s slightly longer and more off-beat edition each Sunday.

Deconstructed– The Intercept in a left-leaning online publication proudly practicing what it calls “adversarial journalism.” Each week its podcast it hopes to “brings you one important or overlooked story from the political world.”

The Weeds – Much like Deconstructed, this is the twice-weekly podcast from the progressive news and opinion source Vox is an in-depth look at today’s important political issues. (This podcast, along with Deconstructed, The Daily and Longform Podcast were all recommended by the hosts of my global affairs discussion group.)

Murder in the Rain – When Portland alternative newsweekly Willamette Week declared Murder in the Rain runner-up for best local podcast I had to investigate. Hosts Emily and Alisha focus on murders in the Pacific Northwest, from Alaska to Oregon. I never considered myself a true crime fan until I began listening to their podcast.

Hopelessly Addicted – By the time fall rolled around I was up to my eyeballs in podcasts.

The New Abnormal – If you see me walking around with my headphones on laughing away chances are I’m listening to this not exactly safe for work political podcast. “Blunt truth and dark humor for a world in chaos.” Hosted by Rick Wilson of the Lincoln Project and writer Molly Jong-Fast who proudly proclaim “the world has gone haywire. Let’s talk it over.”

Deep State Radio – A roundtable format hosted by author and political commentator David Rothkopf with cast of regulars and semi-regulars serving up an insider’s perspective on American national security and foreign policy. One recent episode on foreign policy featured writers and democracy advocates Anne Applebaum and Garry Kasparov.

Talking Feds – Another roundtable political discussion, this one hosted by American lawyer, law professor and political commentator Harry Litman with a rotating cast of former government officials, journalists, and subject matter experts. Each week there’s also a sidebar presentation to explain a significant legal and political question read by a guest celebrity. Past guests have including Tina Louise aka Ginger from Gilligan’s Island and screen icon Robert De Niro.

GZero World with Ian Bremme‪r‬ – I was into this guy before it was cool. I was excited when he began taking a larger stage on social media. After stumbling across his Gzero TV show on PBS on Sunday afternoon I looked for a podcast version. Every week Ian Bremmer interviews world leaders and notable individuals (including Kim Ghattas, author of my favorite nonfiction book of 2020 Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East) shaping our GZERO World. And for those of you who don’t know it’s a world with no global policeman, “made volatile by an intensifying international battle for power and influence.”

Throughline – I stumbled across this one while looking for good NPR podcasts and so far it’s been great. If you’re a history buff like me you’ll eat it up. “The past is never past. Every headline has a history. Join us every week as we go back in time to understand the present.” The co-hosts have interviewed a number of authors whose books I featured on this blog including Masha Gessen, Eric H. Cline and Lesley Hazleton.

Rough Translation – Another cool NPR podcast, this one looks at stories from around the world, focusing on how people in other countries tackle some of the same problems we struggle with in the United States.

Vox Tablet – Just like you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy a great Jewish deli, you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy a great Jewish podcast. Even though it ended in 2016 there’s tons of great archive material. Courtesy of this podcast I learned Lucette Lagnado, author of the family memoir The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World had written a follow-up book The Arrogant Years: One Girl’s Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn.

Friendly Atheist – First time I listened to this podcast I was turned off by what I thought at the time was too much meaningless small talk between the two hosts. Deciding to give the show another chance it quickly grew on me. Instead of long, tendentious arguments for the nonexistence of God Hemant Mehta and Jessica Bluemke prefer to discuss selected news items from the week, almost always stories of religious conservatives, far-right idiots and the like acting mean and/or stupid. A typical exchange usually goes “Jessica, remember that mega-church pastor who refused to wear a face mask, said COVID was a liberal plot and proclaimed Jesus would protect him? He’s now in the hospital with COVID. And on a ventilator.”

The Thinking Atheist – Seth Andrews, a former Fox News watching Christian broadcaster now avowed atheist interviews fascinating guests like Michael Shermer, Peter Boghossian and Karen Garst. One of many reasons I like this podcast is Seth comes across as a sincere and friendly guy. Of course having a million dollar voice doesn’t hurt either.

In Our Time: History – For history buffs like myself this is a must listen. Each episode moderator Melvyn Bragg brings in three or four professors to discuss significant historical figures and events, from Lawrence of Arabia to the Congress of Vienna. Past guests have included Julia Lovell, author of Maoism: A Global History and Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. (An impressive looking tome that’s set unread on my shelf for way too long.)

Once Upon a Time… In the Valle‪y – Everyone needs a guilty pleasure. As far as podcasts go, this one’s mine. Newcomer (no pun intended) Traci Lords took the 80s porn world by storm. Young, beautiful, ambitious and sexually insatiable she was well on her way to becoming an adult movie icon. That is until the feds showed up at her door to arrest her. You see, Traci Lords wasn’t really Traci Lords. She was Nora Kuzma, who began working in the porn industry as a 15 year old high school drop out. Was she a victim? A villain? Both? Listen and then try to decide.

Checks and Balance – Host John Prideaux begins the Economist‘s podcast on American politics each week with a brief preamble exploring the historical context of one of the week’s major political developments. From there Prideaux, along with his colleagues Charlotte Howard, and Jon Fasman attempt to make sense of America’s chaotic political landscape. (By the way Prideaux is a Brit. What could be cooler than a dude with a British accent talking about American politics?)

The Intelligence – Also from the Economist, each weekday this podcast takes a deeper look at new stories around the world. Great way to start your day.

Axios Today – Another great way to start your day. Just 10 minutes long, host Niala Boodhoo (yep, that’s her name and it rhymes with voodoo) and a cast of guest journalists look at three news stories including their top story deemed “today’s one big thing.” Short, smart and to the point.

The World Next Week – Besides being a history buff I’m also into foreign relations and comparative politics. Co-hosts James M. Lindsay and Robert McMahon from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) take an in depth look at the major political developments at home and abroad shaping the coming week.

The President’s Inbox – Also from CFR and hosted the above mentioned James M. Lindsay each week a different subject matter expert is interviewed concerning a wide range of pressing concerns from international trade to nuclear proliferation.

Big World – This monthly international affairs podcast from the School of International Service at Washington, DC’s American University is a fresh and accessible look at complex global issues and a nice companion podcast to the two previously mentioned ones from CFR.

Inside the Hive – If you wanted to know what was going on within the Trump administration, there was no better source for palace intrigue like Vanity Fair. Every week cohosts Emily Jane Fox and Joe Hagan interview notable insiders from politics, business and journalism.

The New Yorker Radio Hour – I’ve been a fan of the New Yorker ever since that fateful day I picked up copy in a waiting room so many years ago. Host David Remnick does a fine job marshaling the resources of his venerable magazine to serve up a weekly podcast of informative interviews addressing a wide array of topics.

Ideas – Last but not least, this podcast of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s long running radio program of the same name is a feast for the intellectually engaged and curious. A three part series on Frank Zappa? No problem. No subject is off limits or deemed too esoteric, from obscure cult films to the history of conspiracy theories to Edward Said’s landmark book Orientalism. Definitely a thinking person’s podcast.

Recent Discoveries – Just when I thought I couldn’t subscribe to anymore podcasts I stumbled across these.

How it Happened – Trump’s lost the election but he’s leaving office in a few months so how much damage could he cause? Quite a lot. So says the latest podcast from Axios “based on multiple interviews with current and former White House, campaign, government and congressional officials as well as direct eyewitnesses and people close to President Trump. Sources have been granted anonymity to share sensitive observations or details they would not be formally authorized to disclose.”

The Lincoln Project – Founded by Rick Wilson and his happy band of anti-Trump Republicans, their new podcast is part of their mission to make Trump accountable for his countless high crimes and misdemeanors and make sure his legion of admirers and imitators don’t seize the reigns of our fragile democracy.

I Spy – After hearing former DEA agent Steve Murphy talk about the time he spent in Colombia hunting drug lord Pablo Escobar I was hooked.

The Librarian Is In– Once every two weeks New York Public Librarians Rhonda Evans and Frank Collerius discuss a book they’re read, interview a special guest and/or talk about bookish topics. So far so good.

Talking Politics: History of Ideas – Went looking for something from the London Review of Books and found this one. Each episode David Runciman does a deep drive into seminal political thinkers, important concepts or historical developments. Great companion podcast to Ideas and In Our Time.

That’s enough podcasts for now. Rest assured, I’ll be back before long with more you’ll wanna check out.

4 thoughts on “Swimming in a Sea of Podcasts

  1. Oh my gosh, when you go all in you really go ALL IN! I have one to recommend that is one of my favorites even though the descriptions makes it sound odd: Ear Hustle. Ear hustle means gossip in prison and this podcast is done by a photographer/artist who volunteers at San Quinten and an inmate. It’s super interesting and covers all things San Quinten from family visits, food, cell mates, officers, etc.


  2. Pingback: Swimming in a Sea of Podcasts: The War in Ukraine Edition | Maphead's Book Blog

  3. Pingback: Sunday Salon | Maphead's Book Blog

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