I use Overcast to listen to podcasts. The smart speed setting quickens the pace without you even noticing and I usually listen to 1.2x normal speed. If you want to get into podcasts I highly recommend tweaking these settings to get through them faster. An added bonus is that if you’re listening to a proper series or radio play at normal speed, you “feel the benefit” and get super engrossed.
- EconTalk – the original economics podcast featuring an array of fascinating guests. Each episode is typically over an hour long which can be daunting, but permits a relaxed and casual conversation. As a former student of Russ Roberts, I thoroughly enjoy recapturing some of the intellectual curiosity and excitement of grad school through EconTalk.
- Macro Musings – David Beckworth is a wonderful economist, and by focusing on monetary macro he provides a consistently high quality conversation on a topic I know I will want to listen to. I think it’s pitched at the perfect level to walk listeners through the career trajectory and major insights of an impressive guestlist.
- Hayek Program Podcast – interviews with a range of academics working in the classical liberal tradition.
- Planet Money – Short (20 minute) episodes that illuminate important economic concepts through interviews. Can’t get enough of them.
- Making Sense with Sam Harris – Lengthy and deep conversations with fascinating thinkers on topics such as the multiverse, AI, identity politics, and meditation. (Frustrating when it switched theme music and annoying now that free episodes are cut short.)
- Lex Fridman podcast – Long conversations with elite guests.
- Conversations with Tyler – broad and eclectic range of guests exploring fascinating ideas in a warm format.
- Stuff You Should Know – Well produced, entertainingly presented, always interesting.
- You’re Wrong About – Informative but slightly preachy perspectives on important topics.
- Adam Buxton – on the surface this is a comedy show, where likeable comic Adam Buxton (from Adam & Joe semi-fame) chats with his “showbusiness” friends. I enjoy it because it provides an honest and sincere look at the thought process behind public speaking, professional success, and the art of humour.
- Generation Why – two American friends present and dissect famous cases in an informal, engaging manner.
- Casefile True Crime – the Australian narrator, following a well crafted script, provides an engrossing experience.
- The Prosecutors – great rapport between two expert hosts who explain legal issues and provide well argued perspectives on famous cases.
- Criminal – somewhat hit and miss collection of interesting cases, but the good ones stay with you.
- Slow Burn (Season 3 Biggie and Tupac) – Engrossing account of the East Coast/West Coast rivalry and the emergence of Tupac as a cultural figure perhaps unrivalled. I couldn’t help imagining being a school teacher listening to the perspective of each side, and simply concluding “grow up”. Fortunately, the civilising force of commercial success means that those still alive have done so. B.
- Slow Burn (Season 2 Clinton) – I loved this. Very well presented featuring interviews with key players in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I particularly liked the broader focus on the controversy surrounding Clinton prior to him becoming President, and how that laid the ground for his impeachment. This was a historic event that I remember experiencing, but it was enlightening to do deeper. Especially relevant given the #metoo movement. B.
Self contained series
- Chameleon: Wild Boys – slick account of a fascinating story, but longer than necessary and annoying adverts. B.
- Things Fell Apart, BBC Sounds – Jon Ronson looks at the different origins of the culture wars, which are defined as “the battle for dominance over conflicting values”, or the things we shout about on social media. B.
- Death by Conspiracy – an 11 part podcast documentary on Gary Matthews, who died from covid in January 2021 having been drawn to social media claims that it was a hoax. C.
- The Coming Storm, BBC Sounds (7 part podcast documentary on the rise of QAnon). A.
- The Last Days of August – Jon Ronson does another excellent job at sympathetically telling a series of tragic stories, providing a few plot twists and narrative intrigue, without losing sight of the victim. B.
- 13 Minutes to the Moon – released by the BBC to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, the series focuses on the audio recordings from the Apollo 11 mission. Having done a thorough job of explaining what was being said, and the importance of each intonation from those involved, the uninterrupted playback is truly mesmerizing. A.
- End of Days – the siege of Waco told from a British perspective, talking to family members of those who went. C.
- Uncover – Season 1: Escaping NXIVM – a disturbing account of a women’s efforts to escale a cult. C.
- Caliphate – an exquisite series that reports on the rise of Islamic State and documents the fall of Mosul. It’s a deeply absorbing production centred around an interview with someone claiming to have joined IS, and provides a perfect balance of background information. A. (Update: In December 2020 the New York Times retracted the series)
- Atlanta Monster – all the ingredients for a fascinating sequence of plot twists and information about a case I wasn’t familiar with. But I felt it dragged on and I gradually lost interest. B.
- This Sounds Serious – a well conceived and executed spoof of the true crime genre. Some daft comedic moments and surprisingly subtle nods to The Day Today. A.
- The Butterfly Effect – very touching business history emphasising creative destruction and unintended consequences. High recommend. A.
- Missing Richard Simmons – originally presents itself as having the ingredients of a unique and enjoyable mystery, but sadly turns into a slightly disturbing hounding. C.
- S Town – a fascinating and gripping story, but I was somewhat annoyed by the presenter’s self-serving presence. B.
- Tracks – a radio play that delves into a reasonably interesting conspiracy theory, but ultimately fails to replicate the engagement that comes from a discovery. C.
- Homecoming – more of a play than a podcast, but one that utilises the medium very nicely. Season 2 was meh. B.
- Serial Season 1 – a documentary about the death of Hae Min Lee featuring interviews with Adnan Syed, who is in prison for the murder. But did he do it? This helped build the genre of the developing real time podcast, and bingelistening to this with noise cancelling headphones, on a transatlantic red eye, was super sweet. The theme music still gives me shivers. A.
- The Edge with Joey Barton – I have sympathy for Barton and find him a highly engaging character. In this series of interviews he demonstrates his curiosity for what drives peak performance with applications for sport, politics, and all forms of management.