Listen up! The year in podcasts

Roughly 12,000 miles of road-tripping this year meant many happy hours of listening to podcasts. (It also means I really need to plant more spekboom). Here’s a list of favourites:

  • Bundyville: A rigorous, nuanced and spellbinding podcast about the ranchers fighting the US federal government. It touches on so many important themes — including religious fundamentalism, rightwing terrorism, the future of public lands — and how these all intersect. This is podcasting at its addictive, thought-provoking best. (So far, I’ve only listened to the first season; I’m looking forward to diving into the second in the new year.)
  • Pivot — Arguably the smartest (and sassiest) take on the colliding and overlapping worlds of tech, business and politics.
  • On Being — this series of conversations between Krista Tippett and notable thinkers is an evergreen favourite. I recently listened to the chats with conversation with the late poet Mary Oliver and the 2012 conversation with audio ecologist Gordon Hempton. Both capture the exquisite connections between presence, attention and the natural world — and how this can both soothe and inspire us.
  • Evil Genius: a panel of comedians skewers the reputations of the famous and (in)famous — including Amy Winehouse and JFK. Thought-provoking, hilarious (and sometimes a little sick)
  • Tunnel 29: the can’t-switch-it-off true story of a tunnel built underneath the Berlin Wall to rescue refugees from East Berlin
  • Cautionary Tales: Economist Tim Harford’s accounts of catastrophic mistakes from history — and the lessons we can learn from them
  • As the name implies, the BBC’s Brexitcast combines two of my favourite obsessions: Brexit and podcasts. I’m addicted to its gossipy, smart, funny analysis of the latest twists and turns of Brexit from BBC journos and guests. Brexit might be a horrific, slow-mo car crash, but it feels rather reassuring that Adam, Chris, Laura and Katya (and their silly jokes/puns) are on hand.
  • Avery Trufelman’s Nice Try is an interesting exploration of various utopias created over the course of history. It’s better than her compelling but somewhat uneven podcast series on clothing, Articles of Interest.
  • I’ve enjoyed How I Built This — the NPR show that interviews successful entrepreneurs. Favourites include the chats with Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia and Herb Kelleher, the late founder of Southwest.
  • I’ve also enjoyed the bite-sized episodes of The Last Continent — a PBS podcast about Antarctica’s history and uncertain future.
  • Science Vs. — brilliant science journalism that explores all sorts of things, from veganism to alcohol
  • The Dropout — a gripping account of the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, founder of blood testing company Theranos
  • Slow Burn — the addictive story of the Monica Lewinsky scandal (season 2) and Watergate (season 1)
  • Something podcasting seems really good at is helping to make sense of recent history — a welcome antidote to the myopia of 24-hour news cycle. While the absolutely brilliant, binge-worthy Slow Burn (which delved into Watergate and the Lewinsky Affair) is perhaps the most obvious example, there are other goodies — such as Expenses (about the UK parliament’s 2009 expenses scandal) from The Telegraph and NPR’s Throughline — I found recent episodes on Christian fundamentalism and bussing fascinating. I was also hooked on Conspiracyland , veteran investigative journo Mike Isikoff explores how the 2016 death of a Democrat party operative has been exploited by a whole cast of unscrupulous characters — including Russian intelligence, rightwing talkshow hosts and Julian Assange. The perfect (and perfectly gripping) primer on the post-truth era.

Happy listening!

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