Listen to these podcasts
Recommendations of gripping, not-sensationalist podcasts about the criminal justice system. And also some others.
There are a lot of podcasts out there. You probably have one. I’m working on one (more on that soon!). Pick a Twitter user at random. That guy probably has a podcast. There are a lot of podcasts.
It’s daunting to sort through them to find the few that are worth your time. But they’re out there. And fortunately you subscribe to me, a guy who listens to a lot of podcasts.
There is a lot of crap out there. I have two least favorite podcast formats. The first is the one in which a host or group of hosts spend a week reading about a topic online, then regurgitate what they've found to you as if they personally did the reporting, interviewing, or archive-combing themselves, usually without crediting the folks who actually did the work. Then they sell you some ready-to-eat dinners. (Do I sound bitter? I might be!)
The other bad podcast genre is true crime. Alas, this one is also one of the most popular. But it’s important to distinguish here between true crime and reported podcasts about the criminal justice system. True crime tends to be exploitative, sensationalist, rarely reveals much new information. It’s usually deferential to police and prosecutors. These podcasts are often hosted by people who fancy themselves amateur detectives.
Good reported podcasts are audio journalism. They’re more adversarial to power. They aim to inform rather than titillate.
But the difference between the two is more of a continuum than a big bright line. Journalists can also be exploitative and sensationalist. Reporting these stories without feeling as if you’re personally benefitting from someone else’s pain is sometimes a difficult line to walk.
I’ll give you a quick example: When I was at the Washington Post, I asked on a few occasions that the videos of police brutality that went up with my pieces not include paid ads. I had mixed success.
And just as there are journalists who are often on the wrong side of the line, there are true crime podcasts hosted by people with no journalism background who have uncovered official misconduct, exposed wrongful convictions, and solved crimes.
So again, the distinction isn’t always clear. I suppose it’s a “you know it when you see it” sort of thing.
I’m also excluding from this list any podcasts that mostly consist of people bantering about the news, court rulings, or the criminal justice system. There are tons of these, and your opinion of them will largely depend on if you like the politics and personalities of the people doing the bantering. My recommendations are mostly what you could loosely be called scripted podcasts.
Also, one quick warning: Podcasts often keep listeners interested with narratives that take unexpected turns. Some of the descriptions below might spoil a few of those twists and turns. If you’d rather not see these, skip the descriptions.
Finally, I’m sure I’m forgetting some great podcasts I’ve heard. Please feel free to make your own recommendations in the comments.
All of that out of the way, here are my favorite podcasts from the last several years . . .
Criminal justice podcasts
Admissible starts with the story of a now-deceased Virginia crime lab analyst who was widely believed to be a criminal justice hero for preserving biological evidence in the 1970s and 1980s, well before anyone knew about the exonerating possibilities of DNA. The evidence she preserved has since freed about a dozen innocent people.
Narrator Tessa Kramer initially set out to produce a podcast profiling this “angel of the innocence movement.” But then it all got really messy. As it turns out, the analyst wasn’t a hero, her reasons for preserving that evidence weren’t noble, and she likely caused most of the wrongful convictions her preserved evidence later reversed.
The real hero of the story is a colleague of the analyst who recognized she was faking test results, tried to expose her, was promptly ousted from forensics work entirely. She now sells flowers.
Admissible is a meticulously reported, often-infuriating story about how easily forensic analysis can be corrupted, how bias is built into the system by design, and how the criminal justice system has decided that its integrity and public image hinge not on fixing its mistakes, but on keeping them hidden — even decades later, when none of the people who made those mistakes are still around.
If your reaction to learning that you have a mold or termite problem in your home is to pretend like it doesn’t exists, the problem never goes away. The problems that caused the corruption at the heart of the narrative in Admissible haven’t gone away either, and there still has never been a proper reckoning of how deep the rot at the Virginia crime lab went, or how much damage it caused. Over and over across this podcast, you’ll hear prosecutors, analysts, and public officials play down the extend of a problem that was never fully investigated. It becomes clear that they don’t do this because they don’t believe the problem is real or pervasive or potentially earth-shattering. It’s because they’re clearly afraid of what a real review and investigation might reveal. It’s as haunting and damning an indictment of the criminal justice system as you’ll find.
The first season of this outstanding podcast from New Hampshire Public Radio attempts to identify and figure what happened to four bodies found in a barrel in a state park. It’s a compelling story with some whiplashy turns.
But the second season soars. Reporter Jason Moon dives into the wrongful conviction of Jason Carroll. According to prosecutors, a man named Ken Johnson hired Carroll (who was a teen at the time) and another teen to kill his wife. Of the three, only Carroll was convicted. The only evidence against him was his own confession — a confession that, incredibly, was coercively elicited by how own mother, who happened to be a police officer at the time.
Moon is a scrupulous reporter and a trustworthy narrator. He explores the now well-known problems with aggressive police interrogation tactics like the Reid technique, and why they can lead to profound injustices like this one. The audio of Carroll’s mother trying to wring a confession out of him — which at the time she earnestly believed was in his own best interests — is one of the most harrowing, gut-churning police interrogations I’ve ever heard. It’s also a textbook example of a false confession.
Carroll is still in prison.
I’ll start this one by disclosing that my wife Liliana Segura is co-narrator and co-reporter on this one, along with her colleague Jordan Smith.
The first season of Murderville looks at the Georgia conviction of Devonia Inman for the murder of a Taco Bell manager in the small town of Adel, Georgia. Segura and Smith delve into the tunnel vision that took over investigators as they honed in on Inman, and their failure to follow other leads likely allowed the real killer to kill again.
The murder of one of his likely victims — that of Shailesh Patel — remains unsolved, in part because as an immigrant, Patel’s death didn’t command much attention from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. But it’s also probable that the crime wasn’t thoroughly investigate because doing so would have revealed Inman’s wrongful conviction. Two years after the podcast aired, Inman was exonerated and released.
The second season looks at the conviction and death sentence of Charles Raby in Texas. Raby was convicted in the early 1990s, the heyday of the cowboy prosecutor. And nobody was more cowboy than Houston’s Johnny Holmes, whose office had few rivals when it came to sending people to death row. The evidence against Raby was basically a checklist of red flags for dubious convictions, from a the untruthful testimony of a forensic analyst, to inadequate defense counsel, to the corner-cutting habits all too common to detectives in the 1990s.
Like Bear Brook, the podcast also examines the issue of false confessions and the human memory’s vulnerability to suggestion. But my favorite episode is “Linda,” episode six. In a series of interviews, Segura and Smith give the daughter of the victim in Raby’s case free rein to talk openly and candidly. The end result sketches out an empathetic and complicated portrait of the grief, anger, and the struggle for meaning that animates the lives of victims’ families.
Charles Raby remains on death row in Texas.
Narrated and reported by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gilbert King, Bone Valley investigates the Florida case of Leo Schofield, who was convicted in 1987 for the murder of his wife Michelle. Fingerprint evidence has since pointed to another man already serving a life sentence for another murder. That man at one point confessed to killing Schofield’s wife, then retracted his confession, then confessed again in a recorded interview with King. In the same interview, he also confessed to another murder.
But Florida officials aren’t interested in any of this. So Schofield remains in prison. King is a dogged and thorough reporter, and despite the clear injustice he’s laying out, his narration is calm and measured. It’s a stark illustration of how the courts’ dedication to preserving the “finality” of jury verdicts is incompatible with any reasonable notion of justice, for both the wrongly convicted, and for the victims and their families.
The podcast that launched a thousand podcasts. The first season of Serial is, famously, about the Maryland conviction of Adnan Syed. One mischaracterization you’ll often seen of Sara Koenig’s reporting in season one is that it all hinges on Syed’s innocence. That is, if he’s guilty, the entire premise of the show falls apart. I happen to think the evidence strongly points to Syed’s innocence. But this was never the point of the show. Koenig was transparent — admirably so — about her own questions about his guilt throughout the podcast. But the season is about the flawed way police and prosecutors went about assembling evidence for Syed’s conviction conviction. We can learn as much about the unfair, unjust conviction of a guilty person as we can about the conviction of an innocent one.
I wasn’t as taken in by the second season, which looked at the case of Taliban-captured Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl.
But I think you could make a strong case that the third season, documenting a year in the criminal court system in Cleveland, Ohio, is the most important podcast season yet recorded.
Reported criminal justice podcasts tend to focus on the big injustices — the wrongful murder convictions and death sentences. Those cases are important, and can tell us a lot about the system’s inadequacies. But heart of the criminal legal system’s destructiveness are the thousands of smaller, more mundane injustices inflicted every day in courtrooms around the country. The people aren’t necessarily innocent, but they end up suffering far more than their crimes should merit.
So it’s piling charges on someone who is very likely guilty of just one of them. It’s the kid who mades a couple wrong turns, wants to get back on track, but is now in the system, and thus on the radar of cops, prosecutors, and judges, so he really has no chance. It’s the guy who can’t make bail for a minor offense, and thus loses his apartment, job, and a couple child support payments before the charges are dropped, and now must figure out how to put his life back together.
These stories aren’t sexy. They involve people who may not always be sympathetic. They aren’t about villainous prosecutors who hide evidence or evil cops who frame people (although sometimes they do). And they aren’t primarily about a system hell-bent on punitiveness (though there’s some of that, too).
Instead, the primary cause of the destruction wrought by these courts is the need to churn through overloaded dockets with as little delay and hassle as possible. It isn’t that the system goes out of its way to single people out and punish people. It’s that it doesn’t treat them as people at all. They’re names to cross off a docket. This is what slowly breaks people, families, and entire communities.
It was wildly ambitious for Koenig and the Serial crew to think they could pull this off. For all the work that goes into a podcast about a wrongful conviction or police brutality, this is a much more difficult story to tell, let alone in a way that will appeal to podcasts audiences accustomed to titillation. How do you make people care about how the courts treat habitual low-level offenders with whom most listeners have very little in common?
They pulled it off.
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(Warning: This description definitely has spoilers.)
Another offering from Serial Productions. NY Times reporter Kim Barker returns to her childhood home of Laramie, Wyoming to investigate the 38-year old unsolved murder of Shelli Wiley. The victim’s friends, family and much of the town believes a former cop named Fred Lamb is the culprit, and that he wasn’t thoroughly investigated because the police were protecting one of their own.
There seems to be at least a little truth to the latter. But as she started investigating, Barker found evidence debunking many of the reasons people gave for suspecting Lamb. So what appears to be an investigation into police corruption and the Blue Wall of Silence morphs into an examination of the fragility of memory and how our brains can often deceive us. There are some really powerful moments in which Barker gently confronts the victim’s friends and family with evidence that their memories and conceptions of what happened are wrong.
Barker followed the facts where they led her, even as they took her someplace she didn’t expect. There’s no clear villain in this story. There’s no resolution tied off with a neat bow. The case remains messy and unsolved. That this podcast was even published is a credit to the Serial folks, who still gave it a slick production and heavy promotion knowing that it would challenge many of the preconceptions and expectations of the franchise’s loyal following.
If you aren’t from Los Angeles or steeped in criminal justice news, the idea that one of the largest police departments in the country has been infiltrated by criminal gangs for decades — and that the gangs’ influence reaches the highest levels of the department, including recent former sheriffs — probably sounds like anti-cop hyperbole. You might dismiss the accusation as the delusions of someone trying to turn internal cliques and social groups into something more sinister.
Nope. These are real criminal gangs, with all the accoutrements. They have initiation ceremonies (some of which include requiring prospects to commit violent crimes) and tattoos. They’ve embezzled, dealt drugs, intimidated witnesses, and committed murders. There’s extensive, often exhausting documentation.
Yet until Cerise Castle’s landmark, 15-part investigation for Knock L.A., the gang story always just sort of lingered around the periphery of Los Angeles media. Occasionally, an especially egregious story or two about a police gang might break through, but it was typically portrayed as an isolated problem, without the proper historical context. Castle’s Knock L.A. series connected the dots. This podcast is the audio adaptation of that series.
If you’re looking for the definitive oral history of how criminal gangs came to dominate the L.A. Sheriff’s Department, this is it.
Need a break from heavy podcasts about wrongful convictions and corrupt law enforcement? How about a history of an abusive Alabama “reform” school for Black children?
Josie Duffy Rice’s deeply-reported history of the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children isn’t easy to listen to. The first couple episodes are especially bleak. But Rice reveals and narrates an especially ugly chapter of Alabama history that has mostly gone untold (and that would probably now be illegal to tell in, say, a Florida classroom).
But Unreformed isn’t just about revisiting some forgotten chapter of a long-ago history. You’ll often hear from conservatives that Black people should just “get over” racism. They point out that slavery has been over for 150 years, and Jim Crow for 50.
Never mind the structural racism that still pervades the criminal justice system, the healthcare system, the financial system, urban planning, and other vast sectors of modern society, Unreformed is a needed reminder that people whose lives were ruined by explicit, unambiguous, unapologetic, state-sponsored racism still live among us. They still bear its scars, and they deserve to be heard.
In Suspect, journalists Matthew Shaer and Eric Benson investigate the 2008 murder of Arpana Jinaga in the Seattle area. Jinaga was co-hosting a Halloween party at the time. Despite a literal party of potential suspects, the police honed in on Emanuel Fair, the only black man in attendance. Fair was eventually arrested and jailed for nine years. His first trial ended in a mistrial. A jury finally acquitted him at his second trial in 2019. Shaer, who narrates the podcast, explores familiar themes like inadequate defense counsel, prosecutorial tunnel vision, and racial bias in a tight, disciplined arc.
One part of this story that’s less common but I suspect something we’ll see more often is the weaponization of DNA — that is, prosecutors using our conceptions about the certainty of DNA in misleading ways to persuade jurors. The fact that his DNA was found at the party played a big role in Fair’s conviction, despite the fact that police also found lots of DNA from the other guests.
Shaer also conducts one of the more surreal juror interviews I’ve ever heard. Fair’s first jury, which was hung, initially voted 10-2 to acquit. Shaer found one of the wo jurors who not only wanted to convict from the start, but managed to change the minds of four other jurors, resulting in a 6-6 vote.
In his speech to fellow jurors, this man apparently held up a photo of the victim and said “We need to hold someone responsible.” When another juror suggested they should probably hold the correct person responsible, not just anyone — this guy replied, “If he’s really innocent they can figure that out on appeal.”
The conversation with Shaer is mind-blowing. The juror says Fair was probably guilty because he looked like a “thug” and was sexually promiscuous. When Shaer asks the juror about the evidence of Fair’s innocence, he that if Fair was innocent, the prosecution wouldn’t have spent so much time and money bringing Fair to trial. Just astonishing.
Though it’s often categorized as “True Crime,” Criminal is thoughtful, nuanced, and addictively interesting. Phoebe Judge’s smooth and confident narration exudes authority as she walks listeners through a mix of contemporary and historical stories all vaguely related to crime, from outrageous injustices, to humanizing profiles, to quirky anecdotes, to historical curiosities. One of my favorite episodes is about a dog from Paris in the 1900s who’d been hailed a hero for repeatedly rescuing children who had fallen into the Seine. Someone eventually discovered that the dog would be rewarded if he pushed children into the river, then made a show of rescuing them. There’s a haunting and poignant episode about the residents of a Louisiana asylum whom society has fogotten. There’s also a fascinating episode about the feud between Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle over the credibility psychics who claimed they could speak to the dead. There’s an episode exploring the theory that an owl may have been responsible for a famously controversial murder, and another about the poachers who feed the market for Venus Flytraps. It’s good stuff.
Another landmark investigate podcast. For In the Dark’s second season, narrator Madeleine Baran and a team of reporters actually moved to Mississippi for a year to investigate the wrongful conviction of Curtis Flowers, a man who was tried six times for the same crime. In the process, the show drew national attention for its reporting on issues like flaws in ballistics matching, the malleability of eyewitness testimony, and a longtime prosecutor’s remarkable talent for keeping black people off of juries.
Flowers’ conviction was ultimately overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019. He was released on bond in December of that year and in 2020 a newly-elected state attorney general announced that the state would be dropping the charges against him. Flowers was released, and has since been awarded $500,000 by the state for his wrongful conviction. He also got married.
For all the groundbreaking work Baran and her team did in this series, there’s one, less famous part of Flowers’ case that I think about often. Throughout the investigation, we get to know Flowers’ parents, both of whom profess utter faith in his innocence and advocate for his release. Over a period of nearly 25 years they spoke to their son on the phone every day, and drove 80 miles to visit him every two weeks, even as that trip became more difficult as they aged. Despite accumulating evidence that the state’s already weak case was, in fact, entirely wrong, the courts and prosecutors drug out his incarceration.
Flowers’ mother Lola died in 2018. She missed seeing her son freed by 15 months. But even at the time of Lola Flowers’s death, the writing was on the wall. The U.S. Supreme Court had already ordered Mississippi courts to review Flowers’ fourth conviction because of racial bias in jury selection. At that point, the flaws in the state’s case had been well exposed by the podcast, which was garnering national acclaim. Yet DA Doug Evans denied Flowers’ request to attend his mother’s funeral. It isn’t uncommon for such requests to be denied. But in this case, in which it was increasingly clear that Flowers was innocent, it was just petty and gratuitous cruelty.
I wish this one would come back for more seasons. The first two seasons of Crimetown peered into into the sordid, seedy histories of two American cities — Providence, Rhode Island, and Detroit Michigan. The Providence series mostly tracks the arc corrupt, long-serving mayor Buddy Cianci. He held the office 21 years, interrupted by his conviction for kidnapping and torturing a guy he thought was sleeping with his wife. But that barely scratches the surface of the Providence underbelly. It’s a hell of a ride.
The Detroit series begins with a jarring interview with an ex-cop who was part of the corrupt and brutal STRESS units deployed across the city in the 1970s, which conducted more than 500 warrantless raids and killed 20 people in two-and-a-half years. It then follows the city’s slow, sad decline as the economy transitioned from manufacturing to services, and the long lineup of corrupt politicians who went down with Detroit, ending with the tenure of convicted Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
Criemtown can be a bit tabloidy at times, but producers Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier do back it up with solid research and reporting. The Crimetown spinoff series about the death of punk rocker Billy Balls is also a great listen.
I haven’t yet listened to the second season, but the first season of this podcast is a gripping, globe-trotting yarn. BBC journalist and veteran war reporter Josh Baker chronicles the life of Sam Sally, an Indiana mother who scooped up her kids and followed her husband to Syria, where he became a leader in ISIS. Baker speaks with FBI officials, Isis fighters, Sally’s friends and family, and eventually with Sally herself. Part of what makes the show so compelling is deciding whether or not to believe Sally when she claims to be innocent. She claims to have been manipulated by her husband, tricked into following him to Syria, and says she then had no choice but to stay to protect her children. There are lingering questions about her culpability, including some especially difficult moments when Baker confronts her about her husband’s purchase of a teenaged sex slave (who, it should be noted, credits Sally with saving her life by looking out for her). Sally was eventually returned to the U.S., prosecuted, and sentenced to six years in prison for financing terrorism.
Baker is a seasoned reporter and a gifted storyteller, both of which make it difficult to stop listening to this one. I finished it in a few days.
Non-criminal justice podcasts
What if you could interview a can of soda? What questions would you ask? How about a telephone pole? A Halloween pumpkin?
That’s the goofy premise of this hilarious, surprisingly informative, often moving podcast. I was hooked after the first episode, and the interview with the stool on the stage of a comedy club is a masterpiece. You’d think the shtick would get old, but the has somehow managed to keep up the quality and creativity throughout the series.
I can’t think of a podcast in which the narrators’ voice is a better fit with the subject matter. When host Paul Cooper talks about the final days of the Han dynasty, the Aztecs, or Carthage, you feel the urgency and sense of history in his inflection. As he describes how these societies fell, he has voice actors recite poetry or songs from those societies. He infuses you with real empathy for their inhabitants.
Cooper can do do this because he spends a ton of time researching each episode. Most clock in at well over two hours, and some considerably more than that. Cooper not only bursts myths and urban legends about these civilizations, he explores why those myths exists, and what it says about us and these extinct societies that we want to believe them. Cooper’s own narrative is grounded firmly in the historical record, but he also helpfully spends some time each episode explaining to you what records he consulted, how and why and by whom they were written, and how they may have been biased.
Cooper also spends a lot of time building each society up before explaining how it fell. The atmospheric production and Cooper’s vivid descriptions will have you feeling as if you’re spending an afternoon in late Byzantine Istanbul. You’ll learn what the Sumerians ate for lunch, how the Khmer empire irrigated its crops, and how Easter Island inhabitants moved those enormous statutes.
Cooper nudges beyond our morbid fascination with fallen civilizations, encourages us to understand and learn from them.
Staying on the history kick (I’m a 48-year-old man. What did you expect?), in each episode of The Ancients, host Tristan Hughes interviews a scholar about a very specific slice of the ancient world. Your interest level in each episode will obviously waver with your interest in whatever topic it’s covering. But I’ve found most of them to be consistently great. Some of my favorites: The episodes about Polynesian sea explorers, sex in ancient Rome, myths about Sparta, and race in antiquity.
I know. I get it. I’m a cliche of a middle-aged man. I’m fascinated by totalitarianism, how it happens, and what kinds of people end up wielding it. Host Paul McGann traces the arc of various dictators with narratives that typically span four to six episodes per dictator. He explores both the personal lives and backgrounds of these tyrants and the political conditions that allowed for their rise. McGann’s own narration is also interspersed with interviews with historians and academics.
McGann covers most of the personalities you’d expect — Stalin, Lenin, Pol Pot, Mao, Hussain, Gaddafi — along with lesser known bastards like Papa Doc Duvalier, Japan’s General Tojo, and Turkmenistan’s Saparmurat Niyazov. Hitler gets a massive treatment — the story is up to 12 episodes so far and the narrative has only made it to 1941.
Subscribers also get access to fascinating bonus episodes, including glimpses at the wives and children of dictators.
An gobsmacking story from journalist Emily Guerin about how California real estate developers conned people — mostly immigrants — into buying worthless real estate in the middle of the desert. It’s been going on for decades.
A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs
As the title suggests, music journalist Andrew Hickey lays down a massive oral history of rock, one song at a time. As of now, he’s at #164 (“White Light/White Heat,” by the Velvet Underground), which puts the story in late 1968.
Hickey is a careful researcher, and takes great pains to let you know when one some account from which he’s drawing his narrative is contradicted by other accounts. He’s also acutely aware of his own limitations and biases, which is refreshing.
I’ve learned a lot from this podcast. For example, I learned that Elvis and Johnny Cash, while flawed, were decent human beings, while Jerry Lee Lewis and Sam Cooke were sociopaths (I already knew this about Lewis, but not quite the extent of it). I also learned about that Pat Boone’s early career was basically built on making soulless versions of songs for white audiences that black artists had already made hits with black audiences. I learned music producer Sam Philips thought he could avert the Cuban Missile Crisis by personally calling Fidel Castro and asking him to chill out. I was also introduced to a lot great music I hadn’t heard before.
Hickey’s is the only voice in each episode, broken up only by clips from the songs he’s discussing and, occasionally, some other audio. There are no interviews with historians, scholars, or anyone the music industry. I find the subject matter interesting enough that this doesn’t bother me. But not everyone may up for listening to the same guy talk for an hour or more.
A meticulously-reported podcast from ProPublica and WNYC on Donald Trump’s history of fraud, deception, and shady business dealings. This is the gold standard of audio journalism. Just top-notch stuff.
History of Rome and Revolutions
This is the last history recommendation, I swear. I’ve always been a bit obsessed with ancient Rome, so I blew through Mike Duncan’s extremely thorough, immensely popular one-man podcast pretty quickly. Like the History of Rock Music podcast, it’s just Duncan talking. There are no interviews, and there’s no music. So you have to be pretty into the history. But if you are, it’s incredibly nourishing.
I’m still making my way through Revolutions, also from Duncan, which tells the story of various revolutions throughout history, from Haiti to France to the Bolsheviks and Simon Bolivar. It’s also great. And the good news is that if you’re into it, there’s a whole lot of it.
A short series on the bizarre life and influence of Carlos Castaneda, a new age guru and counterculture philosopher whose tails of his peyote-inspired conversations with “Don Juan” a Yaqui shaman who probably never existed, inspired Hollywood celebrities, academics, and and creative types from George Lucas to John Lenon to Jim Morrison to Oliver Stone.
Castandea was also a fraud, a womanizer, a pathological liar, and a manipulative, cultish personality. The story begins with an investigation of some of his followers who appear to have killed themselves after his death.
Science journalist Shankar Vedantam breaks down scientific research into some aspect of the brain, human cognition, and the subconscious. As with any good science writer, Vedantum has a talent for synthesizing complicated ideas for a lay audience.
The really nice thing about this podcast is that he not only does Vedantam explain the science, he articulates what the research means for day to day life. Think of it as a science-backed self-help podcast disguised as a wonky show about the brain.
The NY Times gets a lot of flak, some of it deserved. But there’s no question that the paper’s reporters are at the top of their profession, and most of them know their beats inside and out. So when those reporters are interviewed on The Daily about a breaking story, you’re going to get a reliable summary of what’s happening, why it’s happening, and what it portends. Collectively, these roughly half hour episodes are the best cheat sheets on current events around.
MORE: As I suspected, a few minutes after this went up, I remembered a podcast I failed to include. Dolly Parton’s America is a wonderful dive into the career and influence of (almost) everyone’s favorite country music icon. It’s narrated by Jad Abumrad, a Lebanese Nashvillian whose father, a surgeon, befriended Parton after her treating injuries she received in a car accident. The duo later contributed to the development of Moderna’s COVID vaccine. Because that’s just how Dolly Parton rolls.
The show delves deep into Parton’s music, including some her more subversive and less know early work. The episode about the universal, cross-cultural appeal of her song “Tennessee Mountain Home” will leave you in tears.
Music podcasts: Cocaine & Rhinestones, a 2-season production about the history of country music (S1) and George & Tammy (S2). Good stuff. Hosted by Tyler Mahan Coe, son of David Allan Coe. Mahan Coe has a bit of an attitude, as he keeps telling us, but he delivers a great podcast.
You named The Ancients, but any of the History Hit-related podcasts are good (I don’t know about the one on American history, but it’s probably fine). If you like more British-inflected history, I recommend The Rest is History, hosted by historians Dominic Sandbrook and Tom Holland (not the Spider-Man kid). They’re friends, the vibe is good.
This is great. I’m a huge fan of several of these but you’ve pointed out some new ones. A few personal favorites are the History of the World in 100 Objects and anything by Dan Carlin.