Podcast Picks of 2017

Listening to people discuss their ideas and opinions is something I truly enjoy. Podcasts are great for this and make it easy to hear the most current stories from North America to the Middle East, from Europe to Australia. All from the comfort of your smart phone or computer.

Last year, I made a list of twelve podcasts (A Podcaster’s Dozen). These were some of my long favorites and some that were great new finds.

Since it’s nearly the end of 2017, I though I’d make a new list. So, here’s another dozen podcasts that I’ve listened to this year. My hope is that you’ll give them a try in 2018.

Plenty to Explore

Below are six podcasts I’ve listened to for many years, which cover a range of topics, from architecture and medicine to philosophy and history. Each one has hundreds of episodes going back many years, so you’ll have a hard time running out of things to learn about.

  • Memory Palace, with Nate DiMeo
    • With a superb radio voice, Nate brings to life stories of all kinds–from the true to the re-imagined. Stories focus on historical characters, from the infamous, like the Donner party and P. T. Barnum, to the unknown people we should remember–and who, thanks to Nate, are.
  • World Dispatch, from the Outline
  • 99% Invisible, with Roman Mars
    • Nearly 300 discussions about “all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about”. 99pi has explored the vastness of design, from architecture and cities (La Sagrada Família) to history and objects (stethoscope) to visuals and technology (emojis). Always read the plaque!
  • This Is Hell!, with Chuck Mertz
    • With a mission to manufacture dissent, Chuck talks to journalists, authors and activists working to make this world a slightly less hellish place. In-depth conversations about the forces that drive politics, like the logic of misogyny, force us to question our world.
  • White Coat Black Art, with Dr. Brian Goldman
    • I’ve listened to this medical podcast for many years and, as a medical layman, find that it reveals an unknown world with a welcoming host. Dr. Goldman explores issues that often go beyond the hospital and, like the anti-vaccination movement, concern public health.
  • The Minefield, with Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens
    •  Who bears responsibility for vast inequality? Can nationalism be redeemed? Why does sport matter so much to us? These are the type of difficult political, economic and social questions we must address. Luckily, The Minefield provides reasoned and logical arguments using philosophy to do just that.

Some to Start

Although the podcasts below might have fewer episodes than those above, they have just as much heart. They also show what’s possibility with podcasts, as they are rich in story-telling and cover issues outside the mainstream.

  • In The Thick, with Maria Hinojosa and Julio Ricardo Varela
    • A new political podcast where journalists of color discuss what’s missing from mainstream news. Recent conversations cover Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day, and the anti-Semitic roots of white nationalism.
  • Revisionist History, with Malcolm Gladwell
    • Stories from far and wide. The first season opened with the story of an English painting, but soon expanded into the idea of “moral licensing” and how this plays out in politics and throughout society. The second season featured an investigation into the unique addition of rich people: golf.
  • People Fixing the World, from the BBC World Service
    • Part of BBC World Hacks, this optimistic podcast features brilliant solutions to the world’s problems. Reports investigate whether existing innovations can scale, like reducing waste or improving transport, and how to create a better world, like providing an address for every square on Earth.
  • Embedded, with Kelly McEvers
    • Embedded takes a story from the news and goes deep. In recent episodes, NPR reporters mined the records of Donald Trump and some of his closest advisors. They’ve also examined police shootings caught on video and powerful prescription opioids.
  • The Anthill, from the Conversation
    • A monthly conversation that unearths stories from academia. The 20 past episodes of this series have explored our current understanding of a range of fields: time, competition, technology, belief, waste, memory, music, history, pain, and myths. Look forward to hearing about what’s discovered next.
  • Rough Translation, with Gregory Warner
    • While exposing how aid workers change the reality around sexual violence in the Congo or how fake news from Russia helped spark a real war in Ukraine, this new podcast features hard-hitting journalists revealing why understanding cultural differences is so important.

I hope you give try listening to some of these podcasts. Please let me know what you think and if you have any to recommend.


A Podcaster’s Dozen: Old Favorites and New Finds

I’ve listened to podcasts for several years now. On my way to work or while running, I find them to be a valuable way to learn about new topics and events from around the world. Below are some of my favorites – ones I’ve followed for a long time – and some new ones I’ve only recently found but highly recommend.

Old Favorites

These six podcasts have several years of episodes, so you’ll have plenty to sift through and learn.

  1. Planet Money, from National Public Radio (NPR)
    • The most entertaining podcast I’ve found. Although billed as an economics podcast, Planet Money explores every aspect of society. With over 700 episodes, there’s lots to learn. Producers and journalists have followed the story of how t-shirts are made and how oil is refined, among others.
  2. The Documentary, from the BBC World Service
    • A seemingly endless supply of stories about people from around the world. Stories in the past month have included African ivory, Israeli technology and hunger in Venezuela. There’s something here for everyone – music, sports, history, government, and more. Two other great BBC podcasts: Analysis and Discovery.
  3. Reveal, from The Center for Investigative Reporting
    • Thoughtful stories that are rarely heard. Reveal has investigated a Danish cult that does international charity work, private prisons and gun violence in the United States, places in the world without laws, and children crossing borders alone. Each episode illuminates essential problems facing the world.
  4. Tiny Spark, hosted by Amy Costello
    • With its tagline “Investigating the Business of Doing Good,” this podcast examines how the non-profit sector is run and whether international aid works. Episodes have looked at companies, like Toms shoes, and charitable foundations, as well as the volunteers who work overseas.
  5. Radiolab, co-hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich from WNYC Studios
    • A wild variety of stories with hilarious commentary, Radiolab is hard to summarize. Some favorite stories include ‘The Rhino Hunter’ on poaching, ‘Birthstory’ on international surrogacy, and ‘Darkode’ on cyber crime. Recently, they’ve added More Perfect, exploring the history of the U.S. Supreme Court.
  6. War College, co-hosted by Jason Fields of Reuters and Matthew Gault of War is Boring
    • A weekly look inside the world of war, the weapons systems and tactics that both endanger the world and keep it safe. War College discusses topics rarely examined in public: the price of aircraft carriers, the challenge of closing Gitmo, warplanes from the Cold War era, among others.

New Finds

I’ve only recently found the following podcasts, as many are in their inaugural year. All are excellent to listen to and hopefully will continue long into the future.

  1. Everyday Emergency, from Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
    • The first nine episodes of this podcast have covered the real-life stories of MSF field staff. From TB patients in Uzbekistan to refugees in the Mediterranean, MSF staff provide medical care to people in need, everywhere. Stories are raw and emotionally, exposing the complexity of MSF’s work.
  2. The Uncertain Hour, hosted by Krissy Clark from Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk
    • Seven great episodes so far, the Uncertain Hour has dedicated its first season to exploring American welfare following the 1997 assistance program TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). Episodes have ranged from college grants to couples’ counseling, showing a complex network of effects.
  3.  ProPublica Podcast
    • Another investigative journalism podcast, where reporters share their latest investigations published by ProPublica. Each episode is eye-opening and the journalism is top-notch. Recent episodes discuss higher education cheating, Donald Trump’s foundation, and the court that handles international trade disputes.
  4. Center for Global Development (CGD) Podcast, hosted by Rajesh Mirchandani
    • The CGD Podcast is a rare find; a podcast that discusses global development and inequality, while also engaging the listener. Each episode features CGD researchers discussing their recent work. Discussions can be complex, but more accessible than reading the in-depth research.
  5. The Ezra Klein Show, from Vox Media
    • Largely focused on American national politics, Ezra interviews a different public figure for each episode. Ezra spends around an hour speaking with guests on both sides of the political spectrum, as well as those who work above and beyond politics, such as World Bank.
  6. Belabored, from Dissent Magazine
    • Dissent takes a radical look at politics and culture and this podcast provides current events within the trade unions and workers’ rights. Hot & Bothered, another podcast of note from Dissent, looks the movement to tackle climate change.