Staff Picks: Our Favorite Podcasts

What do long commutes, cleaning your bathroom, and mindless treadmill sessions have in common? They are all perfectly good opportunities to catch up on learning and entertainment from the rapidly growing world of podcasts. Check out some favorites from staff!

What are your favorite podcasts? Leave recommendations in the comments below!

Luis Granados:
BBC History Extra

I’ve moved away from listening to podcasts in favor of listening to audiobooks, now that doing so has become more affordable through Scribd and Librivox. But back when I did tune in to more podcasts, my favorite was the weekly BBC History Extra series. It features in-depth interviews with historians about their latest books or projects. The emphasis is British history, but they occasionally acknowledge the existence of other parts of the world as well.

Jan Melchior:
Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History

According to the podcast description, “Each week for ten weeks, Revisionist History will go back and reinterpret something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood.”

Malcolm Gladwell is smart, articulate, and he makes connections that are fascinating and relevant even though they are often historical.

Jessica Xiao:
The Guilty Feminist

“I’m a feminist…but for about five years, I honestly thought The Feminine Mystique was a famous perfume from the 1960s—like Chanel No. 5—and not a seminal book by Betty Friedan credited with instigating second-wave feminism.”

Each episode, recorded in front of a live audience, begins with comedians Sofie Hagen and Deborah Frances-White confessing ways they struggle with their feminist ideals and the challenges of daily life (“I’m a feminist, but…” ). This leads to a discussion with a special guest about a specific challenge, like going on a Tinder date (Ep. 8), going braless in public or opting for a bra several cup sizes up (Ep. 13), wearing heels or going without, taking up public space as a woman (Ep. 15), or posing nude for an art class (Ep. 1).

It is witty, hilarious, and provocative, allowing us to confront our ideas about feminism while also making room for our flaws, insecurities, internalized sexism, and internalized misogyny. Perfection neither required nor expected.

Peter Bjork:
Switched on Pop

I’m a big believer in not totally writing off an entire genre of anything. Maybe there’s a Norwegian death metal band or a Ukrainian polka song out there that I just haven’t discovered yet. I only bring up my efforts to keep an open mind because of the oft-maligned subject my podcast choice explores: pop music.

Switched on Pop follows musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding as they analyze pop songs, albums, trends, and artists at a level of compositional detail you’ve likely never considered. A particularly good early episode, for example, finds similarities in musical structure in how Taylor Swift and Beethoven construct their songs. Other episodes explore how choices in musical key or even instrument choice can propel a song’s narrative.

It’s a fascinating (and relatively quick) listen. Give (some) pop music a chance!

Matthew Bulger:

The Ricky Gervais Show

Comedy writers and actors Ricky Gervais, Steven Merchant, and Karl Pilkington used to meet every week in the early 2000s to host a radio show that eventually became a series of podcasts. The show, which is named after Gervais, is really about Pilkington and his incredible genius/stupidity.

Jennifer Bardi:
The Humanist Hour

The Humanist Hour is the official podcast of the American Humanist Association and features intimate conversations with humanists, secularists, and all manner of fellow travelers doing interesting things to further the human project. It’s currently hosted by Kim Ellington, Peggy Knudtson, and Jenn Wilson and is produced by Stephanie Zvan.

Covering a range of topics (politics to pop culture, psychology to philosophy, science to ethics), a typical episode will include an interview, commentary, news, and music. Bill Nye, Salman Rushdie, Julia Sweeney, Amanda Marcotte, E.O. Wilson, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Gloria Steinem, and Greg Graffin have all been featured.

One of my favorite episodes was recorded back in 2010, when then host/producer Jes Constantine invited me to cohost with her on the first episode under the podcast’s new name, The Humanist Hour. We did the show out of a castle in Albany, New York, and played clips from Bill Nye’s 2010 Humanist of the Year acceptance speech.