I wrote last month about how, as a commuter, podcasts have become a lifesaver for me. Having a lineup of good podcasts to get through makes me excited for my commute, instead of thinking of it as boring and inconvenient (which is what I would be naturally inclined to do, gem that I am). Last month when I wrote, I promised I’d come back this month with some more recommendations, so here are a few:
Invisibilia – I listened to the first two seasons of this podcast in one giant binge earlier this year, and lately have been wishing there were more. Alas, it looks like I’ll have to wait for awhile—I can’t find any indication online of when the third season is supposed to come out, but there was a year and a half between the first and second seasons, and the second just ended this summer. If you haven’t heard this one before, I envy you. It’s a podcast about the invisible forces that control human behavior, and the episodes generally are a few narrative segments organized around a theme. They draw on scientific research and principles as well as anecdotes in a way that really gets you thinking about everyday things from a new perspective. My favorite episode is “How to Become Batman,” about the ways that (invisible) expectations influence us. They tell a story about a blind man who can “see” using echolocation that I found really fascinating and inspiring, and also a little sad. Invisibilia doesn’t shy away from complex ideas or oversimplify them, and that’s something I enjoyed about it quite a bit.
Revisionist History – Another podcast about looking at things differently than usual is Malcom Gladwell’s Revisionist History. Gladwell is the author of several books and a regular contributor to The New Yorker, and he has a reputation for using science/statistics/social psychology/philosophy/other fact-ey things to look at situations and phenomena in a different way than the ways in which they’re commonly perceived. The premise of the podcast is an extension of that motif—each episode goes back and reinterprets something from the past. Gladwell interprets the concept of “past” pretty liberally—I’d argue that some of what he covers still qualifies as current events—but his point of view is thought provoking and interesting, even if I don’t always completely agree with where he’s coming from.
Death, Sex, and Money – I’d heard about this podcast awhile ago, but never really listened to it because the title struck me as somewhat sensationalist—but when a writer I really liked talked about it on twitter recently I decided to give it a shot. It’s a podcast about, as they say on their website, “the big questions and hard choices that are often left out of polite conversation.” It’s hosted by Anna Sale, an insightful interviewer who has a knack for helping people feel comfortable sharing the details of their lives, and each episode is arranged around a theme that generally relates in some way to one aspect or another of the title. It’s a podcast that engages maturely and thoughtfully with the material it covers—it’s not banking on shock value and it’s not crass, which is part of what makes listening to it enjoyable. Many of the episodes end up being quite engaging meditations on different aspects of what it means to be a human in the world today.
This American Life – The podcast at the root of all podcasts. It seems silly to recommend this one, as it really is at the foundation of what we know as podcasting today, but Ira Glass is a genius and This American Life rarely disappoints. It is a show I knew of for a really long time before I started listening to it, but it only took me a couple episodes to realize it’s worth the hype. Each episode is made up of a series of segments that all relate to a particular theme. Beyond that, it’s pretty variable—as varied as the lives and preoccupations/interests of Americans can be, I guess. Even if you’re not interested in every episode, it’s likely that at least a couple of themes will catch your fancy, and maybe make you think about things differently.
Lastly, I really like the parenting podcast The Longest Shortest Time. I am not a parent, so it’s surprising that a parenting podcast would be something I’d look forward to listening to, but the ground it covers is engaging. I think the things people think about as parents are things that, arguably, everyone should think about—how to set a good example, how to encourage positivity, how to balance care for ourselves with the care we take of others, how to nurture the relationships in our lives that make living worthwhile. I also think there’s something about children that is really interesting, and thinking about how kids develop provides an important kind of insight as far as what it means to be a person. Also some of the episodes have kids saying real cute things, which is always a win in my book.