If you’re anything like me then occasionally want to consume some content where you learn something new and makes you think. There’s a certain sector of podcasts that’s more akin to documentaries and TED talks than talk radio, and this list is for you.
Though these are listed one through 11, these are in no way a ranking. Each podcast has quality episodes that will appeal to different people.
1. 99 Percent Invisible
Any list in this fashion has to start with 99PI. Being an avid listener for a few years, there are certain everyday objects I’ll never look at the same way again like park benches, cul-de-sacs, and retain spaces just to name a few.
Host Roman Mars and team produce excellent, and relatively short (25-40 minutes), podcasts that often tell of flawed designs and origins with interesting stories and accompanying guests.
2. Twenty Thousand Hertz
A couple weeks ago I wrote if you enjoy 99PI, then you’ll like Twenty Thousand Hertz, and thus it’s only fitting I follow with it. Where 99PI focuses a lot on the design and function of everyday objects, Twenty Thousand Hertz focuses on the sound and sound design behind them.
Recent episodes have focused on Foley artists — the people who create sound effects for movies using random objects — Space, and talking dolls. Some of my favorites include the story behind the NBC Chimes, manufactured car engine sounds, and Siri.
3. Revisionist History
Revisionist History, currently on hiatus, is a project of Malcom Gladwell’s that analyzes some errors of the past. Though that’s an incredibly vague tagline of my own invention, it’s really more than that. It looks at why we perceive some things in certain ways.
One of my favorite episodes talks about NBA legends, Wilt Chamberlain and Rick Barry, and wonders why — despite being a proven advantage — underhand free throws never took off. Another episode explores the imbalances between university donations and the value they create.
Criminal defines itself as “a podcast about crime. Stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.” However, this isn’t your typical true crime podcast. Each episodes tells a new story (as opposed to the more recent narrative storylines), and examines the motives and psychological reasons behind some people’s actions.
5. The Memory Palace
The Memory Palace is hosted by Nate DiMeo and each episode looks into an event that happened in the past to teach you something new and/or revisit something through a different analysis. The episodic nature of the podcast lends itself easily to listeners looking to pick up something new or only listen to topics of particular interest. Nate has also done the great job of hand selecting some of his favorite episodes if you’re unsure where to start.
6. Reply All
Reply All is a podcast that typically looks into a specific topic in technology and/or pop culture. If you have even the slightest interest in tech and odd ball internet topics like memes, conversations, and standards and want to understand why the internet is the way it is now, this is a podcast for you. Like others on this list, each episode is standalone and can be listened in any order.
Invisibilia features the invisible forces around us that influence in certain ways. Whether these are ideas, emotions, thoughts, assumptions, etc., Invisibilia looks at each of these with a unique blend of scientific research and storytelling that is extremely unique and well done. Another podcast under the NPR machine, Invisibilia should be on everyone’s subscribed list.
If you’re in the mood to simply learn something extremely random or up your trivia game knowledge, it’s time to tune in to Ungeniused. The podcast has a simple premise: deep dives on random Wikipedia articles with added insight and analysis. What’s unique about this podcast is how snack’able it is — most episodes are around 10 minutes long. So if you’re looking to kill time, and don’t want to commit to a longer podcast, this one’s for you.
9. Hidden Brain
Hidden Brain follows a similar vein as Invisibilia. Both are excellently produced NPR podcasts focus on unconscious motives that drive human behavior. However, Hidden Brain looks at the biases and triggers inherent in humans and how they’re shaped by the world around us. Hosted by Shankar Vedantam, this podcast is constantly near the top of the Top Podcasts charts every week.
Interested the expanse of the universe and all that comes with it? Perfect, Liftoff is for you. Some of the podcasts on this list have a niche theme, and Liftoff is no different. What’s excellent about liftoff is how the co-hosts are able to take these insanely complicated subjects and explain them in a layman’s way and help the audience understand the importance of each topic.
11. Science Vs
Science Vs probably has my favorite concept of any podcast on this list. Host, Wendy Zuckerman, looks at the current fads, trends, and the latest opinions and uses science to carefully dissect them. Could ghosts be real? If not, why do so many people believe in them? What about the effects of fracking on the environment?
Science Vs tackles a variety of topics and clears out the noise to analyze the truth.