Getting started with podcasts? These are the ones you should listen to first
So you're tired of reading blogs and have decided to gain information through the auditory medium instead. A smart step, indeed. Podcasts allow you to glean knowledge without demanding your complete attention. You can listen to them while driving, exercising, or even working and you'll get the same information as you would by reading but without having to dedicate extra time for it. However, there are so many podcasts that it can be difficult to decide where you want to start.
To aid you with this dilemma, we've compiled a list of the best podcasts covering a broad range of topics for your listening needs:
Hosted by Sarah Koenig, Serial is a multiple award-winning journalism podcast from the creators of the highly-acclaimed public radio show This American Life. The Serial podcast follows and narrates one true crime story in each season, providing listeners with remarkable insights into how investigative journalism works. And Koenig's narration is superlative. She paints a vivid picture of each scene with detailed descriptions and the way she goes through the story plot ensures that her listeners remain gripped. This podcast brings a new dimension to non-fiction storytelling reminiscent of Truman Capote, and it's a brilliant choice for people who like compelling crime stories chock-full of unexpected twists.
There are currently two seasons of Serial available. In the first season, the Serial team looks at the controversial case of Adnan Syed — a high-school student who was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his ex-girlfriend in Maryland in 1999. Through the course of 12 episodes, Koenig talks to the residents of Baltimore County, sifts through police reports and documents, and listens to hours of trial testimony as she tries to discover if Syed (who always maintained his innocence) was guilty of the crime. In season two, Koenig goes after a much bigger fish — the celebrated return and controversial conviction of US soldier Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl was held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan for almost five years and his return was cause for widespread celebration. But a case of desertion was soon levied upon him and a military trial found him guilty. If this interests you, also check out the S-Town podcast which follows a mesmerising and unimaginably convoluted true-crime story in a small Alabama town.
History, as we all know, can either be incredibly fascinating or unbearably boring; it just depends on how the story's being told. When journalist and broadcaster Dan Carlin talks about history, he makes you sit up and pay attention. Part analyst and part storyteller, Carlin tackles centuries-old subjects with refreshing perspectives, diving deep into the matter at heart and establishing historical context wherever he can.
The Hardcore History library is a collection of paid and free in-depth research pieces that span several hours of audio time, each. The six-part 'Blueprint for Armageddon' series recounts the story of the two World Wars — how they came about, who fought whom and why, and the endless destruction they brought upon the planet. In the three-part 'King of Kings', Carlin takes his listeners to ancient Persia and Greece, with stories of Xerxes, Spartans, Immortals, Alexander the Great, scythed chariots, and several of the greatest battles in history. All in all, Dan Carlin's Hardcore History is a 59-episode podcast that will enthral history lovers and even interest those who usually have an aversion to events from a bygone era.
Exponent is a podcast about technology and its impact on society. It's hosted by Ben Thompson, author and founder of business and technology strategy blog Stratechery, and James Allworth, a business writer and regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review. In the humour-infused conversational podcast, Thompson and Allworth talk about the biggest technology news in the world every week and tell their listeners the impact it will have on society as a whole.
In the 120 episodes released till date, Thompson and Allworth have discussed the EU's antitrust ruling against Google, the rise of Blockchain, the evolution of news reporting, smartwatches, industry monopolies, social network advertising and much more. Exponent is ideal for those interested in the latest technological advancements, the workings of the companies responsible for them and understanding why it all matters to us as individuals.
The 99% Invisible, or 99pi, is a podcast tailor-made for people who love obscure trivia. If you're someone who's constantly plagued by questions like 'how inflatable men became regular fixtures at used car lots?' or 'What's the origin of the fortune cookie?' or even 'Why did Sigmund Freud opt for a couch over an armchair?', then 99pi is the place for you. But creator and host Roman Mars doesn't solely tackle such seemingly unimportant questions; his show is mainly about revealing 'the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.'
The wonderfully-designed 99pi site is a mix of free podcasts and articles that cover eight topics: architecture, cities, objects, sound, visuals, technology, infrastructure and history. The podcast episodes (all 267 of them) are well-informed and engaging, and typically range between five to 10 minutes in length. The articles too make for interesting reads and are laden with pictures and videos to hold the audience's attention. If you like the idea of such a podcast, also look at Radiolab — a podcast where 'sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy and human experience.'
I'm sure you've heard it plenty of times already but let me repeat it again: the universe is big, incomprehensibly big. Our planet Earth is only a speck in the solar system, which is a tiny cluster of rocks orbiting a star in the Milky Way, which counts among one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe, which is expanding at an ever-increasing rate. Feel like an irrelevant speck of dust yet? Congratulations, you've just experienced Cosmic Vertigo.
Dr Amanda Bauer and Dr Alan Duffy are two astronomers who this year decided to tackle the phenomenon, by turning their expertise on the cosmos into an informative and entertaining podcast. As hosts of Cosmic Vertigo, they tackle attention-grabbing topics like the omnipresence of dark matter, the impending doom of the Milky Way, the surreptitious absence of aliens and the unlikely birth of the solar system, to give their audience a better grasp of what's happening beyond our small planet. The podcast series, which has so far released one 10-episode season (with a couple of bonus episodes), is a treat for anyone interested in anything astronomical.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein persons of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistaking their cognitive ability to be greater than it is. In simpler terms, it's a psychological tendency wherein idiots think they're smart. It takes a great deal of self-awareness to recognise your own delusions and even more confidence to tell everyone else that they're delusional too. And that's exactly what David McRaney is trying to debunk in You Are Not So Smart.
After learning about confirmation bias and self-enhancing fallacies, McRaney decided to start a blog that tackles psychological topics like Survivorship Bias, The Backfire Effect, Anchoring Effect, Learned Helplessness, The Just-World Fallacy, and more. He then started converting the articles into audio episodes which spawned his now wildly successful podcast. The 99-episode podcast has, so far, featured personalities like V S Ramachandran, Laszlo Bock, Elizabeth Dunn, Daniel Pink, Ryan Scott and Matthew Fisher among others. If you are interested in the world of psychology, in understanding the 'whys' behind what people do, this podcast is worth listening to.
Isaac Newton told us that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Frédéric Bastiat told us that to evaluate the consequences of any action, we need to look at both its seen effects, which are often the rationale behind the action, and its unseen effects, which include unintended consequences and ripple effects. The Seen and the Unseen podcast, named after a famous essay by Bastiat, recounts the most important happenings in India and explains their effects, both seen and unseen, on society.
As the host of the podcast, renowned journalist Amit Verma tackles subjects like economics, neuroscience and behavioural psychology, and examines both public policy and private action. Each weekly episode also features guests who are experts on the subject under discussion. If you are someone who wants to understand the problems plaguing the Indian society — like farm loan waivers, prostitution, rent control, Anti-Defection Law, and more — beyond what news channels typically convey, then The Seen and the Unseen podcast is the place to go to broaden your knowledge.
This Week in Startups, SaaStr, Masters of Scale, 20-Minute VC
If you're an entrepreneur or someone who's interested in the startup scene, there are several podcasts where you can get industry insights, keep up with the latest developments, and obtain some sound business advice.
This Week in Startups is one the oldest and best podcasts for everything entrepreneurial. Hosted by the direct and witty Jason Calacanis, the podcast features a rotating group of guest experts and brings you a 'weekly take on the best, worst, most outrageous and interesting stories from the world of entrepreneurship.'
SaaStr is a blog/podcast dedicated to the world of software-as-a-service ventures. Hosted by entrepreneur and investor Jason M. Lemkin, SaaStr covers the 'A-to-Z' of starting, running, and scaling a SaaS startup. It is frequently hailed as one of the most valuable websites for entrepreneurs.
Hosted by Reid Hoffman, a partner at Greylock Partners and co-founder of LinkedIn, Masters of Scale is a podcast where the biggest names in Silicon Valley — Mark Zuckerberg, Brian Chesky, Sheryl Sandberg and Eric Schmidt, to name a few — come to share their expert advice on startups.
The world of venture capital is quite difficult to navigate but The 20 Minute VC is here to guide you through it. Its founder and host Harry Stebbings interviews the most successful and inspiring venture capitalists of today, twice a week to give his audience the ins and outs of the funding game in 20 minutes.
Freakonomics, Planet Money
Economics has always been an incredibly important yet extremely boring topic. Learning about national budgets, free-market trade and bank regulations is usually the most informative cure for insomnia. But there are a few podcasts that succeed in making economics interesting.
The Freakonomics podcast is hosted by Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of the famous Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics books. And just as he does in the books, Dubner uses outlandish examples and unexpected comparisons to tackle the biggest economic issues in the world. The 293-episode podcast features Nobel laureates, social scientists, entrepreneurs and even Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt, as regular guests.
Planet Money is a podcast that was launched to address the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. Since then, it has tackled the biggest economic events around the world through entertaining twice-weekly episodes. From demonetisation in India to border taxes in the US, Planet Money is a one-stop-shop for all things economics related.
Do you have a favourite podcast that needs to be on this list? Do mention it in the comments below to share it with our readers.