Smart People Recommend Podcasts

In our busy, dog-eat-dog, work-a-day world of fake news, snapstreaks , and avocado toast, we don’t always have time to read books. Podcasts are great but there are so many out there, it can be hard to know where to start. So I asked some smart people what podcasts they listen to. Our cast of characters include three physicists, one computer scientist, a mathematician, medical doctor, paramedic and a social scientist.

If you are new to the podcast game, there are many apps for keeping yourself on top of new episodes. iTunes is the go-to on Apple products, but Google Play and Spotify allow you to subscribe to your favorites as well. However, I have found that some of the more obscure podcasts can be hard to find on Google Play and Spotify. For this reason I use Podcast Republic. It seems like you can find pretty much anything on there.



Radiolab: An award-winner, this show focuses on broad scientific and moral topics. Radiolab has some of the highest production quality I’ve ever heard in a podcast and can sometimes turn very heavy and dramatic.

Hidden Brain: Host Shankar Vedantam dips into psychology, economics, sociology and anthropology to illuminate the hidden biases that drive human behavior.

Gastropod: Not a podcast about snails. Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley explore the science and history of various foodstuffs like saffron (Why is it so expensive? Did you know it was used as an anti-depressant?) and sourdough.

Stuff You Should Know: One of the “originals”. Josh and Chuck give an entertaining intro to – at this point – probably every topic imaginable. They are not experts by any means, but they do a good job researching and presenting material. They really seem like guys I’d like to hang out with.

Freakonomics:  Socioeconomic issues for a general audience. My favorite episodes focus on quirky and interesting applications of economic analysis on things like parenting, “the upside of quitting” and the dangers of “drunk walking”. This podcast also features high profile interviews.


Dissect: A serialized music podcast, each season takes one influential album and studies it track by track over the course of each episode. Season one looks at Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” while season two is on Kanye’s “My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy”.

Song Exploder: Each episode focuses on one song with artists explaining their creative process, step-by-step.

History, News and Current Events

The Daily: 20-minutes a day, 5-days a week, a quick morning briefing at 6:00 am courtesy of the New York Times.

Revisionist History: Malcolm Gladwell of “Outliers” fame reinterprets overlooked, or misunderstood people and events from the past.

More Perfect: From the people that brought you RadioLab, a podcast about “how the Supreme Court got so supreme”. Oyez, oyez.


“S”-Town: John hates his hick Alabama town so decides to do something about it. What begins as a crime drama turns into a heartbreaking character study.

Lore: Campfire-style stories of historical events showing the dark side of human nature.

Something True: Short, bizarre, hard-to-believe… and apparently true stories. For example – ever hear of the giant pie an English village made in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Queen Victoria’s coronation? “It was the largest pie ever made. Larger than reason. Larger than dreams. Large enough to hide a secret.”

LeVar Burton Reads LeVar Burton of Reading Rainbow, Star Trek: Next Generation and Roots reads short stories from various authors.

The Hilarious World of Depression: “The Hilarious World of Depression is a series of frank, moving, and, yes, funny conversations with top comedians who have dealt with this disease, hosted by veteran humorist and public radio host John Moe… It is a chance to gain some insight, have a few laughs, and realize that people with depression are not alone and that together, we can all feel a bit better.”

Serial: A non-fiction story told by producer and host Sarah Koenig about the murder of an 18 year old high school student Hae Min Lee . The story is told over the course of several podcasts and covers the trial and ___________ of her ex-boyfriend. The podcast renewed interest in the case and lead to a successful appeal for a retrial.

Business and Design

How I Built This: This podcast tells the stories of inspiring, enterprising individuals who are building the world we live in.

99% Invisible: A podcast about the ingenuity and design of the things we don’t often think about. Where did the small-medium-large sizing convention come from? Why do used car lots love that inflatable waving arm guy? What about the speech bubble in comics?


Tell Me Something I Don’t Know: Journalism wrapped in a game show by the guy who brought you Freakanomics. Contestants are invited on stage and challenged to “tell us something we don’t know”. Hosts grill the contestants on their facts and stories.

Welcome to Night Vale: “Community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events.” I don’t think it’s real, but I’m not sure…

’til Death Do Us Blart: Friends decide to watch and review Paul Blart, Mall Cop 2 every Thanksgiving until they die.


Any recommendations of your own? Let me know in the comments.

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