Twenty podcasts that will make you smarter

From hilarious human interest stories to personalised accounts of history, the shows span a variety of genres

Richard Feloni
Thursday 14 December 2017 19:01 GMT
Latest figures show that the amount of people listening to podcasts is on the rise
Latest figures show that the amount of people listening to podcasts is on the rise (Shutterstock)

There are so many great podcasts out now that you're guaranteed to find some you'll get addicted to.

And though there are plenty of entertaining options to check out, you can make the most of your next commute, workout, or laundry run by listening to one guaranteed to teach you something.

We've given you a few to get going, but it's by no means a definitive list.

From Terry Gross' intimate conversations on Fresh Air to the Radiolab team's clear but in-depth explorations of science, these are our top picks for expanding your listening diet.

This American Life provides a deep look into American society

The show has received numerous awards Jefferson Public Radio
The show has received numerous awards Jefferson Public Radio (Jefferson Public Radio)

Since 1995, Ira Glass and his team have been telling moving and sometimes hilarious stories from people across the United States.

In more recent years, the team has beefed up its news reporting, from making the financial crisis understandable to speaking to people affected by this year's immigration ban.

Success! How I Did It will show you what it takes to make your ambitions reality

We're plugging our own podcast, but only because we think you'll like it!

In Success! How I Did It, Business Insider has people at the tops of their fields guide us through their careers, reflecting as much on how they've grown personally as they have professionally.

Guests have included TV reporter Megyn Kelly, life coach Tony Robbins, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Fresh Air will give you an intimate look at your favourite writers, celebrities, and journalists

NPR's Fresh Air host Terry Gross has been on the air for more than four decades, and her interviewing skills have earned her accolades like the Peabody Award, the Columbia Journalism Award, and a spot in the National Radio Hall of Fame.

Gross may have a smooth, relaxed speaking style, but the way she digs deep into her interview subjects will keep you engaged throughout the conversation, whether it's about Jake Gyllenhaal's acting process or what a writer learned from covering Mexican drug cartels.

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Revisionist History will give you a look into the mind of Malcolm Gladwell

Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell broke into podcasting last year, starting fights with Vassar and Princeton and looking at how the unusual history of Leonard Cohen's song Hallelujah can illustrate the genius of art.

“A lot of these episodes are angry — or even funny — in a way that my books are rarely," Gladwell told Business Insider. "My podcast unleashes my ID."

Few things can be more instructive than a life story, and comedian-turned-broadcaster Marc Maron draws the ups and downs of life out of people with a certain raucous grace.

Some especially intellectual episodes include interviews with comedian Wanda Sykes, actor Vince Vaughn, the late Robin Williams, and, most impressively, President Obama.

Reply All immerses you in the weird world of the internet

The podcast first went on air in 2014 Abrupt Radio
The podcast first went on air in 2014 Abrupt Radio

You probably use the internet every day, but Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt will give you more insight into its effects on our culture than you were ever aware of.

They've covered great stories like the ways ISIS uses social media and how an orthodox Jew ultimately left his family behind because of the world he discovered online.

And Goldman and Vogt's goofy rapport will keep you hooked episode to episode.

Masters of Scale is a thorough education on what it takes to start and grow a business

LinkedIn founder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman is both one of the most sought-after investors and well-connected people in Silicon Valley. Drawing from both of these aspects, he uses each episode of Masters of Scale to explore what he considers a truth about business.

Even if you're never going to start your own company, Hoffman's conversations with guests like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky will give you valuable new ways of looking at your career.

Oprah's SuperSoul Conversations explores the biggest questions any of us can have

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey handles emotional interviews better than arguably any other interviewer out there.

In Super Soul Conversations, she asks the questions most reporters would avoid, asking guests from acclaimed showrunner Shonda Rhimes to former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz about their spiritual beliefs and most difficult personal challenges they've faced.

Winfrey offers sides you've never seen of impressive figures across a wide variety of industries, drawing lessons from each.

Embedded brings you into the story

Kelly McEvers and her team go deep with their reporting for Embedded.

What's remarkable is that McEvers has explored topics from the dramas in minor league basketball to the hidden stories behind prominent police shootings (both of and by cops), and each time you're guaranteed to get a glimpse of that week's topic in a new light.

Ear Hustle takes you inside prison life

Ear Hustle is a remarkable podcast made by reporter Nigel Poor and San Quentin State Prison inmates Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams.

The series manages to avoid becoming entirely focused on the darkness of prison life without glossing over those realities — essentially, it captures elements of the day-to-day that outsiders would never think about.

Through interviews with inmates, Poor and Woods reveal things like the dynamics between cellmates, why there's a tribal nature to prison, and what it's like to be in solitary confinement. You'll never think of prison or prisoners the same way again.

Planet Money simplifies some of the most complex and important economic issues in the world today

The podcast launched in 2008 to cover the Financial Collapse Perc360
The podcast launched in 2008 to cover the Financial Collapse Perc360

NPR's Planet Money team describes its show like this: "Imagine you could call up a friend and say, 'Meet me at the bar and tell me what's going on with the economy.' Now imagine that's actually a fun evening. That's what we're going for at Planet Money."

Twice a week, you'll get an entertaining, well-reported look at issues like the Greek economic crisis that will leave you satisfied with a foundational understanding of the subject, all in just 15 minutes.

Invisibilia leads you on a journey to the frontier of psychology

Radiolab spun off Invisibilia, whose name is Latin for ‘all the invisible things.’

It's a podcast about the unseen, unconscious forces that guide our lives: biases, dreams, and quirks of perception.

Radiolab will help you appreciate how mysterious science is

Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich make high-level science accessible, fun, and powerful.

For example, they can make a topic as seemingly banal as colour absolutely riveting.

99% Invisible will give you the lowdown on design

You don't have to have a particular interest in design or architecture to become hooked to 99% Invisible.

After listening to Roman Mars and his team tell the stories like how a fish cannon is used to keep fish populations thriving to why some urban architecture is intentionally hostile to homeless people, you'll find yourself paying much closer to fine details of the world around you.

The Allusionist will give you a new appreciation for the English language

Ever wonder how babies learn language, how the mythos of Santa Claus developed, or where the word ‘filibuster’ comes from?

The Allusionist host Helen Zaltzman spends each episode investigating the fascinating development of the English language, and you'll pick up a few new words you can drop in your next email.

StarTalk Radio will open your mind to the cosmos

In 2014 the Rolling Stone ranked the show number 13 on its 20 Best Comedy Podcasts Right Now list The Daily Galaxy
In 2014 the Rolling Stone ranked the show number 13 on its 20 Best Comedy Podcasts Right Now list The Daily Galaxy (In 2014 the Rolling Stone ranked the show number 13 on its 20 Best Comedy Podcasts Right Now)

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is like the most fun professor you never had, and his podcast is a hilarious crash course on the science of the cosmos.

The Tim Ferriss Show will help you understand the mechanics of success

Tim Ferriss, the author best known for The 4-Hour Workweek, has wide-ranging long-form interviews with people at the top of their fields, from a former Navy SEAL commander to a billionaire investor, to break down their best tools and habits for his listeners' benefit.

Jocko Podcast will give you lessons in leadership with a hefty side of history and psychology

Jocko Willink is the retired commander of the US Navy SEAL task unit that was the most highly decorated special operations team of the Iraq War. In his retirement, he's become a bestselling author and run a leadership consulting firm alongside his fellow former commander Leif Babin.

In his podcast, Willink draws from both his experience as a SEAL and his time working with businesses to break down leadership tactics. Along the way, he goes deep into centuries of military history, as well as contemporary behavioural psychology. It's a unique listen.

The Axe Files takes you inside the mind of the most influential people in politics

David Axelrod was Obama's senior adviser and is still a proud Democrat, but on his podcast he makes the effort to get to know all of his guest's positions and how their lives led them to their beliefs, whether they're Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski or Obama himself.

His conversations offer interesting overviews of all the people shaping the American political conversation.

Freakonomics Radio will show you surprising connections

Journalist Stephen J. Dubner and economist Steven D. Levitt became sensations when their book Freakonomics was published in 2005.

In 2010, Dubner launched a podcast with the same mission as their best-selling books: ferreting out connections between seemingly unrelated things.

Hardcore History teaches you the most fascinating stories in history that you never learned in school

The programme receives millions of downloads per episode History Podcasters
The programme receives millions of downloads per episode History Podcasters

Dan Carlin says he's not a historian. Think of him more as an aggregator of history, weaving together various accounts into one engaging story.

If you listen, you'll probably find yourself amazed that you spent over four hours listening to a guy talk about the Mongol khans or World War I, but Carlin has a gift for illuminating some of the most interesting yet least talked-about moments in history.

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Read the original article on Business Insider UK. © 2017. Follow Business Insider UK on Twitter.

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