Podcast reviews

I’ve started listening to a lot of podcasts over the last few years. Mostly when walking to and from work. I took some time to write my thoughts about each one. Partially because I thought other people might be interested, but also to have notes for myself because my memory isn’t great.

To give you an idea of my interests, I like listening to podcasts that help me have informed opinions. I prefer non-fiction. I prefer hearing facts and information rather than feelings. I prefer hearing aggregate data rather than personal stories.

Here’s the list:

The Memory Palace

Recommended? Yes! But you’ve got to focus and listen actively.

“A storytelling podcast and public radio segment about the past.” Ten to fifteen minutes long, every other week. Little tales from history. Usually great. Well-researched and wonderfully written. Nate DiMeo is an amazing storyteller. One of the best of our time. For an example episode, try “If You Have to be a Floor.” He chose it as his episode of the year last year and it’s kind of a masterpiece. If you’re still undecided, here are a few other episodes that I thought were above average: “Snakes!,” “Numbers,” “No Summer,” “Every Night Ever,” “Overland,” “Lost Locusts,” “Victory,” and “Local Channels.”

Planet Money

Recommended? Yes!

NPR’s economics podcast. Eighteen to twenty minutes long, twice a week. Usually great. Three example episodes that I enjoyed are “Cow Noir,” about cattle rustling, “How to Hide a Million Dollars in Plain Sight,” about money laundering, and “The Man Who Sued Iran,” which describes what happens when a US citizen sues a country in a US court.

The Indicator from Planet Money

Recommended? Eh. I suggest Planet Money, first. If you like that and want more, then listen to this, too.

Shorter, less-refined, economics-related stories from NPR’s Planet Money team. Nine minutes long, five days a week. Usually pretty good.

99% Invisible

Recommended? Yeah, if you make things or are thoughtful about how things work.

“The thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.” Twenty to thirty minutes long, weekly. Usually great. For anyone who builds things (software in my case), it’s always good to have regular reminders of design considerations even if they’re totally unrelated to what you’re working on.

This American Life

Recommended? Yes!

Each week they choose a theme and present stories related to that theme. Sometimes journalism. Sometimes humorous. An hour long, weekly. Often great, though sometimes I’m not interested in the theme or specific story. A good amount of variety. On the journalism side, their story “Didn’t We Solve This One?” about granting visas for Iraqis and Afghans who have helped the US was something I hadn’t heard about before (semi-related: the ProPublica story “How Asylum Works” has great info about the asylum process). On the humor side, “Kid Logic 2016” is great. “No Coincidence, No Story!” is also an easy listen.

Serial

Recommended? Only if you have a lot of time to listen (e.g. road trip or long commute).

Investigative journalism/long-form telling of a nonfiction story. About “love and death and justice and truth.” Three seasons so far of nine to twelve episodes each. Thirty to sixty minutes per episode. It’s well made and the stories are interesting, but it’s a big time investment. Like reading a novel vs the CliffsNotes.

S-Town

Recommended? I guess. I think your average podcast listener would enjoy it.

About one man and a small town in Alabama. Seven parts, around an hour each. Not exactly my cup of tea, but the story is fairly interesting and the production quality and writing are top-notch.

Containers

Recommended? Eh, probably not. Unless you’re particularly interested in container ships, in which case maybe start with Episode 3.

About global trade, economics, and container ships. Eight parts, around thirty minutes each. It’s alright. The episodes rely on a lot of anecdotes and interviews, which I’m generally not interested in. It might be Episode 3 that talks in detail about how the ships and containers and ports work that I found most interesting.

Criminal

Recommended? Mildly.

Stories about interesting crimes. Thirty minutes, every other week. I was worried it would be dark and gruesome, but it’s mostly not. Not really educational, just entertaining. An example episode that I liked is “On the Run.”

The Breakthrough

Recommended? Only if you have a particular interest in how journalists work.

Interviews with investigative journalists about how they got the information for their stories. Released sporadically and currently on hiatus. I have a great appreciation for ProPublica (disclaimer: I’ve donated a few hundred dollars a year for the past few years), but this podcast is just ok. I think it’s helpful for journalists to disclose how they obtained their information when possible, and I like hearing the details of investigations, but I found myself wanting to hear the story itself, not just the investigation. I would prefer a podcast that walks through the story as well as the work that went into researching the story.

Reveal

Recommended? Meh.

They attempt to “hold the powerful accountable and reveal government fraud and waste of taxpayer funds, human rights violations, environmental degradation and threats to public safety” and “shine a bright light on injustice and protect the most vulnerable in our society.” Fifty minutes, weekly. Mostly good. I always appreciate the benefits of investigative journalism to society and I appreciate the work done by Reveal, though I do feel like their stories tend to present a single viewpoint rather than the viewpoints of all affected parties. And sometimes they focus too closely on individual anecdotes without discussing aggregate data. I think it’s fair to say they have a bias in defense of social justice. Also, I think it’s satisfying when journalism hints at ways to improve the problems they’re discussing and I feel like Reveal generally doesn’t do that. It’s a great podcast for anyone looking for problems that need solving.

Embedded

Recommended? Nah.

They take a story from the news and do a deep dive. Forty minutes, once a month on average, though episodes aren’t evenly spaced. It’s decent, but not for me. They cover news that I’m interested in, but there’s generally nothing revelatory. Lots of recap and anecdotes. I’ve usually heard most of it just from keeping up with the news on a daily basis.

Trump, Inc.

Recommended? Meh.

An open investigation into Trump’s businesses and administration. I think Trump and many of his associates are sleazy and I appreciate that people are investigating, but I don’t like hearing the details of their sleaziness on a regular basis. I’m not in danger of forgetting about their sleaziness. Possibly useful for law enforcement looking for crimes, or lawmakers looking for loopholes to close.

What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law

Recommended? Yeah, if you’re interested in law.

Discusses the constitutionality of various actions by Trump. Twenty-five minutes, once a month. By Roman Mars of 99% Invisible. I like it, but it’s pretty dry.

30 for 30

Recommended? Yeah, mildly.

Each episode does a deep dive about a major sport-related topic (though season 3 was entirely about one topic). Around forty-five minutes, once a month (though they’re released in batches and the podcast includes other interviews between the batches). Pretty good overall, though the stories are heavy on interview content. Not really educational, just entertaining.

Outside Podcast

Recommended? If you like fitness, hiking, camping, climbing, or other outdoor recreational activities.

A wide range of stories and interviews about recreation, the outdoors, the human body, health and fitness, survival, and gear and apparel. Around thirty minutes, two to four times a month. It’s a good change from the rest of the podcasts I listen to. Some of their stories I like and others I skip.

The Sharp End

Recommended? If you’re big into climbing or you’re a gym climber thinking about climbing outdoors.

Each episode discusses a climbing accident in an interview format. Around thirty minutes, once a month. Mildly interesting, but I don’t think I’ve learned much from it other than obvious things like: be conservative, be cautious, limit risk, wear a helmet, tie a knot on the end of your rope. Associated with the American Alpine Club and Accidents in North American Climbing.

Your Parenting Mojo

Recommended? Nah.

Research-based parenting ideas. Twenty to forty-five minute episodes every other week. It’s ok, but not for me. I found the parenting suggestions to be useful but I’d rather hear a summarized version. This podcast goes into too much detail about the underlying research for my taste. I’ve only listened to about five episodes, so my opinion is limited. It seems like episodes are usually either interviews or recaps of science journals/research studies. It felt like the presenter was almost reading an article, which I found tiring to listen to. I would like it more if it was shorter: Just suggestions + very quick reasoning about why, rather than longer explanations.

Science Vs

Recommended? If you’re the kind of person who is prone to believing misinformation from people around you and you think you’d benefit from hearing impartial information.

Picks a topic (gun control, MDMA, vaccines, nuclear power, etc) and discusses it using facts and data. Forty to fifty minutes long, averages around two episodes a month, though they’re released in batches. It’s ok. Easy to listen to. Fun. I like puns. I stopped listening about a year ago so this may not be true anymore, but I don’t like that they try to narrow down topics to a single “good” or “bad” verdict. In reality most issues are much more complex. I especially noticed this with the gun control debate. It’s a very difficult question… It can’t only be decided by science. Also philosophy, psychology, and economics. How much value do people put on their freedom to own a weapon vs their freedom to be safe from other people’s weapons. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely think the US would be better off if guns were more restricted. I just think it’s hard to make that case using data.

Welcome to Macintosh

Recommended? Nah. Unless you like obsessing about Apple.

Assorted stories about Apple and Apple products. Twenty to thirty minutes per episode with shorter stories mixed in. Released in seasons of five or eight episodes about once a year. Some interesting content, but I never found the stories super compelling. A little too anecdote-y for me. I prefer meatier info and I prefer hearing about things I’m not familiar with.

Freakonomics Radio

Recommended? Mildly.

Wide range of interviews, discussion, and information. It’s hard to pin down. Thirty to sixty minutes, weekly. The content is good. I stopped listening because I don’t have quite enough time for it and there were other podcasts I preferred more. But I imagine I’ll listen again eventually.

Wolverine: The Long Night

Recommended? Nah.

Detective fiction featuring Wolverine (yes, the one from comic books). One season so far. Ten parts, thirty minutes each. It was ok. I like mysteries, Marvel, Wolverine, and interesting radio fiction, but I thought the story was just average. The Wolverine/mutant aspect is actually pretty minimal. It mostly just feels like crime fiction. I guess I liked listening to it, but my attention waned.

Bundyville

Recommended? Nah.

About the Bundy family—the idiots who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for a month in 2014. Seven parts, thirty minutes each. I think the story is mildly interesting to read about, but listening to it for three and a half hours is probably overkill. Basically the family thinks they’re entitled to use federal land because they think the federal government has no legal claim to it and the legal system repeatedly sides against them.

Other

If you’re still looking for things to listen to, here’s a random list of other podcasts that I’ve seen recommended but that I haven’t listened to.

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