Or the train, or gym. Wherever you’ve time spare to yourself, get your headphones on and dive into our top picks of educational delights, interviews, humour and the ultimate in fluffy indulgence if you have even a passing interest into the royal family.
To while away an entire afternoon…
American journalist, political commentator and broadcaster Dan Carlin is famed for his unique blend of “high drama, masterful narration and Twilight Zone-style twists”, winning awards for bringing history to life in a rather unorthodox way.
His Hardcore History podcast episode Ghosts of the Ostfront, regarding the Eastern Front of World War Two, won Slate Magazine’s award for the fifth-best podcast of all time.
Episodes are often four hour deep dives into periods of history you won’t have studied in the same way at school.
You’ve probably already heard of Serial, as episodes of seasons one and two have been downloaded nearly 350 million times, establishing an ongoing podcast world record.
Serial is created by Sarah Koenig, who says the podcast is a bit like a documentary “about the basics: love and death and justice and truth. All these big, big things”. A non-fiction narrative, Serial is divided into episodes, with each series investigating a different issue – season one is built around the murder of an 18-year-old high school student who disappeared one afternoon.
Serial has won awards for the innovative telling of a long-form non-fiction story (including the first-ever Peabody awarded to a podcast) and needs to be listened to in order – not one to dip in and out of but one to keep you gripped for weeks to come.
If you’ve only got an hour…
Longform.org recommends new and classic non-fiction from around the web and the associated podcast is a weekly conversation with a non-fiction writer on how they tell stories.
All lawyers no matter what work they actually do surely once harboured a secret desire to uncover crimes and this episode with Jeff Maysh does exactly that. A freelance writer based in LA, Maysh uncovered the story of the ex-cop who gamed the McDonalds Monopoly game and stole millions, writing a piece for the Daily Beast earlier in 2019 about “Jerome Jacobson and his network of mobsters, psychics, strip-club owners, and drug traffickers [who] won almost every prize for 12 years, until the FBI launched Operation Final Answer“.
“I’ve always looked for stories with the theme of identity and identity theft. I’m very interested in people leading double lives. All of my stories are the same in a sense. Whether that’s a spy or a fake cheerleader or a bank robber or even a wrestler—someone is pretending to be someone they’re not, leading a double life. I find that really exciting. I’m drawn to characters who put on a disguise.” ~ Jeff Maysh
Podcasts about American politics can be a fascinating and rewarding rabbit hole and the best is hosted by David Axelrod, a former senior advisor to President Obama, and director of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.
His podcast, The Axe Files, has a 300 strong back catalogue of episodes where he has interviewed the great and good (and otherwise) of US and UK politics as well as a host of others.
Highlights over the years have included Barak Obama (#108), Karl Rove, former White House senior adviser and deputy chief of staff (#80), Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (#208) and staff writer for the New Yorker Jeffrey Toobin – he covered the O.J. trial as a journalist (#241).
Die-hard football fans will no doubt already listen to former England and Liverpool player Peter Crouch’s collaboration with Five Live alongside Tom Fordyce and Chris Stark. Those less obsessed may appreciate Crouch’s remarkedly natural talent for opening up and giving an intriguing analysis of his time as a professional footballer. That Peter Crouch Podcast is taking a break from new episodes for the summer but there are plenty of back episodes to whet your appetite for the new season starting again come August.
Another BBC production, this time the story of how the first moon landing was saved. 13 Minutes to the Moon tells the story of the people who made Apollo 11 happen and who prevented it from going badly wrong. The series of 12 episodes was first released in the lead up to the 50th anniversary on 20 July 2019 and episode 11 is the 13 minutes in real-time. As it says in the first episode, it isn’t a spoiler to say we know they got there, “this podcast is about trying to understand how that happened.”
13 Minutes to the Moon is hosted by Dr Kevin Fong, a medical doctor with a special interest in space medicine who wished he could have been an astronaut, who “wanted to take the listener along with him on a deep dive into a subject of a lifelong fascination”.
How To Fail With Elizabeth Day “celebrates the things that haven’t gone right” where guests explore what their failures have taught them about succeeding better. Day, a British journalist, broadcaster and novelist, was previously a features writer for The Observer from 2007 to 2016 and has also written four novels.
Looking at the twin concepts of success and failure, Day says:
“It was fascinating to see how men and women had different attitudes. Many of the men I approached balked at the idea they had failed at anything. They cited lost tennis matches, unrisen soufflés and the inability to play a musical instrument. The women routinely responded that they would have trouble whittling down their myriad failures to just three instances”.
Start with some of the most listened to episodes: Dolly Alderton (S1, Ep 3), David Nicholls (S1, Ep 7) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (S5, Ep 2) as well as Day interviewing herself (S1, Ep 8).
The New Yorker‘s editor, David Remnick, presents a weekly “hourlong program that is very much of The New Yorker, infused by its values, hosted by its writers and editors and artists, but also something unique, capacious, freewheeling”.
The extensive back catalogue includes guests such as Aziz Ansari, Sarah Keonig and Amy Schumer alongside staff writers and cartoonists but it is perhaps best listened to in ‘real-time’ so start with the most recent, which unsurprisingly this week features again the anniversary of the moon landing.
Interviewing the biggest names from film, TV, comedy and others, David Tennant and his widely appreciated “velvety voice” gently coaxes out his guests’ stories and manages to ask the questions to which you might never have known you wanted the answer.
Guests, an eclectic mix, include Olivia Colman, Gordon Brown and John Hamm but there is no extensive back catalogue as this podcast only started in January 2019.
Return home inspired to pare back your possessions and re-assess your values by listening to Joshua Fields-Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus, better known to their millions of listeners as The Minimalists. Addressing all manner of topics including positive thinking, holidays, budgeting, possessions and the decline of the American Dream, the message is to inspire people to lead more meaningful lives.
And the aural equivalent of a trashy magazine…
Presented by American journalists Kaitlin Menza and Lisa Ryan, who both write about The Royals for everyone from Cosmo to NY Mag, this is the ultimate in switching off beachside. Sometimes we all need to listen to something a little less serious, so if you’ve even a fleeting interest in Kate, Meghan and royal fashion, this will pass the time nicely.
Do you have an essential listen to add to our list? Let us know @ObeliskSupport