Note: this post has been edited since it’s original publication.
As 2016 wound down, I started to come to the conclusion that I had become somewhat lazy. I was coping easily with work, and my essays were fine, if not magnificent – unfortunately, I was starting to rest upon my laurels. My ability to work quickly meant that I had quite a lot of free time; however, I was frittering most of it away on vapid hours scrolling through the internet or watching fairly mindless YouTube videos. So as the winter approached, I motivated myself to undergo a change of attitude. The publication of this website was probably an early prologue in my quest to become a more effective human being; reading of so-called ‘self-help’ books and articles followed, along with a quiet determination to make the most of my free time if I could. I realised that relaxing does not necessarily mean doing nothing – reading and writing, for example, is just as relaxing and far more useful than scrolling through clickbait on the internet.
Some months into my self-imposed quest, I have certainly improved, though (as always) not yet to the level I wish to achieve. One of the unexpected joys of this search for self-improvement has been a blossoming love for the podcast. I started listening to podcasts in earnest as a way of learning during the fairly long periods of the day when I am walking between college, lectures and my accommodation. Before, I just tended to listen to music; I realised that it would be more interesting to listen to something entirely different, instead of the same old tracks blasting into my ears. My earnest attempts at self-improvement has fortuitously opened my eyes (or should it be ears?) to a whole new medium, and one which I absolutely adore – I now get through around 20 hours of podcasts a week at least.
What is it about the podcast that I find so appealing? I think it is partly the power of the human voice. Nothing can move you quite like a good narrator, or keep you enraptured for hours on end. These days I far prefer to listen to the radio or podcasts than I do watch the television or YouTube – a far cry from only a few months before. I also like the adaptability of the podcast – you can be walking around town, doing the ironing, performing pushups, etc. and still be able to listen and learn. These days a small pair of earphones go wherever my phone goes – whenever I have a spare few minutes, I will pop them in and continue listening to whatever podcast I am following that day.
If anybody is interested in podcasts, I have listed the ones which are currently my favourite below, completely unranked and grouped in very vague categories. They range from short 10-15 minute pieces on specific issues, to massive sprawling series of four-hour episodes, and overall cover a wide array of topics.
So, without further ado, here are my top podcasts (so far):
- The World Next Week: This fantastic weekly podcast from the Council on Foreign Relations has become a must-listen for me. It is tight and to-the-point; the analysis is sober, balanced and well-informed. Highly recommended for current-affairs junkies.
- The Stephen Mansfield Podcast: Mansfield is a Christian Conservative who reflects on current affairs, faith and masculinity in his series of short podcasts. You probably won’t agree with all his views (I don’t) but you can always expect reasonable, intriguing opinions from him, and good general advice on how to approach the media and everyday life.
- Dan Carlin’s Common Sense: If you know anything about History podcasts, Dan Carlin is a bit of a legend in the field (more on that later). However, he also produces a podcast series on current affairs, called Common Sense. Carlin is an acknowledged maverick and contrarian, known for his “Martian Perspective” and refusal to be placed in arbitrary political categories. If you agreed with my thoughts on the Left-Right Spectrum, you will probably like Carlin.
Design and Technology
- 99% Invisible: As a head-in-the-clouds literature student, I never thought that I would ever be interested in architecture or design. Then I listened to 99% Invisible. Their slick, highly-polished podcasts provide fascinating stories about various design-related topics that truly make you start to observe the world in a different light. Highly recommended; I suggest you start with Unpleasant Design or Supertall 101.
- The Co-optional Podcast: Admittedly, this has been a long-time favourite of mine for years, and a must for gamers. The three main hosts (Totalbiscuit, Jesse Cox, and Dodger) have excellent chemistry together, and they often discuss interesting issues within the gaming world. Though it is on YouTube, there is no need to watch it – they rarely put up much gaming footage, and the podcast is more about their conversations and debates over gaming news. This one is more for light relief than serious learning, but certainly worth it if you are into your gaming.
- Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History: The undisputed master of the History podcast, Carlin is one of the best narrators I have ever heard, and will keep you listening to the point of addiction. Don’t be put off by the huge length of his episodes – believe me, once you are hooked, you will find the time! I have at times been unnerved, excited and brought close to tears while listening to Hardcore History – that is the power of Dan Carlin’s narration. I couldn’t recommend this podcast more; for beginners, I would suggest listening to either American Peril or Prophets of Doom.
- History on Fire: This is a recent one for me, but I’m growing to really like it. It is less dramatic than Hardcore History, but Daniele Bolelli knows his stuff and keeps the narration fairly tight. I’m currently really enjoying his multi-part series on Crazy Horse.
- (Edit: new addition) Revolutions: one of the most popular independent history podcasts on the web, Revolutions has recently become a fast favourite of mine. Mike Duncan is clear, concise and has a good sense of snarky humour; his podcasts trot on at the perfect pace, cut into easily-digestible half-hour chunks. I gighly recommend that you start right from the beginning (the English Civil Wars) and work your way through them all – you will better understand the surprisingly-close connections between these epoch-shattering events.
- In Our Time: Ah, the old classic. Along with the Co-optional Podcast, BBC’s In Our Time is one I have been listening to for several years. Each week, the wonderful Melvyn Bragg brings together three experts in a certain field and discusses an issue of Science, History, Philosophy or Culture. The main selling point of In Our Time is the sheer eminence of the scholars chosen – they really are some of the best of the world in their field, and you get to hear some cutting-edge research. There is a huge backlog of interesting topics – I suggest visiting their own Essential 10 page for beginners.
- The Art of Manliness Podcast: The creator of the fantastic Art of Manliness website, Brett McKay, sits down each week to interview various interesting people with a wide range of expertise – sportsmen, authors, bloggers, etc. While earlier episodes tend to focus more on masculinity, the podcast now caters to a whole range of interests, from sports nutrition to history to personal finance. Highly recommended, and certainly not just for men! Some good recent episodes include ones on Future Technology, the Fall of Rome, and the Productivity Project.
- Stuff To Blow Your Mind: I’m not really sure how to categorise this one. STBYM deals with a whole range of topics, from geek trivia to ancient rituals to horror fiction. Broadly, they choose a topic which is vaguely unusual, speculative or fantastical, and dissect the history, culture and science behind it. I highly recommend recent episodes on Holy Butter (yes, really!) and the Science of Mind-Flayers.
So there are my current favourites. What podcasts do you listen to?