NOTE: This is an updated post from the original publication date of April 6, 2016. 

I’m a big fan of podcasts. They are chock-full of interesting backstories behind the headlines; they provide a brief but deep look at topics I wouldn’t take the time to read about. Podcasts provide great fodder for dinner party conversation; they are helpful in working through mindless chores at home, and in the car on road trips when reading or watching videos don’t mix well with driving. 

The following podcasts are my favorites and speak to an array of interests.  In various formats, they explore that intersection where the profound meets our frail and imperfect humanity. I’ve updated this list to reflect two new entries: Hidden Brain and RadioLab.  Enjoy!

This American Life podcast logoHost Ira Glass is the big kahuna of podcasters. This American Life is downloaded by 1.5 million people weekly.  I’m betting you’re one of them if you listen to podcasts at all.  It is truly the mirror of modern American culture. The phenomenally popular podcast series, named aptly SERIAL, was spawned by TAL.

Don’t be pfreakonomicsut off by the title’s suggestion that this is dry economic stuff. As the tag line (“the hidden side of everything”) suggests, it digs into the underlying dynamics across a wide spectrum of topics –  from sleep patterns to tipping policies in restaurants.  At about an hour each, you may not listen to each post but it’s worth subscribing to fill a long stretch of downtime.

imgres-1NEW ADDITION: RadioLab is a show you’ve probably heard of, and probably have listened to: it’s on over 500 public radio stations. Technically, it falls into the science and technology category. It delivers on that, but with a large dose of humanity from co-hosts radio veteran Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad who play off one another with pitch perfect

Recently, RadioLab expanded its reach with a Supreme Court-themed spinoff, More Perfect, which looks at the Surpremes’ deliberations behind the decisions that affect us all.

NEW ADDITION: Amateur behaviorists, this podcast is for you! You might have caught host Shankar Vedantam’s short segments on WNYC; this podcast will elaborate his grasp of  social science as it applies to our everyday behaviour.  If, like me, you’re curious about what drives our decisions, how we (unconsciously) react to triggers, biases, and incentives in everyday life, you’ll find this fascinating. Hidden Brain

New Yorker Radio Hour logo

David Remnick, editor of the eponymous weekly magazine of literary political and arts commentary, has literally given the New Yorker a voice.  A fairly new podcast series and if you like the New Yorker, you’ll want to subscribe to the podcast for the same sophistication and eloquence.

The Moth podcast logo

THE MOTH is compiled from the true stories delivered live and without notes on the Moth stages across the U.S. and abroad. The recitation of these narratives is fraught with emotional tension.   By the end of each story, relief floods both storyteller and listener as the ordeal is over. You may need a tissue for this podcast.


 Regardless of what you think of Alec Baldwin as an actor, show business insider or media celebrity, he is one terrific interviewer. He does his homework and delivers an intelligent,  well-researched product. He has his favorite topics – climate change and environmental issues among them. Guests include experts and opinion shapers from industry, public policy, the arts and journalism. To those who know their way around complex and timely topics – e.g. David Brooks and Ira Glass – Baldwin presents thoughtful queries. There’s a fun side, too, in interviews with the likes of Amy Schumer. Here’s the podcast.

NOTE: Podcast subscription is easy-peasy. To subscribe from iTunes or Google Play, put the title in the search box and they download  to your phone’s “my podcast” list. They’re nice to have tucked away and there’s no expiration date.

Please comment to share your favorite podcasts……