By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
This year I “discovered” podcasts, which means I’m pretty slow, since the very first podcast was in 2003, Christopher Lydon being the talent (and Dave Winer the techie. Lydon also launched BOPNews (sigh), storied in the blogosphere, so podcasting and blogging were intertwined, back before cosmic inflation that brought us walled gardens like iTunes and Twitter and Facebook). Be that as it may, a reader here turned me on to Mike Duncan’s History of Rome, and I began to use it — and I hope this doesn’t make me a bad person — as a sleeping aid, since Duncan, like many of the podcasters on this list, has a very soothing “radio voice.” So I would fall asleep with Caesar invading Gaul playing on my iPad, say, and wake up during the first Punic War (I would play the episodes background in time so as not to run out and wake up). And as a bonus, I could feel a sense of accomplishment, having listened and perhaps even absorbed all that history! Then I gradually began to listen to them while I was awake….
So here are my favorite ten podcasts, and I was really pleased to see or rather hear Yves on one of my favorites, This Is Hell. Other than putting Yves first, the podcasts are in no particular order. For each one, I’ve given the name of the podcast, a link to a good episode, a link to their website, and sometimes a brief comment. For some, the podcast is a side gig. For others, like Mike Duncan or The Civil War Podcast, it’s a full time job and/or a labor of live. For those especially, I encourage you to hit the tip jar.
1. This Is Hell!: The economics of prison labor / The wrong side of fake news. From their website: “This is Hell is a weekly longform political interview program broadcast across Chicago on WNUR since 1996. Every Saturday morning, Chuck Mertz works off his news hangover by talking to the journalists, authors and activists working to make this world a slightly less hellish place.” • Yves starts at 33:33.
2. The Katie Halper Show: Matt Stoller on the rise of autocracy & Krugman, Leslie Lee on Sanders excellent identity politics. From their website: “The Katie Halper Show takes a humorous look at the news, politics, pop culture, and the arts through news segments and conversations with writers, journalists, activists, artists and political comedians.” From the younger set, and pleasantly tough-minded.
3. Foreign Policy: Hitting the Reset Button on International Order. From their iTunes page: “Foreign Policy is the world’s leading media organization dedicated to providing leaders in business, finance, and government with real time insight and analysis into global affairs. As authoritative as it is dedicated to challenging wisdom, FP is unique in its ability to bring together the powerful with those committed to speaking truth to power.” • If you want to understand The Blob — Ben Rhodes’ evocative name for the foreign policy elite — this podcast is essential listening. They’ve got NPR tote-bag voices, there’s a lot of witty repartee, a lot laughter, and a mix of clever Brits, American reporters, and foreign policy “nerds,” as they insist on calling themselves. They hate Trump, love Hillary, and they’re batshit crazy.
4. Christopher Lydon: Post-Democracy in America. From Lydon’s website: “We like to call Open Source ‘an American conversation with global attitude.’ It was the first podcast and now it’s a weekly show on WBUR. Drawing on our roots here in Boston, we’ll remind you why the city has been the capital of ideas in America since the heyday of Emerson and Thoreau in the 1840s.” • Lydon is perhaps the best interviewer of the bunch; endlessly curious, he really draws people out.
5. Harry Shearer: Le Show For The Week Of Dec. 4, 2016. Shearer writes: “Part-time New Orleans resident Harry Shearer hosts a look at the worlds of media, politics, cyberspace, sports and show business while providing an eclectic array of music along the way.” • From friend of the blog Harry Shearer, this podcast has the feel of an old-time radio show (but more like Bob and Ray than Garrison Keillor, fortunately).
6. In Our Time: The Bronze Age Collapse. From the show’s page at BBC Radio 4: “Historical themes, events and key individuals from Akhenaten to Xenophon.” And no Oxford comma. Bad BBC. Bad! • “Melvin” (the host) makes real scholarship accessible, which is quite a gift. Oxford, Cambridge, even the red brick universities!
7. The Civil War: A History Podcast: #22 ELECTION OF 1860. From their website: “We started this podcast because we wanted to share our passion for history with others, and because we think the Civil War is not only a fascinating story from the past but is also important to understanding the America we live in today.” • This was the second podcast I started falling asleep to. It starts out with the Missouri Compromise in 1820, and now it’s up to episode #174; there are rather a lot of battles, but the podcasters give an excellent sense of “the fog of war,” and the role of accident and contingency. All the liberals playing with the matches of civil war should listen to this to get a sense of what a real Civil War entails.
8. Mike Duncan, Revolutions: 3.2-The Broken Regime. From Duncan’s website: “After completing The History of Rome podcast he studied Public History at Texas State University but dropped everything to move to Madison WI where he now changes diapers, writes short cartoon histories and produces the Revolutions Podcast.” • Starts with the English Revolution where Charles I lost his head, moves through the American and French Revolutions, then Haiti and Bolivar. Next up: 1848, and heading toward 1917. Timely!
9. Mike Duncan, The History of Rome: 043- Insert Well Known Idiom Here. From Duncan’s website: ” A weekly podcast tracing the history of the Roman Empire, beginning with Aeneas’s arrival in Italy and ending with the exile of Romulus Augustulus, last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire. Now complete! ” • A little too many great men and big battles for my taste, and not enough about economics and stuff, but then those men and battles are part of “the canon.” The well-known idiom is “crossing the Rubicon,” also highly relevant to the political antics of defeated factions today.
10. Stuff You Should Know: The Duality of Caffeine. Here’s the FAQ for “HowStuffWorks”, a media empire of which “Stuff You Should Know” is part. • Random general knowledge, and the interplay between the two hosts is terrific.
So those are my top ten podcasts of the moment. But there’s a whole world of podcasting out there. Readers, which are your favorites?