The 135 Best Podcasts to Enrich Your Mind: An Introduction to Our New List

Twen­ty years ago, pod­casts did­n’t exist. Fif­teen years ago, pod­casts were more or less entire­ly for the tech-savvy ear­ly adopter, lis­ten­er and pro­duc­er alike. Now, across large sec­tions of soci­ety, pod­casts have become every­one’s favorite thing to lis­ten to. Just yes­ter­day the New York Times ran a piece head­lined “Joe Rogan Is the New Main­stream Media” about the enor­mous suc­cess of the come­di­an, mixed mar­tial arts enthu­si­ast, and inter­view­er now pop­u­lar­ly seen as the face of pod­cast­ing. “Even books on tape can require too much think­ing,” the arti­cle quotes Rogan as say­ing. But a pod­cast “doesn’t require that much think­ing at all. You get cap­ti­vat­ed by the con­ver­sa­tion,” not least because “it’s real­ly easy to lis­ten to while you do oth­er stuff.”

Char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly, Rogan down­plays the strengths and impor­tance of his medi­um. But requir­ing think­ing and encour­ag­ing think­ing are indeed two very dif­fer­ent things, and in the lat­ter aspect pod­casts are now unsur­passed, com­pared to oth­er inter­net media. Of course, much of the com­pe­ti­tion — lis­ti­cles, cat videos, Tik­Toks — may not seem espe­cial­ly strong, but pod­cast­ing’s com­bi­na­tion of the oft-praised “inti­ma­cy” of radio and free­dom from the tem­po­ral or demo­graph­ic lim­i­ta­tions of tra­di­tion­al broad­cast media has proven unex­pect­ed­ly potent. In fact, human­i­ty’s crav­ing for pod­casts is such that, for more than a decade now, there have been too many to choose from. To help guide you through this embar­rass­ment of audio rich­es, we’ve put togeth­er this list of the 135 best pod­casts to enrich your mind, tai­lored just for you, the Open Cul­ture read­er.

As of this writ­ing, Open Cul­ture’s pod­cast col­lec­tion breaks down into twelve cat­e­gories, from “art, design and fash­ion” and “music, TV, and film,” to “his­to­ry and phi­los­o­phy,” to “busi­ness and econ­o­my” and “per­son­al devel­op­ment.” You’ll find shows you’ve prob­a­bly heard of, like 99 Per­cent Invis­i­bleThe New York­er Radio Hour, Freako­nom­ics Radio, and This Amer­i­can Life. You may well also find show that you haven’t: if you’ve nev­er tuned into an episode of Enti­tled Opin­ionsThe Truth, Phi­los­o­phize This!, or Ben­ja­men Walk­er’s The­o­ry of Every­thing, you owe it to your­self to sam­ple a few today. And if you haven’t yet heard Pret­ty Much Pop, a pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture, why not start with its debut dis­cus­sion on “pop cul­ture” ver­sus “high cul­ture,” or its chat with yours tru­ly on the film of Mar­tin Scors­ese? Final­ly, you will also find a slew of audio dramas–a rein­ven­tion of an old form that Orson Welles made famous dur­ing the 1930s–fea­tur­ing the likes of Rami Malek, Cather­ine Keen­er, Tim Rob­bins and more. (See our post yes­ter­day on that.)

Luck­i­ly, among the glo­ries of pod­casts is the fact that almost all of them are com­plete­ly free, allow­ing you to fill even your most iso­lat­ed days — and in this era of COVID-19, some of us have had more than a few — with a non­stop flow of stim­u­lat­ing con­ver­sa­tion, rich sto­ry­telling, and bound­ary-push­ing uses of speech, music, and sound. Giv­en the pop­u­lar­i­ty of pod­cast­ing, you almost cer­tain­ly lis­ten to a few shows we haven’t yet includ­ed in our col­lec­tion. Feel free to make rec­om­men­da­tions in the com­ments below, even if — and per­haps espe­cial­ly if — they don’t fit into the cat­e­gories list­ed so far. And if your favorite sub­ject has a Joe Rogan of its own, we cer­tain­ly want to know who it is. Explore the col­lec­tion here: The 150 Best Pod­casts to Enrich Your Mind.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stream 61 Hours of Orson Welles’ Clas­sic 1930s Radio Plays: War of the Worlds, Heart of Dark­ness & More

Audi­ble Pro­vid­ing Free Audio Books to Kids & Teens: Intro­duc­ing the New Ser­vice, Audi­ble Sto­ries

1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.