The best thing about podcasts is that you can listen to them while you’re doing other things: Dishes, going for a jog, coloring, and especially, driving. But there are so many podcasts these days that it’s officially impossible to keep up. There are new ones debuting all the time, and it’s hard to know whether they deserve a spot in your feed.
Every week, we highlight new and returning podcasts we couldn’t put down. Whether you’re looking for the latest and greatest or you’re just dipping your toe into the vast ocean of podcasts, we’ll find you something worth listening to. This week, we’ve got podcasts covering the threads of history, a bloody mess, and things you feel but cannot see.
News and Politics podcast
Why should I listen? If nothing else, it’ll make you a bit more skeptical about Silicon Valley’s next wunderkind.
How many episodes are there and how long are they? It’s a short series, with only six episodes. They’re all out now and run about 40 minutes each.
Describe it in one word: Concerning.
What do Betsy DeVos, Jared Leto, Bill Clinton, and Henry Kissinger have in common? They’re all name-checked in this ABC News podcast about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. The former CEO starts as an ambitious 19-year-old with the lofty yet admirable goal of making routine blood tests less painful and more accessible. As she starts to cultivate her image — dressing like Steve Jobs and deepening her voice — she morphs into a Shakespearean character, complete with MacBethian hubris and the mercurial moods of King Lear.
One former employee suggests in his resignation letter that she watch The Office, a reference to her management skills (or lack thereof). Interspersed with the interviews from former Theranos employees are the deposition tapes from Holmes and former president Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani. Both were indicted on charges of defrauding investors and deceiving doctors and patients in June, 2018. Host Rebecca Jarvis fills in the details, some of which are deeply troubling, especially when you realize that gambling on blood tests is, in some cases, a life-or-death prospect.
Science and Medicine podcast
Why should I listen? To get some insight into and empathy for the human condition.
How many episodes are there and how long are they? It’s been around since 2015, so there’s a nice backlog of episodes (around seven per season). They’re about an hour each, except for the short little bonus episodes.
Describe it in one word: Illuminating.
In the immortal words of Lucas from Empire Records, “Who knows where thoughts come from? They just appear.” Coming back for its fifth season, Invisibilia asks big questions about thoughts, feelings, and other unseen entities and tries to answer them by talking to all kinds of people, including doctors and researchers. It also introduces you to people you’ll still think about long after the episode is over, like Daniel Kish, who is blind and rides his bike by using bat-like echolocation. Then there’s Amanda, who has Mirror Touch Synesthesia, meaning she feels the same physical sensations as those around her.
NPR listeners will likely recognize Alix Spiegel (This American Life) and former host Lulu Miller (Radiolab), while Hanna Rosin comes from Slate and The Atlantic. The first episode of the new season focuses on pain and what happens when you pay too much attention to it.
Why should I listen? You’ll be able to drop historical facts casually into conversation like a Harvard professor.
How many episodes are there and how long are they? There are only five episodes so far, and they’re all around 40 minutes, except the mini-episode, which is 17.
Describe it in one word: Surprising.
I was listening to the FiveThirtyEight politics podcast the other week when contributor Claire Malone brought up a comment from former Governor of Massachusetts Bill Weld, a conservative who may be looking to challenge incumbent Donald Trump for president in 2020. Back in 2016, when asked about the CIA’s involvement in the Middle East, he said, “That was my great-uncle-in-law, Kermit Roosevelt, who in 1953 came out of Groton and Harvard with a little walking-around money in his pockets and engineered Mossadegh’s overthrow. So perhaps I’m not the best person to ask.”
I thought, “I understand that reference! I’m practically a historian!” The truth is, though, I’d just learned about Kermit’s machinations in an episode of Throughline about how the CIA and Teddy’s grandson orchestrated a coup against Iran’s prime minister in 1953. Examining the Korean War, conspiracy theories, and protests by African-American athletes, Throughline hosts Rund Abdelfatah and Ramtin Arablouei break down big subjects into a trio of stories. The narratives help trace the arc of history up to what’s happening today for those of us who didn’t live through cataclysmic events that are still causing ripples today.