The best podcasts of 2021

29th November, 2021

I’ll admit, this is a somewhat arbitrary mix of podcasts that are noteworthy because they are particularly wonderful, noteworthy because I feel they are underappreciated, and noteworthy because they are new. Still – they are all free, and truly we live in an age of wonders.

Sideways – Matthew Syed’s superb new(ish) podcast from the BBC. I can’t quite believe how many great stories Syed collects and how well he tells them. Will appeal to fans of – for example – Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History. Syed’s recent book is the equally brilliant Rebel Ideas.

The Last Archive – Jill Lepore’s idiosyncratic, witty and beautifully produced podcast (from Pushkin, who also produce Cautionary Tales). The most recent season is “The Evening Rocket”, a co-production of Pushkin and the BBC all about Elon Musk and the influence of classic science fiction on the Silicon Valley of today. Lepore’s bravura history of the United States is These Truths.

99% Invisible – Consistently delightful, insightful and humane from Roman Mars and the team. There is also a lovely book, The 99% Invisible City.

The New Bazaar – hosted by my former colleague Cardiff Garcia, this show has a simple formula: get very good guests, ask them very good questions, and take your time. For example, try Garcia’s interview with Diane Coyle about her new book Cogs and Monsters.

Rationally Speaking – Julia Galef’s deep, thoughtful interview podcast. My only complaint is that episodes drop all too rarely. Galef is the author of the highly-recommended The Scout Mindset.

Ones and Tooze – a new podcast which basically revolves around Adam Tooze dropping knowledge about the week’s big economic stories. It’s a simple showcase for the breadth and depth of his economic insight. Tooze’s latest book is Shutdown: How Covid Shook The World’s Economy. Liking that past tense!

Conversations with Tyler – Tyler Cowen’s wide-ranging and deep interviews with a delightfully eclectic mix of interviewees. It is astonishing how much Cowen gets out of people. (There have been one or two disappointing interviews this year, by people who simply refuse to engage with the questions – but on reflection they have merely underlined just how well the format usually works.) Cowen’s forthcoming book is the self-recommending “Talent“.

Deep Questions – Cal Newport answers productivity questions from listeners. You could drown in this podcast, as Newport is prolific, but there are lots of good ideas to dip your toes into. Newport has written several excellent books; his best is Digital Minimalism.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that my own podcasts are also highly recommended. There’s More or Less, a show all about the numbers in the news. (The relevant book is How To Make The World Add Up / The Data Detective.)

And there is also Cautionary Tales – after our halloween episodes, I’m now working on a double season for 2022. Watch this space!

I’ve set up a storefront on Bookshop in the United States and the United Kingdom – have a look and see all my recommendations; Bookshop is set up to support local independent retailers. Links to Bookshop and Amazon may generate referral fees.

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