Luckily, there are hundreds of podcasts out there to that will make you smarter without you even realising it.
Here we hit subscribe on 20 of our our favourites…
The 2005 book Freakonomics, launched by journalist Stephen J. Dubner and economist Steven D. Levitt, was a bit of a sensation, hurtling up the best seller charts. Dubner decided to launch a podcast version back in 2010, with the same ambition as the book: to prove the astounding connections between otherwise unrelated things. Fusing economics with some of the most interesting general knowledge you’ll ever lay your ears on, Freakonomics will have you wondering about the systems behind even the most familiar of concepts.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson is to Americans what Professor Brian Cox is to us Brits. Albeit with a slightly more questionable dress sense. Nonetheless, his podcast is as captivating as anything the former D:REAM keyboardist has done, with some of the brightest minds in astronomy and astrophysics dropping in to talk about everything from space tourism to comets.
Let’s face it. We all use the internet an awful lot. You’re on it right now if you’re reading this. But very few avid ‘net users realise the potential and amazing things the technology at our fingertips can really do, aside from endless cat videos of course. Step in Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt’s Reply All podcast, which aims to give insights into the World Wide Web’s influence on culture and the wider world. They’re both expert storytellers, and have a knack for finding the most amazing, amusing and sometimes disturbing stories.
Journalists Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich set-up Radiolab, which takes a look at everyday oddities with a blend of science, philosophy, and music, and manages to make some pretty high-level subjects easy and accessible for all. A good example is their ‘Colors‘ episode, recommended by many as a good place to start, where you can learn about a sea creature with so many colours the human eye can’t even process them all.
You probably never give a second thought to some of the everyday objects lying about you right now, but Roman Mars’ 99% Invisible podcast shines a light on some of the minds and tastes that gave birth to design classics like high heel shoes, and even prehistoric hand axes. They all clock in at a slim 15-minutes too, perfect for a brain food snack.
Stuff You Missed In History Class
Own up, you probably didn’t pay as much attention as you could’ve done in school. But we’d be surprised if most of the teachings presented on this podcast ever made it into the syllabus in the first place, as we never remember school being this interesting. Weird facts, sad stories and engaging information are just a few of the things you can expect from Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey’s podcast. Best history teachers ever?
The Jay and Farhad Show
This podcast hits the net every Friday, and casts a sharp eye over the week’s top tech stories. It’s hosted by Business Insider’s Jay Yarrow and the New York Times’ Farhad Majoo, so you know you’re in capable hands. A laid-back approach means you’ll soon be getting to grips with everything from the latest gadgets to just what Bitcoins actually are.
Good Job, Brain!
Irreverent quiz shows like QI have proven extremely popular on television, so why not make the jump to a podcast format to enjoy on the bus home from the office? This podcast started life as a Kickstarter and is at the 166 episode mark.
Ask Me Another
Ask Me Another brings a pub-quiz style format to the podcast genre, presenting itself more as an out and out show rather than your standard two people having a chat about science. Interspersed with comedy and musical skits which can be treated as a reward for soaking up some new knowledge, this ‘cast from NPR (the kings and queens of the informative podcast) is as fun yet informative as they come.
Stuff You Should Know
Sure, the internet is an unending library of information, throwing up answers to some of life’s bigger questions at the click of a button. But what about the curious ones out there who wonder about the little things? How do they make silly putty? How does pepper spray work? What’s better: cash, credit, or debit? With this podcast, you can have all of your niggling queries answered.
The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe
The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe is clear in its ambitions to make the world a smarter place, introducing its audience to critical thinking and rationality.
How To Do Everything
Another podcasting gem from the NPR team, How to Do Everything does exactly what it says on the tin, offering advice on how to get through some of life’s trickiest social situations faux pa free, and how to pick up some of life’s ‘essential’ skills (arm wrestling anyone?). Listeners send in questions to be answered, which means a surprising topic each week.
This podcast from Slate deals in women’s issues for the modern age. Obviously, polarising figures in current affairs like Donald Trump are currently getting quite the look in, as do big topics like birth control, but it’s all balanced out with some more light-hearted affairs: a recent show looked at the trend for neon-coloured armpit hair.
Stuff To Blow Your Mind
A lot of ‘stuff’ going on in these podcasts, but this one focuses on the amazing things you’d usually expect to spring up from fiction, but actually take place in real life. Brain hacks, the science behind hallucinations, all in a day’s work for the STBYM team, who cast a scientific eye over the strange workings of reality.
Slate’s Culture Gabfest
If you’re in to music, film, TV or video games (basically if you’re on WOW247 right now), you’ll enjoy the Culture Gabfest, another podcast from Slate. Featuring intelligent discussions on the cultural artifacts of the day, you might be forgiven for thinking this podcast could get a bit snobby. Not so, with discussions ranging from ancient Greek philosophers to the latest Adam Sandler films, there’s something for everyone.
One for the media buffs, this weekly podcast presents half-an-hour of calling out news organisations on their inaccuracies. You’ll be surprised just how many outright lies make it through the press, and with interviews from experts and activists on the week’s headlines, you’ll never look at a newspaper’s front page with the same level of acceptance again.
BBC Global News
Probably the best podcast out there for straight up news and current affairs, the BBC publish Global News twice daily – a morning edition and an evening one – and give listeners over an hour of news coverage every day. You’ll never miss a story again.
The Partially Examined Life
Ever wanted to take on that philosophy night class but found the asking price a bit too expensive? Well now you can get basically the same thing for free with The Partially Examined Life, a podcast designed for people who know nothing about philosophy. With discussions as cavalier as the ones you’d usually have about a favourite football team, it’s easy to follow for newcomers.
TED Radio Hour
TED Talks have proved some of the most popular sources of information on the internet, with their video lectures featuring some of the world’s leading experts on a variety of topics recognisable to almost anyone who’s ever touched a computer. It makes sense then that NPR has plucked some of the most interesting talks from the archive for this enlightening hour, hosted by Guy Raz.
Extra Pack of Peanuts
This podcast gives listeners invaluable travel hacks, along with essential geographical knowledge to make your next holiday a breeze. Even if you’re not planning a trip any time soon, EPOP (Extra Pack of Peanuts) will still provide you with invaluable knowledge of the world to impart on others.