My Favorite Podcasts

It seems that every time someone is introduced as a speaker on MSNBC lately we are told that, besides impressive professional credentials, they also have a podcast. But I don’t have time to check them out. I’m busy enough with the four I already follow. Add that to the number of shows I’m streaming, the 1500 piece crossword puzzle I’m working on, and a couple of video games I find challenging and amusing, it’s a wonder I have time to write this paragraph. Still, I feel I should carry on, since these are podcasts that I really like and it would be lots of fun if you did as well. Maybe we could even have an e-conversation about them.

My first podcast was a no-brainer. My favorite cable TV newshost, Chris Hayes of All In, launched a podcast called WITH or Why Is This Happening. In it, he talks with a guest about a particular topic for an hour of conversation that is generally enlightening, sometimes witty, and altogether a great time spent with interesting people. The topics range from the war in Ukraine to the Supreme Court’s draft decision on Roe to climate concerns to an occasional dip into sports, which even I find interesting. They go back for a few years, so dig into the archives for almost anything that you have wanted to hear smart people talk about but for which there is little time on TV for the depth that you crave.

The second is Unclear and Present Danger, in which “New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie and freelance writer John Ganz delve into the world of 90s post-Cold War thrillers with Unclear and Present Danger, a podcast that explores America in an age of transition to lone superpower, at once triumphant and unsure of its role in the world.” Watch old movies like JFK, Star Trek VI and The Hunt for Red October with Jamelle and John and sometimes a guest as they explore political history through what we have found entertaining. I’ve liked Jamelle Bouie ever since he chimed in as a fan on a random discussion of Game of Thrones, signed up for his newsletter, and follow his columns in the NYT. If you like to listen in on good conversations about movies, this one is for you.

The Rest is History is a favorite because it is so serendipitous. “Historians Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook are interrogating the past and attempting to detangle the present. They question the nature of Greatness, why the West no longer has civil wars and whether Richard Nixon was more like Caligula or Claudius.” You never know what you are going to get from week to week – day to day if, like me, you can’t resist listening to all the ones you’ve missed. Causes of the First World War, Troy, Christmas. Sometimes Stephen Fry or others drop in for an episode or two. They are both veddy British, and I find them a lot of fun.

The last of my regulars isn’t really a podcast. It is a wealth of lectures by Dr. Corey Olsen, the Tolkien Professor, and conversations between him and his students who are tuning in synchronously. Luckily for us, everything is on a YouTube video where they can be accessed asynchronously whenever you have the time or inclination. Currently I am following Exploring the Lord of the Rings, asynchronously, and am up to Episode 154 out of more than 200. In this one, Dr. Olson is going through LOTR sentence by sentence, leaving no question unasked and no student ignored. It’s the kind of minutiae that I like, so I’m fine with it. In a less intense survey, Mythgard Academy explores both Tolkien works and the works of others in a similar format to that of the Exploration. I am up to date with this one and on Wednesday will begin classes on Alice in Wonderland, live with the group as a whole. But feel free to cast about through all the available videos. If you love Tolkien the way I do, you will be sure to find something you will love.

Three more have caught my fancy, but I have not found time for them as yet. They are Aria Code from the Metropolitan Opera, Revisionist History, “Malcolm Gladwell’s journey through the overlooked and the misunderstood,” and The Friendship Onion, this latter being a podcast featuring Billy Boyd and Dom Monaghan, aka Pippin and Merry, and occasional friends. Very much worth checking in on from time to time, as I do.

So, that’s about it. I’m expecting Guy Gavriel Kay’s newest book, All the Seas of the World, tomorrow, so I may have another book review before the summer is out. In the meantime, there is plenty here to while away the summer hours between beach reads.

Enjoy yourself!