A little secret: I haven’t listened to all of the podcasts ever made. But in the spirit of year’s end ranking lists, here are the best podcasts of all time, according to the extremely limited knowledge, and fully admitted bias, of your host, Liza Achilles.
But first, a Q&A (literally just a single one) for any old-schoolers and holdouts out there:
Why Listen to Podcasts?
There are so many fabulous reasons to listen to podcasts! I thought of six. It goes without saying that podcasts offer many of the same benefits as books and other written media—good storytelling, comedy, entertainment, information, education, news, self-help, and so on. But following are benefits specific to podcast listening:
1. Tired Brain
As I recover from my concussion, I have been grateful for nonreading ways to engage my intellect. When my brain is tired from reading, I can usually switch modalities and listen instead. This is how I got into podcasts in the first place.
2. Therapeutic Value
Another thing I’ve noticed is that, during this 2020 Year of the Pandemic, podcasts have been keeping me sane. Hearing a human voice, and feeling spoken to on what often feels like a deeply personal level, has been therapeutic. Many of my favorite podcasts are also humorous (laughter is the best etc.), or so captivating that I get lost for hours (escapism: not always a bad thing).
Now, you all know I’m a huge book lover. And the written word is truly irreplaceable. But I have enjoyed the medium of podcasting because it offers something different. While books, articles, and so on have the advantage of being organized, podcasts have the advantage of spontaneity. Even the most scripted podcasts are a performance, and this can lead to surprising outcomes.
4. Speaking Skills
In the same way that reading can help people become better writers, listening can help people become better speakers. I’m always impressed when people can talk without inserting an “um” every other word. When people are eloquent off-the-cuff speakers, I’m truly amazed. I like to think that exposing myself to such speakers will help me when it’s, um, my turn to speak.
Podcast listening is especially conducive to multitasking, in ways that reading is not. Do you happen to be cooking, driving, getting dressed, cleaning, organizing, exercising, or eating something messy? I love books, but dude—attempting to do most of those things while reading could lead to a dramatic ending you definitely won’t like.
Finally, and this has never happened to me, but let’s say you want to go someplace where there might be people. Like, say, the kitchen. And you don’t feel like talking to anyone. Maybe it’s your time of the month. Maybe your meds got all f*cked up this week. Maybe you’re cultivating your hermitic lifestyle, and it’s going really well, and you’re, like, so close to enlightenment. As I said, I have never done this, but some hypothetical person could put on a podcast, and pretend to be super interested in it, and give only one-word answers or grunts to anyone who attempts communication. Hypothetically. Of course.
The Best Podcasts of All Time (According to Moi)
I tried to rank these and gave up. How can I rank, when each one has something unique to offer? Comparing apples and oranges is never a good idea. As to currants, peppers, and cheese? Forget it! So here are the best podcasts of all time, according to little old me, in boring alphabetical order.
The Courtney Sanders Show
An expert in entrepreneurship shares tips, geared especially toward women, on business development and personal growth.
A comedian tries to figure out why Tom Hanks fired him from an HBO miniseries 20 years ago, and in the process provides an insider’s look into the acting industry.
In mini-episodes, the co-hosts analyze one small piece of the economy—one indicator—often interviewing experts in economics or business.
In Recovery With Dr. Nzinga Harrison
A psychiatrist specializing in addiction answers questions from listeners about addition problems—substances, food, sex, gambling, screens, etc.—and gives advice on moving toward recovery.
Lex Fridman Podcast
A stoic but big-hearted Russian-born American, who is an AI researcher at MIT, conducts in-depth interviews with experts in fields such as science, technology, history, business, and fitness.
Missing in Alaska
An investigative journalist tries to figure out what happened to two congressmen who disappeared on a small plane in Alaska in 1972, and what this has to do with the Mob—and uncovers unsettling facts.
Missing Richard Simmons
A journalist produces a riveting piece of storytelling about a missing celebrity—which some have condemned as unethical—but it’s compelling, illuminating storytelling all the same.
Ologies With Alie Ward
A science lover interviews scientists of all kinds, transforming the name of each field into an “ology,” if it’s not one already, and bringing infectious enthusiasm to new and arcane scientific knowledge.
On the Edge With Andrew Gold
A journalist interviews people living “on the edge”—that is, outside the norm, in ways such as religion, psychology, physiology, and life choices—and reveals the diversity of the human experience.
Psychology in Seattle
A psychologist talks about mental health and wellness topics with unflinching honesty, deep compassion for all people, and an astonishing level of expertise.
With playful humor, the co-hosts dig into mystifying corners of the technological world—trying to find, for instance, an almost forgotten pop song, lost bitcoin, and people making annoying spam calls.
Listen to the first season—which, famously, provided a template for on-the-fly, week-by-week podcasting—only if you have time to stay up half the night, for several nights in a row, thinking through the crazy complexities of a true crime murder mystery.
Ten Percent Happier
A TV broadcaster turned avid meditator interviews a variety of folks who have interesting things to say about meditation and/or mindfulness.
This Paranormal Life
The co-hosts make laugh-out-loud jokes as they “investigate” paranormal cases and decide—in a ridiculously comedic manner—whether or not each paranormal claim is truly paranormal.
The Best Podcasts of All Time (According to Toi)
What did you think of this limited and biased list of the best podcasts of all time? What are some of your favorite podcasts? Many of the above podcasts I first heard about through word of mouth or by reading online recommendations. Do tell—which podcasts do you recommend? I can’t wait to start listening!