No matter what you're in the mood to learn, there's a podcast out there to help you. The web's best educational podcasts can transform even the most boring commute into an immersive lesson in astrophysics, American history, or the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Here are 10 brain-boosting programs worth downloading.
Every episode of this 44-part series from The Washington Post is dedicated to the life and legacy of a different U.S. president. Host Lillian Cunningham and a Pulitzer Prize-winning panel of guest historians discuss topics like Lincoln’s love for language, Washington’s skills on the dance floor, and the real story behind William Henry Harrison’s untimely death. Presidential airs every Sunday from now until November 9, 2016 (the subject of the final episode has yet to be determined).
In his stellar podcast, host and astrophysics superstar Neil deGrasse Tyson covers everything from the science of movies to protecting the earth from asteroids. StarTalk regularly features big-name guests (George Takei, Buzz Aldrin, Morgan Freeman, Edward Snowden, and Elon Musk, to name a few) to talk about science and how it intersects with pop culture.
Corey Olsen has devoted his life to studying the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. After getting fed up with the barriers separating academia from the general reading public, the college professor decided to make his lectures, seminars, and discussions on the author available to a wider audience. Since 2009, The Tolkien Professor has featured hundreds of podcasts exploring The Hobbit and beyond.
4. PLANET MONEY
You don’t have to be an expert on the economy to enjoy this podcast. Hosts tackle diverse topics like offshore tax havens, black market pharmacies, and ballpark hot dog vendors in a way that makes you feel like you're chatting with a money-savvy friend. Episodes of Planet Money come in easy-to-digest 15 to 20 minute packages, making them an easy listen at home or on the go.
The stories presented in Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History aren’t your average history lessons. The veteran journalist and broadcaster digs up some of the most compelling scenes in world history and breaks them down in a way that will have listeners rethinking what they learned in school. Topics range from Biblical-era coup conspiracies to the violent impact of World War I. New episodes are released every two to five months, but the three to four-hour run times are enough to keep listeners feeling satisfied for a while.
The Naked Scientists from BBC looks at the science questions you’d never think to ask, from the mundane (How fast can an elevator go?) to the far-reaching (Could we recognize a message from space?). Prolific science guests stars have included Alec Jeffreys, who discovered DNA fingerprints, and the former president of the Royal Society, Trinity College Professor Martin Rees. The program also features an interactive component with live questions from listeners.
What better way to make yourself feel smarter than by reminding yourself how little you actually know? In You Are Not So Smart, host David McRaney examines the cognitive biases, heuristics, and logical fallacies that contribute to the self-delusions we all experience—and then he eats a cookie at the end.
Each episode of Radiolab revolves around an overarching concept. Themes like “Worth,” “Things,” and “Translation” may sound unfocused, but in-depth interviews and incredibly human stories tether the complex science to everyday life. If you don’t have a full hour to set aside for the show, they also release 15- to 20-minute episodes that explore one story at a time.
If you’ve ever pondered the etymology of words like humdinger and hootenanny, this podcast is for you. Host Bob Garfield fills each rough half hour of Lexicon Valley talking with linguists and lexicographers about the quirks of language we encounter in everyday life. Questions you never knew you needed answers to, like Why is Pumpernickel bread named for a Farting Devil? and When did we start using sleep as a stand in for sex and death?, are all explored.
It’s easy to forget all the misguided things that have been passed off as medical treatment over the years. Fortunately, the husband-and-wife team Justin and Sydnee McElroy are here to remind us. Every week, the duo spends 30 minutes to an hour explaining a different forgotten oddity from medical history. Listening to Sawbones will make you grateful that doctors are no longer prescribing leeches as a cure-all.