I felt like putting together a list of my favorite podcasts and making it a Pinned Toot™️ on my Mastodon profile. But since I wanted to say a bit more about each podcast, the text quickly became too long for that medium, so I decided to put it here, instead.
Note 1: This list includes some podcasts that are now concluded, but are still available (in their entirety or close to it) for your listening pleasure.
Note 2: I was contemplating making each podcast title a link to its website, but it quickly became clear that that would result in a mishmash of links to different-looking sites & platforms and, more importantly, that any podcast app worth its salt lets you easily search for podcasts by name anyway…
Note 3: This list is really heavy on history podcasts… If that’s not your cup of tea, I’ve tried to make it easy to skip past those. (Skip past, get it? I’ll show myself out.)
I’ve broken down the list by categories (to the extent possible…), and you can use this bullet list to skip straight to a given category:
- The Fall of Rome (concluded)
- At a total of 31 episodes of about 40-45mins each, this is as far as I’m concerned the gold standard for history podcasts, and on a personal note, it is singularly responsible for turning me into a Roman history geek. I’ve listened to this one in its entirety twice now.
- The History of Rome (concluded)
- If you are more of a completist about your Roman history, this is the definitive podcast on the subject. One of its (many) endearing qualities is that the episodes are extremely bite-sized, clocking in at around 20-25 minutes apiece. (Though note that there are 179 of them, lol.) I’ve listened to this one in its entirety twice now.
- Totalus Rankium
- Modeled after the also-well-worth-your-time Rex Factor (see below), the hosts of Totalus Rankium aped the format (with permission!) and discuss each Roman emperor in turn, ranking them in a series of gameshow-like categories. What’s fun about this is that the scoring is not really about who’s the “best” emperor, whatever that means, but more like who’s the most interesting/noteworthy emperor… So you get points, for example, for your surviving statue(s) looking funny. I’m on my third go-round with this podcast(!).
- The Partial Historians
- Another great Roman history podcast, which mixes some brilliant comedy with focus on some of the topics that get (…unjustifiably…) less “airtime” in most discussions of ancient Rome. Especially rich discussions of the pre-imperial period. Come learn about the Vestal Virgins… the Twelve Tables of Rome… the Decemvirate… oh, and there’s also Spartacus of course :-)
- Tides of History
- After concluding his positively outstanding Fall of Rome podcast (see above), Patrick Wyman turned to other topics in history. Tides (as it is affectionately called) is organized into “seasons”. The first few are a grab-bag of topics from late antiquity / the early middle ages / the Renaissance / etc., and while Wyman brings his characteristic brilliance to these, I feel like the show really found its groove in Season 4, whose topic was prehistory. That season, clocking in at a whopping 126 episodes of an hour or so each, has just concluded, and covers the mindbogglingly large span from the emergence of early hominids to the paleolithic world to neolithic farmers all the way to the Bronze Age Collapse. I really can’t praise it enough. Wyman has just begun Season 5 of the podcast, which will center on the Eurasian Iron Age (Rome, China, and everything in between) and the dawn of classical antiquity.
- Ancient History Fangirl
- Booze, history, assassinations, Locusta the Poisoner, Dionysian mischief… what’s not to love?? If you like a healthy dose of comedy with your history but also want to learn a ton while you’re at it, this podcast is second to none. Has a Greco-Roman bent due to the hosts’ area of expertise, but isn’t strictly limited to those topics.
- The Ancient World
- To correct for the Greco-Roman focus that pervades much of my history podcast library, I really enjoy listening to this podcast about the Near East. A one-stop shop for all your Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Elamite, Egyptian, Assyrian, Hurrian, and Hittite history needs!
- Lions Led by Donkeys
- Ever wanted to listen to a pacifist podcast on military history? Then have I got a podcast for you! Equal parts illuminating & funny, this podcast presents story after story that would be impossible to believe if they didn’t, you know, actually happen. Covers a very broad range of eras and areas, in no particular order. In other words, choosing an episode at random, you’re equally likely to hear about a battle that took place in the 20th century as you are one that took place millennia ago.
- Rex Factor
- The OG of the “history-podcast-as-gameshow” format (see also: Totalus Rankium; Saga Thing). Three seasons so far, covering, in turn, the Monarchs of England; the Monarchs of Scotland; and the Queen and Prince consorts of England (season in progress). Each “contestant” is rated on a variety of factors, and at the end, the hosts decide whether they have… the Rex Factor!
- Viking corner:
- Saga Thing
- “Rex Factor”-style podcast about the Icelandic Sagas.
- The Viking Age (concluded)
- A truly expansive podcast about the viking age, touching on various regions and sub-periods within the broader topic. Detailed and illuminating.
- Saga Thing
- The PosCast
- Purportedly about sports-with-an-emphasis-on-baseball, this podcast just released an episode in which Nick Offerman, Linda Holmes, Jason Kander, Alan Sepinwall, Alexis Gay, Mike DiCenzo, Brandon McCarthy, Molly Knight and Howard Bryant (as well as the hosts Joe Posnanski and Michael Schur) did a fantasy draft of holiday song lyrics. Which gives you an idea of how sports-focused or, indeed, generally lucid this podcast is.
- The Shutdown Fullcast
- Another purportedly-sports-focused podcast, this time about (American) college football. In addition to being only very loosely about the topic at hand, it offers a priceless window into some perplexing-to-an-outsider aspects of the American south and its culture and customs. Also, the hosts are just funny as fuck. Of all the podcasts I regularly listen to, this is probably the one that makes me laugh the most.
- The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz
- The closest thing to an actual sports podcast that I listen to regularly. It’s sort of a parody of sports talk radio show masquerading as a sports talk radio show.
Pop-culture & true miscellany
- Well There’s Your Problem
- A podcast that’s ostensibly about engineering disasters (with slides! there’s a YouTube channel…). But it’s just as much about social commentary, the news, and jokes. Indispensable. Oh, and don’t worry: it’s perfectly enjoyable as an audio-only experience, without the YouTube-based visual aids.
- It’s Christmastown
- A podcast about the positively loopy universe of Hallmark movies, and the “uncanny valley”-version of the world it presents.
- The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry
- Bite-sized episodes (~25min each) about a dazzling variety of scientific topics, hosted by a pair of British scientists (mathematician Dr. Hannah Fry and geneticist Dr. Adam Rutherford), taking a deep dive into topics, many of which are listener-suggested.