Lockdown has caused the proliferation of podcasts, with every Tom, Dick and Harriet taking to the pod waves. And, slightly awkwardly, I’m no exception.
But here are some of the favourites that have kept me going (usually when I’m doing menial jobs around the house or in the garden or car). Also when insomniac (in case you were wondering about time use!)
The Trusty And True
The Rest is History has become my staple – so much so that I actually went the whole hog and paid (supposedly) well-earned shekels to become a member of the club.
Tom Holland (ancient historian and cricketing saviour of Stonehenge) and Dominic Sandbrook (modern historian, first encountered as a BBC History mag subscriber, and NOT in his guise as Daily Mail columnist) are fantastic conversation partners on whom to eavesdrop. They cover so much (150 or so to date), sometimes with expert guests, and consistently inform and entertain. Not a dull episode, and some are supremely brilliant (eg Watergate, The Oil Weapon, Alexander the Great, Afghanistan, A Very British Scandal, Spies, and Weird Wars)
Malcolm Gladwell is a remarkable bloke in his own right. With an English maths prof Dad and Jamaican mother, he was brought up in a Christian home rapidly secularising Canada. Based in the USA now, and a pillar of the New Yorker, he seems able to tackle any subject as a generous but persistent outsider, always on the hunt for oddities or unexpected consequences. So Revisionist History does in sound what his articles and many books do on paper. He’s a brilliant interviewer and story teller.
So while nothing like as prolific as The Rest is History, these are perfectly crafted pieces and more than worth the time.
Jill Lepore is another fave writer from The New Yorker stable. Despite being a Harvard history prof, she’s not stuffy or ivory-towered at all, full of winning impish humour and curiosity.
The first two seasons of The Last Archive saw her tackle fake news and our failing confidence in ‘Truth’ with great insight (so right up my Wilderness of Mirrors alley, then). More recently, she’s done a deep dive (originally for the BBC) into the weird world of Elon Musk. Who knew he was essentially channelling Arthur Dent? Hilarious AND scary.