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.

Self-Contained Series

West Cork (14 ep.)

darkly gripping about a French woman’s gruesome murder in a SW Irish idyll.

Wind of Change (10 ep.)

The CIA used Scorpions’ song Wind of Change to end the Cold War? Surely not?! A podcast of genius.

BBC’s Intrigue (4+ seasons) 

Investigative journalism at its best: each season a new focus. The Ratline esp. good.

13 minutes to the moon (2 seasons)

Min by min track of Apollo 11, then Apollo 13. +Hans Zimmer! Genius

Shrine of Duty etc!

3 hilarious Dublin office friends on Jed Mercurio whodunnits, starting with Line of Duty. Side-splitting.

The West Wing Weekly (7 seasons)

For geeks only (probably). An episode for every episode. With actual involved people. What’s not to like?

Good To Dip Into

Melvyn Bragg’s BBC Radio 4 staple – there MUST be something to whet appetites from nearly 1000 eps!

James Naughtie’s Bookclub is great: famous author grilled re famous book by audience. (I was on the Paul Theroux ep! 😊)

Lots of fun from the QI research team: No such thing as a fish – unbelievably nearly 500 eps now.

Nick Robinson’s Political Thinking – a bit more depth with figures who shape public life

For bookworms only, this one. The Slightly Foxed pod is quirky and a little tweedy – but full of fun and delight, exploring books and writers unjustly forgotten.

99% Invisible is primarily on design, but don’t be offput. Hosted by silky-voiced Roman Mars, it’s superb (esp. The Shipping Forecast, Holdout, The Real Book, The accidental room)

The Axe Files like Nick Robinson’s, but with greater heft – David Axelrod was Obama’s chief strategy guy. All kinds of interesting people (loved eps with Madeleine Albright, ArnieAnne Appelbaum, and even Russell Moore)

Theologically Informed

The 1st 2 seasons of This Cultural Moment are great, esp. when Mark Sayers gets to freewheel.

CT’s Mike Cosper & team impress with this grim story. Gruelling to endure but sadly crucial. (Tho’ did last 2 eps really have to be 2.5hrs EACH?!)

Theos’ Nick Spencer explores important and relevant issues in Reading Our Times, with great and engaging insight.

Friends' Casts

Russell Moore is a voice of sanity in a US evangelicalism gripped by Trumpophilia. Now he’s with CT, he’s got new wings! (Oh, and he’s been on The Stott Legacy!)

John Dickson, an Aussie ancient historian, bible scholar and pastor, does a mighty podcast. (Oh, + he’s ALSO been on The Stott Legacy!)

Tim Farron MP is ex-Liberal Democrats leader and all round good bloke. His pod is a non-partisan meeting with Christians in public life. (Oh, and I’ve been on HIS pod!)

You’re Not Crazy: Gentle chats for young pastors with Ray Ortlund and me old pal Sam Allberry.

I have to include Chris Wright since he’s technically my boss. But his On Mission is great too! (phew!)

Jonathan Rogers is an English lit prof who interviews writers about writing in The Habit. (Oh, and weirdly I’ve been on it too)

Only on BBC Sounds (as far as I can tell) - so UK only

I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue: Pure genius even w/o Humph Lyttleton (or Tim Brooke-Taylor or Jeremy Hardy alas). Official site here

The Reunion brings people together who were involved in historic moments together. Fascinating.

Sir James MacMillan is one of my favourite composers. Each episode of Faith in Music explores a composer’s religious beliefs.

Another BBC warhorse: Composer Michael Berkley does an up-marked classical Desert Island Discs in Private Passions. Superb

Theos’ Nick Spencer again – doing a 3-parter on Science and Religion – really good.

My Ko-fi button

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. David Turner

    Happy new year! I have just listened to the Jeremy Vine interview about JRWS for the first time! Hugely enjoyable and full of humour and insight.
    Great thanks for this superb series of interviews and all the other fascinating things you put up!

    1. quaesitor

      Thanks so much David! Happy New Year to you all too!

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