An ode to the podcast

The main perk of having a fairly long daily bike commute – though true in The Netherlands, especially more so in the California sun – is the fact that I can spend around 100 minutes of each day listening to people who have something interesting to say. Whether it is hearing spectacular accounts of historical events (e.g. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History), versatile, insightful documentaries on people from all walks of life (e.g. This American Life), or in depth conversations with interesting people (e.g. the Tim Ferriss show): podcasts make it possible to do this all at times when you would otherwise be forced to stare into the distance.*

In addition to the above-mentioned element of personal knowledge gain, a group of my closest friends and I have experienced how being active listeners sparks all kinds of interesting discussions. Like sharing the latest books one has read, we are continuously sharing anecdotes, insights, or things that podcasts made us ponder about. To my experience, the podcast as a medium can provide a sensible, stable source of knowledge at paces much higher than books can give me. Not that this prompts me to give up on this hardcopy medium directly (though some friends have switched to audio books and podcasts entirely), but I find it difficult to find or make the time to sit down and read non-academic literature these days.

So there you have it: podcasts have changed my life (Thank you Olja!), and so might they change yours. Forget feeding a senseless addiction to anxiety-spreading factual or non-factual daily news. Gone are the commercial breaks** and time limits of the ordinary TV or radio shows. The times to jump in have never been better: though a listener for several years***, I have the impression that podcast quantity and quality has increased as this medium reached maturity. To further share my enthusiasm and help anyone getting started, this site will contain a new page dedicated to podcasts: links to – and short descriptions of – the ones I thought worthy of my time. And most importantly: if anyone feels like I should listen to anything in particular: please drop me a message, I have commute-time on my hands as you now know. Personally, I would recommend to try out several, as liking one’s voice or manner of speech is a very personal matter.

Right off the bat****, here are the ones can enthusiastically recommend:

This American Life

A fantastic show on what I would call the daily life of people from all walks of life. Whether the team follows a father & son decide on which Republican candidate to financially sponsor this presidential election round, the daily life of a family in a Syrian refugee camp in Greece, or following someone involved in – and admitting to – price-fixing deals in a major multinational – many episodes can give you a narrative take on matters you would have difficulty finding anywhere else.

life-changing agents

Duration: ~ an hour; Frequency: weekly. Go listen to now: 592: Are we there yet?

The Tim Ferriss Show

Tim Ferriss, author of the four-hour work week, spends his episodes “deconstruct[ing] world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, sports, business, art, etc.) to extract the tactics, tools, and routines you can use.  This includes favorite books, morning routines, exercise habits, time-management tricks, and much more.” Tim I find great to listen to, and the interviews are more like a conversation amongst friends than actual interviews. Though I love this podcast, I like to alternate with others shows, as this show is more about ‘the self’ than the others mentioned here.

life-changing agents

Duration: as long as it takes, typically between 1 and 3 hours. Frequency: weekly. Go listen to now: How Philosophy can Change Your Life, Alain de Botton | The Interview Master: Cal Fussman and the Power of Listening | Sebastian Junger: Lessons from War, Tribal Society and Non-Fiction Life | The Importance of Being Dirty: Lessons from Mike Rowe.

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

Dan Carlin, oh boy, this man is a genius. If he would have been the world’s history teacher, we would have a world full of historians. Though he repeatedly and humbly reminds the listener that he himself is not a historian, this man gives color, insight, and viewpoints of historical events like I have never experienced before. If totally new to podcasts, I would recommend picking a history topic you think you are quite familiar with and listen. You are guaranteed to be amazed.

life-changing agents

Duration: 3-4 hours; Frequency: as soon as they are ready. Go listen to now: ‘Blueprint for Armageddon’ a 6-series episode (over 18 hours(!)) on the first World War.

Common Sense with Dan Carlin

Just started listening to this one, as I have become such a fan of his Hardcore History. I found his newest show, on the recent US presidential election, providing a very balanced and grounded view on the matter. But if anything, try Hardcore History first!

Duration: around an hour; Frequency: ~monthly. Go listen to now: Episode 311: Trumped.

The way I heard it – Mike Rowe

Ah, Mike Rowe. Loved his Dirty Jobs show, the show that no less than revolutionized the Discovery channel back in the days. I was reminded of his existence as I listened to him being interviewed by Tim Ferriss: as always: hilarious and at the same time conveying a serious message. Highly recommend. His podcast is of a different sort: they are 5 minute stories of often incredible personal tales, told in true Mike Rowe fashion. I listened to one, not too long after that I had heard them all.

Duration: 5 minutes; frequency: ~monthly. Go listen to now: #9: The long shot 

Some others that I sometimes listen in to are Freakonomics Radio and De Correspondent, though they have not gripped me like the other ones as of yet.


* though staring into the distance and letting your mind wander off on its own is truly necessary and rewarding at times 😉
** Though they typically begin and end with a couple of minutes of advertizing, though I usually find this is less intrusive as a) it is the show host himself promoting something in his own words, b) the products are targeted to the podcast audience and therefore not entirely random, and c) one can easily skip over these.
*** mainly This American Life, Ira Glass is a hero.
**** some might recognize this phrase

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