podcasts that make you smarter

Ever wondered where all the stuff TSA confiscates goes? Are kidney stones more painful than childbirth? Why it’s so difficult for people to change their minds? Well, the answers to these questions and so much more can be found in a slew of podcasts that make you smarter. 

While I listen to a lot of podcasts, most of mine tend to be for entertainment, food, or political purposes. My husband, on the other hand, listens to them mostly to learn something. So, I turned to him for some favorites when it came to writing about podcasts that make you smarter.

Educational podcasts are becoming more and more popular and for good reason. They are  wonderful sources of information to satisfy your thirst for knowledge. And with unlimited topics, it’s hard to choose just a few.

From space travel to historical events to economics 101, educational podcasts will keep you curious and informed. Just imagine yourself at your next dinner party – yes, there will be a party one day – entertaining your friends with your knowledge of why auctioneers talk so fast!

Podcasts that make you smarter allow you to delve into any topic that piques your interest, be it philosophy, history, politics, science, or your health.The topics are interesting, the hosts are great and well-informed.

Podcasts are so easy because they can be listened to on the go. You don’t need to stop your day to sit down and tune in. All you have to do is click play.

14 Favorite Podcasts That Make You Smarter

Freakonomics

This wildly popular podcast is based upon a very famous book, Freakonomics, published in 2005 by journalist Stephen J. Dubner and economist Steven D. Levitt. 

In 2010, Dubner launched the podcast with the goal of deep diving into connections between seemingly unrelated things. Not surprisingly, its tagline is “the hidden side of everything.” And it certainly lives up to its name. 

podcasts that make you smarter

Photo credit Freakonomics.

Some of the most reason biggest hits have been “Is College Really Worth It?” and “How Much Does the President of the US Really Matter?” and “The Economics of Saving the Amazon Rainforest.”

Freakonomics episodes explore everything from the development of 23andMe, to how economic principals play out in the animal kingdom, to why it’s so difficult for people to change their minds.

The episodes are intelligent and technical enough to entertain those familiar with economic principals, but also approachable enough to hook the econ-averse or simply curious. They know how to captivate listeners, using everything from soundtracks to careful storytelling tactics.

Episodes are usually 30 to 40 minutes. Click here to listen.

Hope, Thru History

This podcast is hosted by Pulitzer Prize Winning and author and historian, Jon Meacham. He explores some of the most historic and trying times in American history. He looks at how this nation dealt with these moments, the impact, and how we came through.

Hope, Through History takes a look at critical moments around the 1918 Flu Pandemic, the Great Depression, World War II, the polio epidemic and the Cuban Missile Crisis. These stories of crisis are rich, and in our own 2020 hour of pandemic and real panic, there’s utility in re-engaging with the stories of how leaders and citizens have reacted amid tension and tumult. 

As Winston Churchill once remarked, “The future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope”—the hope that human ingenuity, reason, and character can combine to save us from the abyss and keep us on a path, in another phrase of Churchill’s, to broad, sun-lit uplands.

If you watch much MSNBC, you’ve probably seen Jon Meacham on one of its many news programs. Most importantly, however, he is the author of one of my favorite books, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.

Overheard at National Geographic

Overheard at National Geographic is not about a bunch of people sharing what they have watched and learned on the NatGeo channel. Instead, it is “the” podcast of the National Geographic Channel—and you probably are aware of how much knowledge you can gain there.

From what defines a musical genius to underwater pyramids to the graffiti of Pompeii and alien invasion possibilities, no matter what you want to learn about life and the natural sciences, this podcast has you covered.

podcasts that make you smarter

Photo credit Overheard at National Geographic.

Dive into one of the curiously delightful conversations overheard at National Geographic’s headquarters, as hosts Peter Gwin and Amy Briggs follow explorers, photographers, and scientists to the edges of our big, weird, beautiful world. 

How to Save a Planet

Does climate change freak you out? Want to know what we, collectively, can do about it? Well, you’re not alone. How to Save a Planet podcast asks the big questions like what do we need to do to solve the climate crisis and how do we get it done. And it couldn’t be more timely…
 
Journalist Alex Blumberg and scientist and policy nerd Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson manage to make looking into the realities of the climate crisis both informative and hopeful. The duo scour the earth for solutions, talk to people who are making a difference, ask hard questions, crack dumb jokes, all while figuring out how to build the future we want.
 
From big questions like whether electric cars are really better for the environment to investigating innovative solutions like the companies who are destroying secret sources of greenhouse gasses, their stories leave you feeling energized about helping the earth.

Reply All

This is a podcast about the internet in the broadest possible sense. You probably use the internet every day, but Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt will give you more insight into its effects on our culture than you were ever aware of.

Reply All features stories about how people and the Internet shape each other. As The Guardian has put it, it is an “unfailingly original exploration of modern life and how to survive it.”

In a recent episode, the hosts helped a listener ID a song he remembered from his past, but couldn’t quite put a name to. What is it? Why can he remember it so well? The lengths that Reply All goes to in working out the mystery are frankly ludicrous, but entirely worthwhile.

They’ve covered great stories like the ways ISIS uses social media and how an Orthodox Jew ultimately left his family behind, because of the world he discovered online.

Plus, Goldman and Vogt’s goofy rapport will keep you hooked from episode to episode. You can start listening here.

Stuff You Should Know

Can’t pick a topic to educate yourself on? Stuff You Should Know from How Stuff Works is the podcast for you. One of the most famous and longest running podcasts, this show explores the story behind, well, essentially everything.

In past episodes, hosts Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark have discussed narwhals, crop circles, LSD, Pompeii, how origami works, is your employer spying on you, and Ponzi schemes. And with three episodes released a week, you won’t go long without learning about a new subject.

podcasts that make you smarter

Photo credit Stuff You Should Know.

The show is friendly and conversational and doesn’t make you feel inferior for not being familiar with the day’s topic. Plus, there’s a massive back catalog of 1,400 episodes for you to work through.

Fun, interesting info you can regurgitate at cocktail parties to impress everyone. You’re never quite sure what you’ll get, but you’re sure to learn something. At the very least it will give you some conversation starters, at the most it will teach you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about satanism, cabbage patch kids, deepfakes and beyond. Give a listen here.

60-Second Science

Don’t have a lot of time these days with everything else going on in your life? Then, 60-Second Science is made for you. 

60-Second Science by Scientific American provides listeners with one minute of scientific news that is relevant to anybody, not just people in lab coats. Leading science journalists provide a daily minute commentary on some of the most interesting developments in the world of science.

From the science of nearsightedness to the benefits of white bread, take a listen for your quick science update. Topics cover biology, sociology, medicine, and more.

If this one leaves you craving for more, subscribe to the full-length, weekly podcast, Science Talk: The Podcast of Scientific American. Check them all out here

1619

Eloquent and evocative, 1619 is an eye-opening podcast from the NY Times which unravels the history of oppression and systemic racism in US history.

Host Nikole Hannah-Jones looks back at when 20 enslaved Africans arrived in the English colony of Virginia in 1619 and how it changed the definition and accessibility of democracy in this country.

Heartbreaking yet necessary, this series educates listeners in the injustices of the past that stem down through the years to continue impacting the lives of Black people today. Topics include The Birth of American Music and The Economics of Slavery.

The host brings clarity to topics like white privilege and how political language is constructed to conceal and dismiss racism. The stories documented in this series serve as a stark reminder of the harsh reality of racism and will hopefully, encourage you to look deeper into the stories.

1619 is an important listen that reverberates much that is happening in the present day. While the podcast may have ended in late 2019, the topic of discussion is highly relevant. 

#SistersInLaw

If you watch MSNBC, especially over the past 4 years, then you probably know the four women who comprise the #SistersInLaw podcast; Joyce Vance, Jill Wine-Banks (of Watergate fame), Barb McQuade, and Kimberly Atkins.

podcasts that make you smarter like #sistersinlaw

Photo credit #SistersInLaw.

The podcast is actually the result of the demand for a more in-depth version of the easy to understand civics lessons they became known for during the Trump administration.

The four get together every Friday for a weekly discussion that educates listeners on the legal issues of the week in a fun and accessible manner. Thy pull back back the curtain on how our government actually works, take on the corrupt, share their wisdom, and give us their rulings on the latest in politics, law, and culture. 

The hosts have broad expertise in some of the most important areas on the legal and political landscape including criminal justice, policing reform, terrorism, voting rights, health care fraud, drug and human trafficking, and discrimination. Basically, they know of what they speak…

Recent topics have included gun control, pay equity, and the Chauvin case. Give a listen here.

Every Little Thing

If you’ve ever wondered who invented self-checkout or why some people have terrible senses of direction, Every Little Thing is the podcast you’ve been waiting for.

They go behind the scenes on all of the small stuff you’ve wondered about over the years like, Where does the stuff that TSA confiscates go? And all of the questions you’d never even thought to ask like, Why do auctioneers talk so fast? They fill you in on all the tidbits you need to make your small talk much more interesting.

But what makes this podcast unique is that the listener calls in with a question and they find you an answer. The helpline is open 24-7. You can all 833-RING-ELT or send an audio message to elt@gimletmedia.com.

You’re Dead to Me

From the BBC, You’re Dead to Me is dubbed the history podcast for people who don’t like history… and those who do, making history accessible for the masses. The host, Greg Jenner, brings together the best names in comedy and history to learn and laugh about the past.

Taking on a new historical period or figure each week, the panel talk through the facts and misconceptions of a topic, from the history of football to the witch craze to Stonehenge to LGBTQ+ history.

Though You’re Dead to Me might not sound like the most obvious choice for a podcast listen, you will find yourself coming back for more.

civics 101

What’s the difference between the House and Senate? How does a bill become law? How do congressional investigations work? What is Federalist X actually about? Produced by New Hampshire Public Radio, Civics 101  is the podcast refresher course on the basics of how our democracy works.

podcasts that make you smarter

Photo credit Civics 101.

What’s exceptional about this podcast is that they have started releasing teacher-created Lesson Plans that you can copy to your own Google Docs account to edit as you see fit. For teachers, parents, caregivers, and students, they offer tons of great audio, activities, resources, and lessons to help you stay engaged with civics during this challenging time. All free here.

Ologies

A comedic science podcast? Yes, really. Ologies host, Alie Ward, makes talking about science incredibly entertaining. She asks some of the world’s most notable professionals questions about everything from werewolves to spiderwebs.

It is obvious Alie has an unabashed love of science and learning. Covering one topic at a time with a childhood curiosity, she asks professional -ologists stupid questions – questions the rest of us might fear would make us look silly, all for the sake of understanding how things work. 

Two notable episodes included one where she discussed space junk – yes, it does exist – with archaeologist, Dr. Alice Gorman, a leading expert on orbital debris. The conversation included everything from what’s up there, how it got there, and how to get it down. Mention was made of flaming garbage bonking us, alien clutter, collision potential, and cosmic burials.

Then, there was the episode on kidneys with transplant nephrologist, Dr. Samira Farouk. What’s in pee? Should you donate a kidney to a stranger? Which hurts worse: childbirth or kidney stones? Why are some kidneys the size of footballs? And How much water you should drink?

If you find this all too intriguing not to give it a go, take a listen here.

Science VS

Science VS takes on fads, trends, and the opinionated mob to find out what’s fact, what’s not, and what’s somewhere in between. It’s a funny, informative podcast that pits scientific studies and statistics against some of the biggest head-scratchers around.

Science VS is a team of fact checkers that blow up firmly held opinions and replace them with science. The podcast makes science easy and fun to learn with witty commentary and interesting stories.

Does exercise really help you loose weight? Do emotional support animals actually make you feel better? How does gentrification affect a community? Should you drink detox teas like an insta-celeb? Should you believe your drunk uncle’s rant about gun control? Are vitamins effective.

There’s also a slew of COVID-19 focused episodes. Get all the answers here.

What are your favorite podcasts that make you smarter?