It’s been over a year since I posted one of these. During the pandemic, seasons all ran together, and pure frivolousness seemed somehow inappropriate. But, with so many people finally taking much-deserved summer holidays, it’s a great moment for some pure pleasure.
Long-time readers know that I’m a hopeless glutton for podcasts, books, newsletters and just about anything I can stuff into my brain. Here are some recent faves, in no particular order.
Hot Money: From the Financial Times, a series exploring the money trail to the biggest porn websites. No matter what they say, everyone has seen online porn. So the websites in this series will be familiar to you. It’s sort of Watergate meets Deep Throat meets How I Built This. Totally addictive.
Gastropod: I love anything about food—even though I eat almost nothing ever discussed on a food podcasts (they seem to be obsessed with pizza and tacos). This is a deep dive into odd bits of food trivia, science and history. It’s hosted by two women, one of whom has a super-weird mid-Atlantic accent (i.e., in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between England and the US). It’s a great backdrop to other activities. I often listen while gardening. One recent episode explored the history of the cookie (or biscuit). You’ll never see an Oreo in the same way! Another was about eels (who continue to be the greatest mystery of marine biology).
Legacy of Speed: I usually avoid recommending Malcolm Gladwell stuff because —well, does he really need more PR? But this one is super-interesting, especially if you are or have been a runner. It’s about the two black sprinters who raised their fists at the 1968 Olympics. They were a product of a massive shift in how running was coached that emerged in “Speed City”, San Jose State University. Since it is Gladwell, the storytelling is terrific. Since it’s about coaching and sport –well, it’s got something for everyone.
Things Fell Apart: In truth, I will listen to anything by Jon Ronson. He is perhaps the most interesting journalist working today, and his lovely Welsh accent adds a dryness to even the most bizarre things he reports (which is almost everything). This limited series explores the evolution of the culture wars– the source of so much online and off-line vitriol. He dives into the history of the pro-life movement; not its politics, but its cultural evolution. It is riveting.
One Click: This docuseries is narrated by the actress Elle Fanning. The podcast is about how a single click on a link can change your life. This first season digs into the history of a little-known substance called DPT that began life as a World War 1 explosive chemical agent and became a somewhat viral (illegal) diet pill, killing people who only wanted to lose weight. This stuff literally boiled them from the inside out –yet became a secret sensation in the body-building world.
Eat Sleep Work Repeat: Just because it can’t be all play –this one is about workplace culture. The host, Bruce Daisley –former leader at YouTube and Twitter–interviews leading thinkers on issues like hybrid work, fixing toxic culture and other workplace people issues. It’s pretty good, if a little preoccupied with remote and hybrid work.
Off The Leash: This is a new one from the Freakonomics guys. It features animal cognition expert Alexandra Horowitz walking her dog and another human with a dog –discussing issues like how dogs feel about their names, and whether every dog could be a hero. Lightweight. But, if you’re a dog owner, it will make you happy.
Exponential View: One more for tech start-up business folks. Hosted by Azeem Azhar, this one digs into the intersection of technology-business-venture and more. These are long conversations with smart people about things like the evolution of drones from warfare to delivery and into flying taxis –and the implications of the metaverse for commerce and policy. The episode that captured me recently was about the French government’s commitment to growing a significant tech start-up sector, and how they are using everything from direct investment, to fast-track policy change to make it happen. There’s a premium tier in which you get even longer interviews. This one is worth it.