In my previous post, I compiled a list of reasons why on-demand audio is great. Evangelism works best when you make it easy to hit the ground running, so here are a few tips and recommendations. Hopefully this will lower the activation energy for getting started.

Podcasts

You can download my complete list of subscriptions as an opml file or as more readable json.

  • You should be able to load the opml into most podcast apps by going into Settings and finding some sort of “import” button.
  • As a warning, there are 100+ subscriptions in there of varying quality, so you may not want to import it directly.

To narrow it down a bit from that massive list, I highly recommend the following podcasts:

  • Backstory with the American History Guys — “A podcast that brings historical perspective to the events happening around us today. On each show, renowned U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh tear a topic from the headlines and plumb its historical depths. Over the course of the hour, they are joined by fellow historians, people in the news, and callers interested in exploring the roots of what’s going on today. Together, they drill down to colonial times and earlier, revealing the connections (and disconnections) between past and present.”
  • Gastropod — “Food with a side of science and history. Every other week, co-hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley serve up a brand new episode exploring the hidden history and surprising science behind a different food- or farming-related topic, from aquaculture to ancient feasts, from cutlery to chile peppers, and from microbes to Malbec. We interview experts, visit labs, fields, and archaeological digs, and generally have lots of fun while discovering new ways to think about and understand the world through food.”
  • StartUp — “StartUp is a podcast series about what it’s really like to get a business off the ground. In Season 1, Alex Blumberg told the story of launching this business, Gimlet Media, a podcast network. In Season 2, Lisa Chow joined Alex to follow an entirely new company: a company called Dating Ring, founded by two women in their 20s, outsiders in the male-dominated world of Silicon Valley.”
  • Radiolab — “Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.”
  • Under the Influence — “A show that gives you a rare backstage pass into the hallways, boardrooms and recording studios of the ad industry.”
  • The Pulse — “Stories at the heart of health, science, and innovation.”
  • The Bike Shed — Thoughtbot’s podcast about their “development experience and challenges with Ruby, Rails, Javascript, and whatever else is drawing their attention, admiration, or ire this week”. This is my favorite technical podcast, because it does a good job of balancing interesting details with working well within the audio medium.
  • Hidden Brain — “Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.”
  • Vox’s The Weeds — “Everyone is always warning you not to get lost in the weeds. But not Vox’s Ezra Klein, Sarah Kliff, and Matthew Yglesias. They love the weeds. That’s where all the policy is. This is the podcast for people who follow politics because they love thinking about health care, economics, and zoning. It is not podcast for people who like hearing talk about gaffes.”
  • The Psychology of Attractiveness — “A show that reveals the science behind human sexuality.” It is hosted by Dr. Robert Burriss, a psychology researcher at Basel University in Switzerland.
  • Surprisingly Awesome — “There are a lot of things out in the world that sound boring, but when you dig in deeper, you discover that actually, they are fascinating. … Surprisingly Awesome is a show full of stories like this. Stories about things that sound totally boring, but turn out to be totally awesome.”
  • 99% Invisible — A show “about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.”
  • Planet Money — “Imagine you could call up a friend and say, “Meet me at the bar and tell me what’s going on with the economy.” Now imagine that’s actually a fun evening. That’s what we’re going for at Planet Money.”
  • Freakonomics Radio — “Surprising conversations that explore the riddles of everyday life and the weird wrinkles of human nature — from cheating and crime to parenting and sports.”
  • Reply All — It’s a show “about how people shape the internet, and the internet shapes people”.
  • This American Life — “We’re not a news show or a talk show or a call-in show. We’re not really formatted like other radio shows at all. Instead, we do these stories that are like movies for radio. There are people in dramatic situations. Things happen to them. There are funny moments and emotional moments and — hopefully — moments where the people in the story say interesting, surprising things about it all. It has to be surprising. It has to be fun.”
  • Invisibilia — “We explore the invisible forces that shape human behavior — things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. … We weave incredible human stories with fascinating new psychological and brain science, in the hopes that after listening, you will come to see new possibilities for how to think, behave and live.”
  • Direct Current — A podcast from the U.S. Department of Energy. “[It] is a podcast about energy — the kind that lights our homes, powers our lives and shapes our world. From the U.S. Department of Energy’s digital team in Washington, D.C., Direct Current brings you fresh, insightful stories of how we generate and use electricity, what that means for the planet and the cutting-edge science that’s driving a global energy revolution.”
  • More Perfect — “Supreme Court decisions shape everything from marriage and money to public safety and sex. We know these are very important decisions we should all pay attention to — but they often feel untouchable and even unknowable. Radiolab’s first ever spin-off series, More Perfect, connects you to the decisions made inside the court’s hallowed halls, and explains what those rulings mean for “we the people” who exist far from the bench. More Perfect bypasses the wonkiness and tells stories behind some of the court’s biggest rulings.”

Podcast apps:

  • iPhone: The default podcast app is fine, but I recommend replacing it with Overcast or Castro. The default feels like a generic utility, whereas the other two are built with podcast users specifically in mind. Overcast has a broader range of features, but Castro has beautifully designed user interactions and a more thoughtful interface. My hope is that Castro incorporates some of the other features over time, since they only just released the app this month.
  • Android: When I had an Android, I used the Stitcher app. As of a year and a half ago (when I switched to an iPhone), that app was pretty terrible, but I don’t have other recommendations and it’s probably (hopefully) improved since then.

Audiobooks

I can’t easily create an audiobook starter kit, because unlike podcasts they aren’t free and they are siloed within services like Audible rather than an open format like RSS. Luckily, audiobook discovery has a lot in common with book discovery, which is a largely solved problem. You can start by just finding the audio format for a book you’ve been meaning to read.

Anyways, here’s a list of a few of my favorite audiobooks, and if any of them pique your interest, let me know — Audible members can send their books to friends for free (one book per friend), and I’m happy to share mine with you if you want.

  • The Power Broker — This biography of Robert Moses is single-handedly responsible for my obsession with cities, and the narrator of the audiobook is a great voice actor.
  • Age of Ambition — “A vibrant inner history of China during a moment of profound transformation.”
  • Season of the Witch — This book is a history of San Francisco, but feels more like fantasy about a dreamland than a dry history textbook. It weaves a tapestry of they city’s history through the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and it’s a stunning performance to listen to.
  • The Golden Compass — This audiobook is narrated by the author Philip Pullman, and each character in the story is voiced by a different actor from a London Shakespeare troupe. I adored the printed book, re-reading it at least half a dozen times when I was younger, but the audiobook is be even better.

I also highly recommend the Amazon’s Whispersync. It allows you to switch seamlessly between reading the Kindle edition of a book and listening to its Audible adaptation, and it’s usually only a few dollars more than buying just one format (rather than doubling the cost).

  • This is particularly useful for non-fiction books. As I noted earlier, my listening comprehension isn’t nearly as good as my reading comprehension, and searching over audio is a problem without great consumer solutions.
  • The user interface is extremely well-designed, and the transitions between reading and listening are smooth and feel very natural. It’s such a great user experience, and it brings the best of both audio and text content.
  • I highlight everything I read extensively so I can go back and reread the best bits. When I first started listening to audiobooks, my biggest regret was that I couldn’t annotate them easily. Whispersync has totally solved this problem.