47 Essential Podcasts To Download Today

It's time you widened your podcast horizons. This selection is guaranteed to both feed your brain and enliven your commute

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So what podcasts are you listening to? You did the real-life mystery saga Shit Town in the car and kept taking detours so you could carry on listening. While you were jonesing for a second series you dipped into Gimlet Media's Crimetown — a whole lurid season on the crooks and stick-up kids of mob stronghold Providence, Rhode Island — and got hooked on that, too.

And now you're desperately in need of another time sponge to see you through your daily commute. Well, how about 49 primo podcasts that every man should listen to?

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1 | Under the Skin with Russell Brand

Russell Brand ducked out of the spotlight for a few years after his sojourn into politics (and subsequent Ed Miliband-bromance) ended in tears, deciding instead to take on an MA and pen a new book on addiction. But now he's back, albeit in audio form, eager to listen and learn in his enlightening new interview podcast 'Under the Skin', taking on heavy subjects with light-hearted zeal.

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2 | From Our Own Correspondent

It's really about time you chucked that skateboard, boombox and backwards cap in the loft and finally became a 'Radio 4 person'. To that end, there's no better place to start than 'From Our Own Correspondent', Kate Adie and Pascale Harter's witty, insightful and incisive look at the current (and evermore ridiculous) headlines.

3 | The Guilty Feminist

Comedians Deborah Frances-White and Sofie Hagen address their everyday struggle to live as dedicated feminists. Each episode begins with short stories starting with the words "I'm a feminist, but...", and guests have included British stand-up Shappi Khorsandi, actress Gemma Arterton and presenter Dawn O'Porter.

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4 | Trumpcast

As the ancient Chinese curse said, we're living through interesting times. The least you can do is keep up with the catastrophes. American political journalist Jacob Weisberg gathers traumatised liberals and non-crazy conservatives for fast-response dissections of the latest development in the Trump White House. Super-informed, super-sobering.

5 | Athletic Mince

Featuring preposterous tales of the imaginary Gangs of the EPL, borderline actionable impersonations of Zlatan and Jamie Vardy, and Bob Mortimer improvising songs in a surprisingly impressive Scottish voice akin to Ivor Cutler's, Mince is about as far from a discussion of "catenaccio", "tiki-taka" and "gegenpressing" as can be. Andy "@GetInTheSea" Dawson lends gravitas.

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6 | Men In Blazers

Why would you listen to a podcast made for Americans? Because presenters expatriate Brits and NBC men Roger Bennett and Michael Davies' analysis has more insight than some ex-players. Also, you might learn a bit about the NFL — and they sell a scarf that says: "We finished off Blatter".

7 | Pod Save America

Here, four former Obama aides convene for a highly entertaining "no bullshit" US politics doomwatch. Scoops include a final interview with their boss, Barack, on the eve of America's most embarrassing presidential nomination.

8 | Coffee House Shots

The Spectator's rapid-response takes on the biggest current events — the latest Trumpisms, the firings and the resignations — presented by editor Fraser Nelson and guests. They often come in bite-sized eight to 15-minute minicasts: ideal for lunchtime or a cig break.

9 | They Walk Among Us

True crime is one of podcasting's surprise breakout formats. This coolly forensic series — presented by the unsurnamed husband and wife team Benjamin and Rosie from the marital bedroom — explores infamous British crimes that are all the more chilling for their everyday settings.

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10 | Deserter Pubcast

Dedicated to the noble art of skiving, this flâneur's delight from South East London explores all matters related to daytime socialising. The pros and cons of micropubs, the psychogeography of David Bowie… all is fair game on an entertaining show which holds that work is the curse of the drinking classes.

11 | Adam Buxton Podcast

These solo casts from Buxton feature quality interviews with the likes of Jonny Greenwood, Richard Ayoade, Kathy Burke and Matt Berry. The episode in which Michael Palin discussed the death in 1989 of his Python co-star Graham Chapman is genuinely moving.

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12 | Sincerely, X from TED

We've talked before about how TED Talks can often be a nightmare of shallow, conceited humblebraggery – but that's not the case with this unique podcast iteration. The narrators are anonymous, creating a "safe space" for them to deliver stories that are too painful or damaging to share in public.

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13 | Answer Me This!

Ever worried that if you donate blood, someone might have it transfused into their body and then incriminate you in their crime? Such are the listeners' questions that Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann answer on this award-winning free-range comedy podcast, now in its tenth year.

14 | Myths and Legends

A poor working knowledge of the lives of Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Theseus, Mulan and the rest of the mythic pantheon is a legacy of our failing educational system. Rectify it with these wry and witty summaries presented by literature and history buff Jason Weiser. Warning: contains mead.

15 | News Roast

Podcasts excel at the open-ended interview that turns into a satisfying conversation. Here, satirists Heydon Prowse and Jolyon Rubinstein invite a renowned good talker round for a three-course chatfest. Sample episode: comedy giant John Lloyd on whether we should teach kids philosophy, the nature of consciousness, and whether artificial intelligence will destroy the planet. Perfect for those long flights.

16 | Bigmouth

If you want an unpretentious, grown-up argument about movies or the latest albums, Bigmouth is the place to be. Guest journalists including Esquire's music editor Alexis Petridis, Miranda Sawyer and The Times' Will Hodgkinson take off their professional hats and say what they really think. Full disclosure: this is the author's own podcast. Don't forget to subscribe!

17 | No Such Thing as a Fish

Did you know that cows have friends? And DH Lawrence used to write letters to a cow called Susan? The wonkish researchers or "elves" behind QI unearth far more odd facts than any one show can take. Fascinating and fiercely peculiar.

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18 | Say Why to Drugs

In this delightfully objective and science-based series, the psychologist Dr Suzi Gage discusses a different psychoactive every week with Scroobius Pip. These are genuinely illuminating conversations about every substance from cocaine to e-cigarettes.

19 | Stuff You Missed in History Class

This series from the people behind HowStuffWorks will astound you with the things you didn't know. Sample subjects: the Attica prison riot, why Vincent Price's real life was stranger than anyone he played on film, and the lost African stone city of Great Zimbabwe.

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20 | Brexit Podcast

An all-too-rare, even-handed running commentary on Britain's unfolding EU exit, where the words "remoaner" and "Brexmaniac" are banned. Quality guests including Gina Miller, Jacob Parakilas of Chatham House and Lembit Opik try to make sense of the chaos. Weirdly soothing.

21 | Imaginary Worlds

If you love science fiction you're usually faced with 57 embarrassing varieties of Comic Book Guy-style nerdery on the comment front. But pro-radio reporter Eric Molinsky's highly listenable 15–25-minute shorts treat Star Wars, Philip K Dick, Tolkien, Marvel and the rest for what they are: the dominant fictional form of our time.

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22 | Spark

Something unbelievable but true happens in everyone's life at least once. Spark Live gets Joe and Josephine Public to relate their most astonishing day, live, at five minutes maximum. The results have the intensity of crafted short stories.

23 | The Forward With Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong is one of the most detested fallen heroes in sport, but his interviews, with subjects as diverse as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Rahm Emanuel and Chris Evert, are fascinating enough to dispel — temporarily — suspicions that he's manipulating you.

24 | Backlisted

How come most pundits only ever talk about new books? You wouldn't do that with albums. On this hybrid of literary salon and pub argument, QI writer John Mitchinson and voluble ex-Waterstone's staffer Andy Miller talk about an old book that everyone should read — from JG Ballard and Raymond Chandler to the weirder backwaters of the English psyche.

25 | Savage Lovecast

Dan Savage has been giving sex advice to those of all persuasions for two decades. His very funny podcast is less, "What does she want in bed?" and more, "How can I prevent cunnilingus lockjaw?"; and, "What's the correct etiquette in a three-way?" Listen on headphones.

26 | The Axe Files

Axelrod, second brain of Obama's first term, talks to pretty much the entire A-list of American politics in wide-ranging interviews that reveal far more than the standard "gotcha" grilling. The episode with incoming Trump attack chihuahua Sean Spicer is especially toothsome.

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27 | Sodajerker On Songwriting

One thing you learn from podcasts is that, freed from a cramped radio slot and faced with someone who actually knows a bit about their subject, almost everyone has a fascinating story to tell. Scouse songwriting duo Simon Barber and Brian O'Connor set up Sodajerker just as an excuse to talk to their heroes about what it's like to put songs together. But their natural inquisitiveness brings out the best in legends including Andy Partridge of XTC, Mike Stoller and Johnny Marr, making Sodajerker one of the most unusual and rewarding music podcasts.

28 | Stuff You Should Know

There is, let's face it, a hell of a lot of stuff that we should know about but don't. Who has the time to Google everything? Far better to absorb it while exercising, commuting or cooking the tea from this conversational and highly entertaining podcast by howstuffworks.com. On SYSK, a rotating pro-am panel discusses everything from How Bitcoin Works to How Crack Works in what feels like the world's most well-informed pub conversation. A "holy shit!" revelation is guaranteed every 10 minutes or so. Did you know that Woody Harrelson's dad was a Mafia hitman? Us neither.

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29 | Real Time With Bill Maher

This one, meanwhile, is Have I Got News For You with a metric shitload more swearing plus a little more bite and viciousness than "Gosh, isn't Ed Miliband's voice funny?" It's an audio version of red-meat liberal Bill Maher's HBO show, giving us a top-of-the-line comic – plus guests from politics, stand-up and the media – tearing into the rotten state of American government. British TV and radio keep failing to replicate this format chiefly because we have no-one like Maher, the left-wing PJ O'Rourke.

30 | Little Atoms

Pamper your brain with books, ideas, the arts, politics and whatever else comes up in an engaging, irreverent and unashamedly intellectual podcast that makes Radio 4's Front Row sound like the E! Channel. The lo-fi production values – check those creaky armchairs – compound the impression of rubbing leather-padded jacket elbows with a splendidly down-at-heel slice of the intelligentsia.

31 | Le Show With Harry Shearer

Some voices were just born for radio. So it is with the bound-leather tones of Harry Shearer, Spinal Tap's Derek Smalls and the voice of The Simpsons' Principal Skinner, who has been presenting this witty mix of liberal political snark, comic observation and weird news from around the world since 1983 – long before the dawn of podcasting.

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32 | The Pod Delusion

This cheerfully sceptical "podcast about interesting things" looks at the world from a fiercely rationalist perspective. It's a partner of the British Humanist Association and the name, of course, is a hat-tip to Richard Dawkins' atheist bible The God Delusion. Each episode takes a leisurely but eye-opening look at issues as varied as the iffy history of Assassin's Creed, Greece's Golden Dawn and the non-human civil rights of captive killer whales. It'll give you hope that the world isn't really vanishing down a wormhole of superstition, and make you feel about 50 per cent smarter.

33 | The Nerdist

Your average radio interview can end up boringly formulaic, with three predictable questions wrapped up by a plug for the guest's latest "project". Being open-ended, podcasts can ramble on for as long as they like and – horror! – develop into actual conversations. Geeky interlocutor Chris Hardwick takes full advantage of this, coming up with entertaining and properly insightful sit-downs with characters as diverse as Harrison Ford, Vince Breaking Bad Gilligan, Dave Grohl and porn star turned actress Sasha Grey.

34 | Pop Culture Happy Hour From NPR

America's state-funded National Public Radio can be a little brown-rice-and-world-music sometimes but they've got a grip on movies, music and the Internet that's beyond most British broadcasters. In this weekly roundtable its pundits dig into the thinking person's entertainment story of the week. In one episode they explained why a key swearword in Firefly translates as "Holy Testicle Tuesday!" in Mandarin.

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35 | Mark Kermode And Simon Mayo's Film Reviews

Scandalously, Britain's single best source of quality movie commentary goes out on Radio 5Live on Friday afternoons when normal people are hard at work. But! It's a podcast too, so you can sit ringside as bequiffed cineaste Mark "the Good Doctor" Kermode and voice of the common man Simon Mayo pass judgment in the week's releases – and talk to the odd film star too. Bliss it is when Kermode really gets his teeth into a stinker like Keith Lemon: The Film.

36 | Radio Lab – From WNYC

Like an audio edition of Horizon remixed by Boards Of Canada and Chris The Day Today Morris, the oblique documentary series Radiolab, from New York's public station WNYC, riffs on a big, big subject like colour, time or numbers until it become a sound experience in its own right. Hard facts collide with a playful sonic approach and the effect is like a dream where you learn stuff. In the episode on colour they used the harmonics of a choir to illustrate how dogs see the spectrum. Amazing, right?

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37 | The Comedian's Comedian With Stuart Goldsmith

Stand-up comics talking about the foundation and technique of comedy ought to be about as interesting as golfers talking about their swing – great for insiders, not so much for the rest of us. But in these free-ranging hour-long conversations with noted joke-architects like Al Murray, Greg Proops and Richard Herring, interviewer Stuart Goldsmith steers the chat towards entertaining revelation and deftly stomps on any preciousness or "tears of a clown" clichés. Listen and you'll never heckle a stand-up again.

38 | The Football Ramble

You know what would be nice? If every sports radio station on earth didn't dump all its shows into iTunes as well, making it harder to find worthwhile independent shows like the excellent Football Ramble. Here a handful of actual fans – civilians who buy their own tickets, not self-congratulatory pundits or shiny-suited ex-players up in the Green Room – talk over the week's footballing issues. It's the antithesis of so-called banter on so-called soccer sofas, and ideal if you love our national sport but cringe when you hear the words "the beautiful game".

39 | The Thrilling Adventure Hour

It's a brilliantly original idea — a spot-on recreation of old-time US radio drama from the Thirties and Forties that both sends up these corny, wholesome wireless serials and shows real affection for a homespun era before irony ruined everything. Fake serials including Sparks Nevada, Marshal On Mars, Amelia Earheart, Fearless Flier and Down in Moonshine Holler are rendered with songs, wisecracks and handmade sound effects before a live audience in Hollywood. You'll laugh like a space coyote.

40 | WTF With Marc Maron

This high-intensity twice-weekly interview podcast is about as far as you can imagine from a chummy little chat between showbusiness insiders. Having paid his dues both in performance and his personal life – addiction, booze, bitter divorce – LA-based stand-up comic Marc Maron persuades a stellar line-up to come round to his garage (yes, his garage) and open up in ways that conventional media seldom sees. Robin Williams, Edgar Wright, Josh Homme and Thom Yorke are among the guests in an interview series unlike any other.

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41 | Tune Me What? – The South African Music Podcast

Even post Sugarman, this remains pretty much the world's last undiscovered music, kept secret for decades in censored, apartheid-ridden South Africa. Isolation produced some brilliantly insane and fearless sounds, though, and expatriates Brett Locke and Leon Lazarus spread the word on old and new English and Afrikaans rock, pop and traditional music with great humour, infectious enthusiasm and pure uncut SA accents. Their recent Nelson Mandela tribute edition in particular was a genuine tearjerker.

42 | 99% Invisible

You know that an item of design is good if you barely notice it – hence the name of this reliably mind-boggling exploration of product design, architecture, fashion technology and any and everything designed for KALW in San Francisco. If you think a podcast about design makes about as much sense as ventriloquism on the radio, Roman Mars's bite-sized show (15-30 minutes) is as vivid as you could wish, exploring everything from DIY spacesuits to the roots of the I ♥ NY logo to the aesthetic of Looney Tunes cartoons.

43 | The Memory Palace

You don't always have 90 minutes to spare, but this unique history podcast – which turns historical disasters, turning points or just weird happenings into evocative spoke-word vignettes plus music – comes in 3-10 minute episodes perfect for a ciggie break or walk round the block. Covering everything from spy cats to the advent of the Sony Walkman, The Memory Palace is part short story, part audio poem and part oral history time capsule. We could do with more episodes, though.

44 | Oxford Biography

The thing with history is they keep making more of it. Fill in the blanks with this admirably straightforward series of capsule life stories from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Each episode gives without judgment or bias an account of one Briton's life, researched by professional historians. There are 180 available and their span is boggling, taking in everyone from Lord Haw-Haw to Freddie Mercury to Mo Mowlam to Piltdown Man. Though they concentrate on a single life these podcasts evoke a powerful sense of other times and places.

45 | Monocle 24: The Menu

The international fancypants restaurant lifestyle is now within all of our grasps, but to its credit this food and drink podcast from unashamedly elitist news and culture network Monocle is open-minded and enthusiastic rather than snobby. Presenter Markus Hippi creates a suitably pan-European vibe for this thoroughly inspiring podcast. When you really, really need the restaurant news from Toronto, Mumbai and São Paolo, or you simply must know about the cronut before everyone else does, this is the place for you.

46 | Serial

From the producers of another classic pod, This American Life, this nonfiction narrative charting the investigation into a Baltimore schoolgirl'so murder became a phenomenon in 2014, winning the Peadbody Prize in the process. By reinvestigating a complex murder case in almost real-time, but combining the narrative with classic principles of cliffhanger drama, host and producer Sarah Koenig created something genuinely original. A show that could only have worked as a podcast and brought their many rewards to a wider audience.

47 | The Director's Cut

An short, punchy and frequently fascinating weekly pod from the Director's Guild of America which puts the director of a film of the moment in conversation with another high-profile directing peer. The questions are incisive, there's a naturalness to the answers you rarely get from conventional interviews and, at its best, it feels like you're eavesdropping on J J Abrams' table in an LA restaurant. Recent highlights include The Big Short's Adam McKay interviewed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Tarantino interviewed by Christopher Nolan, and Spielberg interviewed by Scorsese. We told you it was good.