Welcome to the weekend. This is a special briefing on the best podcasts of 2018.
Before we dive in, I just wanted to drop a note that I got such overwhelmingly positive response to last week’s briefing on my favorite books of the year. Thanks! Apparently, y’all love books. Since then, a few conversations have brought to my attention the fact that many of the authors I read are white men. I figured I should do something about that. So, I’m going to begin the year reading a series of books on race in America not written by white men. What books should I definitely add to this list?
500,000 – Apple Podcasts more than 500,000 active podcasts.
31 – Here is a list of my favorite 31 podcasts of 2018 ranked.
2004 – Writing for The Guardian in February 2004, journalist Ben Hammersley suggested the term “podcasting” as a name for the nascent technology of audio downloadable weblogs.
The Feather Heist
A flute player breaks into a British museum and makes off with a million dollars worth of dead birds. He was only 20 when he stole the birds, 299 of them. And not just any dead birds, they were from one of the most important collections in scientific history. And also, their feathers would fetch about a million dollars if he took them apart and sold them to salmon fly tyers– which he did, some of them. And he was caught. The police arrested him. And yet, somehow, he is now walking around free auditioning for orchestras in Europe. And a huge number of the birds were still unaccounted for. How did a 20-year-old flutist with no particular experience in museum larceny make off with some of the most precious specimens in the world? And where are the missing birds? This episode of This American Life is one of the most bizarre and surprisingly interesting podcasts I’ve ever heard. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the #featherunderground. This American Life (60 minutes)
Just what is going on with white people? Police shootings of unarmed African Americans. Acts of domestic terrorism by white supremacists. The renewed embrace of raw, undisguised white-identity politics. Unending racial inequity in schools, housing, criminal justice, and hiring. Some of this feels new, but in truth it’s an old story. Why? Where did the notion of “whiteness” come from? What does it mean? What is whiteness for? Scene on Radio host and producer John Biewen took a deep dive into these questions, along with an array of leading scholars and regular guest Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, in this fourteen-part documentary series. Scene on Radio (14 hours)
Flip the Script
What happens when someone flips the script – does the opposite of what their natural instinct is, and in this way transforms a situation? Usually when someone is hostile to us, we are hostile right back. The psychological term is “complementarity.” But then in rare cases someone manages to be warm, and what happens as a result can be surprising. The episode starts with a story about a dinner party in DC, when an attempted robbery was foiled by… a glass of wine and some cheese. Then we travel across the pond, to Denmark, where police officers are attempting to combat the growing problem of Islamic radicalization with… love. And finally, we talk to a man who attempted to flip the script on one of our most basic animal functions: finding a mate. Invisibilia (60 minutes)
Autumn loves to play The Sims. The life simulation game gives the 15-year-old an escape from her difficult home life. But after something terrible happens, the line between the game and real life starts to blur. This is a story of love and loss and belonging and grief in the digital age. The Nod (33 minutes)
In the early ‘90s crime was out of control in New York City. The NYPD was in bad shape – corrupt and ineffective. However, the adoption of a system called CompStat allowed NYPD to police smarter. The crime rate plummeted and the city became safe. Today NYPD cops are in a fight against their own police department. They say it’s under the control of a broken computer system that punishes cops who refuse to engage in racist, corrupt policing. In this two-part series, it is the story of their fight, and the story of the grouchy idealist who originally built the machine they’re fighting. More broadly, this is the story of how tracking the wrong things can create perverse and negative unexpected consequences. Reply All (90 minutes)
Stitching It All Together
These days, people tend to think that all the innovation is happening by founders under 40, but while we Millennials are grabbing all the headlines, baby boomers and Gen Xers have been busy building twice as many businesses. Alexis Ohanan travels the country to meet these OG entrepreneurs and soak up some essential business and life lessons. Meet Jenny Doan, Co-founder and public face of Missouri Star Quilt Company. Her story begins right around 2008 when millions of Americans like her were struggling. The mother of seven and mid-life entrepreneur rose from that moment of financial desperation to create the Missouri Star Quilt Company, a 400-employee empire in a community of 1700. Along the way, Jenny accidentally created the model for the future of retail. Business Schooled (21 minutes)
Chioke, Grain of Sand
Everything is Alive is an unscripted interview show where all the guests are inanimate objects. The concept sounds weird, but it’s pretty brilliant. This episode is my favorite because the grain of sand gives an outsider’s perspective on the concepts of individual versus group identity, the scale of time, why humans are in such a hurry and anxiety among other things. Everything is Alive (27 minutes)
I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening. – Larry King
About the Weekend Briefing
Photo by Frank Septillion.