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The podcast scene has exploded over the past few years, with audio becoming an increasingly popular means of sharing information and yet another opportunity for great storytelling from experts, media outlets, and even brands. Millions of earbud-happy listeners subscribe and tune in to the best podcasts weekly or even daily to hear (and often devour) what their hosts have to say.
At a time when asking peers about their favorite podcasts has become almost or just as common as inquiring about their beloved movies or good books to read, it's safe to say that the best podcasts aren't going anywhere soon. Audio offers a hands-free solution for keeping your virtual finger on the pulse of news, entertainment, culture, and more on-the-go, and few things are quite like a podcast for filling the silence on your commute, during a workout, while you're cooking or cleaning, or during any number of other daily tasks.
Whether you're looking to learn, love, or laugh out loud like no one's watching, read on for the best podcasts that will start your day off right and help you make good use of those long commutes.
The best podcasts 2021
The Michelle Obama Podcast
The Michelle Obama Podcast delves into how our relationships impact our lives. The former First Lady delves into topics like mentorship, parenting, marriage, and friendships in conversations with her family members, friends, and colleagues.
All the news that's fit to voice? Consistently a top podcast, The Daily, powered by The New York Times, offers an in-depth look at (or shall we say listen to?) some of the biggest news stories on a national and global scale in as little as 20 minutes. Tune in five days a week as Times political journalist and host Michael Barbaro—joined by other Times reporters and occasional guests—discusses everything from political news to environmental threats to the occasional Hollywood scandal. Barbaro provides historical background and additional details for context, leaving you equipped to join in on that next dinner-table debate (perhaps with a new perspective).
This American Life
Hosted by Ira Glass and produced in collaboration with Chicago Public Media, This American Life is a weekly public radio show that focuses on a new theme every week. Expect real-life stories from people who've been directly involved in or can help contextualize some of the latest news headlines, along with other, often humorous, segments that explore aspects of human nature (awkward family dynamics, anyone?). This American Life episodes typically clock in around an hour or so, making them great for longer commutes or road trips.
Consider it the TL;DR of news podcasts: Skimm This, a weekday podcast from TheSkimm, helps you catch up on the stories you need to know before heading out into the world, often with witty pop culture references for easy translation and added entertainment value. Delivered to your inbox every morning and running 15 minutes or less, it's one of the best podcasts for women with busy schedules who want to stay clued in and entertained but don't have much time to spare.
How I Built This
This business-minded podcast from NPR, hosted by NPR journalist Guy Raz, spotlights some of the world's most successful companies. How I Built This features conversations with the brains behind top companies as they discuss how they came—and almost failed, in some cases—to be. From Wikipedia and Dell Computers to Zappos and JetBlue Airways (and some drool-worthy restaurateur segments along the way), it's hard not to feel motivated by these entrepreneurs. After listening to one of these episodes, each typically ranging from 15 minutes to an hour, you'll never look at your favorite brands the same.
Ten Percent Happier
A few years ago, ABC newsman Dan Harris had a panic attack on live TV. With the help of self-reflection, meditation and other tactics, he found himself on a wellness journey that led to bestselling self-help book 10% Happier. Ten Percent Happier the podcast is like a therapy session, discussing the powers of meditation, motivation, and often offering up tools for personal development. You can also expect to hear from expert guests such as Esther Perel and Kelly McGonical for a deeper dive on topics such as infidelity and the power of habits, making this one of the best motivational podcasts.
You're Dead to Me
Described as "the history podcast for those who don't like history," this BBC podcast offers a digestible, often lighthearted take on major—and typically complicated—historical events. Listen in weekly as You're Dead to Me host Greg Jenner (with other equally engaging and funny guests) offers a 45-minute history lesson you will finally understand—and aren't likely to forget.
Science Vs from Gimlet examines the latest, greatest, and most controversial health and environmental fads and stories, relying on science to separate fact from fiction. Are we unfairly giving sharks a bad rap? What's up with the crazy rise in peanut allergies? Does fasting really work? Host Wendy Zukerman challenges everything you think you know about the world, helping you set the record straight once and for all (or at least until the next research study comes out).
On Keep It!, Ira Madison III, Louis Virtel, and Aida Osman are here to help you get over your mid-week slump with a fresh and informed perspective on the latest entertainment and pop culture stories, often tying them back to society and politics. Listen in as they (with high-profile guests) serve up real talk on everything from the latest awards, icons, and albums to trendy chicken sandwiches in this top podcast from Crooked Media.
This captivating podcast from Radiotopia covers a spectrum of crime stories, often revealing them to be a lot more complex than originally meets the eye (ear?). Cue them up and prepare to be entranced as host and co-creator Phoebe Judge leads her guests (including many who were involved in or even behind the crime) down a winding and suspense-filled road that will leave you on the edge of your seat. Some Criminal episodes could even blur your once-sharp distinction between right and wrong, making it one of the best podcasts for provoking thought (and thoughtful discussions).
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This NPR podcast is an audio version of the popular New York Times column (now also an Amazon series). Modern Love podcast host Meghna Chakrabarti and NYT Modern Love editor Daniel Jones go over a range of essays that center around love, loss, and lessons learned, with readings by notable actors and other personalities, as well as (spoiler alert!) updates from the original essayists themselves for those who may have been left seeking closure after reading the original columns.