Arts & Culture

5 podcasts to queue: Season 2 of Gladwell’s ‘Revisionist History’ goes for the throat

In the latest installment of our semi-regular Podcast Picks series, we recommend five more shows, for newbies and podcast vets alike.

Revisionist History, Season Two

Last year, when author Malcolm Gladwell launched the first season of his podcast “Revisionist History,” it became an instant first-ballot Hall of Famer thanks to its intriguing topics, superior production values and Gladwell’s natural charisma. No kidding, if there’s such a thing as a storytelling gene, Gladwell has some super-evolved DNA mutation. He might be the best storyteller on the planet.

The organizing principle of “Revisionist History” is to take a critical second look at historical topics, but Gladwell and his team of researchers go at the task like dangerously over-caffeinated investigative reporters. The first episode of the new season keeps it relatively light, examining how the rich stay rich through the history of California golf courses. The second episode goes for the throat, exposing some scary details about the CIA. Highly recommended.

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On Being

Hosted by author and Peabody-award winning broadcaster Krista Tippett, “On Being” is a popular public radio show – it plays Sundays at 6 a.m. on local station WUNC. But it’s also part of a larger online and publishing initiative called the Civil Conversations Project, which aims to bring people together across the political and religious lines that so often divide us.

In its podcast iteration, “On Being” is genuinely one of the very best items you can keep in your subscription queue. Tippett interviews a broad and eclectic range of guests – scientists, artists, theologians and philosophers – to tackle the Really Big Questions of our core existential dilemma. How did we get here? What are we supposed to do? What comes next? I particularly recommend the recent episode with physicist Brian Greene. It’s a mind blower.

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How To Do Everything

Speaking of what we’re supposed to do here on Earth, the very fun podcast “How To Do Everything” was recently discontinued after a terrific five-year run of inspired absurdity. NPR fans may recognize the names – Mike Danforth and Ian Chillag are producers of the weekly quiz show “Wait, Wait ... Don’t Tell Me.”

“Everything” has a similar irreverent style, and happily you can still get to the archives through your phone’s podcast app or via the show’s website, which is still up and running. The format for the show is simple enough: Listeners send in random questions – how to cook cicadas, say – and Mike and Dan bring in experts to figure it out, or try to wing an answer on their own. Often this involves interesting experiments. Inquiring minds want to know.

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Easily the most talked-about podcast of the year, “S-Town” comes from the same creative hive behind “Serial” and “This American Life,” and it’s a severely addictive series. Be forewarned. What started out as an investigative report into an alleged murder becomes an exhaustive exploration of one man’s life and work.

That man was John B. McLemore, a reclusive and obsessive genius who spent his days in the woods of Alabama repairing impossibly complex antique clocks and cultivating intricate hedge mazes on his property. What happens to John, and to reporter Brian Reed, unwinds over the course of seven episodes and has the texture and impact of a novel. This is the podcast as literature, a kind of 21st-century riff on Flannery O’Connor, and you don’t want to miss it.

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Baseball History Podcast

As America’s Pastime, baseball venerates and incorporates history like no other sport. The official record books go back a good ways into the 19th century and, for the amateur historian, the game is an endless parade of strange facts, occurrences and characters.

From 2006-2012, the baseball historian Bob Wright produced “The Baseball History” podcast as a one-man operation, often putting out multiple episodes a week on obscure baseball players like “Pistol Pete” Reiser and Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown. The series will appeal to seamheads and historians alike, and if you happen to be fascinated by both topics, well, prepare to sink some hours into this one. Like jazz, baseball is a wholly American invention and an endless, rich historical topic.

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