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The Best Of 2018: Podcasts

The best of the 2018 podcasts take us to whole new worlds.

Everyone in my family makes fun of my podcast listening. I'm perpetually streaming podcasts as I go about my day, driving in my car, walking the dog, doing housework, etc. I prefer it to watching television. My tastes are varied--heavily political naturally, but there's a little bit of arts and sciences in there as well, as well as interviews with interesting people.

So, in no particular order, here's my list for the Best of 2018.

Bag Man -- Rachel Maddow's limited series on Spiro Agnew is so laden with information that I promise you, even if you lived through the Nixon presidency and spent your days glued to Watergate coverage, you're still going to learn things you never knew. And the parallels to today's events are inevitable. Do yourself a favor and take the time to listen to all seven episodes. Everything old really is new again.

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The Professional Left Podcast - Hosted for nearly 500 episodes by our very own Driftglass and Blue Gal, Pro Left offers up an audio version of what we do in writing here at C&L every week: covering the news of the day and focusing on how the media framing does us a disservice. Add in some Bible Bitch and the occasional science fiction mini-dissertation, and you've got a great hour of listening with some of my favorite people in the blogosphere.

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Pod Save America - I'm going to cheat and lump the entire Crooked Media podcast world under the single banner. And they have grown exponentially over the last couple of years. Besides the musings of former Obama staffers Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Tommy Vietor and Dan Pfeiffer, you can hear pop culture with Keep It with Ira Madison, Kara Brown and Louis Virtel (a favorite of my daughters), News from a feminist perspective with Hysteria, world politics with Pod Save the World (the episode on Yemen and Syria really helped me understand what was happening), and activism and structural racism with DeRay McKesson on Pod Save the People. There are several others, including Jon Favreau's limited series on the history and future of the Democratic Party, The Wilderness. I might be wrong, but it feels like Crooked Media's goal is to monopolize all your listening hours. You could do worse.


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The Ezra Klein Show - Ezra Klein takes some deep dives with single subjects, unlike Vox's "Today, Explained" or "The Weeds" which offers more overviews. I want to direct you to some specific episodes that I think will massively change how you view politics today: One on Identity Politics with Lyn Vavreck, one on self-awareness with Will Storr, and one on scientific studies into the effect of psychedelics on PTSD with Michael Pollan. Vox, by the way, has been building a podcast empire as diverse as Crooked Media. I particularly congratulate them on "The Impact with Sarah Kliff" which does something rarely seen in the media--looks at what actually happens with policies. I'm still digesting the episode on funding education in Vermont.

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Gaslit Nation - There is no one who has been as accurate as Sarah Kendzior in the relationship between Donald Trump and Russia. Long before 2016 made this a national horror, Kendzior had been warning about authoritarian tactics by Vladmir Putin and his plans to disrupt our election. On Gaslit Nation, Kendzior and her co-host Andrea Chalupa keep connecting the dots and tying little news bytes mentioned years ago to developments today.

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Why Is This Happening? - Chris Hayes takes advantage of the podcast format to go deeper than his news show will allow. It's a relaxed hour, but genuinely offers thought-provoking discussion on a wide array of subjects. Highly recommended: Rebecca Traister on the power of women's anger.

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Stay Tuned with Preet Bharara - The former US Attorney offers his unique legal perspective on the news. I particularly liked his conversation with Kara Swisher on Silicon Valley this month.

And some non-political podcasts:

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The Good Place Podcast - The smartest, silliest show on television lends itself to a great podcast that actually gives insight into the production process, the writing process and all manner of philosophical thought. I've learned more into what goes into making a show, from set and costume design to digital effects to writers' room debates on the nature of what it means to be good. Marc Evan Jackson (who plays head demon Shawn) hosts.

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Unspooled - Actor/director Paul Scheer (also the co-host of the always funny "How Did This Get Made?" podcast) and film critic Amy Nicholson go through the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time. Many of them are not movies either have seen before. Unspooled has a lively social media following for those still on Facebook, where they schedule viewing parties and have spirited debates.

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Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People It's Gonzo podcasting at its best: Comedian/actor Chris Gethard takes a call from a random, anonymous person. The call will last one hour and Gethard cannot hang up. Each call takes its own unique path and reveals lives of pathos, beauty, survival and pain.

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Clear + Vivid with Alan Alda - It's not the career trajectory I'd have expected from icon Alan Alda, but he's spent the last few years teaching how to communicate clearly after his experience talking to scientists on Scientific American Frontiers. On Clear + Vivid, he focuses on how notable figures (from W. Kamau Bell to Katie Couric to Dr. Helen Riess) learn to offer up messages that will be received as intended.

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Disgraceland - A stand out in the "True Crime" genre, covering musicians and how they literally get away with murder.

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Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness - The most flamboyant of the Queer Eye reboot has a strangely wonderful podcast, in which he looks at subjects as serious as climate change and the death of trade unions to being a woman in comedy. He's not for everyone, but Van Ness approaches each subject eager to learn and there are no stupid questions. My kids introduced me to the podcast and I've become addicted to his supportive, inclusive style that includes a lot of "gorgeous!" and "henny" (honey) interjections as he asks the questions that young people need to know to understand important subjects.

I'm sure there are a ton of podcasts I've missed out on. I don't listen to sport ones at all. There are some other true crime ones out there (The Australian's The Teacher's Pet and Missing Alissa come to mind) that I listen to pretty regularly. My sister-in-law and I often trade notes on The Splendid Table, but I admit she's usually better at adapting the recipes than me.

Are there any podcasts out there you'd recommend?

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