If you’re social distancing or quarantining during the coronavirus outbreak, a good podcast can provide some virtual companionship, and perhaps even a chance to learn something new. Fortunately, there’s an abundance of pods for you to choose from. In the past decade or so, podcasts have gone from a niche interest to the mainstream.
True-crime podcasts, such as “Serial,” which premiered in 2014, became national sensations. Then there was comedian turned podcaster Marc Maron, whose “WTF” became popular enough for President Barack Obama to be a guest in June 2015.
According to the Pew Research Center, 32% of Americans age 12 or older have listened to at least one podcast episode a month as of 2019, up from 15% in 2014. That trend doesn’t show any signs of slowing, with the field set to cross the $1 billion annual revenue mark in 2021.
There are lots of great podcasts on nearly any subject you can think of, and we’ve collected some of the favorites that are perfect for those of us always eager to learn something new, whether it’s about the economy, history, or even the inner workings of Hollywood.
Here’s some prime listening material for your days of social distancing.
‘This American Life’ provides a deep look into American society.
“This American Life” has become a byword for oral storytelling.
Beyond being a place for moving and hilarious stories, “This American Life” does staggering levels of reporting; few outlets made the financial crisis as human and understandable as Ira Glass and the gang.
It lives up to the hype.
‘Fresh Air’ will give you an intimate look at your favorite writers, celebrities, and journalists.
NPR’s “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross has been on the air for more than four decades and her interviewing skills have earned her accolades like the Peabody award, the Columbia Journalism Award, and a spot in the National Radio Hall of Fame.
Gross may have a smooth, relaxed speaking style, but the way she digs deep into her interview subjects will keep you engaged throughout the conversation, whether it’s about Jake Gyllenhaal’s acting process or how filmmaker Lulu Wang made a movie inspired by her terminally ill grandmother or historian David Blight on his new biography of Frederick Douglass.
‘Freakonomics Radio’ will show you surprising connections.
Journalist Stephen J. Dubner and economist Steven D. Levitt became sensations when their book “Freakonomics” was published in 2005.
In 2010, Dubner launched a podcast with the same mission as their bestselling books: ferreting out connections between seemingly unrelated things.
Unsurprisingly, the shows tend toward the intellectually provocative, with the biggest hits having titles like “Is College Really Worth It?” and “How Much Does the President of the US Really Matter?”
‘Marketplace’ will keep you up to date with the world’s top business news.
Every weeknight host Kai Ryssdal guides you through the day’s top business news on the podcast version of American Public Radio’s “Marketplace.”
Besides a rundown of top stories, you’ll also be able to hear exclusive interviews with the likes of Twitter co-founder and Square CEO Jack Dorsey and even former President Obama.
You may also hear Business Insider senior finance editor and “Marketplace” contributor Linette Lopez weigh in with some commentary.
‘Planet Money’ will simplify some of the most complex and important economic issues in the world today.
NPR’s “Planet Money” team describes its show as: “Imagine you could call up a friend and say, ‘Meet me at the bar and tell me what’s going on with the economy.’ Now imagine that’s actually a fun evening. That’s what we’re going for at ‘Planet Money.'”
Twice a week, you’ll get an entertaining, well-reported look at issues like the Tijuana tech boom that will leave you satisfied with a foundational understanding of the subject, all in just 15 minutes.
‘Masters in Business’ will give you insight into the brightest minds on Wall Street.
Investor and author Barry Ritholtz sits down each week with a power player from the business world for his podcast produced by Bloomberg.
With his unmistakable Long Island accent, Ritholtz discusses his subjects’ careers and research, whether it’s “Bond King” Jeffrey Gundlach, renowned economist Richard Thaler, or even celebrity chef Bobby Flay.
‘WTF’ offers unexpected revelations about success.
Few things can be more instructive than a life story, and comedian turned broadcaster Marc Maron draws the ups and downs of life out of people with a certain raucous grace.
‘Radiolab’ will help you appreciate how mysterious science is.
WNYC’s “Radiolab” — the brainchild of top reporters Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich — investigates everyday oddities with a blend of science, philosophy, and music.
The duo is able to make high-level science both remarkably accessible, practical, and fun.
You may want to start with the “Colors” episode, where you can learn about a sea creature with so many colors the human eye can’t even process all of them.
‘Invisibilia’ will lead you on a journey to the frontier of psychology.
Radiolab made a spin-off, “Invisibilia,” whose name is Latin for all things invisible.
It’s a podcast about the unseen, unconscious forces that guide our lives: biases, dreams, and quirks of perception.
The first episode tells the story of a boy who couldn’t communicate for 12 years. His only company was his thoughts — until, one day, it wasn’t.
‘The Tim Ferriss Show’ will help you understand the mechanics of success.
‘Startalk Radio’ will open your mind to the cosmos.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is the public face of astronomy, and his voice is just as magnetizing.
Dig into his podcast to learn about space tourism, comets, and the basics of astrophysics, to name a few.
‘The New Yorker: Politics and More’ will give you some smart takes on the biggest stories in politics.
Each episode only lasts about 16 minutes, but you’ll gain some valuable insight and hear smart debate without the inflammatory rhetoric of cable news.
‘StartUp’ chronicles the glorious challenge of founding a company.
NPR veteran Alex Blumberg wanted to make a podcast startup. So he made a podcast about it. (Which then turned into a Zach Braff sitcom.)
Since Season 1, Blumberg’s company, Gimlet Media, has started two other popular shows (including “Reply All,” also on this list) and continues to grow.
Season 2 follows the dating site Dating Ring through all of its trials and tribulations as a young company, setting the template for each new season of “Start Up” being about a new business.
‘Reply All’ immerses you in the weird world of the internet.
You probably use the internet every day, but Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt will give you more insight into its effects on our culture than you were ever aware of.
And Goldman and Vogt’s goofy rapport will keep you hooked from episode to episode.
‘99% Invisible’ will give you the lowdown on design.
“99% Invisible” is probably the coolest design podcast on earth.
Roman Mars’ show uses design as a lens to look at the thought behind the many structures in our lives, from prehistoric hand axes to airport layouts. After listening you’ll have an appreciation for the minds and tastes that these objects sprang from.
Not only that, but the podcasts are snack size, clocking in at about 15 minutes.
‘Hardcore History’ teaches you the most fascinating stories in history that you never learned in school.
Dan Carlin always mentions that he’s not a historian. Think of him more as an aggregator of history, weaving together various accounts into one engaging story.
If you listen, you’ll probably find yourself amazed that you spent over four hours listening to a guy talk about the Mongol khans or World War I, but Carlin has a gift for illuminating some of the most interesting yet least talked about moments in history.
‘Behind the Bastards’ investigates the absolute worst people in history.
Much like “Hardcore History,” “Behind the Bastards” peers deeper into oft-overlooked history.
Most of us know the basics of why Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin were some of the worst human beings ever, but what about Leopold II, the Belgian king who led a genocide in the Congo for rubber?
‘ArtHoles’ is art history in all its paint-splattered glory, with the listener learning along with the host.
If you ever thought art history was boring, you’re not the only one.
The host of “ArtHoles,” former comedian Michael Anthony, thought so, until he began researching the lives of geniuses like Picasso, Pollock, and Caravaggio. As it turns out, their lives were more interesting than he ever thought possible.
Similarly, ‘Unspooled’ follows a comedian’s journey into the greatest movies ever made.
Comedian Paul Scheer and film critic Amy Nicholson team up for this greatest hits of film analysis.
Scheer, who was poorly versed in film history when the podcast began, stands (or sits) in for the listener, learning as he goes, from Nicholson’s film knowledge and from interviews with the experts. Together, they work their way through the American Film Institute’s top 100, including “Citizen Kane,” “Taxi Driver,” and “Vertigo.”
And finally, ‘Philosophize This!’ thinks a lot about thinkers.
Join Stephen West as he investigates the greatest personalities and ideas in philosophy, school by school.
This podcast sheds light on classic philosophical ideas and principles, featuring interviews with today’s brightest philosophers. Ever wondered what Socrates was all about? “Philosophize this!” makes complex ideas digestible and entertaining.
This article originally appeared in Business Insider.