Excellent narrative/documentary nonfiction podcasts for road trip
January 12, 2018 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Leaving on a road trip tomorrow and looking for narrative/documentary nonfiction podcasts (available via iTunes) to pass the time. Favorites, caveats, etc. within!

I’m looking for well-written, intriguing, intelligent narrative; serial format is definitely preferable, but episodic is fine, too, if the quality is pretty consistent. Main topics of interest: society, culture, music/film, history, crime (though caveats for crime further down). Examples of podcasts that are in the vein of what I am looking for:

serial format:
Young Charlie
Slow Burn: Watergate
The Butterfly Effect
Inside the Exorcist/Inside Psycho
Hüsker Dü: Do You Remember?
Ways of Hearing

episodic format:
Between the Liner Notes
Rock ’n’ Roll Archaeology Project
Family Ghosts
99% Invisible
Revisionist History
This American Life (at least back in its heyday; I only occasionally listen to it now)

- No fiction (I like Welcome to Night Vale, but it’s not what I’m looking for)
- Not focused on current political horror show, ongoing injustices, etc.
- Episode duration: roughly 30-60 minutes each
- Crime is OK if it doesn’t revel in abundance of gory details and/or primarily focus on violence against women (Stranglers, for example, was excellent from a narrative point of view, but had too much gore/violence against women for my comfort).
- Just to get it out of the way: yes, I am already aware of You Must Remember This; the writing/research is fantastic but I find the podcast itself to be unlistenable (sorry).
- My list is mostly US-centric, but I would welcome recommendations for non-US shows!
- Need to be available on iTunes.

posted by the return of the thin white sock to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I am relistening to A History of the World in 100 Objects right now and I think it would scratch your itch. The eps are shorter than your preference, but they are grouped by themes and regularly intersect.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:28 PM on January 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also came on here to recommend A History of the World in 100 objects - it's magnificent. I have listened to the whole thing twice and could still go back again.
posted by Heloise9 at 12:35 PM on January 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Heh, I realized after I posted that I forgot to include A History of the World in 100 Objects on my list of much-loved podcasts! But my spouse has never listened to it (and I haven't listened to it since it came out), so that's a good candidate for a second time around.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 12:39 PM on January 12, 2018

The Bowery Boys (NYC-specific history)
Death, Sex & Money (TAL-esque with a focus on the title issues without being too sensationalist)
Gastropod (food, culture, and science)
Heaven's Gate (the least exploitative/gross treatment of the crimey/deathy podcast genre, I think)
In Our Time (in-depth panel discussion on various subjects)
Sawbones (somewhat goofy but not gross-out or insensitive medical history)
Uncivil (lesser-known Civil War history)
posted by quatsch at 12:40 PM on January 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am really enjoying The Omnibus Project. Ken Jennings and John Roderick talking about trivial places, historic events, and other obscure things. The premise is they're building an encyclopedia of knowledge for future generations, but really they're just shooting the shit about The European Starling, The Darien Gap, or The Rachael. They're both very funny (but not, like, over the top funny) and extremely knowledgeable and intelligent.
posted by bondcliff at 12:42 PM on January 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding Heaven's Gate. I outgrew my interest in cults decades ago, and I don't read true crime, but this one is fascinating.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:59 PM on January 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Longest Shortest Time! It's about parenthood but also about what it means and feels like to be a parent and child. It's produced by Hilary Frank, who's done some stories for This American life, and is in that vein. While it's mostly episodic, they occasionally do a series--the Accidental Gay Parents one is gripping and surprising.
-Startup: some seasons are episodic and some are serialized; season 2, on Dating Ring, is my favorite and highlights the challenges of a struggling business (and of dating!) so well. The season on Dov Charney, formerly of American Apparel, is captivating and a beautiful jouralistic effort but is so tied to the themes of our current sociopolitical horror show that it's probably not what you're looking for.
-Nancy is episodic and shorter and a great look into all aspects of LGBTQ life and culture; #34, Return to the Ring of Keys, is a great place to start.
posted by dapati at 1:00 PM on January 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History is one I find incredibly addictive, although comes with a warning: each episode is more like 4-6 hours long, but obviously you can pause & resume whenever you want.

So far I've listened to Caesar's campaign(s) in Gaul, the Greco-Persian wars (which wraps up centuries of Persian history) and the one about the nuclear world post WWII.

Shorter than your preferred format (about 15 minutes an episode) is The Memory Palace, which is just stunning. Little snippets of often forgotten or overlooked (American) history told in a masterfully poetic and evocative style.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:15 PM on January 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh Ear Hustle. I'm not sure it qualifies entirely but I listen to a lot of the same podcasts you do and it by far my favorite podcast ever. Also In the Dark was really well done and thoughtful, but yes, it does involve violence against children.
posted by caoimhe at 3:04 PM on January 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Second Gastropod and The Memory Palace. Maybe In Our Time, although when I was listening regularly I only listened to episodes that talked about things I didn't already know about. (They don't get things wrong; they can just be a bit basic in some fields.)

Tim Harford's "50 Things That Made The Modern Economy" (BBC; economic history) is a good one that's probably lesser-known in the US. 10-minute episodes, though.
posted by madcaptenor at 4:01 PM on January 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Production quality makes such a difference, right? Here's a short list of some of my favorites. Like you, I prefer non-fiction and shorter format. Hopefully one of these will scratch your itch for something new:

-Terrible, thanks for asking
-This is actually happening (I prefer the older episodes, myself)
-Seriously... (BBC)
-Where should we begin? With Esther Perel
-Rough translation (NPR)
-Family ghosts
posted by Jaqi at 6:24 PM on January 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I love every one of these recommendations! Plenty of great listening for the road and beyond here. Thanks! (And I'll happily continue to take further suggestions.)
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 10:05 PM on January 12, 2018

The butterfly effect with Jon Ronson is about the various/far reaching/unintended consequences of making porn available for free on porn hub (adult content, but more about business and interpersonal relay than sexy parts)
Maybe a little bit outside of your perameters but excellent:
Where should we begin with Esther Perel you the listener are a fly on the walk for real life couples counseling sessions. Ostensibly about couples but really about how people express (or don’t) their feelings and their fears.
posted by wowenthusiast at 8:09 AM on January 13, 2018

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