Suggest some podcasts for my father
August 20, 2018 7:50 PM   Subscribe

My father used to be an avid reader, but he recently went blind. I'm looking for some podcasts that he might enjoy.

My father is 90 years old, is now blind, and is largely confined to a chair. He spends much of the day listening to audio books, and he has burned-through most of the library books that appealed to him.

I want to download some podcasts for him to listen to. I am not a big podcast listener, so I'm not very familiar with what's out there.

These are his interests:
  • Military history, especially submarines and World War II
  • Archeology
  • Ancient history – particularly ancient mysteries, like Stonehenge, the Easter Island statues, Nazca lines of Peru, etc.
  • Russian history, culture, and politics
  • True-life adventure stories (like POW escapes, for example)
  • Animals, both pets and wildlife
  • Popularized science (nothing too technical)
He does not like true crime, current events, popular culture, heavy social issues (so no "S-Town" for him), or anything that might be considered "edgy" or that has offensive language in it. And he doesn't like fiction.

I'm particularly interested in recommendations of specific episodes of podcasts, rather than just a reference to "This American Life" (for example).

posted by alex1965 to Grab Bag (30 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I recently enjoyed this interesting episode of 99% Invisible - Airships and the Future that Never Was
posted by davebush at 8:01 PM on August 20, 2018

I have not (yet) listened to these myself but a friend raved about these History of the Crusades
posted by supermedusa at 8:08 PM on August 20, 2018

BBC's In Our Time might have some episodes he'd enjoy.
posted by dws at 8:19 PM on August 20, 2018 [8 favorites]
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:30 PM on August 20, 2018

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History. Several lengthy series of podcasts, and each episode is richly detailed. Dan Carlin is very intense. This is not dry academic re-telling. If you want to start with a single episode, I would go with episode 1 of Blueprint for Armageddon.

Also recommending BBC's In Our Time. I would pick and choose the episodes -- some are kind of boring, and the topics are widely varied. They have a Listener Top 10 list with a couple of history eps.

It's really nice you're doing this for your father.
posted by valannc at 8:31 PM on August 20, 2018 [11 favorites]

MAybe he would be interested in Slate’s podcast Slow Burn? The first season was about Watergate, and the new season (just two episodes so far) is about Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky scandal. It is well done, fascinating, and gives a new perspective to historical events that you may even have lived through.
posted by ejs at 8:35 PM on August 20, 2018

For science, I really like "Quirks and Quarks" from the CBC. It's a weekly science news bulletin, with six or seven stories, including short interviews with researchers. Host Bob McDonald keeps it light and interesting for the curious, intelligent layman.

For your first episode, just choose something recent.
posted by valannc at 8:38 PM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Does he like magazines? National Library Service for the Blind & Physically Handicapped makes about 50 magazines available through its program including American History, National Geographic, Smithsonian, & Discover among others.

Since you mentioned his blindness is recent, he may not know about NLS, which is part of the Library of Congress and distributes 'talking books' to eligible readers through a network of state and regional libraries. Its selection will be much greater than his local library with titles that are not always available commercially because NLS has a special provision in US copyright law that allows it to produce full-length publications of materials in audio, braille, & other formats. All materials & playback equipment are mailed to your door for free, or instantly downloadable. Find more information here. Once he is registered, his library can help him (and you) select books or other materials.

Apologies if you already know all about NLS, but my experience is that this is a service that is not widely known (even among librarians) and it can really enrich a person's life.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 8:57 PM on August 20, 2018 [15 favorites]

Seconding Hardcore History and In Our Time -- likely most of the Hardcore History episodes would fit the profile, and while I can't recall specific IOT episodes offhand that meet his criteria, fortunately the titles are very much what they say on the tin, so hopefully it would be fairly easy to narrow down to his preferences.

Falling into the true life category might be Futility Closet (I've recommended this podcast on the green in the past as well) -- "forgotten stories from the pages of history". Usually quirky or odd stories of historical events, researched and presented weekly. Normally the first half (roughly) is a story, and the back half is a lateral thinking puzzle, worked out between the husband and wife behind the podcast.

You may wish to have a browse through the BBC's offerings. There is the Witness podcast, which is brief snippets (usually 5-10 minutes) of first-person accounts of historical events. I've not listened to their Soviet History or Animals Who Made History podcasts but they seem to be up his street as well. (Their Factual/History collection is quite extensive.)
posted by myotahapea at 9:28 PM on August 20, 2018

Gastropod is a delightful podcast that delves into various food topics via science and history. There's often a lot of archaeology thrown in there too.
posted by thebots at 1:03 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sorry to hear this. If you want to see if In Our Time goes over well, looking at these subject areas I'd recommend these three episodes:

- Sun Tzu and the Art of War (military and history in one)
- Echolocation (animals and science in one)
- The Industrial Revolution (not bang on your topics, but this is an IOT classic)

The meta-game with In Our Time is enjoying host Melvyn Bragg's "way" with his guests, which is usually fairly terse, but in the case of The Industrial Revolution episode is, frankly, off the charts. What adds to the enjoyment is that he is often in the wrong.

If he enjoys those, In Our Time has plenty more in his sorts of fields – science and history, particularly.
posted by nthdegx at 1:25 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Mike Duncan's History of Rome podcast is pretty good. Available everywhere, and he has another series on revolutions, which I haven't listened to.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:02 AM on August 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Z List Dead List is always a combination of funny and fascinating and strange. It's specifically about obscure dead people, so a lot of times it covers times and places that are uncommon in history podcasts. It's also just a lot lighter and more varied than some of the heavier recommendations here, so it's great for sprinkling in among them. This one's an adventure story about the third man to walk on the moon.
posted by Mizu at 3:42 AM on August 21, 2018

nthing Dan Carlin's Hardcore History. Blueprint for Armageddon and Wrath of the Khans were fascinating. His podcasts are well researched, planned, and are just one guy talking. If you printed them out, they could be books. He's kind of performing as well, so it's like a book read by a really good actor.

Eddy Izzard and Colin Quinn have both done stand up shows on the history of western civilization. The Izzard one in particular is hilarious. They're funny, they're history, Izzard doesn't talk about wearing dresses. Colin Quinn is history with a New York accent from a blue collar guy perspective, and that's good too.
posted by xammerboy at 4:01 AM on August 21, 2018

Seconding History of the World in 100 Objects. Start from episode 1 on that one; they go through in a particular order and sometimes refer to previous episodes.

Planetary Radio discusses space-related news in an accessible way. Start with the most recent episode.

I enjoy History on Fire quite a bit but the host is from Milan—if your father can parse a thick Italian accent, it’d be a good one. He did a few episodes on Roman Gladiators a few months ago that would be a pretty good starting point.
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:03 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

My husband is an aficionado of history podcasts. His favorite right now is The British History podcast, which goes into exhaustive detail but is very fun and engaging. He also listens to or has listened to The History of Rome, The History of Byzantium, Tides of History, and the Weird History Podcast. Mike Duncan's Revolutions is also very good (I listen to some of these as well and can vouch).
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:04 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest History on Fire, though the host speaks English with a pretty heavy Italian accent (I mention this in case your father has trouble understanding accents). There's a very good episode on the Iceman and three episodes on the Roman slave wars. It's another one where the titles of the episodes tell you what they're about.
posted by FencingGal at 4:26 AM on August 21, 2018

There's also the Pessimist's Archive podcast. It's an entertaining look at the hysterical or negative reactions to the introduction of things or technology that are now ubiquitous, and some discussion of why they were met with resistance. (Chess, the bicycle and the umbrella are a few subjects touched on.) There are only about 12 episodes and it's erratically updated, but an interesting listen.
posted by myotahapea at 5:10 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Does he have an Audible account? You can subscribe and get one or two audiobooks a month, but also they are now offering original content too.
A good one was episode one of "Days that Changed the World",; a fascinating first person account of World War II's 'Ghost Army'.
He might enjoy Bill Bryson's Appliance of Science too.
posted by KateViolet at 6:22 AM on August 21, 2018

Yeah, In Our Time (in addition to being the world's best podcast in general) has episodes on most of these things: military history (Agincourt, Sun Tzu, Clausewitz), ancient history (too numerous to name - good stuff on Thucydides, the Battle of Salamis, and the Delphic Oracle, just from what I currently have downloaded), Russian history (emancipation of the Serfs, construction of St. Petersburg, Catherine the Great), and popular science (I don't listen to a lot of these, but recently they've done Circardian Rhythms, the science of glass, and echolocation, as examples). There's also an episode on Archaeology and Imperialism he might like.

"The meta-game with In Our Time is enjoying host Melvyn Bragg's "way" with his guests, which is usually fairly terse"

And yes, listening to the interaction can make a dull episode worthwhile. It's all the funnier because both Melvyn and his guests are English, and they're generally pretty mumbly, so the disagreements start out very polite and low-key, which sometimes leads to a guest not realizing that Melvyn is telling them to do something differently, in which case Melvyn can get quite feisty. It's very entertaining.

I'm surprised no one has suggested Radiolab for science stuff.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:43 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

You might already be aware of this, but just in case -- the National Library Service exists for just this purpose. It is a national, federally funded program where people who have visual impairments (or physical impairments that would prevent them from holding a physical book), can sign up and get free audiobooks and an audiobook player shipped directly to them. (The audiobook player is specifically designed for people who are blind so they can use it independently.)

I'd call it Netflix for books, but it's even better, because it's specifically designed for people who have disabilities, is free, and is basically unlimited access to all books. (In other words, you will not be limited to the books available at your local library.) Typically, the program is run through major metro regions, but they will ship out to any location in your state. Check out the website for more info on the enrollment process. This is a gem of a service that is, in my opinion, under utilized.
posted by nuclear_soup at 6:50 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Another specific 99% Invisible episode he might like: Project Habbakuk: Britain’s Secret Ice “Bergship” Aircraft Carrier Project
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 9:10 AM on August 21, 2018

Great Lives probably has a few episodes that meet your criteria; the one about Christine Glanville, who was a British/Polish WW2 spy, is military history and a true-life adventure story.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 9:30 AM on August 21, 2018

Depending on how personally invested he is in the mysteriousness of ancient mysteries, archyfantasies may be of interest. They're overwhelmingly skeptical, but thoughtful, reasonably kind to believers, and always insightful.
posted by eotvos at 9:35 AM on August 21, 2018

My picks would be Tides of History, In Our Time, and one I just started listening to called Gone about famous disappearances of various things (DB Cooper, the Amber Room, etc.)
posted by PussKillian at 6:10 PM on August 21, 2018

The Age of Napoleon!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:12 AM on August 22, 2018

I very strongly recommend the Memory Palace podcast by Nate DiMeo. These are shorter, historical vignettes in a sort of cinematic narrative essay format. The focus is often on figures and individuals that might have gone overlooked in a more traditional historiography. There's a wide variety of emotional tones and textures - some stories are uplifting, some sobering, some baffling. The production quality is very high, with tons of great music featured.

I think the relatively short (10-20 minutes), self contained format is a perfect introduction to anyone starting with podcasts, and particularly well suited to the interests you've made reference to above.
posted by the_querulous_night at 11:55 AM on August 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Norman Centuries.
posted by paduasoy at 3:14 PM on August 22, 2018

(and, re specific episodes, I would just start with the first in this case)
posted by paduasoy at 3:15 PM on August 22, 2018

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