There are three ways to compile a "best of" list: 1) look at the numbers and select the items that are the most popular, 2) convene a panel of experts and come to a consensus, or 3) ask a opinionated writer for his personal opinion. This column takes the third approach.
Over the past year, I've given dozens of podcasts a listen or two. The seven below are, IMHO, the best of the best:
Hosts: Alex Blumberg and Lisa Chow
What: The first two seasons follow businesses in the early stage of startup. Sometimes, the hosts spend an entire season in one business and sometimes they do one business per episode. Insanely interesting, if you're an entrepreneur.
Why: The problem with Shark Tank is that it never goes in-depth. With StartUp, you get into the details--financial and emotional--of what it takes to really launch a business. It's like reality TV, but it's not TV and the reality is actually real. (What a concept, eh?)
Host: Karina Longworth
What: This cast consists of nothing more than Longworth reading her well-researched opinions about Hollywood in the 20th century with background music. The idea sounds boring, but it's bizarrely riveting.
Why: There is no cultural force that's had a larger effect upon modern society than the Hollywood of the last century (i.e., before the internet.) You can't really understand how #MeToo happened (and why it took so long) without understanding Hollywood.
Hosts: PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman
What: Every cast illuminates some weird corner of the internet. Sometimes it's an in-depth story (like when the hosts traveled to India to chase down a scammer), and sometimes it's just Vogt and Goldman talking about (and trying to understand) some weird meme. Utterly fascinating.
Why: You can't understand business today if you don't understand the internet. While some of the topics here are obscure, much of what's discussed provides insight into how technology is changing our world. Fascinating and funny.
Host: Malcolm Gladwell
What: The best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell digs into history and reinterprets an event, person, or idea that you think you know about but where you've missed the real story. Example: That whole thing about Toyotas accelerating without brakes was total BS.
Why: Gladwell picks topics that aren't just a new side to an old story but which also manage to provide perspective into the wider world. Example: The Toyota cast helped me understand how dumb public opinion can cost a company billions of dollars. Ouch!
Host: Chris Anderson
What: Weekly episodes feature the head of the TED organization deep in conversation with TED speakers about the ideas they shared in their TED Talks. If you've got a favorite TED Talk, chances are Anderson will get around to that speaker eventually.
Why: The one problem with TED Talks is that they're too short. Just when you're getting interested, the host is starting to wrap things up. TED Talks, in other words, always leave you wanting more. Hence this cast, which is more.
Host: Tony Robbins (well, duh)
What: Motivational-speaker extraordinaire Robbins discusses everything from relationships to addictions to life goals to the latest neuroscience, all with his unique brand of intensity and perceptiveness.
Why: While people either love or hate Tony Robbins, there's no arguing that he has a uniquely positive take on life and a way of explaining things that makes sense and, most important of all, is actionable.
Host: Wendy Zukerman
What: Provides the science (from real scientists) behind issues ranging from the arguably trivial, like dieting and ancient astronauts, to the downright dangerous, like gun control and abortion. (I'll bet the show got death threats from those two episodes.)
Why: In a world full of egregious bulls--t and alternative facts, it's a relief to have scientific claims weighed and explained. While the presentation is lighthearted, this is serious stuff of the "everyone should know this" variety. Be prepared to shed your erroneous beliefs.