The 10 best podcasts of 2021

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Hi, I'm mathilde

I get asked on a nearly daily basis for podcast recommendations. And while I still stand by my earlier list of recommendations, I’ve shifted my listening substantially since I published that post in 2017.

So what are the 10 best podcasts of the moment, according to . . . well, me? As a self-proclaimed expert podcast listener and the host of Beyond Better, here are my faves. I highly recommend you give them a listen.

(Also, I fully own that this is probably the nerdiest list of all time. I’m OK with that.)

1. The Moth

This storytelling podcast is my go-to when I am having trouble falling asleep—not because it’s not entertaining (it is!), but because I enjoy a good story to help me wind down from a full day. The podcast collects live stories delivered at Moth events around the world for your listening enjoyment. Best of all, they seek diverse people, stories, and topics. I don’t have a specific episode to recommend—I suggest listening to the latest one. It’s sure to entertain and enlighten!

2. So Money with Farnoosh Torabi

I’m a fan of money podcasts, and while not all the ones I listen to made it on this list, Farnoosh’s So Money had to be on here. She offers a different take on money that isn’t so one-size-fits-all and thinks beyond the middle-class American box of investing in a 401(k) and buying real estate (though she talks about those too!). And she does so with empathy, acknowledging there are societal structures that make it harder, but not impossible, for some people to win with money. I suggest starting with her Friday “Ask Farnoosh” episodes—they’re my favorite.

3. This American Life (Chicago Public Media)

This American Life stays high on my list because it’s one of the most beloved and well-produced podcasts of all time. Each Sunday, I look forward to Ira Glass’s expert storytelling. If you’re not sure which episode to start with, I suggest starting with the latest episode or following this great guide from The New York Times.

 

4. Hidden Brain

If you love learning about neuroscience and human behavior, this podcast is for you. Hidden Brain is a gem—full of interesting information that helps me understand myself and the world around me better. I suggest starting with “The Fake Bride” and “The Halo Effect.” Fair warning that both episodes are probably not suited for sensitive listeners.

 

5. Radiolab (WNYC)

Radiolab is still on my list too. While the hosts have changed (Lulu Miller, Latif Nasser, and Jad Abumrad are hosts, and Robert Krulwich left the show), the new hosts do a wonderful job “weaving stories and science into sound and music-rich documentaries.” Listen to their coverage of the eclipse, one of the most moving episodes I’ve listened to in a while. Magical.

 

6. The Stacking Benjamins Show

Equal parts ridiculous and informative, I thoroughly enjoy this show. The Stacking Benjamins Show embraces a game-show flair as the hosts discuss topics related to financial well-being, answer listener questions, and interview insightful guests. If you enjoy money shows, this one will liven up your podcast feed!

 

7. Planet Money (NPR)

Also still on the list is this super-fun economics podcast from NPR. And yes, I said “fun” and “economics” in the same sentence! Here is a guide to favorite episodes to get you listening.

 

 

8. This Is Jen

I met comedian and best-selling author Jen Fulwiler years back at a publishing event, and I’ve adored her work ever since. On This Is Jen, she best blends humor with profound insights, and manages to weave in super-nerdy topics like the space-time continuum and asteroids. My kind of podcast! I suggest starting with “How to Be Creative When You Feel Like Trash.”

 

9. Nice White Parents

While Nice White Parents was published in 2020, it has to make the list. This five-part series from The New York Times uncovers the challenges in one NYC public school—and reveals so much about the nation’s educational system. Listen in order, as each episode builds on the previous one.

 

 

10. 99% Invisible

This podcast is “a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture.” Each week, host Roman Mars takes 99% Invisible listeners on a journey to understand the world around us better—and does so with wonderful storytelling. I suggest starting with “The Real Book.”

 

 

More Podcasts to Binge

Here are a few others podcasts I thoroughly enjoy and listen to regularly (but I had to cut the list off somewhere!).

So, that’s it: my list of 10 best podcasts of 2021—plus some bonuses. What are yours? Please share your list with me in the comments.

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Comments +

  1. Julia says:

    I’m with you on Hidden Brain – definitely one of my favorites. I haven’t listened to This American Life in a while, but maybe I’ll check it out again. Here are a couple more:
    nonfiction4life – features great interviews with authors
    Mary’s Nutrition Show – a bit zany, advice on healthy eating

  2. Lisa Rodriguez says:

    You might also like Choice-ology… while centered within behavioral economics space, the host does a good job around tying to every-day life, so there are lessons you can walk away with around how our brains might inadvertently affect our judgement.

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