Five podcasts

Following Adam, here are five of the podcasts I listen to most frequently.

The Relentless Picnic

An excellent podcast that deserves to be much more widely-known. It’s three guys talking intelligently but informally about some of the fundamentals of modern life. Their word for it is “inquiry”, which I like a lot. They have to walk a delicate tightrope to be interesting, rigorous and entertaining at the same time, but they mostly manage it (the hyper-sincere stuff is much better than their Chapo-style skit stuff). Episode 17: The Cave from last year is still their very best, but recent episodes 24: The Tightrope & 27: The Wreckage are also great places to start.

Book Shambles with Robin & Josie

Books podcast from comedians Robin Ince and Josie Long, both of whom I have a lot of time for. They’re joined by a different guest every week for a discussion that’s ostensibly about the guest’s chosen books but usually rambles off elsewhere, most episodes ending shortly after Robin says “Oh but we haven’t talked about your books”. Guests include Stewart Lee, Eimear McBride, Greg Proops, Ruby Tandoh, Alan Moore, Helen Czerski, Alexei Sayle, …


Another books podcast, but unlike Book Shambles this one is very structured. Each week one of the hosts reads a book they haven’t read before and describes it to the other. The other host talks about the life of the author and fills in some context for the book, questions the first host about the book. It’s a book report basically. While there are occasional spoilers, I’ve more often come away thinking “okay, that’s something I’d like to read” that “well, don’t need to read that”. The hosts are sometimes a little annoying in their hesitancy to criticise some things their fans like, and they sometimes come a bit close to being ““#resistance” types (devoting the post-election episode of your books podcast to an hour-long rant about Trump isn’t good in my opinion, especially if the “book” for your next episode after that is the Constitution of the United States). But the core format is well-oiled and effective, the hosts are normally entertaining, and I’ve gotten a lot of good recommendations from listening.

Talking Politics

Weekly podcast from David Runciman, head of Cambridge’s Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS). He’s typically joined by a guest, either one of a panel of regulars from POLIS (most frequently Helen Thompson) or outside guests from politics, the media, or academia. Comment is sometimes made on the political events of the week, but the real focus is on trying to understand the medium term—what caused the political upsets of 2016 & 2017, and how things might unfold in the next few years. It is quite politics-as-a-fandom, as you would expect from academics, but it’s rarely wonkish and doesn’t make me actually angry, which is good going for a politics podcast.

Memetic Hazard

I’m hesitant to recommend this to people who don’t share my niche concerns and ways of thinking, but how could I not mention it? Part of the reason I loved memhaz immediately was the joy of recognising similar minds across the gulf. It is said that the purpose of art is to make you feel less alone. I’d hesitate to call Adam & Josef’s discussions—about dangerous ideas, awful tech capitalists, the coming eschaton, economics, amateur socio-political theorising, and how funny the words “nonce” and “cuck” are—art per se, but they made me feel less alone at a time when I really needed that. They made me laugh a lot when nothing else seemed very funny.
Memhaz is also mainly responsible for my now-pretty-much-complete transition from Horrified Lurker to Very Online, so thanks lads I guess?
They’re on hiatus at the moment, so get stuck into the archive.

Other podcasts of interest: The Allusionist, Short Cuts, Imaginary Worlds, Friendshipping!, Chapo Trap House.

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© Tom Harris 2015–2018.

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