15 Podcasts Guaranteed to Make You Feel Smarter
Get smarter in your spare time with these educational and entertaining podcasts.
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We love to learn new things—it’s one of the things that makes us human—but once you’re out of formal school, it can be hard to find the time to feed your brain. Enter podcasts. These audio shows let you learn straight from the experts in any field, but on your schedule. Fit in a five-minute grammar lesson in the bathroom, a 30-minute cultural experience on the treadmill, or an hour-long dive into history during your commute. Not only will you be smarter, but an interesting podcast can also motivate you to do things you’d otherwise find boring. (Ahem, the treadmill.)
How we chose the smartest podcasts
To help you get smart in your spare time, we found the smartest podcasts by analyzing their user reviews, star ratings (4 stars and up only), number of subscribers (10,000 or more), place on the download charts (top 100 for their category), and extras like awards won. Once you’ve explored this list, you might enjoy the overall best podcasts, best comedy podcasts, best true crime podcasts, best political podcasts, best history podcasts, and best scary podcasts.
(New to podcasts? Here’s how to listen to podcasts.)
TED Talks Daily
Best for: Lifelong learners
TED talks have become the gold standard in accessible education. They’re simple, entertaining, easy-to-understand lectures given by the top experts in a field—from artificial intelligence to zoology and everything in between. They started in technology, entertainment, and design, but have grown to encompass every facet of life. This is one of the smartest podcasts because it curates the best TED talks, groups them by topic, and gives you a daily breakdown of what’s new.
- Something for everyone
- Professionally produced
Best for: Design lovers
Have you ever looked around you and wondered why something was designed the way that it was? Why do park benches only hold three people? Why don’t we build homes from kits? Why do snowplows take such strange routes? This is one of the smartest podcasts because it answers all of the questions you think to ask about your environment (plus a bunch you probably never thought about!). Host Roman Mars finds the “why” and “how” for all of the things that make society run but that are invisible to most of us. Just like there are podcasts for kids even adults will love, this one is a podcast for adults that kids will love too.
- Covers modern and historical design and architecture
- Well-researched and fact-checked
- 30-minute episodes
Myths and Legends
Best for: Culture buffs
A hallmark of the smartest podcasts is how they teach you in different ways; this one uses storytelling. Every culture has its own myths and legends and understanding them is a big part of understanding the rules of that society. This podcast highlights different cultural stories from around the world, telling them in a hilarious and informative way. Dive deep into myths you grew up with or get educated about a different culture. Want even more stories? Follow it up with the best new fiction podcasts you’ll obsess over.
- Laugh-out-loud funny
- A diverse and inclusive mix of stories
- Appropriate for the whole family
Best for: Foodies
The motto of this entertaining podcast is that it’s not just for foodies; it’s for eaters. From analyzing pasta shapes to wide-ranging celebrity chef interviews, Dan Pashman of the Cooking Channel’s “You’re Eating It Wrong” teaches you new things about the foods you love, how they are prepared, and how to truly enjoy eating them every episode. He’s also not afraid to take on the cultural influences surrounding food, offering context and history for why each dish is important. Race can also play an important role in food, as explained in these podcasts about race you need to hear.
- Updates weekly
- Lots of interesting and informative guests
- Warning: This will make you hungry
The Indicator (From Planet Money)
Best for: Finance freaks
NPR’s “little show about big ideas” offers bite-sized lessons on economics, finance, statistics, and how all of these things influence our lives on a daily basis. The hosts weave in current events so that every show feels relevant, providing context for what’s really happening in the U.S. and around the world. They also share tips for how to use this information to better manage your own money.
- Short episodes (15 minutes or less)
- Updates daily
- Researched, written, and fact-checked by NPR
How I Built This
Best for: Entrepreneurs
Whether you’ve got an established business, have just launched one, or are thinking about starting one, this podcast covers all angles of entrepreneurship. Host Guy Raz interviews CEOs from companies big and small about their successes and failures and what advice they have for others. You get to learn about some of the best-known companies in the world, straight from the people who started them.
- Provides both practical advice and motivation
- Covers all types of business, from tech to healthcare to philanthropy
- In-depth interviews that go way beyond news headlines
Best for: Grammar geeks
Who has time to take a grammar class these days? Yet having poor grammar can hurt you professionally and socially. Enter: Mignon Fogarty, the Grammar Girl. She gives “quick and dirty tips” for improving your English speaking and writing skills to help you avoid common mistakes and sound smarter instantly.
- 10-minute episodes
- Easy to understand
- Reinforce your skills with her informative and educational website
Best for: Politics junkies
Do you know who the attorney general is and what they do? Do you know the difference between senators and representatives? Why doesn’t the Supreme Court work year-round? How does gerrymandering work? Listening to the news every day can be frustrating if you don’t understand all the vocabulary used. But if you don’t get the ins and outs of how the government works, you’re not alone! The Civics 101 podcast was created to give you all the background you need to understand exactly what’s happening in politics (at least as much as anyone really gets what is going on!).
- Clear, simple explanations
- Interesting, real-world examples
- Makes sense of current news
You’re Wrong About
Best for: Biography buffs
You may think you know famous people based on what you’ve learned in school or through the media. However, a lot of context gets left out of history books. Each week, this podcast takes a famous (or infamous) person and tells you the rest of their story (which usually means how everything you thought you knew is wrong). This podcast leaves you thinking about these people, and how we talk about people in general, long after the episode ends. The episodes tend to be long (over an hour each), so add this to the list of the best podcasts for road trips to make the miles fly by.
- Great for sparking dinner-table discussions
- Meaty, hour-long episodes
- Well over 100 episodes so you’ll never get bored
10 Percent Happier
Best for: Existential thinkers
Finding happiness in this bleak world can feel overwhelming and, well, unhappy. But research has shown that making small changes consistently can add up to big happiness boosts. In this podcast, host and NBC news anchor Dan Harris shows you exactly what changes to make, how to make them, and how to stay motivated to become a happier, healthier person. He interviews top experts in a wide variety of fields and shares what helps them the most. Hearing how others found success and happiness with small changes will motivate you to start making positive moves in your own life.
- Updates several times a week
- Great for teens and young adults
- Variety of episode lengths, ranging from five to 90 minutes
Best for: Health nuts
TED Health rounds up the best TED talks around different health topics and goes even more in depth with expert interviews. Who better to learn about Covid-19 from than the virologist who first sequenced its genome? Or how about learning the secrets of the pharmaceutical industry from a CEO who worked in it for decades? Discover cutting-edge research, listen to top experts, catch up on medical breakthroughs, and learn how to incorporate all of these healthy new habits into your own life.
- The most current and up-to-date medical information
- A broad range of health topics
- Vetted experts
Best for: History buffs
Revolutions are the stuff history is made of. But they’re not just great stories; revolutions have long-lasting impacts on society, including in present day. This podcast delves into history with weekly episodes, each about a different revolution, to teach you all about what happened then and what it means for what’s happening now. This show is so popular, many consider it one of the best podcasts on Spotify.
- Well-researched and sourced
- Incredibly detailed
- Broken up into manageable chunks; usually less than 30 minutes per episode
Pop Culture Happy Hour
Best for: Pop culture aficionados
You’d have to read for hours every day to stay current on the latest celebrity news, movies, books, video games, and music releases. Or you can let experienced entertainment journalists do all the hard work and just tell you the good stuff. Five days a week, this podcast brings you the best news and updates from all corners of the entertainment world, in a bite-sized and funny way. It’s not like listening to the news; it’s like sitting around gossiping with your best friends.
- Up-to-the-minute current
- Full of great recommendations
- Great for people who don’t want to feel left out
Best for: Analytical minds
Nothing gets as twisted as statistics and the research studies they come from—especially in the health field. From the makers of the class Freakonomics (which also has its own entertaining educational podcast), Freakonomics, M.D. has real doctors break down the most important research studies. In very simple terms, they explain how the studies were done, what all the numbers mean, and, most importantly, what practical information you can take away.
- Hosted by Bapu Jena, MD, PhD, a doctor and economist
- As entertaining as it is informative
- Poses probing questions to get you doing your own investigations
Ask Me Another
Best for: Trivia fanatics
Trivia is like a workout for your brain. Sometimes you want a deep dive into a particular subject, but other times it’s fun to learn a little about a lot of different topics and get a full-brain workout. This podcast, hosted by Ophira Eisenberg, takes your average bar trivia to a whole new level with original music, celebrity guests, listener games, and plenty of interesting information.
- Live fact-checker so you can be assured that what you’re learning is legit
- Laugh-out-loud funny
- Perfect to listen to in a group
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