After becoming a truck driver, I began listening to many podcasts, lecture series, and audiobooks, forming many opinions. Here are some notes mostly for my own benefit which you may wish to peruse. They are sorted by type of thing, and then by quality.
- 1 Podcasts
- 1.1 Excellent
- 1.2 Good
- 1.3 Meh
- 1.3.1 The GiveWell Podcast
- 1.3.2 [TLDR]
- 1.3.3 The History of Rome Podcast
- 1.3.4 ycombinator
- 1.3.5 The Pirate History Podcast
- 1.3.6 Very Bad Wizards
- 1.3.7 Rationally Speaking
- 1.3.8 The Knowledge Project
- 1.3.9 The British History Podcast
- 1.3.10 Psychology of Video Games
- 1.3.11 Talking Machines
- 1.3.12 The Skullscast
- 1.3.13 The Infinite Now
- 1.3.14 Science, Ethics, and the Future
- 1.4 Bad
- 1.4.1 Waking Up with Sam Harris
- 1.4.2 AstronomyCast
- 1.4.3 The Tim Ferriss Show
- 1.4.4 The Cracked Podcast
- 1.4.5 The Co-Optional Podcast
- 1.4.6 The History of the Mongols
- 1.4.7 Lore
- 1.4.8 Cortex
- 1.4.9 Partially Examined Life
- 1.4.10 Intelligence Squared
- 1.4.11 Pragmatic
- 1.4.12 The Memory Palace
- 1.4.13 The Countryside Hour
- 1.4.14 Stuff You Missed in History Class
- 1.4.15 Stuff to Blow Your Mind
- 1.4.16 Radiolab
- 1.4.17 SciFri
- 1.4.18 The Nerdist
- 1.4.19 The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe
- 1.4.20 Breaking Bio
- 1.4.21 The Bayesian Conspiracy
- 1.4.22 A History of the World in 100 Objects
- 1.4.23 The Patch
- 1.4.24 The Most Useful Podcast Ever
- 1.4.25 No Such Thing As A Fish
- 1.5 Awful
- 1.6 Queued
- 2 Lectures
- 3 LibriVox audiobooks
This is my favorite podcast. The host is droll often enough, and true to its name it covers its entire subject matter. There are a lot of boring episodes, especially the interviews, which tend to actually bring forth the philosopher stereotype of endlessly discussing what some obscure figure meant by some arcane phrasing. Listen to this podcast. But skip episodes that bore you. Boredom is the enemy! Don't build a habit of zoning out while listening to stuff. Peter Adamson talks very slowly, so this one is particularly important to speed up. I listen at 1.9x in most situations, 1.5x while driving.
I actually lament having gotten all the way caught up to it before I started listening to other podcasts on any sort of regular basis. Maybe I'll wait until 2165 when it's finally finished and listen to it all again.
Despite charging ridiculous prices for episodes and having ads, and not trying for high degrees of factual accuracy, this is way too good not to recommend.
Really entertaining look at Soviet life and history. The host sometimes makes linguistically interesting speech mistakes.
If you plan on listening to this, you better start early, because there's so damn much of it. It's been going since 2006 nonstop. And unlike many podcasts, it focuses on timeless things, so the old episodes aren't simply irrelevant. Furthermore, unlike most interview show hosts, Russ Roberts focuses on asking informative questions of his guests instead of just praising them for their new book or whatever. So there's a lot of stuff worth listening to. At the same time, it's one of the shows where you lose little by skipping episodes that bore you or where the speaker's accent is incomprehensible. Any time Mike Munger is on, the episode is great.
I first listened to the first episode in late 2014, I think. I remember thinking, wow, these people don't know what they're talking about, and I could totally make a better podcast than them. Then I thought about it some more and realized their failure to comprehend the situation they were analyzing was a bit more sophisticated than my intuitive understanding of it. Sometimes it takes a nuanced understanding to realize that something is puzzling. And it was forgivable for two economists in 2006 to be ignorant of the literature in behavioral economics, and I'd already familiarized myself with it.
Other recurring guests who are great include Arnold Kling, Nassim Taleb (when he's making any sense), Dan Klein, Robin Hanson, Robert Frank, Bryan Caplan. There are plenty of great episodes with guests who only appear once. The quality of an EconTalk episode is directly proportional to the quality of the guest, but there are a lot of guests and you can skip the crummy ones and probably never run out.
I highly recommend this podcast. You'll learn how to take a fruitful perspective which Roberts likes to say centers around the writings of Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek. The only thing I think is missing is more of an appreciation of Goodhart's Law.
When I first started listening to this because Sarah Perry and Robin Hanson happened to be guests on it, I was a bit shocked that the hosts were Ted Kupper and Jon Perry, two of my very first ever Twitter followers. It hurt when they unfollowed me, because they were there at, essentially, my beginning. I guess they did so because, essentially because, I more or less stopped tweeting about transhumanism. I am still a transhumanist but I mostly stopped waving the flag after the six months or year of enthusiastically reading tons of transhumanist stuff wore off. So it goes.
Anyway it's a really good podcast. The first 41 episodes are just the hosts talking together, sometimes in lecture mode and sometimes in conversation, about futurism. They are smart, and they think more about the future than I do about anything, so they're worth listening to. Half the time it seems like they save me time by coming up with the same things that I would if I had just though about it longer. Alas some of the time they reveal their ignorance about some topic with their speculations. But no one could blame them. The future includes every topic imaginable; who can be an expert on everything? After episode 41 they start having guests most episodes and become a more traditional interview show, but quality doesn't suffer as a result and then they continue experimenting with the format. Highly recommended.
One of my great lamentations is that nothing in audio format seems to go into much depth. Review the Future is no exception, but it's the closest there is.
The ads in this podcast are more annoying than in any other podcast I listen to. I listen anyway, skipping them, because I like it a lot. It's not educational at all, just two dudes talking. But the dudes are likeable. That's all there is to it.
Despite being aimed at the Australian equivalent of high school kids, this is the most educational podcast I've ever found. The host is an actual biology teacher, so he knows exactly how to explain what he's explaining in a way that can be easily understood. It's also really entertaining. Sadly he only ran it for a little while. It's so good that I actually emailed a podcaster for the first time, asking him to resume making episodes.
The GiveWell Podcast
Woe! Nothing was higher quality than this. It seems that everyone at GiveWell is brilliant and intellectually honest. Exactly the sort of people I want to listen to as much as possible. They started the podcast as an experiment and ended it after just three episodes due to insufficient interest. If you care about my intellectual quality of life, tell them to start it back up again! Tell them podcasts take a while to gain traction! I want to listen!!
I used to have this podcast about internet culture in the good category, but then one episode inexplicably seemed to be from a completely different podcast. That was the most recent one I listened to. Who knows what the next episode will be. Also, it seems to suddenly unceremoniously end at some point.
The History of Rome Podcast
I used to have this in the good category, for being decent without having ads, but then it started having ads. God damn I hate ads. Fucking ads are everywhere! Mercifully an actually finished podcast means that, having caught up on it, I can reduce clutter on my podcatcher, which right now has 116 "podcasts" displayed. The main problem here is that the host is so boring. Peter Adamson of the hopwag doesn't try to be exciting, but he doesn't speak in a dreary monotone like Mike Duncan, either.
In addition to having a boring voice, Duncan has a boring writing style. He's boring! But for someone who listens to as many podcasts as I do, that's fine. Switching from exciting people to boring people adds variety, which overall leads to less boredom.
I have no idea how I found this. I can't seem to find it again by googling, so I provided the rss feed I'm using. It's great stuff but unfortunately for me it's all stuff I already know from reading Paul Graham essays, and not the really good stuff about rationality and living a good life, but about starting startups. Poor Elon Musk is competent at everything except public speaking. He's as inarticulate as a stupid person.
The Pirate History Podcast
Unfortunately, it seems like almost all the educational podcasts are about history. For me, this one is useful, because something about the host's intellectual leads to his conveying more about the general air of the time instead of the "one damn thing after another" style the others have all adopted. It's a good complement. Yarrr
Very Bad Wizards
The first episode of this podcast was one of the first episodes of any podcast I'd ever listened to. I'd planned on starting a podcast and wanted to learn something about the medium. It took three and a half minutes before the hosts actually started talking about their topic. This sent me into a paroxysm; I really REALLY hate having my time wasted like that. Now that I've listened to lots more podcasts I can see that my standards were far too high. They aren't trying to have high level intellectual debates on important topics. They're trying to have a light conversation, and I understand that now. They talk about things I care about a lot, which gets them a lot of points from me. And for some reason, it's better than any other podcast at causing me to actually think. I can't account for this at all.
Ultimately I'd like to move it up the list, but I don't think I can justify that, because it seems to be a little less than educational. Fuck, I don't know what I'm talking about. I like the podcast and recommend it. It's got ideas in it.
This podcast would definitely be higher on the list if it didn't spend its first hundred and thirty-two episodes with obnoxious idiot co-host Massimo Pigliucci. Once he finally leaves the show, the quality shoots up dramatically, but that long backlog of episodes with him will permanently leave the average episode quality at mediocre at best no matter how long Julia Galef puts out good episodes on her own. I really like the post-massimo episodes because almost unique among show hosts, Galef actually thinks. She doesn't do it consistently brilliantly, but you can tell from her questions that she does actual independent thinking about the subject matter. Another reason it's good is that she somehow manages to find a lot of worthwhile guests I've otherwise never heard of, like one of the scientists who figured out how to get much better estimates for the number of neurons in various mammal brains.
The Knowledge Project
I skipped some of the earliest episodes because I couldn't care less about finance. The ones that remained were good enough. It's a pretty standard interview podcast I guess.
The British History Podcast
The host spends a lot of time on personal speculations and on trying to sound cool. Still, I can't really have enough different decent podcasts to fill the time.
Psychology of Video Games
God, so much self-promotion. No, I am not going to support you on Patreon, you whiny-sounding son of a bitch. It's an odd choice to start a podcast when your voice is as whiny-sounding as the host's.
This podcast was helpful to me in reminding me how non-fluent in concept-wielding the average social scientist is. Most of the podcasts on this list have the audience and breadth of subject matter to pull in star social scientists like Paul Bloom, Andrew Gelman, Roy Baumeister, Robin Hanson, Philip Tetlock, George Ainslie, Dan Ariely. These are not average social scientists. The qualities which make them popular are not entirely inversely correlated to those qualities which make a social scientist smart, so with that selection effect in place you might think that most social scientists are interesting people with something to say, if not necessarily brilliant minds to fawn over. Not so. Due to its limited subject matter, this podcast seems to have no choice, since there's always a guest, to pick an average psychologist or video-game-psychology-adjacent (e.g. ergonomics) guest, and that gives a more accurate impression of the practitioners as a whole probably. It's not that optimistic a picture, because yes of course these are smarter than average humans but they aren't the potential saviors of the race you would want them to be.
All that said, the content is interesting and worth listening to if you play video games or have as much time to listen to things as I do.
Long ago this was in the good category, back when this list had like 20 total items on it. The reason I demoted it so much is because it slowly devolves into having nothing whatsoever that I can understand, except the hosts taking every opportunity to bash AI risk concerns and manipulate their guest into doing the same. Evil and misleading. Still probably worth listening to if you can understand the technical stuff.
Like AstronomyCast below, it has the problem that one of the cohosts understands technical details and knows what he's talking about, and the other is a journalist. The journalist adds nothing of value.
Let me tell you a story.
In perhaps 2008 or 2009, I discovered the phenomenon of "Let's Play", a thing where people record themselves playing video games and talking over the footage of that, usually live and preferably with buddies around. Some of these can get really entertaining. Kaz and medibot were some of the first LPers that I discovered. I went and watched everything they'd ever done. And I watched everything their friends had done, because they sometimes appeared in those things. And I tried to find everything they were in and watch it. I think there might have been a point at which I succeeded. I still spend spare time watching Kaz play video games on stream, as well as his friend Slio9.
So it's really nice for me that there's this podcast by Kaz and medibot. Unfortunately I have no interest whatsoever in most of the episodes because they're about Magic: the Gathering, a game I absolutely refuse to get sucked into. The ones that aren't, though, warm my heart.
This podcast probably won't interest very many people. Skulls.
The Infinite Now
TIMESCANNER's podcast is this new genre of silly science fiction. I don't usually care for fiction, but I like how short the episodes are. That really helps break up time between really long sessions of other things.
Science, Ethics, and the Future
This... "podcast" is just Brian Tomasik reading his own essays in the whingiest most boring voice he can muster. Also, it seems to be dead with just five episodes. Still goes above bad because he's able to think of the important considerations and he thinks about really important things.
Waking Up with Sam Harris
Some of the episodes of this are actually good. I skipped a lot of them because they're about stuff I have no interest in. In the ones I didn't skip, Harris spends sooo much time detailing his petty squabbles. I don't understand why he's so popular. It's like his only unusual quality as an intellectual is unlimited endurance for rapid engagement with other people. Maybe that (and a large dose of luck) quite suffice. Anyway, because he's so popular, he's able to pull in some really high quality guests, which honestly is enough reason for me to listen to this podcast. And I must admit, his intellectual integrity is endearing. I was impressed when his conversation with Paul Bloom led him to actually start changing his dietary habits back to a more vegan one. I was impressed that he managed to get roughly the correct view on AI safety issues, though he probably got there via social proof from Elon Musk and Max Tegmark, neither of whom got it by independent thinking either.
This one is bad because it's aimed at a completely lay audience with no scientific literacy whatsoever. It has the EconTalk issue of having run continuously since 2006, with the associated endless backlog. I still listen to it because it seems relatively free of bullshit, although the misleading metaphors and summaries that leave out most scientifically relevant information, the lies to children, are quite irksome. Also, there are two hosts, an actual scientist, Dr. Pamela Gay, and a...nother person. I don't know what the other person's doing there. He never says anything interesting. It should just be the scientist.
The Tim Ferriss Show
This is surprisingly okay. Like Sam Harris, Ferriss is famous enough to pull in some high-quality guests. I skip most of the episodes but I continue to listen because he does manage to talk about some neglected important things. The reason I leave it in this category is that Ferriss, like most people, suffers from the delusion that productivity advice isn't a worthless black hole for cognitive activity. Self-help. What a fucking sham.
The Cracked Podcast
Yeah, it's funny, but so much of what they say is wrong or misleading that I can't in good conscience recommend anyone listen to it. Yes, even David Wong. Though not as much when he's just poking at widely-held wrong beliefs. But make no mistake. This is not an educational podcast. It's more important than you might realize to avoid listening to false statements. People tend to end up remembering as true even those statements which are explicitly labeled as false, especially under cognitive load. I know this because I read it somewhere. It's a phenomenal act of hubris to think you are immune to this effect and won't be thus making the world worse in expected value by exposing yourself to entertaining bullshit.
The Co-Optional Podcast
This is the lowest item on the list I continue to listen to. I'm clearly not in the target audience. It seems this podcast is only intended for people who already follow TotalBiscuit in some manner, since he constantly references his videos and writings. I don't understand why you'd make a podcast and then assume everyone listening is also reading your writing and watching your videos. They're completely different mediums; maybe some people are truck drivers and have a LOT more time to listen to stuff than watch and read stuff?
Anyway, I'm kind of lost as to what the hell he's talking about most of the time, but I keep listening because the episodes are short and so they make good breaks between longer things, and because the host is impressively intellectually honest for someone in his field.
The History of the Mongols
I gave this an honest shot. I listened to several episodes. But I had to stop because the host's voice sucks so much.
Listen. If your voice sucks, don't start a podcast. It's not what you're meant to do.
Similarly, the host of this one's voice sucks. I can't really remember why else this one was bad, but I remember continuing to give episode after episode a try, and then realizing after every single one that the podcast was just bad.
Ugh. Completely devoid of value. It doesn't matter that I want to smear CGP Grey's voice on pancakes. There's nothing of interest here. The hosts just talk about their workflows. You might be able to glean one tiny speck of useful information from there, but if the signal to noise ratio is too low for even me to gain enough from it for it to be worth listening to, who could possibly benefit from it?
Partially Examined Life
This podcast actually started out pretty good. The first several episodes I liked a lot and am glad I listened to them. But then there's like 50 episodes in a row that are members-only, and of course I'm not going to fork over money to listen to a bunch of dudes who aren't as smart or philosophically sophisticated as I am (though, much more philosophically knowledgeable and conscientious) talk about shit. Then it turns out that, despite explicitly saying they DON'T do this, they assume you've listened to all of those episodes when the free ones resume, and I can't understand a single word they're saying. I kept trying with many episodes, but couldn't. Yeah. Anyway my favorite is their episode on Camus. You might try that one. God they were unfair to Peter Singer. But then, most people are.
The people who are interested in "debate" for its own sake are so much stupider than the people who are interested in the things people debate over. This podcast is for the former.
And it's nothing but politics. Politics. Not even once. The first episode that wasn't about politics was full of bullshit. Some business and politics presentation and speech writer talking about the """science""" of """"buoyancy"""", referencing nothing but bullshit papers that happened to be in vogue at the time, which were later overturned. Hearing that made me really appreciate Rationally Speaking and Very Bad Wizards, who have much higher (though, of course, still not sufficiently high) standards.
I'm really sorry I tried this. It's just two people talking about Apple products, which I have no interest in. One of them is merely not very smart and the other is a blubbering idiot.
The Memory Palace
I almost want to like this one. But over 40% of the space in each episode is taken up by ads. Absolutely unacceptable.
The Countryside Hour
This was one of the last BBC podcasts I ever tried, and it turned out to be just as unlistenable as the rest of them. Who thinks it's a good idea to interrupt every thirty seconds with a phone number?
Stuff You Missed in History Class
It was so long ago, I can't remember why this one is bad. Just trust me on it.
Stuff to Blow Your Mind
Same. Don't listen to anything by NPR or the BBC.
It infuriates me that this one is so popular, because it's one of the worst podcasts of all time. All the super-obnoxious genre conventions of a radio show, put into a podcast for scientifically illiterate people to feel like they're learning. I hate it. It's sometimes nominally about things I'd actually like to hear about, too. Such a shame.
Basically, same deal. Interrupting with phone numbers. Why?
Can't remember anything about this one.
The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe
It's just a circlejerk with no information in it. I guess this is as good a place as any to soapbox about the skeptic movement in general. I used to see them as sort of doing good on average, because they're one of the few groups on earth that even purports to care about epistemology. But they really don't. They're just a tribe like any other, making noises about epistemology but no more. The closest thing to a principle that differentiates their belief-generation procedures from any other group's (as opposed to the usual arbitrary process that determines the memetic makeup in a cohesive group of humans) is the absurdity heuristic, which, you'll be shocked to find out, is a heuristic. Not a rule of inference. The Less Wrong community, such as it is, does a lot better with its cargo cult Bayesianism.
I could not get two minutes into the first episode. After hearing something like 10 people introduce themselves, I realized I was not going to be able to follow the conversation. I looked at the episode list and realized the expected net value of information from listening to even one episode to determine its quality was negative.
The Bayesian Conspiracy
If you wanted to sabotage the rationalist movement, making this podcast, telling people about this podcast, allowing this podcast to exist, would be a good start. Maybe I've spoiled myself by limiting myself to talking to mostly high-quality members of the movement. If the average members are basically as awful as the people in this podcast, which I guess they are, then the movement as a whole does deserve to be destroyed, and has earned every bit of disapprobation hurled upon it, even by the uncomprehending outsiders.
I hate these people for being the first "rationalists" to start a podcast. If it were me instead... Man...
A History of the World in 100 Objects
Can't remember why it was bad. If memory serves, this was one of the BBC or NPR ones, so probably for the same reason all the other ones are bad.
The Most Useful Podcast Ever
No Such Thing As A Fish
This one is bad for exactly the same reasons Radiolab and The Cracked Podcast are bad, except cranked up to 11 and put together.
This American Life
It's totally content-free. I don't see how you could listen to it and think you've listened to anything. I listened to some of the first episodes ever. It's a very old podcast, so maybe I thus haven't given it a fair shake and should try the newer ones. If there's anything there, let me know and maybe I'll give it another try. Or let me know if this evaluation is correct so I can remove this disclaimer.
- History of World War II
- History of the 20th Century
- This Week in Microbiology
- This Week in Virology
- Twilight Histories
- War Time
- History On Fire
- The History of English Podcast
- The History of Alchemy Podcast
- Bruce Lee Podcast
- Great Moments in History
- A Brief History of Mathematics
- Indie Game: The Podcast
- Inward Empire
- Algocracy and the Transhumanist Project Podcast
- Scientific American
- Strange Matters Podcast
- The Economist Radio
- The Incomparable
- WTF Do We Know?
- We Should Have A Podcast
- Histories of the UNEXPECTED
I don't have much to say about this lecture series. Its great virtue is in lacking the serious flaws that make every other lecture a poor choice for trying to listen to them while driving as part of my self-education.
They're really interesting. I can't explain why exactly. It's not the subject matter. The lecturer seems to know how to hold attention.
They're pretty old. It's interesting that he once uses the phrase "it's pretty much proven at this point that" regarding a claim that has since been disproven. Knowing things is hard.
You might think that stripping the visuals from astronomy lectures would make them suffer greatly. Well, of course you'd be right, but you wouldn't be so right that Richard Pogge's experiment podcastifying the lectures for the second half of an intro astronomy course doesn't work well. These were some of my favorite things to listen to once per day until I ran out. I liked them so much that I tried to find them again, and to my delight discovered that the same person did the same thing with the first half of the course, and his lectures on astrobiology, which I now have queued. Man, if only graduate courses or at least higher level undergraduate courses did this. Then I could really get some depth.
Six Not So Easy Pieces
These Feynman lectures seem like they're brilliant, but I can't tell, partly because I'm not familiar enough with the calculus, but mostly because they really need the visuals of the chalkboard he's writing on. Also, they seem to be a sequel to "Six Easy Pieces", which I didn't find.
- Scott Stevens - Games People Play
The quality of an audiobook depends on three things: the quality of the book, the quality of the oration, and the listenability of the text. LibriVox, having volunteer readers and almost solely books from before 1923, tends to utterly fail the second and third criteria. As often as not, the volunteers are worse readers than brute text-to-speech software.
This would rate an Excellent if not for the poor reading. It's such a fantastic personal account of manly science and engineering, using ingenuity and dedication to figure out experiments to perform and things to try. It's brilliantly written. I urge you to read or listen to this. It will take less or slightly more than an hour, depending on which method you choose! I've listened to it several times. So good.
The only problem with the reading, really, is that the speaker's microphone picked up every sibilant and they get delivered harshly to the ear. This could be fixed with a simple low pass filter, but the person recording evidently didn't know shit, and neither does anyone else at LibriVox. They'll probably keep plodding along with their useless task even after text-to-speech software surpasses decent readers.
Peter Yearsley does a better reading of this book than most professionals. Seriously, this one's almost worth listening to for the oration alone. But even if it had a crummy reader it'd be worth listening to for the historical information and to learn to get into the head of a group of people who think VERY differently from how you and I do. That sort of thing is always useful.
As far as I can tell, this is the only good self-help book ever written. It's mercifully short, brilliantly written, and contains good and actionable advice mysteriously absent in the millions of pages of bull-, horse-, and goat-shit always flowing forth from contemporary inspirational gurus.
I'd already read the book several times before listening to the audiobook, but was pleased to learn that the recording is good! The reader does a good job, only rendering a couple of sentences with wrong emphasis and giving a pronunciation of Epictetus I find distasteful (though I can't claim it's a mistake, since no one knows how it would have been said in Epictetus's time).
There is also another version, if for some reason you find this one objectionable. You could easily listen in one sitting or spread out the 7-or-so-minute recordings to different sittings.
The Bhagavad Gita is awesome! I confess I listened to a version I got from some torrent, which isn't either of the librivox versions, and those seem worse than the one I listened to. Even so, this is such a cool text. Like 80% of it is devoted to Krishna talking about how awesome he is, which I doubt you could get away with in any form in a modern text, and interspersed throughout are all these awesome quotes about conquering and uniting the self. Awesome.
- Theory of Moral Sentiments
- Marcus Aurelius's Meditations
- Cicero's Philippics
- Anna Karenina
- History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
- The Iliad
- Reflections on the Revolution in France
- On Liberty by John Stuart Mill
- Russia in 1919
(this page is still quite incomplete)