Ready to learn something intriguing while en route to your next escape? You’re not alone. An estimated 32 percent of Americans listen to at least one podcast every month, and with more than 700,000 titles available, podcasts are rapidly gaining popularity. But don’t fret. If it feels overwhelming to determine where to start, I’ve compiled my 10 must-listen series, spanning everything from Dolly Parton to the impeachment of Richard Nixon, plus a bonus series (albeit with, admittedly, a little bias). Here’s what’s of top note.
You Must Remember This
Film historian Karina Longworth’s delicious, deep-dive into the “secret and/or forgotten stories of Hollywood’s first century” is smart, deeply researched, and a riot to boot. Split into themed seasons—Dead Blondes, Six Degrees of Joan Crawford—start with the 12-episode You Must Remember Manson, which sheds fresh light on how and why Charles Manson’s cult emerged in LA, without dipping into prurience.
Dolly Parton's America
Host Jad Abumrad explores how the rhinestone-clad country staple has become a unifying force in divisive times and attempts to unpack exactly why in this superb, nine-part series. Interview veteran Parton, usually a quip-prone pro, is unusually thoughtful here, in part thanks to the trust she feels with Abumrad via her unlikely friendship with his immigrant doctor father.
A sibling to genre-defining Serial, this one-season show is a masterpiece of bait-and-switch reporting. Host Brian Reed begins what seems to be an investigation into a murder cover-up in a small Alabama town before the show pivots unexpectedly into uncharted—and far more compelling—territory.
Each episode of this weekly review show is more like eavesdropping on two whip-smart, witty women pondering the week’s news, both high- and low-brow, hence the name. Even if some of the news is Brit-centric, the charm and vim of co-hosts Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes make it unmissably fun.
Psychopathic con-woman or out of depth, idealistic entrepreneur? ABC News’ Rebecca Jarvis tries to help listeners decide by mining her own archive footage of interviews with disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes. Fresh reporting includes interviews with students from Holmes’ high school.
The impeachments of presidents Nixon and Clinton are vividly examined in this series produced by Slate magazine. It emphasizes the human side (and cost) more than the political, for people like the now-forgotten Martha Mitchell or the unfairly infamous Monica Lewinsky. You might want to skip season 3, which stretches the format to the story of Tupac Shakur.
The breakout star of this chat-and-chew podcast isn’t soul singer Jessie Ware, but rather her warm, no-nonsense mother Lennie, a former social worker with a passion for cooking. The duo preps a lavish meal to share with a guest—a simple format that disarms the likes of Emilia Clarke or Luke Evans into revealing chats.
Podcast producer Wondery specializes in true crime mysteries anchored by outlandish characters. Its breakout hit about a murderous love affair, Dirty John, might be better known, but this 10-parter from the honey-voiced Laura Beil is more jaw-dropping, centered on a back surgeon who leaves paralysis in his wake.
Something Rhymes with Purple
Lexicographer Susie Dent and TV host Giles Brandreth joyously share their nerdish love for the English language on this show. Each week, they tackle a different theme—relationships, food—and look both at etymologies and lost words like scurryfunge, thunderplump, and firkytoodle.
Host Jean-Marie explores the dark side of the American Dream on this chatty, attitude-packed podcast. The first season is centered on the scammish all-American idea of pyramid selling, now known as MLMs, while the second turns its gimlet eye on the world of wellness.
Bonus: Travel Genius
Boldfaced frequent flyers are the guests on this tip-packed podcast, offering practical, unexpected hacks they learned first-hand. Learn chef Curtis Stone’s trick to finding the best restaurant in an unfamiliar city or TV host Samantha Brown’s answer to flying with a family—stress-free. Each week, it’s paired with a discussion on a timely travel topic, from the hosts: myself and travel editor Nikki Ekstein.