You can basically boil down every nonfiction, non-investigative podcast to one of four categories.

Funny People Talkin’ Bout Stuff: Podcasting was built on the notion of a funny person who can hold their own with a microphone creating a platform for other people to join them and talk about whatever. Some examples include WTF with Marc Maron, Never Not Funny with Jimmy Pardo, The Indoor Kids’ with Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon.

Discussions, Interviews & Chit Chat: This could be an actual NPR program that’s been broadcast as a podcast as well or an interview-style show that’s specific to podcasting. See Fresh  Air with Terry Gross, Bullseye with Jesse Thorn, or The Bill Simmons Podcast.

Humanity Is Pretty Cool, Actually: Often these podcasts appear to be about a certain topic or focal point, but when you boil down the episodes to their core, it’s about explaining in some way how interesting and cool the human race actually is (or showing you the bad side so we can remember to appreciate the good side). They include This American Life, Criminal, The Moth, Mystery Show.

Impress Others With This Knowledge: There’s this information. You probably don’t know it. The people who do the podcast know it, or have at least learned it. And now, they’re going to share that information with you so later on you can bring it up in casual conversation with friends in order to sound way smarter than you are.

Sure, there are other podcasts out there that don’t quite fall into these categories, though sometimes a podcast can fit more than one of these categories. We’d be here all day trying to figure out a pure taxonomy, and maybe that’s the topic of an upcoming podcast, but for now let’s focus on that last category.

Whether you actually want to learn new things or just collect a random assemblage of facts that you can have at the ready whenever a discussion involving them breaks out, these are ten podcasts you should subscribe to right now. Each of them will help you out in different ways and with different topics, but you’ll come away from each one feeling like you know a little bit more than you did before you listened.

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To learn more about money: Planet Money

If you listen to NPR you’ve probably heard Planet Money before (you liberal nerd, you). The podcast form makes it easier to catch their stories consistently. As you might have gathered, each episode is about money, markets, or finance in some way. If there’s a a huge event affecting financial markets, like Brexit, they’ll explain what’s going on. Other times they drop episodes explaining why heroin is cheap or what happened to the Bitcoin revolution.

Episode To Start WithBlack Market Pharmacies And The Spam Empire Behind Them, which explains roughly 65% of the spam emails you receive every day.


To learn more about design & architecture: 99% Invisible

It’s actually a little hard to boil down 99% Invisible into an explainable blurb. They explain it by saying its “about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.” That could literally mean architecture as some episodes deal with buildings or construction. It could also mean that they’re going to delve into why a certain carpet design is so appealing or what happened when a local police force starting wearing blazers instead of uniforms. It’s design from its smallest level to its biggest.

Episode To Start WithPagodas and Dragon Gates, which is about where the designs of American Chinatowns came from and why they’re almost more foreign to people from China than to us.

Hidden Brain logo
Hidden Brain logo

To learn more about how humans really think or act: Hidden Brain

If you’ve ever wondered why good people cheat or why he can’t ever seem to fix traffic, this is the show for you. It’s also a show for people looking to understand why they never seem to lose weight or why they’re unable to stop smoking. The show finds out about scientific studies that help us to understand why we make the choices we make, especially when those choices seem counterintuitive.

Episode To Start WithFood For Thought: The Subtle Forces That Affect Your Appetite, in which we learn that the size of your dinner table and the size of the waiter who serves you at a restaurant will have an effect on how much you eat.

Invisibilia logo
Invisibilia logo

To learn about our beliefs and assumptions: Invisibilia

This podcast is all about the “invisible forces that control human behavior.” The beliefs we cling to. The assumptions we make until we just believe them. And of course, it challenges them. Their episodes are in-depth but well worth settling in to listen to as you’ll probably find yourself thinking about something you believe and whether or not it’s actually true.

Episode To Start WithThe Problem with the Solution, in which they visit a town in Belgium where local residents coexist with people suffering from mental illness and makes us question if our need to find a “solution” to the “problem” is getting in the way of the truth.


To learn more about the internet: Reply All

Like 99% Invisible, Reply All is more than just “a podcast about the internet.” The internet is a jumping-off point for their reports and stories that go in myriad directions. They might start by finding out about a website or a meme but then follow the story into the real world in order to make sense of it. Of course, sometimes they literally do stay online, like when they’re trying to understand a strange tweet or figure out just what in the hell is going on over on Reddit.

Episode To Start With:  Exit & Return, Part I. While On the Inside is a part one in a four-part series than any fan of Serial needs to listen to, we’ll recommend this episode, itself the first in a two-parter, as it balances the podcast’s sensibilities and tells a fascinating story about a Hasidic man who discovers the internet and then must choose whether or not he can continue down his path once he knows what’s out in the world.


To learn about the stories behind the stories: Revisionist History

A relatively new podcast from author Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point), the stated mission of which is to take a moment in history or a situation and try to show the truth hiding behind our understanding. So far, topics have ranged from why Wilt Chamberlain continued to shoot terrible free throws even though he knew how to shoot them better, to what happened after an unknown female artist took England by storm with her painting but then never found success again. Its stories you might think you know, or think you understand, and then the reality underneath.

Episode To Start With: Carlos Doesn’t Remember. Another episode that’s the first in a series. This time, it’s the first in a three-parter about the struggles that low income kids face when applying to college, not to mention all of the ways the system is set up to work against them. Gladwell doesn’t mince words when it comes to his opinions but he also presents a solid case.


To learn about language: The Allusionist

Ever wonder why we call it “small talk?” Wonder why it’s called gay “pride” and not something else? Why do British people say “please” in certain situations that Americans would never consider? These are the kinds of questions that The Allusionist answers. This isn’t life-changing information and the show wisely doesn’t try to be more than it is. Host Helen Zaltzman is jovial and sarcastic and injects a bit of fun into what could otherwise be a dull affair.

Episode To Start WithGeneration What? If you’ve ever wondered where you fall on the generational fault lines or wondered where the term “Gen X” came from, you’ll find out here. You’ll also find out just how far back named generations go (much further than you might think).


To learn about the true stories behind the bullshit: Cracked

You might not think of Cracked when you think of podcasts where you’ll learn stuff, but if you’ve ever visited the site you know that parsing out information that you might not otherwise know if their bread and butter. Many of the episodes are basically audio versions of their most popular posts, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. They do a nice job of mixing up the topics, from the morose realities about life to the insane details hiding behind pop culture.

Episode To Start WithWhy Hollywood Always Gets the Apocalypse Wrong, in which they explain that if a zombie apocalypse actually did happen, we would not devolve into a bunch of lunatics like on The Walking Dead.


To learn more about history: Stuff You Missed in History Class

This one’s pretty self-explanatory, right? We know we zoned out plenty of times in high school history classes, so here’s a chance to learn all of the stuff we didn’t realize we were missing. Sometimes you’ll recognize the topic a mile off and sometimes it will be a fascinating episode that you had no idea about.

Episode To Start WithThe Late Victorian Manure Crisis. What DID everyone do with all that horse poop back then?


To learn about, well, everything: Stuff You Should Know

The more expansive version of the previous podcast, SUSK covers topics from just about every walk of life. Pop culture, history, science, and more. Every episode is very different but each one contains information that you’ll probably find useful at some point. At the very least, it’s the ultimate source of dinner party conversation starters. “Hey, did you guys know…”

Episode To Start WithWhy Are So Many Disembodied Feet Washing Ashore In British Columbia? One of the most disturbing questions of the day ends up with a surprisingly simple answer. Still, don’t let that stop you from writing that screenplay.

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to

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