Reading lists

12 must-hear podcasts, chosen by Penguin authors

We asked a handful of our authors who host podcasts – Pandora Sykes, Nihal Arthanayake, Melissa Hemsley and Tim Weaver ­– to pick their favourites.

From left: Melissa Hemsley, Tim Weaver, Pandora Sykes and Nihal Arthanayake.
From left: Melissa Hemsley, Tim Weaver, Pandora Sykes and Nihal Arthanayake. Mica Murphy/Penguin

There are so many podcasts available now that it can be difficult to find the best ones. Below, we asked Penguin author-podcasters to recommend their favourites, from podcasts about sex, love and family to others about farming, mental health, music, or true crime.

Every day I listen to The Intelligence from Economist Radio, hosted by Jason Palmer and a wide array of The Economist's journalists from all over the world. The reason I really enjoy listening to this podcast is because it gives me a 20-minute dive into the world beyond the UK, dealing with stories that are rarely spoken about. It manages to expertly condense hugely complicated issues into just minutes, providing context and different viewpoints. It works well for me because I have a 20-minute commute into work, so my entire journey is spent consuming the world and reinforcing how interconnected we are. Palmer asks concise and intelligent questions that never waste a word, and are designed for the expert to give the listener a tantalising glimpse into the story. 

The brilliant comedian Romesh Ranganathan mixes his razor-sharp comedic skills with his absolute adoration for rap music and hip-hop culture. A wide array of guests including Stephen Merchant, Riz Ahmed and Radio 1's Tiffany Calver talk about life through their shared knowledge of rap music. The podcast includes his wingman Rumaj, who provides alternative commentary and a reason for Romesh to verbally dismantle him when needed. As Romesh and I both are hip-hop obsessives, this is a pleasure to listen too. What shows, though, is his knowledge of the genre, especially when he speaks to rap artists such as R.A. the Rugged Man and Tinie Tempah, and they go deep into the scenes they're respectively from. I was also a guest on it once, and it was an amazing experience. 

This is such a beautiful listen, and a great way to get people to open up about themselves. Emily is such a gentle interlocutor whose genuine passion for dogs shines through in every episode. She has a dizzying array of famous people who choose to walk their dog while chatting with her, from Heston Blumenthal to Jeremy Paxman. After losing her parents and her sister in the space of three years, it was the arrival of a dog in her life (Raymond the Shih-tzu) that saved her sanity and helped her to cope with the grief of losing those close to her. She radiates positivity, and it is clearly infectious – her guests clearly adore being in her company. 

This award-winning, farmer-led podcast features stories from independent regenerative farmers all around the world. Check out episodes with acclaimed chef Doug from zero-waste restaurant Silo, and episode 54 on injustices and repairing colonial trauma through a relationship with the land.

Kimberley Wilson is a chartered psychologist with an M.Sc in nutrition, who writes and podcasts about how to build a healthier brain and stronger mind through storytelling and the latest research. I’d also recommend her ‘Thinking Space Book Club’. I’m a big fan of Kimberley’s. 

This is a lifestyle show with tips and tricks from around the kitchen table – very doable positive habits to take on. I hugely enjoyed the episode about turning chaos into calm with Dilly, who declutters homes, and its knock-on effect to our mental wellbeing (very apt at the moment, as our homes are multitasking more than ever) and the episode with Lizzie, an eco-campaigner and the founder of Plastic Patrol litter pick-ups, about how we can all play our part in our communities on our daily walks in our neighbourhoods.

Tim Weaver, host of Missing

The first season of this true crime podcast is superb. Former Rolling Stone writer Neil Strauss looks into the disappearance of 25-year-old aspiring actress Adea Shabani, who was last seen at her LA apartment complex in February 2018. At the beginning, it feels like a familiar Hollywood tale of big dreams gone bad, but – like a classic Chandler novel – the set-up is really a Russian doll: the further Strauss digs into Shabani’s disappearance, the bigger the maze becomes. A brilliant piece of journalism with some straight-out-of-a-thriller twists.

H.P Lovecraft’s story about a man disappearing from a locked room in a psychiatric hospital is given a modern update. Writer-director Julian Simpson transports the action to the 21st Century and pitches the whole thing as a podcast series made by two investigative journalists, working dual strands of the same case on opposite sides of the Atlantic. For me, it works better before the dial gets turned all the way up to Maximum Cthulhu –– those early episodes are so well done it’s easy to forget this isn’t a true crime series –– but it’s definitely worth a listen.

Another true crime series – but with a difference. It’s the story of April Balascio, who finally picked up the phone to police in 2009 to tell them what she’d long suspected: that her father, Edward Wayne Edwards, might be a serial killer. It’s no spoiler to confirm that she was right, because what journalist Josh Dean does differently here is not spend time on the crimes that Edwards was convicted of, but on Balascio’s recollections of her childhood, how she came to suspect her father, and what else he might have gotten away with. Big, emotional, impressive.

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