Host: Dan Carlin
For those interested in lengthy and thorough examinations of exciting and sometimes underrepresented history topics. This is not a podcast for those short on attention or time. Expect a deep dive into a great variety of topics, with many episodes approaching six hours in length.
Overview: The undisputed king of history podcasts! In his Hardcore History podcast, one of the best podcasts around, Dan Carlin takes a unique approach to modern history presentation and consumption. Instead of the standard approach of tackling a subject in a linear and episodic fashion, often with the help of other speakers and experts, Carlin delivers a highly compartmentalized experience. Most topics are tackled in a single podcast, but some are spread out over several episodes, resulting in dozens of hours being dedicated to certain topics.
Carlin doesn't stick with any one topic either, instead covering everything from Caesar's genocide of Gaul to the elaborate setup for the Great War. For many podcasts, this would be a herculean task requiring sacrifices in accuracy or perspective. Carlin gets around this by taking an ample amount of time to research each and every episode, presenting only a few episodes per year, but packing them full of accurate and well-presented information. The end result is more akin to a history documentary in audiobook form than the impression the term "podcast" tends to evoke.
Recommended episodes: For a standalone episode that dives deep into a topic that isn't particularly familiar to much of the public, consider The Celtic Holocaust. For listeners that want to dive right into what exploded Carlin's popularity, consider Blueprint for Armageddon, a comprehensive examination of World War I,
Host: Mike Duncan
For those interested in an extensive examination of a single rich subject. With 179 episodes, you'll get an overview of everything from the founding of Rome to the titanic fall of the Western Roman Empire.
Overview: The History of Rome is one of the history podcasts that you absolutely cannot miss. Not only is it a very thorough look at a popular topic, but it was also massively influential in kicking off the history podcast trend. A number of other podcasts on this list credit The History of Rome as a major influence and a sign that history podcasts could be a viable business strategy.
The podcast covers everything about Rome, from the legends surrounding the founding of the city to the exile of Romulus Augustulus in 476. The Republic is covered in depth, including the action-packed Punic Wars and the tumultuous transition to empire.
Recommended episodes: For a truly dramatic story that stands among the greatest in history, listen to the episodes about the life and times of Julius Caesar, such as 46, Sic Semper Tyrannis. For a particularly chaotic period in Roman history, check out episode 107, The Year of the Six Emperors.
Hosts: Ed Ayers, Brian Balogh, Nathan Connolly, Joanne Freeman, and Peter Onuf
For those interested in American history and its quirks. Instead of exclusively taking a wide focus on sweeping events and grand wars, Backstory places a tight focus on peculiar perks of American society such as America's relationship with taxidermy, whaling, beaches, the preservation of history, and shame.
Overview: Backstory has far more hosts than the aforementioned top podcasts, along with a lengthy list of staff behind the scenes. This results in more information being covered overall, with more experts to provide insight into their respective areas of expertise. Not only does Backstory provide you with these interesting factoids of American culture, but they also present you with the perspectives of historians in different fields.
If you are more interested in the grand narrative approach, then Backstory provides plenty of that as well. The history of America is delivered alongside these quirky bits along the way, providing you with all the facts about the big picture, but sprinkling in some fun flavor and context along the way.
Recommended episodes: Episode 181, Fit to Print?: A History of Fake News, is a good choice for a modernly relevant topic with a long and unusual history in American culture. Episode 109, Counter Culture: A History of Shopping, is a good choice for a lighter episode that delves into how exactly America got so obsessed with shopping and holidays like Black Friday.
Hosts: Tracy Wilson and Holly Frey
For those interested in diving into the lesser-known aspects of history. This podcast, as the name suggests, focuses on the details that tend to slip through the cracks in standard history books and lessons, not because they were uninteresting, but because there just wasn't a way to fit them in.
Overview: Stuff You Missed In History Class tends to focus on a lot of biographical episodes, covering individuals such as Charles VI of France, Giorgia Vasari from Renaissance Italy, and Mary Winston Jackson, the first black woman to be an engineer at NASA. However, they also have episode-centric events as well, covering unpopular subjects like the Regulator War, an uprising in the British American colonies that was featured in the popular Outlander series.
Recommended episodes: Consider The Bone Wars, Parts 1 and 2, for a journey into the wild and dangerous world of paleontology as Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh turn from friends to bitter rivals over the relatively new field of dinosaur bones. For a wild mystery about a disappearance closing linked to the founding fathers, check out The Mysterious Disappearance of Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of the infamous Aaron Burr.
Host: Aaron Mahnke
For those interested in the supernatural and how it varies from culture to culture. Lore examines mythologies from all across the world, how they're similar, how they're different, and what it all means. Expect a journey into the creepy and macabre, with a focus on thrill and making compelling stories in unexpected places. An excellent choice if you want a fun podcast for road trips.
Overview: Lore tackles the supernatural and flawlessly weaves it into more traditional historical narratives, painting a compelling picture of how we think the way we think and why we fear the things we fear. The format was so successful that books and an entire Amazon show were made based on it.
Recommended episodes: Episode 6: Echoes is a journey into the history of the mental asylum and how its disturbing roots grew into the staple of modern horror that it is today. Episode 17: Broken Fingernails tackles the popular and horrific folk tales about burials and being buried alive. Not for the faint of heart.
Host: Karina Longworth
For those interested in the history of Hollywood and the movie industry in America. Far beyond the scope of doomed movie ventures and scandalous starlets, this podcast takes the topic from every angle, exploring specifics such as how World War II affected individuals and the industry.
Overview: Karina Longworth is a renowned film critic that channels her impressive talents to explore everything about Hollywood. Rather than going the easy route with regurgitating unconfirmed rumors for shock value, she explores these claims and their validity.
Recommended episodes: Episode 5, The Lives, Deaths and Afterlives of Judy Garland, covers a topic that is vaguely familiar to many that follow Hollywood news and legends, but takes a deep dive into her personal struggles and the circumstances surrounding her rise and fall. Episode 71, Tender Comrades: The Blacklist Part 1: The Prehistory of the Blacklist, pushes into the even darker side of Hollywood and what happens to those that have fallen from grace.
Host: Malcolm Gladwell
For those interested in an alternative take on history and the embracing of subjectivity. Gladwell approaches a topic that is traditionally thought to be set in stone and encourages the listener to consider their own biases and how different perspectives can change everything.
Overview: Don't be fooled by the name, this is not an uneducated blunder through history with a blatant disregard for facts, but the exact opposite. Revisionist History looks at the conclusions reached by historians and the masses, then provides all the contradicting facts for consideration, giving you a picture bigger than the big picture. If you thought you knew everything about an event or person in history, then you may want to think again.
In general, the podcast focuses on many America-centric topics, such as Wilt Chamberlain and the Vietnam War, but it does branch out into other areas as well, such as mysterious paintings in Victorian England.
Recommended episodes: A Good Walk Spoiled, from season 2, goes into the sport of golf and exactly why it's as popular as it is. The reasons and details will not be what you expected. The Satire Paradox, from season 1, offers a look into the complicated relationship between comedy and social progress.
Host: Sebastian Major
For those interested in the less concrete side of history and how myths have evolved and become fact over time. Our Fake History looks into how misunderstandings and lies became history and how they were corrected, if they ever were, in the mainstream understanding. Expect a fair amount of humor and a lot of facts that you thought you knew being flipped upside down.
Overview: Sebastian Major takes a look at both what facts exist in fantastical tales and what strange lies exist in the commonly understood historical facts. From both angles, he helps paint a picture of how history reflected a blend between these two seemingly disparate accounts, rather than being strictly one. An excellent choice if you want a great educational podcast.
Recommended episodes: Investigate one of the most popular myths with episode 38, Was There A Real Atlantis (Part 1), the truth may surprise you. For a less popular topic of mythical speculation, take a look at episode 58, How Do You Explain the First Crusade (Part 1). You may think you know what exactly led to the First Crusade being launched, but do you really?
Host: Danielle Bolelli
For those interested in gripping stories of legendary courage, strength, perseverance, willpower, and tragedy. History on Fire puts the story in history, focusing on individual tales that deserve movies but don't always get them.
Overview: Danielle Bolelli is a Harvard professor inspired by Dan Carlin's Hardcore History to tackle history from the perspective of storytelling rather than dry recitation of fact. This results in a great fun and educational podcast. From a four-part series on Joan of Arc to a two-part series on gladiators in ancient Rome, History on Fire presents streamlined and action-packed versions of events and people that are generally understood on a surface level, but not necessarily familiar to listeners in depth.
However, it doesn't just focus on war and glory. Sagas about artists like Caravaggio are present as well, providing unique insight into characters that aren't traditionally thought of as heroic or even particularly interesting.
Recommended episodes: Episode 20, The Conquest of Mexico (Part 1): People of the Sun, is a great retelling of exactly how the violence between the Spaniards and the Aztecs transpired, with great drama building up to a climactic conclusion. Episode 26, The 47 Ronin (Part 1), provides an equally fascinating look into a band of characters that has transcended history and risen into myth. With this episode, learn what's real, what's legend, and why it makes such a great story.
Hosts: Stephen West
For those interested in the history of philosophy in both the east and west. Philosophy is traditionally a pretty tough nut to crack, but this podcast makes all of the main topics easily accessible to listeners, letting you expand your knowledge of a complex subject without demanding that you understand an entire complicated language before you even get started.
Overview: Philosophize This! addresses every aspect of major philosophy for the last several millennia, from Buddha and the Greeks to modernity. When taken as a whole, the podcast provides you with an easily understandable timeline of how different branches of philosophy evolved, overlapped, and died out.
Recommended episodes: Since the podcast tackles such tough material and builds on itself, it is recommended that listeners unfamiliar with the finer points of philosophy should start with the first episode and work their way forward from there. For listeners that consider themselves to be fairly familiar with philosophy, check out episode 108, The Frankfurt School - Introduction, for a look into one of the most influential facets of modern philosophy, an institution that affected everything that came after.