Favorite New Podcasts & Episodes from 2018

I’ve written before about my love of the “adjacent possible,” the potential and serendipity created when you notice and connect the unlikely.  I think the power of the adjacent possible is in how it can open up our apertures to new and different ways of seeing and understanding the world, and thus new and different ways of being and doing, embracing possibilities and trying new ways of problem-solving. 

I’ve also rounded up podcasts that inspire the adjacent possible for me before! But, because I am an auditory learner and love podcasts, and there continue to be lots of new ones, I figured that the beginning of a new Gregorian calendar year was as good a time as any to round up some podcasts that encouraged me to explore different points of view, eras, industries, and experiences in 2018. I’ve highlighted a set of new podcasts for 2018, as well as some standout episodes of podcasts I’ve highlighted before that were released this year and I think are can’t miss.

Also, in keeping with Optimistic Anthropology’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and in light of the fact that podcasts in the U.S. are predominantly hosted by white men,  I wanted to check-in on my own listening habits. Of the 17 podcasts featured in this post, 11 (59%) feature a host or co-host that identifies as female, and 6 (35%) feature a host or co-host that self-identifies as a person of color. This is up a bit (from 54%) on the female representation since my last round-up, but actually down a bit (from 43%) on hosts or co-hosts who are people of color. So, I’d love your recommendations of great, new podcasts hosted by people of color! Post them in the comments below or tweet them using the hashtag #adjacentpossiblepod.


Favorite New Podcasts in 2018


How I’d Describe It: This 7-part limied series explores how the Bundy family’s religion and history shaped their philosophy and galvanized followers to participate in the Nevada and Oregon armed uprisings on Federal Land. It also explores how Federal land management policy has changed how despite representing themselves (and not being lawyers), the Bundys managed to secure two victories over federal prosecutors in court. It also puts the Nevada and Oregon standoffs in a broader context of the growing far-right movement in America. A standout quality of this series is host Leah Sottile, who approaches everything with openness and curiosity and a real desire to try and understand what motivates the Bundys.



How I’d Describe It: Journalist and host Rukmini
Callimachi is an absolute badass who is trying to answer the question “Who are we fighting in the war on terror?” This limited series based on her reporting seeks to help understand how ISIS recruits people and who it appeals to, the institutional infrastructure of ISIS pieced together after the fall of Mosul, and how ISIS uses sexual slavery to advance its goals. It’s an amazing series, that is deeply unsettling and has some surprising twists and turns for Callimachi and us the listener.


Dr. Death

How I’d Describe It: I’m not usually one for true crime podcasts, but this limited series from journalist Laura Beil focuses on Christopher Duntsch, a neurosurgeon in Houston who operated on 38 people, killing two of them and leaving 31 paralyzed or seriously injured. The story is crazy. What it also is is an incredible exploration of how health care institutions opted for financial gain over patient protection; how the health system in Texas, due to policy decisions and limited oversight and accountability perpetuated Duntsch’s crimes; and how a small band of doctors and a growing number of victims raised the urgency about Duntsch so that he became the first doctor prosecuted in criminal court for what he did during surgery.


Everything is Alive

Topic: Fiction

How I’d Describe It: Each episode, host Ian Chillag interviews an inanimate object about its life. The result is a series of very quirky, often funny conversations sprinkled with history and context on why objects most of us have come into contact with are the way they are. My two favorites were Episode 8: Annie, Jack-o-Lantern and Episode 10: Sean, Subway Seat. Oh, yeah, all the objects have totally normal names.


Uncover S1: Escaping NXIUM

How I’d Describe It: While I’m not one who’s big on true crime (see Dr. Death) I have a fascination with cults. I had read about NXIVM (pronounced Nexium) when the actress Allison Mack was charged with sex trafficking in what media as termed a “sex cult.” But, I didn’t really know anything about NXIVM, which considers itself a humanitarian community. When journalist Josh Bloch runs into a childhood friend of his named Sarah Edmondson, she shares that she was a high ranking member of the organization and escaped it. From this, he developed this seven part series which uses Edmonson’s story as a jumping off point for understanding the group and its leader Keith Raniere.


Wild Thing

Topic: Science

How I’d Describe It: From reading a Washington Post obituary, journalist Laura Krantz learns that her cousin (who she didn’t know) was an anthropologist and considered the foremost expert on Big Foot. This serialized, limited series Krantz explores “explore why this creature ignites our imaginations, where that fascination comes from, and why it persists” through great explanations of science, conversations with everyone from American Museum of Natural History curator of anthropology Ian Tatersall to Harry and the Hendersons writer/director William Dear. Full disclosure, I interned at AMNH in college, and loved Harry and the Hendersons as a kid. So how can’t Optimistic Anthropology recommend this!


Zig Zag

Topic: Business & Journalism

How I’d Describe It: Manoush Zomorodi and Jen Poyant left their steady jobs at New York Public Radio to launch Stable Genius Productions. Zig Zag captures the story of how they are building the company as they try to figure out how to do it in a way that aligns with their values. Also, they’re part of this experiment called Civil which is built on BlockChain. I swear it’s more interesting and relatable than it sounds. Maybe I should have just shared their tagline. “ZigZag is a podcast about changing the course of capitalism, journalism, and women’s lives. For real.”


Favorite 2018 Episodes from Podcasts We’ve Recommended Before

Read about the 32 podcasts we previously recommended!

  • 30 for 30: Bikram (6 part series). Bikram Choudhury trademarked and popularized hot yoga in America. The series from producer and former Bikram practitioner Julia Lowrie Henderson explores the man, the world of Bikram yoga, and how he built a system that propped up his bad behavior and protected him from consequences. Like all 30 for 30s, it uses sport as an entry point into much bigger and deeper issues.

  • 99% Invisible: Articles of Interest (6 part series). 99% Invisible producer Avery Trufelman created this series (which may continue) to better understand how what we wear came to be. Each episode focuses on a trend, component or article of clothing. My stand outs are Hawaiian shirts and Punk Style.

  • 99% Invisible: A Year in the Dark. A year after Hurricane Maria rocked Puerto Rico, many are still without power. This episode of 99% Invisible seeks to understand why that is the case, and how one man stepped up when institutions didn’t and became a social media-based news outlet about restoring power for the whole island.

  • Code Switch: Mine Mill. I grew up in a labor family, and had no idea that there was a racially integrated mining union in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1930s. I sent this episode to my dad — a retired union lawyer and amateur labor historian — and he said he’d never heard of it either. Well worth a listen.

  • Criminal: Ride A-Long. Over a decade ago I did a ride-along with a Philadelphia police officer and it was eye-opening but I’ve never fully been able to communicate why. Criminal host Phoebe Judge goes on a ride-along with an officer in Austin, TX.

  • Criminal: Palace of Justice. When Benjamin Ferencz was 27 years old, he prosecuted his very first trial. There were 22 defendants, each of them high-ranking members of Nazi Germany’s death squad. Now 99, Ferencz reflects on the experience and shares wisdom and insight highly relevant for today.

  • Ear Hustle: Dirty Water. Sex trafficking crimes are hard to talk about. In what is a very difficult to listen to, but incredibly profound episode of Ear Hustle, Sara and LA share their different experiences of being “in the life,” while demonstrating the process of restorative justice.

  • Ear Hustle: This Place. Usually Ear Hustle focuses on the stories of those who are incarcerated. In this episode, it explores the history of San Quentin State Penitentiary where the show is made.

  • Heavyweight: Sven. Each week, Jonathan Goldstein helps a person confront something from their past in order to move beyond it. Usually, its impact is pretty small on others, but big for the person on the show. This episode is different. Sven was on a jury that sentenced a man named Paul Storey to death. He's regretted it ever since.

  • Reply All: The Crime Machine Part I and The Crime Machine II. CompStat has been so influential on modern, urban policing practices that it has spread from New York City to locales across the country, been adapted for other types of government agencies, and even been featured in a significant storyline in the tv show The Wire. But, who invented it? And how did a tool that was created to help cops be more effective turn into a tool for performance management that rewards racist, corrupt policing?

  • The Memory Palace: Revolutions. Host Nate Dimeo explores the history of the washing machines as a tool in women’s (partial) liberation. And it’s really good.

  • UnCivil: The Ring. Two women - one black, on white - run a spy ring that helps bring down The Confederacy. Need I say more?

  • You Must Remember This: Lupe Velez (Fake News: Fact Checking Hollywood Babylon Episode 14). I wasn’t familiar with the Mexican actress Lupe Velez before listening to this episode, but unfortunately she’s probably most famous today for her supposed manner of death. Historian and host Karina Longworth deconstructs the myth, showing how racism and sexism shaped it.