10 Fascinating History Podcasts That Will Get You Up to Speed (No Textbook Required)
These top-rated history pods will help you make sense of the news, learn something new, and bring the past to life—all on your morning commute.
Being a history buff has its benefits. Not only can it make for great fodder at dinner parties, but having a solid understanding of the past can help you make sense of the increasingly complicated and overwhelming present, and offer valuable lessons when it comes to navigating the future.
The good news is that with a wide spectrum of formats, personalities and topics, podcasts are making brushing up on history topics easier and more entertaining than ever, often revealing new facts and prompting new ways of thinking along the way (no heavy textbooks or highlighters required).
Whether you're a novice looking to learn, an aficionado ready to take your knowledge to the next level, or just someone who appreciates an interesting (or, in some cases, very strange) story, read on for a playlist of picks designed to catch up, complement and contextualize your history command, and browse more podcasts for your listening pleasure.
1 You’re Dead to Me
Described as “the history podcast for those who don’t like history… and those who do,” this BBC podcast breaks complicated history topics down into layman’s terms, injecting a healthy dose of humor along the way. Tune in weekly to hear You’re Dead to Me host Greg Jenner and an array of guest personalities riff on everything from the prohibition to the Egyptian pyramids in under an hour (many episodes are 30 minutes or less). There’s also a recent episode dedicated to the history of chocolate for all of us sugar fiends.
2 American History Tellers
Hosted by Lindsay Graham (not the senator), the American History Tellers podcast from Wondery challenges what listeners think they know about America with discussions dedicated to some of its most notable landmarks and events. Browse a whopping 33 seasons (that typically consist of four to eight episodes that are each 30 to 45 minutes long) for a deeper dive into our political system, monuments, parks, presidents, wars, and well beyond.
3 Stuff You Missed in History Class
This podcast from iHeartRadio is here to help you fill in the gaps of your history education, covering “the greatest and strangest stuff you missed in history class” on a regular (as in almost daily) basis. Tune in for a mini session hosted by Holly and Tracy (around 15 minutes) to gain an extra nugget of knowledge when you’re getting ready and opt for a longer one during your daily commute. Episodes recorded over the past few months also shed light on past pandemics such as the 1918 Flu and the history of modern medicine.
4 Revisionist History
Part history, part philosophy, this podcast from Pushkin revisits the past—from people and events to ways of thinking—with fresh perspective in an attempt to affirm whether we got it right the first time around. Prepare to start rethinking everything as journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell offers hot takes on the greats (among them Hamlet, Van Gogh, and Elvis) and explores inquiries such as “How does genius emerge?” while touching on some powerful life lessons.
When it comes to major—and often complicated—events and movements, it’s easy to get caught up in the details, which is why we can appreciate Throughline from NPR that’s dedicated to the larger picture. Each week, the podcast takes listeners behind some of the biggest headlines to provide an understanding of how we got here and how much impact it will have on where we’re going—typically in the span of an hour or less.
6 Hardcore History
History enthusiast and renowned storyteller Dan Carlin has been captivating audiences with—and has garnered a good amount of acclaim for—Hardcore History, where he manages to hold listeners’ attention for hours at a time while discussing some of the most prominent rulers and battles in history, and answering provocative questions like, “What happens if human beings can’t handle the power of their weaponry?"
7 The History of American Slavery
Developed in 2015, this podcast from Slate centers around the history and impacts of American slavery. Listen to hear New York Times opinion columnist and former Slate chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie and Slate staff writer and author of Innocent Experiments Rebecca Onion discuss how the institution came to shape our country’s politics, economy, and culture with the help of acclaimed historians and writers (and definitely check out their follow-up podcast, Reconstruction, when you’re finished).
8 Slow Burn
From Watergate (Season 1) and the impeachment of Bill Clinton (Season 2), to the murders of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. (Season 3) and the rise and reduction of David Duke (Season 4), Slow Burn peels back the intricate layers of some of the most shocking and scandalous political and cultural events one episode at a time. The latest season, hosted by award-winning reporter Noreen Malone, focuses on the people and ideas that propelled America into the Iraq War and the consequences that have followed.
“Exploring the unexpected, the slightly odd, and the strangely wonderful in art history,” ArtCurious, hosted by contemporary art curator Jennifer Dasal, reflects on some of the biggest names and works society has come to value and collect, while introducing listeners to new creatives and serving up curious prompts such as “Was Van Gogh accidentally murdered?”, “Is the Mona Lisa a fake?”, and “Was Walter Sickert actually Jack the Ripper?” You’ll have to tune in to find out.
10 A Taste of the Past
Last, but not least, A Taste of the Past, hosted by culinary historian Linda Pelaccio, takes listeners on a journey through the history of food, exploring the connection between food cultures of past and present. Prepare a plate and tune in weekly (most episodes are between 30 and 60 minutes) as she and a range of authors, scholars and culinary chroniclers delve into the history of soup kitchens, tailgating, American pie, pickles, and many more crave-worthy topics.