12 Podcasts That Will Make You Smarter

It's the end of summer, and the aisles of Target are stocked with multi-colored binders, dolphin-themed folders, and those 20-packs of gel pens. We're in the brief, wonderful season known colloquially as "back to school shopping" time. Alas, this season is only applicable to a certain age group. Once you graduate, there's no need to accrue blank notebooks and pencil cases.
So what does a person after they're done with traditional schooling? Do we just let our minds atrophy? Do we count the number of brain cells that sputter out as each hour of sitting in front of a computer whittles by? No, no. There's a ridiculously simple way to ensure you learn something new every day — and that's by downloading podcasts.
We've gathered the best podcasts for lifelong learners. Each episode of these well-produced, fascinating educational podcasts will make you a smarter, more curious person. Instead of starting the morning by sitting in class, start it by listening to these podcasts' memorable opening jingles.
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This American Life (1995-present)

We guarantee that, after each hour-long episode of This American Life, you'll walk away with brand-new insight to the world. That said, not all the information transmitted in This American Life is a hard fact. In some episodes, you'll hear people recall their peculiar lived experiences first-hand; in others, you'll learn about random topics like a heist in the niche fly fish lure trade. This American Life is a masterclass in investigative journalism. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll feel more in touch with the world.

Start With: "Switched at Birth"
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Radiolab (2002-present).

If you want to get smart via podcast, then Radiolab should be your first stop. This Peabody Award-winning classic has been devoted to exploring all facets of the strange natural world since 2002. Radiolab's hosts, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, possess insatiably curious minds and explore the natural world from delightfully unexpected angles. In early seasons, each episode features multiple stories around the same broad subject, like "Words," "Speed," and "Sleep." In later seasons, Radiolab's scope has broadened to include issues facing technology and society as well, the most recent being a look into how Facebook regulates its content.

Start With: "Colors"
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Stuff You Missed In History Class (2008-present)

The truth is, there is so much we all missed in history class. The version of "American history" we learned in high school only covered a fraction of what actually happened, and it was filtered through the mandates of a curriculum or a looming AP exam. Each episode in the enormous archives in Stuff You Missed In History Class is devoted to unearthing the stories that fell through the cracks in of the history textbook. Hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holy Frey manage to fit their consistently compelling topics into podcasts that rarely exceed half an hour.

Start With: "Hedy Lamarr and Wireless Technology"
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Stuff You Should Know (2008-present)

There are over a thousand episodes of this show. A thousand! That's because there is so much stuff we should know. Hosts Josh Clark and Charles W. Bryant, both writers at HowStuffWorks, are determined to make their listeners well-rounded individuals. You'll learn about varied topics like global warming, exorcisms, underground housing in Beijing, how makeup works, and who named the continents — all in one convenient place. Get ready to win bar trivia.

Start With: "Are there undiscovered people?"
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Planet Money (2008-present)

You're probably thinking: "A podcast about the economy? How can that be one of the most consistently entertaining shows around?" Listen to one episode, and you'll get a sense for how fascinating this NPR show — and the economy — can be. With over 800 episodes available, it's tempting to get sucked into the Planet Money archive. Highlights include a series on the housing crisis, raw salmon in Japan, and a debate about the dollar bill.

Start With: "When Women Stopped Coding"
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The Infinite Monkey Cage (2009-present)

The Infinite Monkey Cage is part science show, part comedic bonanza. Brian Cox and Robin Ince film their podcasts about life's big questions in front of an enthusiastic live audience.

Start With: "What is the point of plants?"
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99% Invisible (2010-present)

Each episode in 99% Invisible is devoted to unraveling the history of any designed aspect in our world, from planned communities to an abandoned phone booth in the Mojave Desert. The podcast celebrates all that which we normally overlook and take for granted as we go about our day — the structures that make our lives possible.

Start With: "Ten Thousand Years"
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Hidden Brain (2015-present)

Host Shankar Vedantam has built a career around the concept of the "hidden brain." Essentially, the "hidden brain" is our nest of unconscious biases, emotions, and cognitive responses that aren't conscious, but govern our decision-making. Why are we drawn toward a certain candidate, or a certain person at a bar, or a certain dress on a mannequin? Listen to this podcast and discover the patterns that are shepherding your life.

Start With: "Dating and Mating"
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The Allusionist (2015-present)

Did you actually enjoy studying for the vocabulary portion of the SATs? Then The Allusionist, a podcast about the English language, will come as an absolute delight. Host Helen Zalzman is prone to going down fascinating etymological wormholes, uncovering the the history behind certain turns of phrase. Zalzman also peers into language-related quirky topics, like superhero name origin stories and how uncommon languages survive.

Start With: "Queer"
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How I Built This (2016-present)

Ever wonder how massive, influential companies were grown from just an idea? In every episode of How I Built This, host Guy Rost sits down with some of the world's most impactful entrepreneurs and innovators to figure out — you guessed it — how they built their empires. While this fascinating podcast will especially appeal to people who binge-watch Shark Tank or graduated from business school, it will benefit anyone with big dreams — and the ambition to take them there.

Start With: "Spanx: Sarah Blakely"
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Uncivil (2017-present)

Much like Stuff You Missed in History Class, Uncivil is a history podcast that aims to bring stories to light. However, the podcast is more narrow in its subject — and far more broad in its implications. This Gimlet podcast revives stories that were left out of traditional Civil War narratives and illuminates how those decisions are reflected in today's racial injustices.

Start With: Episode 1, "The Takedown"
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Every Little Thing (2017-present)

Are you looking to add to your library of useless information? Listen to Every Little Thing, where you'll get answers to the pressing questions of life: How old is Winnie the Pooh? When did cargo shorts go out of style? Who invented the lawn flamingo? Listeners call in on the Every Little Thing hotline, and host Flora Lichtman finds the answer.

Start With: "Chair, Misunderstood"

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