A $900 billion Silicon Valley fraud, the story of a British punk band told by a hip hop legend, and the violent legacy of THE SATANIC VERSES. And that’s not all…
By David Adams
It’s official: We’re living in the Golden Age of Podcasts. Stalwarts Serial and Comedy Bang! Bang! recently delivered some of their finest seasons, great new shows are debuting every month, and Spotify’s high-price acquisition of Gimlet Media means that big business is ready to bet big on the format. But if you’re late to the podcast game, you can jump in anytime, starting with these five shows, which just wrapped or are in the midst of their first seasons. Each are easy to catch up on and offer fascinating, revealing takes on a plethora of subjects. From a stunning portrait of Silicon Valley hubris to a deep dive into the history and meaning of The Clash, pick your topic and get listening!
The Dropout (ABC Radio)
Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder of biotech startup Theranos, attempted to revolutionize the medical industry after dropping out of Stanford to pursue her entrepreneurial ambitions. Instead, her grand schemes led to criminal charges, and cast her as one of the avatars of everything wrong with Silicon Valley, millennial culture, and the Digital Age. Holmes has inspired a bestselling book, an HBO documentary, an upcoming feature film, and this excellent podcast, which chronicles her spectacular rise and fall without stinting on the gossipy details. An absolute must-listen for anyone seeking to understand the fascination behind this bizarre and troubling case.
Over My Dead Body (Wondery)
The latest offering from Wondery, the podcast network behind Dirty John and Dr. Death, is the tale of a seemingly perfect marriage gone very, very wrong. Dan Markel and Wendi Adelson were two attractive, up-and-coming lawyers whose lavish Boca Raton nuptials were announced in the New York Times. To friends and family, they were the ideal match—until Dan came home from a law conference to find Wendi and their two sons gone and a stack of divorce papers on the bed. From there, Dan and Wendi’s storybook marriage descended into divorce court hell before taking a shocking final plunge into homicide. Stitching together interviews, local news coverage, and police wiretaps, host Matthew Shaer takes listeners deep inside an ongoing murder case whose twists and turns would be impossible to believe—if they weren’t 100 percent true.
Stay Free: The Story of The Clash (Spotify)
The Sex Pistols might have been first, but The Clash were always the smartest of the British punk bands that invaded the airwaves in the 1970s. With lyrics ripped from newspaper headlines about England’s economic woes, racial unrest, and Cold War entanglements, mixed with a sound that drew on reggae, ska, rockabilly, and funk, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Nicky “Topper” Headon set a new standard for what popular music could achieve in the 20th century. Expertly combining archival interviews, concert recordings, and news reports with commentary from contemporary musicians and critics, this podcast has the energy and enthusiasm to appeal to longtime fans while introducing new listeners to the music and history of “The Only Band that Matters.” Public Enemy front man Chuck D is an inspired choice to host—his connection to The Clash feels both surprising and inevitable.
The Hurricane Tapes (BBC World Service)
Thanks to Bob Dylan’s song and Denzel Washington’s film, the outlines of the story are well known: In 1966, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a black middleweight boxer, and his friend John Artis were arrested for a triple murder in Paterson, New Jersey. Convicted by an all-white jury, Carter served nearly 20 years of a triple life sentence before a federal court set him free; Artis had been paroled a few years earlier. But despite the notoriety of the case, no one has ever proven what really happened on that “hot New Jersey night,” and few people have seen or heard the real Rubin Carter. In this appealing and informative podcast, two British sports journalists set out to correct the record on both accounts. They draw from a treasure trove of tapes recorded by Carter (who passed away in 2014) and conduct interviews with nearly everyone involved in the case who’s still alive, including witnesses, lawyers, the son of lead investigator Vincent DeSimone, and, most compellingly, John Artis. The result is a satisfying cold-case investigation; a disturbing chronicle of racial injustice in America; and a complex, layered portrait of the “Hurricane” that goes far behind the sanitized version most listeners will be familiar with.
Fatwa (BBC Radio 4)
Thirty years ago, Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for the deaths of Booker Prize-winning writer Salman Rushdie and the editors and publishers of his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses. The decree sent Rushdie into hiding for nearly ten years and unleashed a wave of violent protests, killings, attempted killings, bombings, and book burnings all over the world. But the fatwa’s most destructive legacy might be the stark divide it drew between Muslims, who consider blasphemy a grave offense, and Westerners, who believe just as strongly in the freedom of expression. The creators of this comprehensive, smartly produced, and easily digestible (most episodes run less than 15 minutes) podcast make a convincing case that much of the religious extremism of the 21st century can be traced back to this extraordinary event.