Best Podcasts Summer 2019

A look at the 2000 presidential election, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and behind-bars prison experiences.

By David Adams

Whether you’re relaxing by the pool or braving a steamy afternoon commute, podcasts make the perfect companion for all your summertime adventures. This season, we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, learning how a cut-and-dry murder case could redraw the map of Oklahoma, and traveling around the world on a never-ending quest to build the perfect society.

Fiasco (Luminary)

After launching the excellent recent-history podcast Slow Burn at Slate, host Leon Neyfakh jumped ship to Luminary, a splashy new subscription-based platform that aims to become the “Netflix of Podcasting.” Despite the app’s problematic launch, Neyfakh has more than held up his end of the bargain, delivering a deeply researched and highly entertaining investigation into the fiercely contested 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. From the crucial impact of the Elian Gonzalez case to the media’s disastrous election night coverage and the legal skirmishes that took the Florida recount all the way to the Supreme Court, Neyfakh brilliantly narrates a political calamity whose aftereffects are still being felt today. Be advised that the full season is only available with a Luminary subscription.

This Land (Crooked Media)

Two murders separated by 160 years provide the frame for this riveting new podcast from the producers of Pod Save America. In 1839, Cherokee leader John Ridge was assassinated by political rivals after negotiating the treaty that ceded tribal lands east of the Mississippi River in exchange for lands in Indian Territory. Nearly two centuries later, George Jacobs was viciously killed by a fellow Muscogee (Creek) citizen on tribal land. The murderer was tried and sentenced to death in state court, in violation of the terms of the original treaty.

The conviction was overturned on appeal, but state prosecutors have taken it all the way to the Supreme Court, where nine justices must now weigh the letter of the law against the potential implications for half the state of Oklahoma. A decision is expected any day, making This Land an absolute must-listen for law students, American history buffs, and true-crime obsessives.

13 Minutes to the Moon (BBC World Service)

Hosted by British scientist Dr. Kevin Fong and scored by legendary film composer Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Gladiator), this rousing podcast celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. From President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech predicting that the U.S. would put a man on the moon by decade’s end to the moment when astronaut Buzz Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface on July 21, 1969, Fong chronicles one of the 20th century’s most stunning achievements.

Along the way, we meet the people who made Kennedy’s bold vision possible—incredibly, the average age of the mission support team was just 27—and learn how, in the 13 minutes before touchdown, disaster was averted not just once, but time and time again.

Culpable (Tenderfoot TV and Black Mountain Media)

From the creators of the popular true-crime podcasts Up and Vanished and To Live and Die in L.A., Culpable focuses on cases where culprits have eluded justice. Season one investigates the death of Christian Andreacchio, a charismatic 21-year-old on track to become Mississippi’s youngest ever tug boat captain. When Christian was found slumped over his bathtub with a single gunshot wound to the head, the police quickly ruled his death a suicide. But his friends and family refused to believe that Christian would take his own life, and evidence collected at the scene suggests that he might have been shot in another room. The investigation quickly focuses on two people who were with Christian on the day he died, but the real question is how—and why—the police could have gotten things so wrong.

Ear Hustle, Season Four (Radiotopia)

San Francisco Bay Area visual artist Nigel Poor and San Quentin inmate Earlonne Woods launched Ear Hustle in 2017, giving listeners a fine-grained, heartbreaking, and frequently amusing view of life behind bars. (“Ear hustle” is prison slang for eavesdropping.) At the start of the series, Earlonne was serving a 31-years-to-life sentence for attempted armed robbery. In November 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown commuted Earlonne’s sentence, citing the podcast as a key factor in his decision. In Season Four, Earlonne will continue to document prison stories and share his own experiences adjusting to life as a free man for the first time in 21 years. It promises to be a riveting new chapter in one of podcasting’s most acclaimed shows.

Nice Try! Utopian (Vox Media Podcast Network)

Listeners of the beloved design podcast 99% Invisible and its spin-off miniseries, Articles of Interest, will be excited to join host Avery Trufelman for this delightful deep-dive into the world of would-be utopias. From Jamestown, the first English settlement in America, to Chandigarh, the stunning Indian city planned by modernist architect Le Corbusier, and Oneida, the upstate New York commune that became a silverware company, Trufelman explores the history of utopias—and what happens when a perfect society turns out to be not-so-perfect. Full of colorful characters and fascinating details about architecture, urban planning, and psychology, Nice Try! celebrates the human spirit.

Man in the Window (Wondery and the Los Angeles Times)

This new collaboration from the team behind Dirty John chronicles the life and crimes of the man known as the Golden State Killer. A former police officer, Joseph DeAngelo stands accused of killing 13 people during a 20-year span in the 1970s and 80s. He’s also suspected of committing more than 50 rapes and 200 home invasions during the same time period. Author Michelle McNamara helped to connect the cases to one man, and a DNA profile uploaded to the website GEDmatch led police to DeAngelo. With the next hearing in the case scheduled for August, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Paige St. John fills in the gaps of what we know about DeAngelo, interviewing his former girlfriends, colleagues, and family members as well as the police who investigated his early crimes. It’s darkly compelling stuff—a portrait of a sadistic killer who slipped through the cracks time and time again.

Best Podcasts Archive

Best Podcasts: May 2019

This month’s best podcasts explore two genres that go hand-in-hand: history and true crime.

Best Podcasts of 2019: March

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…

Best Podcasts: January 2019

The New Year begins with the search for Bigfoot, an adventurous self-improvement show, and the history of country music’s most outrageous moments.

Best Podcasts of 2018: December

This month’s list includes an impolite interview show and the spooky tale of a trucker searching the backroads of America for her missing wife.

Best Podcasts of 2018: November

From politics and true crime to pop culture and an alleged sex cult, this month’s best podcasts list has something for everyone.

Best Podcasts of 2018: October

With Halloween is just around the corner the podcasts we’re listening to this month confront some of our deepest fears, from serial killers to cults, and worse, heartbreak.

Best 2018 Podcasts: September

Whether you’re craving low-key conversation amid a busy back-to-work-and-school season, or want to be immersed in another perspective to thwart the “summer’s over” scaries, we’ve got just the listen for you.

Best 2018 Podcasts: August

Whether you’re trying to distract yourself from a steamy commute or looking to be transported on a lazy afternoon, we’ve got just the thing for you.

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