Podcasts, Audiobooks & paternity leave

I recently went back to work after taking two and a half months off to be on paternity leave. It was wonderful to spend time with my child and bond. It was genuinely one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had and one of the perks of living in Sweden.

During that time I also had a lot of time on my own, when the baby was asleep or out on a walk with his mother or just when I needed to fix around the house. To pass the time, I tried to keep up with the world and learn interesting things, in as passive a way as possible, given that I couldn’t just sit down and read. This would have required the use of my hands or eyes, which it turns out, as a dad, it’s something you lose. You must be able to track and catch a clumsy baby at all times… Podcasts and audiobooks are great for this. They’re also good for commuters and I still listen to the shows on my way to and from work.

The list below includes shows and books I’ve listened to during that time, which I thoroughly enjoyed and found fascinatingly, informative and eye-opening. Unsurprisingly, History, Economics and Politics figure prominently on this list. I thoroughly recommend it.


The History of Rome, by Mike Duncan – from its foundation in 753 BCE to the fall of the western empire in 476 CE. Probably one of the best podcasts out there. An inspiration for anyone interested in history and in writing/podcasting about it. Well researched and well delivered. Also, pay attention to the introductory and final comments in order to get a peak at what a rollercoaster making this podcast was for Mike.

The History of Byzantium, by Robin Pierson – from 476CE to its collapse in 1453CE. For me this is even more interesting than the history of Rome of which I knew a lot. My general ignorance about it and Robin’s extremely good research, nuanced synthesis and articulate and entertaining delivery of the material make this an enormously enjoyable listen.

Revolutions, by Mike Duncan – It’s supposed to cover them all from the 1640’s revolution that overthrew the Stuarts until the Iranian revolution in 1979 (expected). Presently, Mike is going through the revolutions of the first half that overthrew the post-Napoleon absolutist reactionary system known as the “Concert of Europe” orchestrated by Austria’s Metternich.

The History of Exploration, by Guillaume Lamothe – Maritime exploration plays a disproportionately large role in Portuguese history, culture and identity, not to mention the world and our species. Much like the others, this is a really great podcast. Unfortunately, there haven’t been updates in quite a while, which is a pity. The latest episode promised an upcoming exploration from an African perspective I’ve been looking forward to, but which Im starting to fear will never materialise. This really is a great show. I still recommend it even if there’s no further update,. The explorations of the Mediterranean world and its neighbouring regions before and around the time of Alexander the Great are fascinating and not well divulged enough. This is a place to acquaint yourself with them.

Planet Money, by NPR- little change of focus and style. This podcast and the next ones are more in line with the radio show format. The best way I can describe this podcast is that it basically discusses weirdly interesting case studies in economics. It’s mainly micro, although on occasion they’ll do an episode about what happened in Argentina or Venezuela. I’ve been hooked since I learned salmon sushi was invented as a way to create a market for Norwegian surplus fishing/farming as the country sought to unwind its subsidies. Just fascinating!

Hidden Brain, by Shankar Vedantam at NPR – behavioural economics podcast covering the usual suspects of psychology, sociology, neuroscience and economics. Fascinating, short and the presenter just sounds like the kindest guy ever.

Invisibilia, by Alix Spiegel, Hanna Rosin and Lulu Miller at NPR – a show about the invisible things that shape our life. Mostly interesting case studies in psychology, neuroscience and anthropology. A lot of sad and heavy stories, but the presenters tend to find a way to spin them in a heartwarming hopeful way. Each season has relatively few but long episodes. Without doing it the justice it deserves, past topics have covered real world Matt Murdock (minus the ninjas part of course, but bat-vision is still pretty awesome) and the Belgian town of Geel where people welcome mental illness patients into their homes. A lovely listen 🙂

538 – intelligent, informed, quantitative and no-nonsense political analysis of what’s going on across the pond from Nate Silver, one of the few people to warn us against our optimism regarding the post-2016 election world.

Control Risks – world geopolitics from the leading political risk consultancy. For when you need a little bit more insight than cable news and the haystack of non-contextualised facts of the print media. Because it’s easy to lose yourself in the waves and lose sight of where the current is taking you.

Pop-culture happy hour, by NPR- for your daily dose of film reviews. Some times I wish it’d focus more on books and music but still very good, particularly the episodes about independent film festivals where they go through and recommend films I’d otherwise never hear about. Light, funny, generally kind and interesting! Because all the other entries are kind of heavy


The Vikings, by The Great Courses, lectured by Professor Kenneth W. Harl, from Tulane University – he offers a very comprehensive overview of the history of the Scandinavia from the Stone Age up to and including the creation of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. I never realised the debt that western culture owed to Icelandic poets…

1177 BC: The year civilisation collapsed, by Eric H. Cline of George Washington university – I remember learning about the Egyptians, the Minoans, the Mycenaeans, the Assyrians and the Hittites in history class when I was around 12-13 years old, but it seems I remembered relatively little and that that curriculum was either over-simplified or is now outdated. This book offers a comprehensive and authoritative overview of the evidence and the picture it paints about that distant but not so different time. The focus is on the trade between these civilisations and on the thriving international relations we are now able to witness in recovered historical records. But there’s plenty of fascinating snippets of econfomics and social insights. Also: the Iliad, Troy and complexity theory! Boom

Find these on iTunes or, like myself, on Overcast. Enjoy!


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