The 12 Best Podcast Episodes I've Ever Heard

By Ethan Maurice | September 16, 2019

I love podcasts—not quite as much as books—but they accompany daily tasks from driving, to cooking, to working out in the most engaging, fruitful of ways.

As but one human, I’ve only listened to a tiny fraction of all the podcasts ever recorded. However, I’ve scoured the web for quality conversation for half a decade now, and for perspective alone, consider each episode below well worth the time investment.

I could write about how valuable podcasts are for expanding awareness, allowing one to choose their influences, and how this list is just as much as a study of my own choices, but these things are easily inferred.

Let’s dive right in.

The twelve best podcast episodes I’ve ever heard:

1. Werner Herzog on The Portal

If anyone today possesses what the ancient Greeks called “divine madness” it’s Werner Herzog. He’s obsessed, a verging upon crazy filmmaker, who pushes the limits of himself, his cast, and his art. For instance, read about the incredulous production of Fitzcarraldo, in which they re-enacted the story of pulling a ship over a mountain in the jungles of Peru to build an opera house under identical circumstances, with a ship that weighed ten times as much. His willingness to stand and think alone is most inspiring.

2. Elon Musk on the Joe Rogan Experience

Elon Musk might go down in history as superhero or supervillain, but “super” is sure to be attached to his recollection. Elon co-founded Paypal, sold it, and bet the entire fortune on simultaneously founding companies in three necessary, new industries—solar energy, electric cars, and privatized space exploration—all of which he largely succeeded at. He also harbors great fear of Artificial Intelligence and his newest company, Neuralink, is well on the way to eliminating the barrier between our brains technology, because, “if you can’t beat em, join em.” I find this utterly terrifying. This episode is a casual, honest exploration of the views and ambitions of what might be our century’s most influential human mind.

3. Kevin Kelly on the Tim Ferriss Show

Kevin Kelly is the founder of Wired Magazine. He’s future-obsessed, wildly curious, and truly “marches to the beat of his own drum.” I first listened to this interview in Playa del Carmen, Mexico a year and a half after graduating college. Kevin’s prolonged wander years were the proof I needed that one could take time to explore far and wide before diving deep into a career.

4. Ryan Holiday on You Made It Weird

Ryan is one of my favorite authors. I’ve always felt oddly akin to him. Most of his books are modernizations of Stoic principles with titles like The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy, phrases he tattooed on his forearms as forever reminders. After finishing a perspective-quaking ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat last fall, I was so excited about this profound link between Stoicism and Buddhism I discovered that I wrote Ryan. It turned out he was already writing a book about it, which comes out this October.

5. Mary Oliver on the On Being Podcast

In her poem The Summer Day, Mary Oliver penned that perfect line: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” She spent most of hers writing poems while wandering about fields and forests and coastlines enrapt with the beauty of the natural world. I listened to this podcast while lifting weights in a small, stale apartment gym. Afterward, I walked home in tears, gazing at the sunlight peeking through the pines.

6. Derek Sivers on the Tim Ferriss Show

This was my first-ever favorite podcast episode. Derek is a one-of-a-kind human. A musician, circus ring leader, and founder of a company called CD Baby which he sold for $22 million and donated the entirety of to music education charities. A sort of modern, bassackwards sage, he loves doing things the opposite way and has delivered a handful of super popular TED Talks.

7. Louis C.K. on WTF with Marc Maron

This might be the most honest podcast ever recorded. Louis and Marc knew each other as starving, nobody stand-up comics in New York City and explore that time and most everything since—beginning with the demise of their relationship. Across the web, people often cite this as the best podcast episode of all-time.

8. Brian Cox on the Joe Rogan Experience

Brian Cox is the English version Neil deGrasse Tyson. He was also a famous, long-haired 90’s pop keyboardist, which is simultaneously so hilarious and awesome. He brims with wonder while explaining the infinite complexities of space and quantum physics in graspable terms, and it’s utterly infectious. By far, this is the best conversation on space I’ve ever heard.

9. Maria Popova on the On Being Podcast

Maria is the brilliant mind behind Brain Pickings, which I believe one of the most fascinating, insightful works on the web. A master of distilling old works into timely wisdom, she’s dedicated her life to the exploration of the “common record” of humankind and seems to live with one foot in the present and the other in eternity. This conversation offers vastly different ways of looking at our time, world, and our place in it.

10. Naval Ravikant on the Joe Rogan Experience

Naval founded AngelList, a super successful startup investment firm that made a lot of money. While such financial accomplishments lend tremendous ethos in our culture (I’m not particularly on board with businessmen being our greatest heroes), the greatness of Naval, and this conversation, reaches far beyond business. It’s loaded of wisdom from a remarkably wise, well-rounded, genius—the “bang for your buck” of listening to this guy speak is off the charts.

11. Jocko Willink on The Tim Ferriss Show

Jocko is a badass ex-Navy Seal and the last guy I would pick a fight with in the universe. I believe his core message of “discipline equals freedom” to be the unsung backbone of any endeavor. While most of us need not be anywhere near the Jocko level, virtually all undertakings largely rest on the shoulders of discipline. Jacko puts a big foot in this universal principle and tells some intense stories.

12. Lance Armstrong on the Joe Rogan Experience

This podcast episode isn’t as profound as it is culturally relevant. Recorded long after Lance’s fall from the world’s most famous cancer-conquering hero to the world’s most famous cheater—the story of the destruction of his life and charity is quite tragic. However, I found how his family’s struggle to deal with public disgrace oddly beautiful. It’s an eye-opening account of how brutally handle the shortcomings of our public figures.

A Baker’s Dozen: Bob Lazar on the Joe Rogan Experience

I’m still skeptical as to whether other intelligent life has visited Earth, but Bob Lazar’s account of studying a craft of extraterrestrial origin near Area 51 as convincing as that sentence sounds crazy. I’m not taking sides, just pointing at what might be the most curious conversation I’ve ever heard.

I’m always on the lookout for great listens:

Have a podcast episode you love that you think belongs on this list? Please do drop me a line and link.