James Innes-Smith

12 thinkers to discover online this year

12 thinkers to discover online this year
Sam Harris hosts the podcast Making Sense
Text settings

Now that we're all stuck at home with our devices the temptation is to succumb to a vortex of internet clickbait in the vain hope that it will distract us until lockdown ends. But resist the allure of that cat video if you can and instead discover the rich seam of documentaries, lectures and long-form discussions with some of the world's leading thinkers. Here's a selection of mind-expanding podcasts and YouTube channels to discover in 2021.

Making Sense with Sam Harris

Join renowned neuroscientist, philosopher and New York Times best selling author Sam Harris as he explores the intricacies of the human mind along with in depth discussions about society, moral philosophy, religion and current affairs. In his recent podcast with professor of neurology and author of the Distracted Mind Adam Gazzaley Harris explores the way technology is changing the way we think and interact.

The Rest is History with Tom Holland

Tom Holland (Image: Camilla Broadbent)

In their insightful new podcast, lively historians Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook interrogate the past in an attempt to de-tangle the present. Prepare to have your mind broadened with Stephen Fry as he expounds on his fascination with the Greek Myths. In other episodes Tom and Dom discuss why people fall for conspiracy theories, what conditions are needed for a civil war and whether it is ever really possible to learn from history.

Where Should We Begin with Esther Perel

If lockdown has put a strain on your relationship, renowned therapist Esther Perel is on hand to calm troubled waters with her popular Where Should We Begin podcast in which she counsels real couples. Topics covered include chronic infidelity, the problems of living with a saint and open marriages. Listening to actual couples open up about the most intimate details of their relationships can really put one's own problems into perspective.

Modern Philosophy with Professor Bryan Magee

In this series of forty-five-minute programmes from the 1970s and ’80s, Professor Bryan Magee interviews some of the greatest thinkers and writers of the twentieth century, including Herbert Marcuse, Iris Murdoch and Noam Chomsky. There is a particularly illuminating interview with Isaiah Berlin on why philosophy matters. Ignore the cheesy ’70s clothes and backdrop.

Oxford and Cambridge Unions

Our greatest universities offer a series of lively cultural, social and political debates covering a diverse range of topics from whether socialism works to the role of the media in a post-truth age. Recent guest speakers have included everyone from Morgan Freeman to Mary Bell.

Bret Weinstein's Dark Horse podcast

After being ejected from Evergreen University for standing up to the college's decision to hold a "Day of Absence", during which white participants were asked to stay off campus, lecturer, biologist and evolutionary theorist Bret Weinstein began his Dark Horse podcast with wife Heather Heying. Over the past year or so they have been dissecting the dire state of American politics, the BLM unrest in their hometown of Portland Oregon and the science behind Covid. Weinstein, a man of the left, has found succour amongst conservative thinkers and remains a calm voice of reason amongst all the sound and fury. The podcast also delves into matters of the mind from an evolutionary theorist's perspective and if you're lucky Bret's charming hound may even make an appearance.

The Ezra Klein Show

Winner of the 2020 Webby and People's Voice awards for best interview podcast, journalist and political commentator Ezra Klein tackles tricky subjects including the rise of identity politics with US politician Stacey Abrams and a discussion about Joe Biden and 'the new progressivism' with Felicia Wong, President and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute

Frank Skinner's poetry podcast

Frank Skinner (Image: Getty)

Each week comedian Frank Skinner shares some of his favourite poems on his popular poetry podcast. He walks the uncommon ways with William Wordsworth, showers in the 'word waterfall' of Gerard Manley Hopkins and explains why Philip Larkin's Whitsun Weddings gave him a massive panic attack. He also explores macabre Western ballads and has a wild night out with Polish poet Tadeusz Dabrowsk.

The Royal Institute of Philosophy

The Royal Institute of Philosophy has set up a growing YouTube channel where they broadcast their most popular talks and discussions. Their series of annual lectures features some of the most prominent philosophers of our time exploring subjects such as the origin of morality and the concept of immortality. 

Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson

A web series in which political leaders, scholars, journalists and today’s big thinkers share their views with veteran author and research fellow at the Hoover Institution Peter Robinson. You will discover how innovation works with Matt Ridley and how political and ideological struggles have led to a dangerous confusion about income inequality in America with black intellectual Doctor Thomas Sowell. Robinson is an engaging interviewer with a flair for pin sharp interrogation.

The New Culture Forum with Peter Whittle

Politician, author and journalist Peter Whittle introduces long-form cultural, political and philosophical discussions with leading figures of the day. Topics include the gender war and political correctness with guests such as Spectator columnist and novelist Lionel Shriver and the late philosopher Sir Roger Scruton.

The Joe Rogan Experience

Joe Rogan (Getty)

One of YouTube's biggest stars recently moved to Spotify in an exclusive licensing deal worth an estimated $100 million but his maverick style and strong opinions are still ruffling mainstream feathers. Spend ninety minutes with the legendary comic as he relaxes with prominent media commentators and thinkers to discuss controversial cultural topics. Upcoming guests include liberal baiting comedian Dave Chappell and philosopher and consciousness researcher Philip Goff.