Food for the Mind – The Power of Podcasts

By Patricia Chadwick

Early morning walks—just as the sun is rising—are my favorite form of exercise. Three to four miles, and I’m set for the day. I think of it as both energizing my body and, equally as important, oxygenating my blood, so that my brain can function at full capacity for the next twelve hours. 

I always walk alone—the solitude allows me to think my own thoughts, listen to the chirping of the birds and the rustling of the leaves as creatures, great and small, enjoy their own morning constitutionals.

Partway through my walk, I invariably engage in my newest hobby—listening to podcasts. Like everyone else walking or running past me, I now wear earbuds—at least for a good portion of my walk. 

Sometimes I listen to the ever-reliable Terry Gross on Fresh Air. But if my brain is up for a serious intellectual challenge, I will turn to World Reimagined—hosted by Gautam Mukunda, the most delightful brainiac on the planet. Listen to a few of his podcasts and you’ll understand my description of him. When it comes to the world of economics and investments, there are plenty of choices. Sometimes I listen to The Journal (as in The Wall Street Journal) which offers manageable 20-minute stories that I often missed in reading the paper. But far and away the best money/finance/market podcast is The Money Maze Podcast, which delves into subjects of immense impact in the world of global economics—topics that include crypto-currency and climate change. Its producers, Simon Brewer and Will Campion, both of whom hail from London and have had long and successful careers as investors, also address the human side of the world of finance, entertaining the listener with some amazing “rags to riches” stories. 

That being said, I am a history buff, and during this week that commemorates a forever significant event in American and world history, I want to focus on one historical podcast that I believe stands head and shoulders above the rest—the series entitled Hope, Through History. It’s a documentary podcast produced and narrated by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Presidential historian Jon Meacham. Each episode focuses on an historic event that took place in the last two hundred years. Running between 30 and 45 minutes, I inevitably find myself wishing at the end that it would continue for another hour. The scripts are a writer’s dream—each word has impact. There is no rhetoric, no politicizing and Meacham’s mellifluous voice is pitch perfect. There is but one purpose in each documentary podcast—to educate the listener on the facts of history in the context of what was happening at the time. Each session includes comments from historians who are specialists on the subject—people like Michael Beschloss and Doris Kearns Goodwin. 

Season One of Hope, Through History was released during the early days of the spread of the coronavirus and I selected as my first episode the one that covered the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. Other subjects included JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Great Depression, Winston Churchill and World War II. 

Season Two was released earlier this summer and as dawn was breaking last Saturday, September 11—the 20th the anniversary of our national day of sorrow—I chose Meacham’s podcast “A New Birth of Freedom” which recounts Abraham Lincoln’s trip to Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, to consecrate the its battlefield—a cemetery holding the remains of 3500 dead Union soldiers—with the delivery of his most famous speech. The Gettysburg Address was fewer than 275 words in length and lasted less than three minutes. The subject matter seemed appropriate for that day. I was struck by similarity of the emotions that rocked the country more than 150 years ago and then again only twenty years ago. 

Jon Meacham is also the producer of It Was Said, a limited podcast series that in his words “looks back on ten of the most powerful, impactful and timeless speeches in American history,” including President Reagan’s farewell address, Martin Luther King’s last speech, President Obama’s sermon in the wake of the massacre of nine parishioners at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. He describes the eulogy delivered by Meghan McCain for her father (Senator John McCain) as “a speech at once elegiac and resonant in the age of Trump.” Throughout the series, Meacham puts the speeches in context, and explains why they remain relevant today. I can only hope he will produce a second series of It Was Said.

And just last week, It Was Said: Sports was introduced on the series by none other than Doc Rivers. I may not be the biggest sports fan in the world, but when the likes of Mohammad Ali (whom I adored back in the 1970s) Billie Jean King, and Hank Aaron are featured, I’m all ears. With Jon Meacham as a producer, it will be a winner. Of that I am sure. 

Patricia Chadwick is a businesswoman and an author. Her recently published memoir, Little Sister, the story of her unusual childhood growing up in a cult, is now available in paperback. She is currently working on her second book, Breaking Glass, about her “growing up” on Wall Street.

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