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13 Must-Listen Podcast Episodes from May 2017: Legendary Criminals, The Philosophy of Love, and the Return of Larry Wilmore

Our monthly roundup of the best from the podcast world also includes 19th century paintings, mail fraud scammers and White House recordings.

Previously: the power of love, Larry Wilmore on Trump and audio footage of an exorcism

Radio Diaries

“The Oddest Town in America”

As the nation bids farewell to the Ringling Bros. circus, Joe Richman and “Radio Diaries” revisited interviews with former sideshow participants, showing the people who used to form the backbone of an outdated American institution. As folks like the circus’ former human blockhead speak of a time gone by, they do so with surprising fondness and memories of a steady, fulfilling profession. It’s another example of “Radio Diaries” finding an unexpected perspective in a story where headlines can congregate on one side of an issue.

The Rematch

“Keyon Dooling”

For 11 years, Etan Thomas was an NBA role-player, logging minutes for three different franchises. Now with his playing days behind him, Thomas is proving to be an even better interviewer than he was a center, talking with former colleagues and other retired athletes about the struggles, on and off the court, that shape them as human beings. As the leader of these conversations, Thomas is particularly able to put his interview subjects at ease, especially when discussing some trying circumstances. Keyon Dooling’s recounting of his childhood experiences with sexual abuse is a frank and open discussion that also serves as a reminder of the humanity behind the box score.

Science Solved It

“#5 – The Map That (Almost) Changed the World”

Blending weird historical footnotes and the power of scientific discovery, Motherboard’s newest show follows up great story hooks with even more satisfying discoveries. While other episodes have tackled mysteries of giant moving desert rocks and Pokemon-induced seizures, this particular episode highlights the specific value that science can bring to saving lives. What’s more, it shows the dangers of discounting and ignoring the contributions of a science-based society and the drastic consequences of underestimating reasoned explanations for the issues that continue to baffle us.

Sleepover

“Salt Spring II: Cathy’s Vanishing Legacy”

Sook-Yin Lee’s ongoing social experiment with strangers was one of last year’s surprise podcast treats. Gathering three strangers in a hotel room, she and the “Sleepover” team were able to create instantly relatable stories, drawn from the experiences of people who didn’t know each other. This season, Lee is taking the show on the road and Salt Spring Island proved to be the most fruitful stop. This particular episode, like many of the other standouts, combines the anxieties of the present with an eye towards both the past and the future. With talk of legacy, identity, and what it means simply to be a good person, the show continues to find the universal in stories from people we’ve just met.

Something True

“7: Charlie Joyride”

There’s an endless sea of history podcasts, looking to uncover hidden stories from the past (some of which we featured in these monthly recaps). So it’s refreshing to have one come along with as much spirit and self-effacing playfulness as “Something True.” Delivered and written with just the right amount of whimsy, this particular story of a public funds grifter is a brief, rollicking drive through 19th century corruption. Think of it as the farewell lecture from the cool U.S. history professor, right before summer comes.

Whistlestop

“Recording from the Oval”

This episode of John Dickerson’s semi-regular tours through presidential history eventually ends with Watergate, as many Nixon stories do. But this installment is also a seminal story of how our modern conception of the White House is structured. Taking a Chief-of-Staff’s-eye view of the Nixon Oval Office, this overview of H.R. Haldeman’s White House tenure shows the inherent tension between loyalty to the office and saving a present from himself that many staffers in the executive branch face every day. Dickerson occasionally references specifics from the current Trump administration, but like all of the best previous episodes of “Whistlestop,” he leaves the audience to draw their own connections between the lessons of the past and the headlines of today.

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