Every culture has its origin story. We’re all curious about ourselves, where we came from and why we are the way we are. Award-winning show Origin Stories (The Leakey Foundation, widely available) combines science and narrative to ask what it means to be human.
With more than 60 episodes available, a good starting point is Top Human Origins Discoveries of 2021, in which five scientists explain the fossil discoveries that introduced new relatives to our family tree last year.
The episode Entre Chien et Loup: How Dogs Began gets down on four paws to explore the journey from wolf to dog (scientists agree that dogs evolved from wolves, but how and when is hotly contested), and the evolution of the relationship between dogs and humans.
Also fascinating is The Obstetrical Dilemma, which examines a hypothesis that explains why babies are so helpless, and why childbirth is so difficult for humans compared with other animals. Human evolution, one bite at a time.
British independent production company Hat Trick, best-known for TV hits including Have I Got News For You and Derry Girls, just added new weekly show Legit Classics (widely available) to its growing podcast stable.
Host Jasmine Elmer’s mission is to make everyone love the classics as much as she does, and each week she and a guest tackle a different subject to explain how the Greco-Roman era influenced modern life.
“I’m gonna get someone that knows some stuff about things in their field, I’m going to take the things I know about the stuff in my field and bring it all together and give you something bigger than either of us can do on our own,” she says. Maths with Bobby Seagull kicks off the series, as teacher, broadcaster and writer Seagull joins Elmer to discuss how ancient theories have stood the test of time and why there is more to classical mathematics than Pythagoras.
How did a boy’s dream of making it in Hollywood in the 1970s lead to a campaign of murders in the 1990s? How did a Christian mother’s opposition to her children’s school curriculum end up instigating a state-wide fight over textbooks?
Jon Ronson’s Things Fell Apart (BBC Sounds) is a series of dispatches from the frontline of the culture wars; those battles for dominance between conflicting values, which he also defines as “almost everything that people yell at each other about on social media”. You know what you’re getting with Ronson: intellectual curiosity, empathy and a big shovel, which he uses here to dig into eight equally memorable, strange and unexpected human stories. We can all see the ripples, but Ronson wants to know who threw the pebble, and why.