Starter episode: “Antediluvian”
President Vladimir V. Putin’s unprovoked war on Ukraine has plunged Europe into societal and economic turmoil, and represents the apex of a grudge the Russian leader has held ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Presented by Gavin Esler, a BBC journalist, “The Big Steal” traces the roots of Putin’s obsession with Ukraine, and how his ascent to power began when he was a KGB officer based in East Germany. Beginning with the story of the clash between Putin and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian businessman who is now in self-exile after being imprisoned for 10 years on tax evasion and fraud charges, “The Big Steal” offers plenty of troubling insight into Putin’s psyche, and is essential listening for anyone trying to make sense of his actions.
Starter episode: “The Rivals”
The story of the night Ted Kennedy was at the wheel in a deadly car crash has re-entered the spotlight in recent years — it was adapted as a movie starring Jason Clarke in 2017, and inspired the climax of an Emmy-winning episode of HBO’s “Succession.” This podcast from People magazine and Cadence13 re-examines the events of July 18, 1969, when Kennedy drove his car off a bridge in Chappaquiddick Island, Mass., killing his secretary, Mary Jo Kopechne. In addition to the accident, the series looks at the mysteries of Kennedy’s behavior afterward — for instance, why he waited until the following morning to report what had happened. Though it doesn’t claim to have all the answers, “Cover-Up” offers a fascinating insight into the dynamics of the Kennedy family, the elaborate power structure that surrounds it, and how the decades-long unanswered questions of Chappaquiddick have haunted those who were there.
Starter episode: “10 Hours Later”
To use an appropriately English phrase, this deft series from Wondery does exactly what it says on the tin, delivering wry and detailed retellings of political controversies. “British Scandal” kicked off last spring with a five-part series delving into the slaying of Alexander Litvinenko, the K.G.B. agent-turned-defector who died after drinking a radioactive cup of tea given to him by a former comrade. Like many of the scandals covered, this story is harrowing and absurd in equal measure — Litvinenko’s killers inadvertently left a huge trail of radiation behind them across hotels, bars and public transit in central London. Each episode intersperses a gripping central narrative with quick-witted asides from the hosts, Alice Levine and Matt Forde, who find the humor in each saga without making light of the often nightmarish reality.
Starter episode: “The Litvinenko Affair — Poisoned”
You don’t need any familiarity with Australian political history to get hooked on this docuseries, which chronicles one of the most dramatic moments in the country’s history. On Nov. 11, 1975, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was removed from office by representatives of Queen Elizabeth II. This unprecedented act was viewed by many as a constitutional coup, and sparked fierce debate about Australia’s supposed independence from Britain. Though some mysteries about Whitlam’s dismissal may never be solved, “The Eleventh” lays out the complex back story and repercussions in enthralling fashion.