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Best podcasts of the week: How Osama bin Laden went from billionaire’s son to public enemy number one

Best podcasts of the week: How Osama bin Laden went from billionaire’s son to public enemy number one

In this week’s newsletter: What pushed the al-Qaeda founder to extremism, and to perpetrate the 9/11 attacks? A new show tells his whole story. Plus: five podcasts for nature lovers

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A man takes target practice using a picture of Osama bin Laden at a Dallas gun range in September, 2001.

Picks of the week

True Spies: The Bin Laden Files
Widely available, episodes weekly
Sophia di Martino narrates the compelling story of Osama bin Laden with a real insight into the notorious figure’s life and motivation. Peter Bergen is among the experts who weigh in with a glimpse of Bin Laden’s human side, describing how the reserved and serious teenager grew up to be a self-assured leader. The first episode traces his first declaration of war on the US, which was largely ignored by the world. Hannah Verdier

Uncharted Brain: Decoding Dementia
Widely available, all episodes
available from Wednesday
Despite so many people living with dementia, the exact cause and how it works in the brain are still woefully under-explored. The Conversation’s Paul Keaveny and Gemma Ware dissect the latest research, hear from families affected, and find glimmers of hope in this vital investigation of this cruel disease. HV

William Shakespeare, the subject of Where There’s A Will.

Where There’s A Will: Finding Shakespeare
Widely available, episodes weekly

The idea that Shakespeare might be American is enough to make Brits spit out their mead, but Barry Edelstein and Em Weinstein touch on the idea here. With lots of love for the bard, they meet obsessed teenagers, find his plays in prisons and see how his attitude to gender can help people today. HV

Widely available, episodes weekly

Stripping off on live TV has certainly given Jordan Gray a shot of publicity, but the lovable Ofcom-bothering comedian is worthy of every bit of it. In this charisma-filled podcast, she answers questions big and small about nuclear war, soup, and happiness with guests such as Nish Kumar and Sophie Duker. HV

Operation Morning Light
Widely available, episodes weekly from Monday

When nuclear-powered Soviet satellite Cosmos 954 fell to earth in 1978, it scattered radioactive debris across Canada’s Dene, Métis and Inuit. Was it an accident or designed to cause danger? CBC’s Dëneze Nakehk’o, who grew up in Northwest Territories, is perfectly placed to describe the long-lasting effects on the area. HV

There’s a podcast for that

Jupiter Artland sculpture park in Edinburgh, Scotland. Its curator, Gemma Cairney, features on nature podcast A Life More Wild.

This week, Hannah Verdier picks five of the best podcasts for nature lovers, from a show on everything you could want to know about bees to an exploration of who really gets access to green spaces.

Blossom Trees and Burnt Out Cars
Talia Randall grew up on a council estate on “the road with the most burnt-out cars in London”, where greenery was hard to find. In this podcast, she looks at gardeners rejecting rural, cosy, norms in more radical places. A How are class, race and status linked to our access to nature? And can a really deep mulch improve mental health? Randall’s easy style makes the idea of enjoying green spaces – which are often run by older, white men – accessible to all, despite her guests detailing some of the racist abuse they’ve received.

The boom of a bittern sounds like someone’s just set up a drum machine in the background. It’s just one of the many bird noises coming out of this podcast from Britain’s Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust that celebrates nature close to home. Indeed, it’s about time wetlands got the respect they deserve; although they only cover 6% of the planet, nearly half the world’s wildlife are reliant on them, and if used properly they could help the climate as well as people’s wellbeing. Of course there’s wild swimming too, with Savannah Miller getting involved with the trend.

A Life More Wild
If you’re miles from the peace and tranquility of woods or crystal caves, let celebrities do the work for you. A tweet and a whiff of fresh air is never far away in this atmospheric podcast, and it’s at its best when the guests really immerse themselves in the subject. Gemma Cairney is one of the finest and floatiest, talking about her role as “thinker in residence” at Scotland’s Jupiter Artland park. When she’s not holed up in her own bothy, she’s healing herself in the outdoors – and her joy is hard to resist.

Going Wild with Dr Rae Wynn-Grant
Wildlife ecologist Dr Rae Wynn-Grant is the kind of woman who’ll nip off to Panama to track jaguars with a toddler, breaking down every barrier known to a Black female who is often told she “doesn’t look like a scientist” along the way. She goes for the big hitters of nature, hanging out with the Maasai, looking at lemurs in Madagascar, and getting close to hyenas in Kenya. What Wynn-Grant really nails is what happens when human life meets nature, as she and her team studies animals in their natural habitat.

Queen Bees with Jane Horrocks and Esther Coles
Is there’s anything more relaxing and wholesome than listening to a soft-voiced celebrity learn how to keep bees? What started out as a lockdown chat transitioned into a more practical exploration of allotments and hives, complete with streaker, bonny and borstal bees. Horrocks, Coles and their guests celebrate the little moments nature can bring, from the miracle of honey to the pleasure of singing to a dog. Listening to this podcast is like nature making you a nice cup of tea and reminding you how simple it should be to get along.

Why not try …

  • More terrifying paranormal activity in The Witch Farm, from Battersea Poltergeist creator Danny Robins.

  • From shaking hands to procrastination, anthropologist Ella Al-Shamahi explores our hardwired habits and ways of being in Why Do We Do That?

  • Santigold swaps pop for podcasting, featuring interviewees including Idris Elba and Questlove in Noble Champions.

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