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Evaluating the rise of podcasting and the storytelling trends that emerged

Table of contents

Table of Contents
List of Figures
Chapter One: Obsession, From Map to Strategy
Chapter Two: Structures of Knowing
Chapter Three: The Aesthetics of Amnesia
Coda: Where is Radio?


It has been a decade since Serial brought the narrative podcast to the center of popular culture. In that time, there has been an enormous boom in the production of podcasts that tell stories, particularly in the fields of true crime, storytelling, history, and narrative fiction. Now that the initial glow around the medium has begun to fade, it is time to reevaluate the medium’s technological, political, economic, and cultural rise, in particular what types of storytelling accompanied that rise. 

Narrative Podcasting in an Age of Obsession is the first book to look back on this prodigious body of material and attempt to make sense of it from a structural, historical, and analytical point of view. Focusing on more than 350 podcasts and other audio works released between Serial and the COVID pandemic, the book explores why so many of these podcasts seem “obsessed with obsession,” why they focus not only on informing listeners but also dramatizing the labor that goes into it, and why fiction podcasts work so hard to prove they are a brand new form, even as they revive features of radio from decades gone by. This work also examines the industry's reckoning with its own implication in systemic racism, misogyny, and other forms of discrimination. Employing innovative new critical techniques for close listening—including pitch tracking software and spectrograms—Narrative Podcasting in an Age of Obsession makes a major contribution to podcast studies and media studies more broadly.

Neil Verma is Assistant Professor of Sound Studies in the Department of Radio/Television/Film at Northwestern University. His books include Theater of the Mind: Imagination, Aesthetics and American Radio Drama (2012) and, as coeditor, Indian Sound Cultures, Indian Sound Citizenship (2020) and Anatomy of Sound: Norman Corwin and Media Authorship (2016).

"If the book ‘Theatre in the Mind’ took that initial step toward a bronze age of looking at podcasts as a scholarly subject — this book takes the second, larger leap toward a golden age of podcast and audio studies. . . . From the beginning, the wealth of knowledge and interesting tidbits are abundant and constant."

- Audio Drama Reviews

“This is a groundbreaking, critical, and witty historical assessment of the podcasting phenomenon both as a noun and a verb in cultural communications agency. An intellectually sound evaluation of a perplexing and exciting development in the digital media-sphere separating notions of hyper-obsession, narrative and production innovation, and the advancement of diversity and representation. A triumph in research and writing.”

- Tim Crook, Goldsmiths, University of London

“With this multifaceted study, Verma offers a complex essay on the podcast form, its narrative contents and podcasting’s place in the broader media ecology. The book’s sophisticated framing weaves together both detailed descriptive work and thought-provoking reflections on memory, temporality, and ways of knowing in this current media moment.”

- Kate Lacey, University of Sussex

“In this groundbreaking addition to the existing literature on one of our most talked about but least analyzed media forms, Neil Verma provides a lively, in-depth exploration of podcasting’s narrative modes and devices that will be eagerly read by both scholars and practitioners in the field.”

- Michele Hilmes, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Read: Audio Drama Reviews Part I | February 2024
Listen: Author Interview on the Phantom Power podcast | May 24, 2024