Podcasts are having a moment. Or at least I read that they were having a moment a couple of years ago, which means that by the time that I’m actually getting around to writing this post they’ve probably stopped having a moment, and everyone else has already moved onto whatever the next Thing is. That’s fine with me, since although I’ve been told by many people that I should have a podcast, or possibly a video series, in which I talk about life, the universe, and everything, I’ve never been hugely fond of the medium, probably for the same reason that I don’t listen to very many audiobooks (which are also, I think, having a moment right now): namely, I can read far, far faster than anyone can clearly speak, and I comprehend better when I read than when I listen. Despite that, I’m going to use this Tuesday post to recommend a podcast.
Since I don’t listen to very many of these, I don’t have a lot of basis for comparison, but one (and by one, I mean the only) podcast that I listen to more or less consistently is Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. I’ve alluded to it in review posts before for some of the historical works that I’ve read, but I decided it would be worthwhile to provide a genuine recommendation. Even if you’re not interested in sitting down and actually reading something like Herodotus’s Histories, you can still gain much of the knowledge and historical context from listening to these podcasts.
That being said, you might get through all of Xenophon’s works faster than one of these podcasts, which often come in multi-part series, each episode nearly four hours long. I mostly listen to them on long, solo drives, when I don’t mind that Carlin sometimes spends half an hour rambling before he manages to actually talk about the podcast’s particular topic, since it’s not like I have anything else to do. So yes, they are very long, not always on topic, and points sometimes are somewhat excessively belabored.
Those critiques aside, I have only positive things to say about Hardcore History (if that weren’t the case, I probably wouldn’t be writing this recommendation). Although Carlin refers to himself as a “fan of history,” and not a historian, his episodes are meticulously and thoroughly researched, and he is almost always careful to refrain from unfounded conclusions, and to present multiple theories and perspectives where disagreement exists. If Carlin is merely a “fan of history,” then I guess I’m the historical equivalent of a fair weather fan? I find history quite interesting and consider myself fairly well studied in that subject, but I definitely have not consulted multiple translations of any of the historical works I’ve read, and he has a few episodes about events I’d only ever seen vaguely referenced.
Aside from the relatively rigorous history, the episodes often also raise intriguing questions about perspective, morality, and the gaps we have in the historical record. Carlin has clearly spent much more time cogitating upon military history than I have, and those reflections in particular I have found insightful, and helpful for my writing. I don’t always agree with all of his conclusions on such topics, but that detracts nothing from his presentation, and he manages to present what his conclusion is without eliminating the possibility, or undercutting the validity, of others.
The episodes are not concise, and Carlin’s presentation can sometimes be a little overly dramatic, so the podcast might not be to everyone’s taste (what is?), but unlike most audiobooks and podcasts, the presentation doesn’t drive me crazy, which is saying something. If you have an interesting in history, whether it’s a passing interest, or a deeper passion, I really encourage you to give Hardcore History a try.