Hardcore History – A Podcast Recommendation

Bart again back with another guest post while Allison is away.

I want to share a podcast recommendation with you. Well – I say podcast – the content is delivered as a podcast, but it’s anything but a typical podcast actually. The content is meticulously scripted, performed, and produced, making it more like a collection of high quality audio books than a podcast. The schedule is also very atypical – a three to four hour show about four times a year. Some of the topics covered stretch over multiple shows, so they can build into 15 or even 18 hour epics – a meticulously produced 18 hour story with a well defined beginning, middle, and end – that really is an audio book IMO.

The show is called Hardcore History, and the brains behind it is Dan Carlin – a self-professed ‘history fan’. Dan is quick to point out that he is not an academic historian. He does not do original research – instead, he reads as much of the work put out by academic historians as he can, and then builds all that knowledge into a compelling story. The magic ingredient in my opinion is Dan’s ability to teleport you into the past. It’s not just a bunch of stuff that happened, it’s fully rounded human beings living in a fully colourised world having to make tough decisions. Dan spends a lot of time and effort trying to get into the minds of ancient peoples – trying to understand what made them tick, and hence, understand why they did what they did, why they reacted to situations in the way they did, etc.. Another very important part of what makes Hardcore History work is Dan’s understanding of the importance of context. Dan tends to start a new topic by going back in time to before the story he wants to tell so we can understand the world in which the action starts, and then watch that world transform as the events unfold. A story generally ends by projecting forward, contrasting the word before with the world after.

I do have to give a slight health warning for these shows though – when Dan starts a multi-part story, you will find yourself deeply frustrated when you have to wait for three or four months to find out what happens next! Right now the show is two-parts into a multi-part series on the interactions between the Persians and the Greeks – a real clash of cultures, and a real nail-biter! So far the story has focused around explaining the lead-up to the legendary Battle of Thermopylae – yes, the one the movie 300 was based on. Who were these Persians, where did they come from, and who are these Spartans that are standing up to them them like no one else has?

The podcast does have a business model, which is very important IMO – it takes a lot of time and effort to develop great content like this, and it’s only right creators should be able to earn some money. The most recent 10 or so episodes are free to download, but Dan does ask that you donate ‘a buck a show’ – not each time an episode comes out, but that you throw him 5 or 10 dollars a year or two. The back-episodes, the ones that are not free to download, are sold at $1.99 each. You can buy through iTunes, or direct from Dan’s website. If you’re going to delve into the back-episodes, do be aware that the format of the show has changed over the years, so the older episodes are much shorter than the more recent ones – the first 20 or so are between half an hour and an hour long, and then they begin to stretch, eventually becoming the 3 to 4 hour epics they are now.

If you want to learn history in a way that’s as fun and enthralling as a good book, then you really should check out Hardcore History.

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