I have recently discovered Dan Carlin’s podcast and to anyone who doesn’t know it, I want to say: go, listen to Hardcore History. If you find Dan’s informal style off-putting, persevere. You’ll get used to it soon enough and the show is well worth it.
I remember my first impression was that he’s dumbing down history to make the show more entertaining. I was wrong. The show is entertaining but not dumbed down at all. It’s well researched, even if delivered in a very non-academic way.
Dan Carlin talks with passion about the things that fascinate him, be it political leaders, long-term effects of the bubonic plague, or the mysterious end of the Bronze Age. He explores historical patterns that bring together figures otherwise separated by thousands of year and thousands of miles (for example the episode about the last stand of tribal leaders against the encroaching empires, the Native American chief Tecumseh and the Gallic king Vercingetorix). He also has a strong focus on military history, so if you ever wondered what it was like to fight in a shield-wall, why everyone feared the nomads from the Steppe, and which was the best army of all times — go listen to Hardcore History.
I think I enjoy Carlin’s podcast so much because every so often it surprises me, forces to reevaluate my judgements, and opens up new perspectives. For instance, not shying from uncomfortable questions, Dan might make a comparison between Alexander the Great and Hitler: both paranoid megalomaniacs, obsessed with conquest, bringing war and suffering across continents. And yet Alexander came down in history as ‘the Great’. Will historians two thousand years from now call the nazi leader ‘Hitler the Great’, too?
Makes you think. Makes you second-guess. After all, as Napoleon said, “history is a set of lies that people have agreed upon”.
It’s also an inexhaustible well of tales and dramas. So if you’re an aspiring writer, struggling for inspiration, once again — go listen to Hardcore History!