Dan Carlin’s podcasts are not to everyone’s taste. He has a very particular way of presenting and you may or may not like it. It is very much history from his personal perspective and if you don’t share it you might not feel comfortable with it. He also has a rather dramatic speaking style which is not always what you might choose to listen to.
I actually positively like all those things. I particularly like that he never claims to be anything other than a fan of history and that he brings you into his world so you can share his fascination with the subject. There is however a but.
And it’s a big but.
Why does the mad bastard do like one 5 hour show a year? And even when he takes that long, how does he not manage to get the whole topic covered?
So your experience as a Dan Carlin listener is rather like a whaler. They don’t come along very often, but you can hardly cope with them when they do. So for example, when he does the dropping of the atom bomb on Japan – it’s in two parts. The first is 4 and a half hours, the second is four hours. Great to have that much content – and it is generally great content – but it’s a lot to handle. There is of course nothing stopping you breaking it up into more convenient chunks. But somehow it doesn’t really work with Dan’s material. These are extemporised monologues. They are what they are, and they really call out to be listened to in as close to the original form as you can practically manage.
Dan has obviously listened to this kind of feedback and has come up with an idea for shorter programmes on my limited topics. These can be researched and recorded more quickly and frequently. He has set up a new podcast feed calling it Hardcore History Addendum. What could possibly go wrong?
Well it turns out that Dan’s idea of short is still into the multiple hours, and frequency is still in the one or two a year range. So basically, not that dramatically different to what he was doing in the first place. But on the positive, it does mean we are getting a bit more content in total. We might as well just accept that this is how he does it and learn to live with it. Because when it does finally turn up, and when you can clear some time in your schedule to appreciate it, it is rather splendid.
The most recent one is an account of a hypothetical battle between Julius Caesar and William the Conqueror. It doesn’t quite count as a refight of the battle of Hastings because, well it just doesn’t. It’s more of a discussion about the way military processes change over time. It is a remarkable thought that a thousand years after Julius Caesar landed in southern England, the Norman force that was able to conquer the island would probably have been badly defeated had they encountered even a relatively small Roman field army.
Dan is great on the details and has lots to say about the way men fought one another in the ancient world. But in a way he misses the most interesting conclusion. Armies had changed and developed over that time, but so had a great deal else besides. The Roman Empire was an extra-ordinary society in many ways. But its ultimate achievement was its army. All the time the Romans could dominate every threat to the empire their hegemony was safe. Once it had gone that balance of power was never to be restored. Small areas like Normandy and England became the norm. The Holy Roman Empire was never strong enough to build up the overwhelming strength needed to effectively rule the whole continent.
It’s a thought provoking idea. The Roman world was replaced by something very different to itself. But if somehow the Romans had managed to get the legions back up and running again it could have resurrected itself. And in fact it didn’t even need to be the Romans themselves. If any European power had succeeded in establishing itself as the undisputed leader we’d have been back to a single continent administration. The model is clear enough if you look to the east. That is pretty much what happened in what we now call Russia.
But that is the beauty of Dan Carlin’s podcasts. They get you thinking. You have to invest a lot of time in them, but you get a decent return on the investment.