As many of you know, for years I have enjoyed nonfiction audiobooks and podcasts about current events. It is a great way to acquire knowledge when I’m driving and don’t have the ability to read. While some people snub audiobooks as not really reading, I’ve never understood this critique. If the goal of reading nonfiction is to grow personally, professionally, and to discover new ideas, why is acquiring knowledge via listening worthy of criticism simply because it requires less effort? Yes, I enjoy books as well, but the reality is that if I didn’t listen to audiobooks in the car, the substitute would not be reading while driving; it would be nothing at all. I digress.
Recently, I discovered Dan Carlin’s, “Hardcore History,” after hearing Joe Rogan recommended his work. Hardcore History is a podcast that really should be described as a series of audiobooks on major historic events or people. I started Carlin’s work by listening to “Wrath of Khans,” Carlin’s several-hours-long epic about Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. Soon, I was hooked and purchased all of his podcasts, including those about World War I, Stalingrad, the Punic Wars, Alexander the Great, the Persian Empire, The Fall of the Roman Empire, etc. Now that I am almost done listening to the entire “Hardcore History” collection, I have to praise Carlin as a genius who truly created a masterpiece.
The first time you listen to Carlin, you’ll notice his style is one of unrelenting passion and intensity. Moreover, he has an incredible ability to connect his audience with people from the past, rather than presenting historical figures as caricatures wholly detached from the modern world. For example, when Carlin discusses a particularly gruesome or important event, he’ll pause for a second and say something like, “Imagine you’re there. What does that sound like? What does that look like? Imagine this is happening to you!!”
A theme he regularly revisits throughout all of his work is that the people “back then” are the same human beings of today. For example, if you took a modern child today and raised him or her in the past, that child would grow up exactly like the people from the past. The DNA is the same, but culture and environment is the key variable on a macro level. This idea is pretty significant when you consider the horrific cruelty inflicted by people on each other throughout history. Carlin dares to explore the implications of this idea in greater detail, and he asks what it means to be human. What does the past say about us?
Laughably, Carlin regularly says that he’s an “admirer of history,” but dismisses the notion that he is a “historian.” His modesty about his own ability really becomes comical as he reads direct quotes from ancient eyewitnesses and parses through complex texts, but then apologizes to his audience because he doesn’t know how to pronounce a clan in an ancient language. In his defense, Carlin has interviewed Victor Davis Hanson for a shorter podcast, a truly great military historian, so maybe he is simply using Hanson as the model of what a historian should be.
Overall, after listening to one of Carlin’s podcasts, most people will come away with a better understanding of history than years of formal education. He manages to make it incredibly entertaining too. I highly recommend you listen to his work.