A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Friday, 8 June 2018

Studying History in the Car

Recently I've been thoroughly absorbed by some freebie history podcasts I downloaded from the Internet. Not only do they make car journeys pass more quickly, but sometimes I'm fretting to get back on my way, to find out what happened next!

I'm really only a dabbler in this area, but am very impressed by what is available and by the potential of the medium.

Some years ago I became very enthusiastic about The Napoleon Podcast, a series produced by an Australian, Cameron Reilly, which generated a lengthy series of shows featuring Reilly as host and continuity man (and frequent provocateur), and J David Markham - American author of numerous works on Napoleon, of which Napoleon for Dummies must be one of his biggest sellers. The series was ambitious, in an amiably homespun sort of way, and when the personalities of the two presenters (and their unrelenting devotion to the Emperor) began to grate on the nerves it was rescued by a number of excellent guest speakers. That series is still worth a listen, I think - especially the sections on the Russian army and its campaigns.

Apart from the occasional episode of BBC Radio's In Our Time show, I haven't been paying a lot of attention subsequently; I've checked out a number of audiobooks, but these things are very much dependant on how well they are read, which - in turn - is very much a matter of personal taste. I was delighted that someone had taken on the task of recording Oman's Peninsular War epic series on mp3, for example, but my excitement ended abruptly when I heard the results. I was also keen to get the very good audiobook version of CV Wedgwood's book on the Thirty Years War, but it seems this is tricky if you don't want an Audible account. At the time, I thought that Audible seemed like an updated version of the old monthly book-clubs scam, but I am slowly starting to consider this more seriously. I may be a potential subscriber. [Having typed this here, I suspect I will now see adverts for little else on my email page, my eBay screens, Facebook, in my shaving mirror, etc...]

The podcasts which have been keeping me entertained recently are both American:

Dan Carlin
World War 1 - excellently done, but very heavy going
(1) Dan Carlin's Blueprint for Armageddon series - which comprises six enormously long shows, available from Carlin's Hardcore History website. Carlin, I think, is a bit like Marmite - I have really become quite a big fan, but a lot of people do not appreciate his style, nor his political views. The series in question is available free from his site, and I downloaded these shows as a taster, before exploring some of the items which require a (small) investment. Carlin's viewpoint in this particular miniseries is to examine WW1 as it affected the participants. He does it well, and impartially, though the whole thing is presented with attention to the meat-grinder aspects of the experience which gets close to obsession at times. No matter - the point is well made, if maybe a few times too many. Carlin appears to have a view with which I can empathise - namely, that there are no absolute winners in war; as a rule, wars are started for political or economic reasons by national leaders or rulers, but the cost in suffering and ruin is borne by the common people, mobilised and conscripted in support of some national patriotic jamboree. Anyway, it's sobering stuff, but I learned a great deal, and he is a stunning presenter.

Mike Duncan
Well worth a browse
(2) Mike Duncan's Revolutions Podcast, which is all available free of charge, though you are sort of expected to make a donation if you appreciate the shows. This is a weekly series - I downloaded the ECW set, and thought they were very good. They give an excellent overall view of a complex subject, and they do it well, though they focus on the political rather than the military detail. I was a little disappointed that Duncan chose to spend very little time on the many sieges which were central to the wars, though he probably decided they were difficult things to present in an interesting way. The shows are well written, and well presented, though for my taste the insistence on introducing a matey joviality at times does not work well. Maybe this is compulsory for the Informal Internet, but, no matter how charismatic the presenter, inclusion of phrases like "awesome" and "kicking the crap out of the King's army" in a narration, even of popular history, adds little for me. Overall, though, I liked the slick way the shows were written and edited. I'm going to have a look at the wealth of other material on offer on the site. Mr Duncan is to be complimented on his efforts.

For zero cost, these podcasts offer a lot of entertainment and, in the series I have been following, a great deal of insight. I have enjoyed my motor trips much more of late, no doubt. Recommended - and I shall look further to see what else is out there.


  1. Carlin's Blueprint for Armageddon is fantastic! I think it time to listen to it again. His King of King's is fascinating too.

    1. Thanks Jon, I'll check that one out too. I've just downloaded a 33-part series on 1848 from the Revolutions site - I should be good for thousands of miles.

  2. These look/sound very interesting although I admit that listening to podcasts has never quite caught on with me for some odd reason. The technology is different, of course, but it ought to be just like listening to the radio, which I do quite often. And oddly, these my radio listening is almost always online rather via an actual radio. Strange. I must get up to sped with the times.

    Best Regards,


    1. I think podcasts are like most of the stuff on the Internet - you have to put quite a lot of work in to sort out the nuggets from the turds. There is a concept which my wife and I joke about, which we call the "judgement buffer". The Internet - especially social media platforms - makes it very easy for anyone who fancies it to create a podcast, Youtube clip, whatever, and get it out there so his friends can Like it (aargh). The judgement buffer comes into play when the creator has to decide whether it's any good, or worthwhile, and so on, or whether he should just do us all a favour and delete the thing. Most of the stuff out there isn't worth the effort that went into its manufacture. A lot of sifting is needed. There seems to be a sad inverse correlation at work - those with the most time to produce this stuff frequently have the least to say. Maybe they aren't required for anything more important?

      On the technology side, I am making more and more use of the USB socket on my car stereo system these days. My van (which is rather more agricultural, but a few years more modern) doesn't have a CD player at all - if you wish to provide your own music in my van then you bring a USB stick of mp3 files (I have a little cloth bag with memory sticks with various kinds of music, and now podcasts) or else you use the BlueTooth link from your smart phone (so you don't get withdrawal symptoms). Fiddling with your phone in the car is not recommended (likely to get you arrested in the UK), so the USB sticks are the way to go, I think.

  3. I must say I really enjoyed The Napoleon Podcasts when you introduced me to them back then. I mainly listened to them whilst painting, worked through the entire series and then went back and re listened to the Russian and Peninsular campaigns and finally the 100 days. I liked Markhams style, stopping for a sip of his favourite 'medication' now and then, and his personal knowledge of the Russian battlefields was most impressive. What I recall most was the 'Death of Napoleon' episode when Markham was clearly struggling to contain his emotions. I must give them another listen sometime. Russian guest author was also very good indeed.

    1. Hi Lee - the Napoleon podcasts seem to be titled Napoleon 101 these days (or something), but they are still available for a small fee. I got a lot out of them back in 2010, when I worked my way through the entire back catalogue. I still listen to selected ones from time to time, though I was alarmed by the standard of some of the old discussion threads on the website - British guys getting very upset when Reilly wound them up about the murky past of their empire, Markham getting very upset any time that someone suggested that the sun did not always shine out of Napoleon's bottom. Back in the day, I eventually got fed up with Reilly playing the buffoon as foil to Markham's academic role - the absolute nadir was when he suddenly sang Abba's "Waterloo", and it was embarrassingly obvious that he was serious - he believed he was a good singer. Still, it was his show, I guess. The Russian guest speaker was terrific - Alex Mikaberidze, I think - and there were others. Overall, the series wasn't bad at all, though the practical difficulties of recording a live show with one presenter in Australia and one in the USA caused a few interruptions and hiccups.