Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people”- Eleanor Roosevelt.
Eleanor Roosevelt was an American diplomat and human rights activist who helped to establish the United Nations after the end of World War II and represented the United States in the UN general assembly from 1945-1952. She was also First Lady of the United States of America from 1933-1945. Be like Eleanor Roosevelt.
with Dan Carlin
This is the first podcast I ever listened to and really made me understand the value of podcasts in general.
Dan Carlin hosts by himself in a one-person narrative on various historical topics covering everything from ancient Persia to Japan in World War II. I really enjoyed the King of Kings episodes about the ascent of the Persian Empire and its wars with the Greek city-states, where Carlin reveals a little-known aspect of the ancient kings -- a lot of them were archaeologists. They would excavate the sites of even older kingdoms to see what the kings that came a thousand years before them were up to.
The episodes about World War I called Blueprint for Armageddon is absolutely fantastic as well, providing a cultural and historical context to why The Great War or The War to End All Wars happened in the first place and why they did nothing to stop future conflicts.
Thor’s Angels (great title) is another great episode that explores what happened directly after the fall of the Roman Empire and the anarchy that descended over the old order of Europe. So often we learn about the Roman Empire and its eventual collapse and don’t hear anything else until like Charlemagne -- that 300 years is not usually mentioned, and that is exactly what this episode covers.
I especially like Carlins’ comparison of the Barbarians as punk rock biker gangs. I’d say the episode The Destroyer of Worlds about the history of Atomic Warfare probably taught me the most since I didn’t really know anything about ‘the bomb’ and its impact on society after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Dan Carlin came from a radio background and is a mere fan of history so this lets him get away with saying things that might have been damaging to his career if he had been an actual professional historian. But his background in radio comes out shiningly as he is a master of inflection and timing and really makes it entertaining to the point I can see how my parents’ and grandparents’ generations could have been so captivated by radio shows before television.
In Our Time
Produced by the BBC (British Broadcasting Company)
This is hands down my favorite podcast, I put this at number 4 because it has such a wide range of topics and has been broadcasted for 20 years and has over 900 episodes.
Also, I just really like the BBC, it’s my go to news source. I started listening to it when I was 16 and an exchange student in Germany. It was the only thing on TV that was in English so I spent the first few months there listening to that until my German was good enough to understand German TV.
In Our Time has history, philosophy, science, religion and culture sections with some of the episodes overlapping but each episode is just loaded with information for being usually around 30 minutes long.
Each episode usually has two experts in the field they are discussing alongside the host Melvyn Bragg, who for me as an American, just finds his accent wonderful. It is really hard for me to pinpoint my favorite episodes as that would be like 5 pages long, but I can say I really learned a lot from the history sections 1816: Year Without a Summer about the aftermath of the eruption of Mount Tambora and how that affected weather throughout the world leading to the idea of climate change. But just as good is the episode about the Mexican-American War and how that personified manifest destiny.
In the philosophy section my favorite two are Rousseau on Education. It really made me realize how much I take for granted in my education compared to people living a few hundred years ago; and The Translation movement about how Islamic scholars helped to preserve a lot of the ancient Greek and Roman works during the European ‘Dark Ages.’
In the culture section I really enjoyed the Frankenstein episode about Mary Shelly and the whole idea of creating your own monsters and the episode about Benjamin Franklin who I just admire so much as a scientist and founding father of the United States. Funny to think he would have hated being on the $100 bill.
In the Religion section I enjoyed the episode about Josephus who lived during the Roman-Jewish wars and later served in the palace of the Roman Emperor Vespasian and left an amazing history of Judaism at that time; as well as the episode about marriage and the interwoven history of marriage and religion over the past 3000 years.
In the Science section the episode about the history of teeth is something you can really sink your teeth into as well as the episode about feathered dinosaurs, just because dinosaurs are awesome.
The Paranoid Strain
This I really feel like is an important podcast for our times, there is just so much information available to us at any time, unlike any other time in history and when you have access to everything in the world it can really be distressing, so a lot of people find solace in conspiracy theories to soften the blow of the sometimes anarchic world of information and misinformation.
I feel like a lot of people that believe in wild conspiracy theories do so because they feel better thinking that at least someone, anyone is in control of this crazy world and that it’s not just all chaos.
It’s a funny thing to believe that there is some evil organization ruling the world is actually comforting for a lot of people, that it is better than the reality that there are just so many different systems at work to make the modern world continue going forward and that no specific organization is in charge -- just a bunch of different groups that break down into smaller groups and smaller and so on and so on.
This podcast not only breaks down the ridiculousness of different conspiracy theories but gives you the history and culture of why they were allowed to be spread and why people believe in them in the first place.
The History of Rome
with Mike Duncan
The History of Rome podcast (abbreviated to THoR, which I totally love) hosted by Mike Duncan is exactly what the title says it is, the history of Rome.
Put in a chronological order from the founding of Rome to its eventual demise, covering over a thousand years, this was an extremely ambitious podcast that took years to complete.
I’m about two-thirds the way through this and I thought I knew a lot about the Roman Republic and later Empire but I was really scratching the surface. This is actually a pretty entertaining podcast because you can really tell Mike Duncan loves talking about this history as he and his grandfather bonded over the history of Rome when he was a kid. I kind of just pop in and out of this podcast because the episodes are short enough (like 20-25 minutes usually) so I can listen to two or three on a long car ride or just one if I’m cleaning my house but I’ve found it surprisingly easy to jump back into an episode even if it’s been a few weeks since I last listened to one.
The Viking Age Podcast
This podcast is a really nice narrative about the Viking Age about 793 to 1066 A.D. but instead of just talking what we know about their history this covers geology and culture and science to give a better understanding of the whole story.
History used to be taught as a story of ‘great men’ forging ahead through their own sheer will up until fairly recently, but that view of history completely leaves out the outside mechanisms that dictate why these so-called ‘great men’ were able to accomplish what they did at that particular time. More recently historians have started explaining history in more of a systems approach including how things like climate and culture and historical circumstance would have created an opportunity for large historical change to occur in the first place. This podcast explores all these different topics to explain how and why the Vikings were able to have such a large impact on Europe and North Africa.
The MeatEater Podcast
with Steven Rinella
I like hunting and fishing; I’ve been doing it as long as I can remember and Steven Rinella, through his podcast and Netflix show, have really taught me a lot about my favorite pastimes and the natural world.
Rinella keeps everything really well grounded though and even though he is a professional hunter and writer, he is not scared to show his own vulnerabilities throughout.
I really learned a lot about water usage and water ownership throughout the western United States in a few of his episodes, especially the one where he interviews the governor of Wyoming.
Sometimes the episodes are just him and his buddies just shooting the breeze which can be relaxing and entertaining but there are a lot of episodes that can really help you to be a better and conscientious individual while enjoying the great outdoors.
The History of Aotearoa
Produced by The History of Aotearoa New Zealand
This podcast is just amazing. It covers the history of Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand) from many perspectives including geological to historical. The Maori are the indigenous peoples of the islands of Aotearoa that only settled there in the last 1,000 years making Aotearoa the last large landmass to be colonized by humans in the world.
This podcast does a few things that really sets it apart. It covers mostly the Maori history which is something rare. I mean open up your American History textbook and see how much time they devote to American Indian history before the Europeans arrived.
Where a lot of other podcasts just cover history in a single narrative, this one has dramatic retellings of stories and folklore from the Maori history that gave me goosebumps. And I love language and even though the Maori language (or te reo) is so different than our Indo-European style, I just find it beautiful and epic. Also, New Zealand just seems like an amazing place, it’s number 1 on my bucket list for traveling to fish and hunt and explore the culture and landscapes. I’m not a huge Lord of the Rings fan, but you have to admit if Middle Earth does exist somewhere on this planet, it appears to be in New Zealand. Also, the guy who directed Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi, is from New Zealand and his other movies that take place in New Zealand are just amazing.
History on Fire
with Daniele Bolelli
This is an awesome history podcast where Bolelli covers vastly different topics from samurai culture to Crazy Horse and the War for the Black Hills. He really knows what he is talking about and his passion for each topic is palpable. The only thing is he is super Italian and his accent can be hard to follow sometimes. If you persist and listen however, you will be treated to a great story-teller with a penchant for the dramatic. I really loved his episodes about the Renaissance painter Caravaggio and how he compares these 16th century painters of the Italian Renaissance to gansta-rappers of the late 20th century. I never knew that there would be trash-talking between different painters that would often result in violence and murder, it just shows how passionate people can be about their art. Another fantastic series of episodes are about the battle for the Black Hills and Crazy Horse of the Lakota. The imagery is just amazing where you feel the cultural pressures that can create an individual while simultaneously resisting cultural norms and being your own person as Crazy Horse personified.
The Bon Appetit Foodcast
This is a really informative podcast about foods from all over the world and the history and culture that give them context.
I’ve learned a lot from Bon Appetit over the years, especially from fellow New Jerseyan Brad Leone, who specializes in fermentation to the point I’ve now been making my own fermented foods for a few years now, especially hot sauces. Among my favorites is blah blah blah.