Dan Carlin on Podcasting, History, and Hero Worship

Nick Gillespie at Reason: In March, Reason‘s Nick Gillespie talked with one of the great pioneers of podcasting:Dan Carlin, the host of Hardcore HistoryCarlin’s deeply researched and urgently delivered takes on everything from Julius Caesar’s wars in Gaul to Imperial Japan’s horrific conquest of Asia are downloaded by the millions. Gillespie and Carlin discussed how to understand the moral choices made in the past, how Carlin would update his 2019 book The End Is Always Near in light of COVID-19, and whether we can really learn meaningful lessons from history.

Reason: Who are your listeners and what do you think they’re getting out of the show?

Carlin: I don’t ask them questions about themselves or delve into who they are or what they make or where they live and how old they are and what their religious beliefs are. But the podcasting tools that are out there now give us more information than they used to. When we started, I feel like it was much more U.S.-centric, and now the international audience is growing more.

To give you a real answer, though, I don’t know a ton about the listeners, and I don’t want to. I feel like their privacy is valuable to them like mine is to me, and what the podcasting services give us is enough.

In 2019, you came on this podcast to talk about The End Is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses. This book came out just a few months before COVID became the latest apocalyptic moment. Did you feel like you were conjuring up material for the paperback version?

To be honest, I know the standard technique is to claim credit for all these things, but really I was one of the last people on the bandwagon of saying we’re vulnerable to another pandemic. I mean, there were a lot of people running around for years saying, “Warning, warning, warning.” We had near misses. It didn’t take a genius to see that coming. I do think the timing was just a little weird.

Were people more interested in what you were talking about during the pandemic or less, or did you notice any difference?

We did well during COVID, and we’ve seen a drop-off since, but I think it’s because people are back at work. One of the real benefits of audio over video is that you don’t have to watch something and you could be mowing the lawn or ironing a shirt or making dinner and still have the ability to multitask. So during COVID, people took the opportunity to listen to what we were doing while they were doing something else. Or we were just a good time waster, right? My shows are long.

Is history the story of massive forces that sweep over whole periods of time, or is it about heroic individuals who changed the course of history?

More here.

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