Look at a top 10 list of podcasts over the last ten years and exclude tech podcasts and there’ll be several names that come up time and time again. This American Life, Serial, Freakonomics and today’s winner Hardcore History.
If you take a browse through the audiobooks and podcasts on this site you’ll notice quite a lot of them are to do with history and culture and Hardcore History is the king of spoken word history shows. Narrator Dan Carlin frequently claims not to be a historian presenting himself as an enthusiastic amateur but is that rare combination of a gifted analyst, storyteller and performer.
So what topics has he covered? In the last three years, he’s only put out shows on two topics – the start of World War 1 and the rise of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. He’s put in over 25 hours on the first topic and 13 on the second thus far. Going back further he charted the rise and fall of the Mongol Khans, the fall of the Roman Empire, the Eastern front in World War 2 and a number of smaller topics and ideas.
Retailer: Hardcore History Website and podcast RSS feed +
Price: Most recent 10 or so episodes are free and the back catalogue can be individually bought at prices from $1.99 to $60 for every episode ever made.
About Dan Carlin
Carlin started out as a conventional radio and TV journalist but realised that his political views could reach a wider audience online switched to a semi-monthly political podcast called Common Sense. Hardcore History has launched soon after and both were hugely successful and are Carlin (and assistant Ben’s) main source of income.
Every show is a highly produced and scripted monologue from Carlin with the very occasional use of sound effects. There are sponsorship messages but they’re always right at the end interspersed with Carlin giving more behind the scenes information on how the show was made.
Hardcore History has tended to produce longer and longer shows over the years with the most recent being just over five hours and show’s forming mini-series of three or four with a shorter topic single show in between. Meantime between shows is around four months but it has sometimes spread a lot longer.
- Genre: History and politics
- Target age: Adults, Older adults
- Not rated but deals with adult themes
- Extra content such as maps and family trees is often included on Carlin’s website.
- Forum on Carlin’s website with an active community discussing every episode.
Individual topics and shows will have different trigger warnings but Carlin has a fondness for getting deep into the human perspective of the past and this is often not pretty or nice. This is not a podcast for children or for a first introduction to history.
Hardcore History has an unusual financial model. The content is always released free and remains so for often several years before being purchasable from Carlin’s site. The idea is that you’ll listen to the free content and want more so go back and buy the content that is no longer freely available.
I’d recommend listening to all the free content first then cherry picking the mini-series that appeal to you with “Death Throes of the Republic” at $10 being a personal favourite.
Hardcore History is exactly what it claims to be a visceral view on select events, people or empires in the past and it is. Carlin has a gift for making the complicated and remote seem real and understandable from a modern viewpoint and you can’t help but learn from him. He’s not an academic and it’s a fair criticism that he pays less time on explaining the sources than he could but for someone with a little historical knowledge, it’s a brilliant series.
I’ve been a listener since 2009 and its been a big factor in my interest in history. Essential listening and highly recommended.
The review is based on the audio podcast Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. This article was first published on 21st November 2016.