Thursday, 30 June 2011

Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control James Fleming - New Books in History

One  of the big problems facing mankind is that we are unwittingly changing the weather by burning fossil fuels.  The extent to which this is happening, and whether there is anything we either can or should do about it is debatable.  But what may come as a surprise is that humans have been trying to control the weather for longer than you might think.  In fact, just about every bit of new technology that has come along has been used to attempt precisely that.  The results?  Total failure every time.  Fascinating stuff, and with the climate debate ranging topical stuff as well.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Stamford Bridge - In Our Time

Melvyn tackles the other big battle of 1066 joined by a group of rather indecisive historians.  It turns out that not much is actually known about this particular battle, and the experts were keen to talk about how poor the sources available are.  This got in the way of a good telling of the story and frankly, was getting on Melvyn's nerves.   Not a bad programme, though given that there was a much bigger and more important battle only a few weeks later it is a bit hard to get excited by this one.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

1066 and Goodbye to all that - History of England Dave Crowther

 This podcast so far has been about stuff that not many people know much about. In this episode for the first time we hear stuff that everyone in England knows all about.  1066 is notoriously the only date that most English people ever remember from their school history.

Dave acknowledges that he isn't coming up with much new and graciously invites people who know the story already to give this week's episode a miss.  To be honest, if you do know the story you might as well.  But if you don't, this is pretty much the standard version you can find anywhere and is as good a place to learn it as anywhere else.  If you want a really good account of the battle, sadly not yet podcasted anywhere, by anyone Edward Creasey's chapter from 15 Decisive Battles of World History is superb.  (Thanks to Colin of History Books Review for pointing that one out to me.)

Monday, 27 June 2011

Cry Havoc: How the Arms Race Drove the World to War, 1931–1941 Joe Maiolo - New Books in History

Which country in Europe was producing the most planes in 1939 and 1940?  It has to be Germany doesn't it?  No, it was Britain.  Which year did it become inevitable that Germany would lost the Second World War.  1942?  Not according to this book, try 1933.

A fascinating look at the great conflict of the twentieth century from an angle it is rarely viewed from, that of resources and how they affected the arms race that built up to the outbreak of war.  I won't say any more, it is more fun to listen and have your eyes (ears?)  opened.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

This Week's Most Viewed Podcast Reviews

A second week at the top for the History of England's Edward the Confessor episode, despite a strong challenge from Rex Factor's John.

History of History - In Our Time

Worth listening to just for the very funny quote that is used as the introduction (I won't spoil it by revealing it here).   A review of the history of the telling of history, we hear how history developed out of gossip and story telling into an academic discipline.  Well worth dipping into the archives for.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Build Up to War - World War II Ray Harris Jnr

The steady escalation of the situation in Europe by Hitler is outlined in episodes 11 to 14 of this account of World War 2.  The people living through it can't have realised it, but every step that people take to try and ensure peace in fact adds to the build up to the war.  The war that was to be so devastating for the entire continent of Europe.  This is developing into a remarkably impressive podcast that tells a familiar story very well.   The main thing that appeals to me about it is the way Ray takes the time to tackle every aspect fully.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Henry III - Rex Factor Podcast

John dies in 1216 with the country in civil war and in danger of being conquered by France. Worse still, the new king, Henry III, is only 9 years old and in his minority. Thankfully, he has a medieval hero in William Marshal to fight his battles, but when he comes to rule by himself he finds ruling the country a tricky business, not least because his nobles are still insisting on having more of a say in the sharing of power. The conflict with Simon de Montfort sees the birth of Parliament and threatens to make England a republic. Can Henry hold on to power and will this be enough for him to win the Rex Factor?

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Dunkirk - A History of World War 2 Ray Harris Junior

I am rapidly getting hooked on this podcast.  As a Briton the story of Dunkirk is so familiar I did consider skipping this episode and the next one.  I am glad I didn't.  One misgiving I had was justified.  I am not just British, I am from the south east corner of England and I know the area of north east France and Belgium quite well too.  As I expected, a lot of place names came out in weird ways.  But to be fair, that was only a minor gripe and I doubt it will bother many people.  In fact it showed up something that Ray Harris does exceptionally well.  Most of us listen to podcasts when we are driving or doing something else that leaves our minds free but our hands busy.  So conveying geography is a bit of a problem.  The usual solution is 'I've put a map on my website' - but of course you aren't on the website when you want to know where things are!

Although I have a bit of an advantage in knowing the terrain being discussed pretty well, I think Ray does a great job of describing where all the armies are and the significance of the movements.  He couples that with integrating the political goings on and the individual roles of particular key players.  It never becomes pure military history.

This all goes to capture the full drama of what was going on and to keep you on the edge of your seat even if like me you have heard the story quite often before.  Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Normans - History of England Dave Crowther

The Normans are to have a huge impact on the history of England so Dave devotes a whole episode to them.  This was brought home to me personally as by sheer fluke this particular podcast happened to come up on my car stereo as I was out on business that took me through the town of Battle in East Sussex, and past the Norman Abbey built there to commemorate the battle of Hastings.  The Normans are a bit like the Inland Revenue (the UK tax office).  You probably don't like them but you can't ignore them.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Rise of a King - Norman Centuries Lars Bronsworth

 Lars Bronworth is the Godfather of history podcasting, so it is fun to find him based mainly in Sicily for this latest in his tale of the Normans.  Sicily was to be the centre of power for Roger II, who created a new kingdom in the face of opposition from, well from everybody.  A masterful performance from Lars as always.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Japan prepares for war - World War 2 Podcast Ray Harris Junior

World War 2 was a long time in the making and in episodes 6 to 8 we hear a lot about how Japan, and as a result China, got involved in the global conflict. One thing that this makes very clear is that it wasn't simply a European war that spread around the world.  There were deep roots to it in Asia as well.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

This Week's Most Viewed Podcast Reviews

A clear winner this week.  The History of England's Edward the Confessor post is way ahead of everyone else this week.   History Books Review leads the closely bunched group of followers a long way behind the leader.  Good to see the Napoleon podcast, that inspired this blog so many years ago now making an appearance.

Mussolini - World War 2 History Ray Harris Junior

Scoundrels are much more interesting than saints.   In episodes 3 to 5 of this podcast we are introduced to one of the all time scoundrels of history, one time fascist dictator of Italy, Mussolini. 

Compared to the steely evil genius of Hitler, Mussolini comes across as a buffoon.   He plays the clown to Hitler's straight man. As his life is revealed we see him as an egotist, a crook, a womaniser, a bully and above all as a coward.  Few men who have reached the very top rank in their countries have so few redeeming features as this wretched playboy.  He is a small time crook operating on the big time.  We all know it is going to end out badly, but if you didn't you would have guessed anyway.

It is well worth checking out this podcast to learn about the time when Italy was run by a man without even the morals of a brothel keeper and contemptuous disdain for democracy and legality.  Thank God it couldn't happen today.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

New Rome - History of Rome Mike Duncan

This podcast is now so well known that I am going to do the same that I do with In Our Time and only post reviews of exceptional episodes.   The one on Constantine's founding of Constantinople was one such.  In this one Constantine founds a city, sets the currency on a firm footing, murders his son and taxes everyone into the middle of the next financial year.  Oh and his mum discovers the true cross.  All in all, quite a to do list to get through and well done to Constantine for achieving so much and to Mike for explaining it all so clearly.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Anglo Saxon England - History of England Dave Crowther

In this episode Dave pauses his narrative to have a look at what Anglo Saxon England was like just before the Norman invasion.  If you are listening to the whole series in one sitting this is probably a handy break to pace out the events.  If you are following it weekly you may well have found it a bit annoying since it comes in the middle of the build up to the battle of Hastings which has been set up in the previous episode.

Having said that, it is interesting enough and the bit about place names is particularly fun.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

John - Rex Factor Podcast

After one of England's great heroes in the person of Richard the Lionheart, this time Rex Factor cover one of its most famous villains - Bad King John. He's often reputed to be England's worst king - cowardly, incompetent and evil! - but is this bad reputation deserved? He certainly loses lots of territory and is morally questionable on more than one occasion, but he came to the throne in difficult circumstances in 1199 and also had some successes. With his place in history assured by signing the Magna Carta (however reluctantly), could he produce a shock result or will he remain a failure in the eyes of history?

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Let this be our final battle - History of Rome Mike Duncan

A gripping account of the final triumph of Constantine of Licinius leaving him as the undisputed master of the whole Roman world.  Fans of the UK series Blackadder will enjoy spotting a quote that Mike slips in.  Another reliably good podcast.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Heian Era - The History of Japan Podacast Cameron Foster

The Heian Era was a period of great acheivement in the arts and progress in Japanese culture.  But never mind all that.  This is the History of Japan podcast so we get all the political shenanigans instead.  Interestingly this period produced a couple of  Japanese saints who despite having a totally different religion and outlook seem to have been treated in a way remarkably similar to their European counterparts.

The big difference between Japanese and European history is that the two rival religions, Shinto and Buddhism, managed to merge themselves enough for people to be comfortable being both.  That is a cultural acheivement to be proud of.

Monday, 13 June 2011

World War II series - History of World War 2 Podcast Ray Harris Jnr

I have changed my mind about this podcast.  Initially I thought it was one that might take a while to get into its stride, but now I have spent some time with it I have begun to appreciate it a lot more.  There are a couple of good points that you pick up quickly.  Like most amateur historians he is good at picking out what is interesting to general listeners rather than other academics, and he doesn't assume a lot of knowledge on the part of the listener.  He also has a very clear speaking voice and tells the story quite well.

But the thing that marks this podcast out as one that commands your attention is something that you don't get for a while.  It is the pace of the story.  He is in no hurry to get through the material and this means that you get a sense of the events unfolding steadily.  World War 2 is a big subject and this generous approach to it does it justice.  

I just hope he can keep it up.  Doing the whole war at this level of detail is going to be a big big project.  Good luck if you are reading this Ray.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Making Sense of the Vietnam Wars- New Books in History

This is a scholarly book written by a scholar.  The podcast starts off with 30 minutes of scholarly discussion about the business of researching and writing a book like this.  If you like that sort of thing it is 30 minutes you will no doubt want to spend.  If you are mainly interested in the contents of the book you might want to skip to the 29minute point.

The discussion remains a bit scholarly rather than journalistic when we get the actual history.  There is a lot of journalism about the Vietnam Wars, indeed if you are as old as me you will remember actual news broadcasts about it.  The perspective is from the point of view of the Vietnamese and Ho Chi Minh, the North Vietnamese leader in particular.  Mark Bradley is interested in the facts not the drama, but even so there are still some dramatic moments.  In particular the amazing declaration of independence made in Hanoi in September 1945 is one of the remarkable scenes of history.

Not really told in a way to make it a riveting story, but an interesting podcast nonetheless.   

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Persecution - History Books Review Colin Sanders

This episode of the podcast continues looking at the rise of the Church as portrayed by Gibbon in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  The Church was well organised and became steadily more numerous, until it got to the stage of threatening the authority of the emperor himself.  The persecutions started quite late and were not quite what most people think they were like.  Worth a listen if only to hear the story of St Cyprian.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Brothers in Name Only - History of Rome Mike Duncan

Constantine makes all the running yet again in this podcast from the History or Rome series.   Constantine starts settling disputes in the Church - not for the faint hearted - and picks an argument with Licinius.  Recommended - Mike is warming to the character of Constantine.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Ottoman Age of Exploration - New Books in History Giancarlo Casale

It was the Portuguese that opened up the globe by setting out from the banks of the Tagus and sailing around the world to create new markets and find fame and riches.  Only, when they got there they found that the Turks were already doing the same.  When Vasco da Gama first arrived in India after sailing around the whole of Africa, he met some Moroccans already there who spoke Portuguese.

An interesting podcast covering an aspect of history very few of us know anything about.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Custer's Last Stand - In Our Time

There is something deeply tragic about someone defending their age old way of life against forces too strong for them to have any chance of overcoming them.  We all know it only ends one way in defeat, bitterness and tragedy.  So we can all sympathise with Melvyn Bragg when he lost his battle to keep the South Bank Show running on the telly.

Another example is the Plains Indians who were ruthlessly driven off their lands by the US army at the end of the Nineteenth Century.  They put up a good fight and at one point managed to wipe out a small force of US cavalrymen led by a well known general.  This uncharacteristic success was basically down to Custer's obsession with political motives rather than military ones combined with a one in a million level of stupidity.  Despite this it was Custer who went on to become the iconic hero while the tribesmen ended up on the reservations.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Hannibal - Patrick Hunt Stamford University iTunesU

One of the first history podcast series I listened to was an excellent series on Hannibal.  This looked at him from every aspect, so it covered the cultural background of the world he lived in, the politics of the Carthaginians and plenty about his actual life.  I didn't keep the files and I couldn't remember where I had got it from, this being back in the days before iTunes.   But now I have found it again.

 It is on iTunesU under Stamford University and it is by Patrick Hunt.  There doesn't seem to be a stand alone webpage or blog you can find it on.  So if you want it you'll have to go the iTunes store.  Do a search on Patrick Hunt then apply the iTunesU filter and you'll be there.  Recommended but there is a lot of material here so be sure you have plenty of time on hand to listen before you start.

Monday, 6 June 2011

And then there were two -History of Rome Mike Duncan

Constantine is most famous as the first Christian emperor and is often considered to be a saint. That doesn't seem to have stopped him engaging in some pretty low politics in his quest for supreme rule of the empire.  In this episode he maneuvers into position while his fellow emperor Licinius deals with Maximinus the emperor in the East.  It is all very confusing but Mike makes it clear.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

This weeks most viewed posts

The History of Japan tops the chart again this week.  History Books Review's account of Gibbon's views on Miracles also continues to do well.  It is great to see Tony Cocks' Putney Debates making an appearance too.

28 Apr 2011, 
20 Pageviews
22 May 2011
, 15 Pageviews
31 May 2011
, 11 Pageviews
14 May 2011
, 10 Pageviews
25 Apr 2011
, 10 Pageviews

Last week's 5 top viewed podcasts.

5 tips for studying the American Revolution - Yale University Prof Freeman

Prof Freeman tells us about the American Revoluion
The first episode of Professor Freeman's course on the American Revolution looks at the sources, but also debunks the idea that the revolution was just the war or even that the war was the main thing that was going on.  To really get into it the first thing you need to do is to drop the preconceptions you might have about the subject.  If you are American it will already be very familiar with a lot of the story.  If you aren't you might be equally baffled by why certain bits seem to be treated as significant for no obvious reason.  It works fine as a podcast, but I recommend watching at least the first one on the video option.  It's a lot more engaging that way.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Why did Rome fall? - New Books in History Adrian Goldsworthy

There are hundreds of theories to explain why Rome fell.  (That isn't a figure of speech incidentally, the published ideas do literally run into the hundreds.)  Nobody really knows, but Adrian Goldsworthy thinks he has a pretty good idea.  Well worth a listen.

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Origins of Political Order - New Books in History Francis Fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama is most famous for the phrase 'the end of history'.  This was supposed to have happened with the fall of the Berlin Wall.  The basic idea was that mankind had finally worked out the ideal way of organising their societies and that the way to do it was a liberal democracy.   This book seems to be filling in a lot of the detail around that basic idea.  Going from the origin of man as a species up to the French Revolution, this is broad brush stuff indeed.  Listen to this if you want to hear some interesting ways of looking at how humans behave and how that has affected the way history has developed.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Battle of the Milvian Bridge - History of Rome Mike Duncan

There are few battles in history so significant as that of the Milvian Bridge.  Mike is more interested in the personality and motivations of Constantine than in the details of the battle itself, which is a good way of making sense of an otherwise still quite confused situation.  You miss out on the drama of the battle, but you get a good insight into what the people thought about it at the time and how it must have seemed to people at the time.  As usual, Mike is at his best when describing a strong character.  This episode stands up pretty well as a one off, so if you are looking to see whether you want to start listening to the whole series, this one is a good place to start.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Edward the Confessor - History of England Dave Crowther

Edward the Confessor's character hasn't really impressed itself very forcefully on the history of England, and despite Dave's efforts he doesn't really do so on this podcast either.  Most of it covers the political manoeuvres of the Godwin clan, which in turn sets the scene for the dramatic events of 1066