Apocalyptic Moments From The Bronze Age Collapse To Nuclear Near Misses by Dan Carlin
Now…it’s good to return in front of my figurative typewriter once again. But what will I review or discuss today? I am in the mood for something historical. I began the year in mid January with a review of The Storm Before The Storm: The Beginning Of The End Of The Roman Republic by Mike Duncan– a well known history podcaster (think an internet radio show for the uninitiated) – so why don’t I start the end of the year with one of his fellow elder statesmen of podcasting? The one and only Dan Carlin.
Dan Carlin is a well-known American journalist and broadcaster who has been part of the historical podcasting world since 2006 thanks to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. He isn’t a qualified historian (something he isn’t afraid to make clear throughout his several hour long episodes – The shortest on the current episode feed is just over three hours with the longest being just over six hours) but he brings the enthusiasm of the well read and eager amateur to his series.
His episodes often have the feel of a very intense pub debate between two friends or a history lecture where the lecturer has decided to throw the rules out the window. And I mean this in the best way possible!
Extended tangents, repeated references to his ‘Martian’ approach to history, the Star Trek holodeck and classic wargaming and a focus on the apocalyptic, violent and outrageous parts of history are part of the appeal of this famous series. An episode on the takeover of Munster by doomsayer millennial preachers as a domino effect of Martin Luther. A three part discussion of the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage…(Carthage must be destroyed.) A three part history of the kings of Achaemenid Persia. And that’s just the original podcast!
But what about the audiobook in question?
As you can tell by the title, Dan’s book has an appropriately apocalyptic focus. Do you think that modern civilisation will ever fall? Be discovered and investigated by the archaeologists of the future like we do Ancient Egyptian mummies? And figure out who we are? To imagine that happening to us as it did to the Ancient Greeks or the Babylonians may be bizarre but it is also entirely possible. Dan’s book has no argument as he says – although he does make common use of arguments from qualified historians to discuss his chosen topics or to discuss the opposing view. Do tougher times make tougher people? Will human capabilities ever peak or regress? Why, since the beginning of human history has it seemed like the Sword of Damocles has been dangling over us collectively? Dan’s book is a interesting golden thread across the past and future to discuss the question of human survival.
Dan may discuss gruesome possibilities or hypotheticals alongside his history but it is clear he finds the subject fascinating and he succeeds in spreading that to his listener. Even if history was never your strong suit he much like his contemporary Mike Duncan makes it sound utterly engrossing. His way of writing and narrating makes you feel yourself lost in the book. He really does feel like the classic style broadcasters.
What would you do? Where do you fall on the questions he poses to his readers and listeners? And since the book is not set on making an argument as is common in history books Dan can include the odd tangent or pop-culture reference – hello Charlton Heston – without it completely breaking his flow. The book may be different to one of his Hardcore History episodes be it Wrath Of The Khans, Supernova In The East or Prophets Of Doom but it is close enough in tone that any of you who have listened to the podcast before will be on safe ground. He also covers familiar topics as part of the audiobook but with enough new material and interesting very traditional Carlin analogies that I could hardly bare to put it down even after having listened to every episode released from 2007 on again and again!
One critique of Carlin – not just the book but in general – is that he can oversimplify the topic at hand and I wouldn’t deny that. In fact I’ve agreed with them on certain topics or in certain instances. But Dan does always make it clear he isn’t a qualified historian and he is trying to interest the general public in history. This probably also helps explain his slightly gruesome focus to a degree. But at least in the podcasts and in The End Is Always Near he gives a list of sources or recommended further reading in the description or accompanying PDF/appendix to investigate yourself and make your own decisions should you be so inclined. That’s better than I’ve seen from more than a few other people with the same stated intention.
In conclusion I recommend this audiobook to my readers. Especially if your tastes fall along the slightly weird, apocalyptic and appropriately esoteric. If you listen to the audiobook or read the physical book and like the sound of what you hear? Then hunt down Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History (either the free episodes on the podcast feed or the complete archive on his site) and the work of Mike Duncan. They have different oeuvre and focuses but both men are brilliant at what they do.
There’s a reason I hunted down a physical copy of this! Thank you Internet. You’d be amazed how fascinating history can be when you find the right storyteller! You never know what just might interest you!
Vale Amici Mei