I’ve taken to trying to walk a bit more for fitness, and so I kit myself up with my smartphone and wireless headphones, turn on a podcast and off I go. For the past 23 hours I’ve been listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History opus, ‘Blueprint for Armageddon’, which runs for six episodes ranging in length from 3 hours and 7 minutes to a massive 4 hours and 29 minutes. It’s about World War I, told chronologically and based largely on primary sources and a survey of secondary sources.
Dan Carlin is not a historian, but a broadcaster who loves history. He spends too much comparing people and events for my liking, and at times I felt as if the series was descending into trench-porn as he tried to capture the experience of fighting on the western front. He cited frequently from primary sources from soldiers fighting on different sides, read in a harsh tone to distinguish it from his commentary.
So why did I persist for 23 hours? Well, he did a really good job particularly in the first episode on laying out the groundwork for the war that was to follow, drawing heavily on Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. Even though he confessed his frustration at what he left out (even at 23 hours!), I thought that he did a good job of ranging across the different theatres of war, even picking up on the Australians and New Zealanders although his main focus is the western front. He does go on and on about things, but I didn’t mind that as my mind could go off on a little wander of its own, then I could refocus and catch up with what he was saying (indeed, by the time I tuned in again, he was often still making the same point!) And although he does labour some ideas, at heart they’re often insightful, original and interesting points that he’s making.
Still, that’s enough military history for me for now.