July in Podcasts: Mostly Chiang Kai-shek

Last month there were two big podcasts for me to listen to: a new episode of Hardcore History from Dan Carlin, and When Diplomacy Fails’ Korean War podcast.  The two together almost simultaneously introduce me to a major historical figure that I had somehow escaped hearing about before – the Chiang Kai-shek of the title.

Dan Carlin takes on the extreme nationalism and militarism of the Japanese empire in the half  century or so before the Second World War.  It’s an interesting topic – and as ever Carlin, it’s possible to see relevance to modern political situations as the Japanese government is forced down a harder and harder line by the threats (and occasionally assassinations) of the hardcore minority.  The episode ends with Japan in China in the early stages of what would become World War Two – and hence my introduction to the struggles of the Chinese warlords.

Zack Twamley of WDF is slowly working his way through the Korean War (at the point I’ve got to, we’re only in the first few days of the war after twenty episodes of setup).  The focus is, as ever, diplomatic.  There’s also an extra set of provocative theses here: that Stalin engineered the war to pull Mao’s China away from the West; that elements within the US ignored the warning signs in order to justify military spending and strategy.  As presented these seem reasonable, the former even more so than the latter, but there’s a lot of diplomatic meetings and messages.  Setting these ideas up required a lot of background, particularly in China, much of which was new to me.

I don’t tend to read twentieth century history, and especially not that of World War Two, but both of these were very interesting – taking me to places that I don’t tend to go.  I look forward to reaching the conclusion of both, but I understand that will take a while for these two podcasters (for different reasons).

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February in podcasts

This month, i have been mostly reading Umberto Eco’s Prague Cemetery (try doing that in the voice of Jesse from the Fast Show).  There are so many tangents and odd bits of history in there that I could spend as long on Wikipedia as I spent reading the book.  Podcasts help, I can read them while walking (without bumping into things). This month I caught up on Italian Unification and learned about Alexandre Dumas three times.  I also tried the remastered When Diplomacy Fails.

Zack Twamley of When Diplomacy Fails does like his big projects.  In fact he tweeted this the other day;

The Korean War: 48/48 written, 13/48 recorded.
1956: 28/33 written, 2/33 recorded.
Poland Is Not Yet Lost: 40/100? written, 0 recorded.

He does seem to manage the time better nowadays.  When I first listened to him, I found him sounding drained and tired towards the end of his Thirty Years War series.  Now, I’m working through the big project from last year – celebrating five years of the show by remastering his early episodes.  It’s actually rather good – he has removed bits that didn’t work (horrific Russian accents) and revised his opinion when he feels necessary.  Some introductions add a nice personal touch too.  The topics as ever are the selling point – a quick zip through the Spanish American War or the War of Polish Succession in a few half hour episodes quickly informs without being a commitment.

The Italian Unification podcast has also been running for almost five years; but less consistently – life commitments have meant that the pass has slowed to just five shows in the last two years, as it creeps towards the finish.  There is one more episode to go, and the topic was brilliantly relevant for the early parts of Prague Cemetery – Garibaldi, Cavour and the battle for a unified Italy.  Officially by “Talking History” (mostly Benjamin Ashwell – his brother Adam seems to have faded away from the project as it has overrun), it has polished up since I posted on its early episodes, I now like the production of the show.  It’s the content that really shines, there’s a pacy narrative, but still with plenty of detail (every time I have a question they seem to pre-emptively answer it).  I’m looking forward to it ending, but I’m also looking forward to any new projects that emerge (if they find the time).

Finally, I returned to Land of Desire for a series of episodes on three generations of Alexandre Dumas.  I still find the tone of the show a bit uneven.  The exasperation at Napoleon’s resentment of Dumas (grandpère?) worked but the show occasionally hinted at a more general criticism of racism in 19th century France, and I was disappointed to find that never emerged (especially as the treatment of anti-semitism in her Dreyfus podcast was rather good).  I’ve been spoilt by Mike Duncan’s Haitian Revolution, so that the colonial relations seemed slightly shallow in comparison.  The two more famous Dumas were interesting enough in their way, but never going to be quite as exciting a narrative.  I still don’t love this podcast, but some of the topics are good – I think I’ll be dipping in and out of this one for a while.

When Diplomacy Fails: The July Crisis

It may not have escaped your attention that today was the hundredth anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princep, an act that set forth a chain of events that led to the First World War. It certainly didn’t escape the attention of Zack Twamley of the When Diplomacy Fails podcast, and he’s doing a special series of episodes over the next few days on the so-called ‘July Crisis’ – that series of diplomatic actions that filled the period between the assassination and the outbreak of war. I don’t personally have much insight to add, it’s not really an era that I know a lot about, but it’s very topical and there seems to be a lot of interesting discussion about it at the minute.

Continue reading When Diplomacy Fails: The July Crisis

Post 9: When Diplomacy Fails

Now for another podcast series, Zack Twamley’s When Diplomacy Fails, one which I mentioned briefly in my post on the History of England. In that Zack contributed a guest episode on the Battle of Bannockburn, an episode that would act as a prototype for this series. It focused on the war and specifically on why the war happened. Now, I don’t mind military history but at times I find it can descent into “A moved to B and did this, then C moved to D and did this …” until you end up with a long list of individually inconsequential events and start losing sight of the big picture. This podcast promised to be different, with an emphasis on the reasons behind wars and the factors that caused them to finished up as the do.

Continue reading Post 9: When Diplomacy Fails