For history lovers who listen to podcasts, History Unplugged is the most comprehensive show of its kind. It's the only show that dedicates episodes to both interviewing experts and answering questions from its audience. First, it features a call-in show where you can ask our resident historian (Scott Rank, PhD) absolutely anything (What was it like to be a Turkish sultan with four wives and twelve concubines? If you were sent back in time, how would you kill Hitler?). Second, it features long-form interviews with best-selling authors who have written about everything. Topics include gruff World War II generals who flew with airmen on bombing raids, a war horse who gained the rank of sergeant, and presidents who gave their best speeches while drunk.
Our series is picking up steam as we jump to the years immediately prior to the Shot Heard 'Round the World. James and Scott discuss the interregnum between the French-Indian War and the Revolutionary War, the Sugar Act (1764), the Stamp Act (1765), then Townsend Acts (1767), the Boston Massacre (1770), the Tea Act (1773), and the Coercive Acts (1774).
Grab your musket and your portion of rum, Yankee, because we have a war to fight! James Early returns to the History Unplugged Podcast to kick off a massive series called Key Battles of the Revolutionary War. We get in-depth into the battles that determined the outcome of one of the most consequential wars in history. But we also go deep into the background of social, political, cultural, and theological aspects of the of the 18th century.
Scott and James kick off this episode by talking about the global-level changes in society that made the Revolutionary War possible in the 1770s, and almost impossible anytime earlier. They have to do with changes in warfare and weapons, government/society, political philosophy, British governing policy, and the American colonies themselves.
In 2017, over 47,000 Americans died as the result of opioid overdoses, more than died annually in this country during the peak of the AIDs epidemic, and more than die every year from breast cancer. But despite the unprecedented efforts of regulators, activists, politicians, and doctors to address the overdose epidemic, it has only become more deadly, the legion of quick fixes often falling into the very same traps that have foiled humans attempting to tame the scourge of opium addiction for centuries. To understand and combat the overdose crisis, we must understand how it came to be.
Today I'm speaking with Dr. John Halpern and David Blistein, authors of the new book “Opium: How an Ancient Flower Shaped and Poisoned Our World.” The story begins with the discovery of poppy artifacts in ancient Mesopotamia, and goes on to explore how Greek physicians forgotten chemists discovered opium's effects and refined its power, how colonial empires marketed it around the world, and eventually how international drug companies developed a range of powerful synthetic opioids that led to an epidemic of addiction.
Opium has played a fascinating role in building our modern world, from trade networks to medical protocols to drug enforcement policies.
Dwight Eisenhower inaugurated the US. Interstate System, which now boasts more than 50,000 miles of roads. The idea came to a young Eisenhower in 1919 when he spent 62 days with a military convoy snaking across America on its primitive road system. But the idea for a trans-continental road network go back much further than Eisenhower. George Washington talked of the need for a vast system of roads to stitch together the nation.
But the true genesis of the U.S. Interstate system is the Roman Empire's road network. The empire in the first century constructed a network of 50,000 miles of paved roads, connecting its capital to the farthest-flung provinces. This fostered trade and commerce but most importantly allowed the Roman army to march quickly. The United States built its network for largely the same reasons.
On August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon became the first and only U.S. president to resign from office—to avoid almost certain impeachment. Utterly disgraced, he was forced to flee the White House with a small cadre of advisors and family. Richard Nixon was a completely defeated man.
Yet only a decade later, Nixon was a trusted advisor to presidents, dispensing wisdom on campaign strategy and foreign policy, shaping the course of U.S.-Soviet summit meetings, and representing the U.S. at state funerals—the model of an elder statesman. Kasey Pipes, author of “After the Fall: The Remarkable Comeback of Richard Nixon,” tells us about surprises like this:
-- How Nixon’s advice on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) shaped Ronald Reagan’s negotiations with Gorbachev— and changed history
-- How Nixon traveled to China after Tiananmen Square to help preserve the U.S.-Chinese relations that he had opened up years earlier
-- The Saturday morning presidential radio address: a Nixon idea
-- Nixon’s surprising friendship with Bill Clinton
From Vikings and African queens to cross-dressing military doctors and WWII Russian fighter pilots, battle was not a metaphor for women across history.
But for the most part, women warriors have been pushed into the historical shadows, hidden in the footnotes, or half-erased. Yet women have always gone to war—or fought back when war came to them. They fought to avenge their families, defend their homes (or cities or nations), win independence from a foreign power, expand their kingdom's boundaries, or satisfy their ambition. They battled disguised as men. They fought, undisguised, on the ramparts of besieged cities. Some were skilled swordsmen or trained snipers, others fought with improvised weapons. They were hailed as heroines and cursed as witches, sluts, or harridans.
In todays episode I'm speaking with Pamela Toler, author of the book Women Warriors. She uses both well known and obscure examples, drawn from the ancient world through the twentieth century and from Asia and Africa as well as from the West. Looking at specific examples of historical women warriors, she considers why they went to war, how those reasons related to their roles as mothers, daughters, wives, or widows, peacemakers, poets or queens—and what happened when women stepped outside their accepted roles to take on other identities.
Dracula Untold has absolutely no right being as historically accurate as it is. Made in 2014, this was Universal Studio's first attempt to use the intellectual property of their 1930s monster movies and turn it into a Marvel-esque cinematic universe. As a result, it is full of X-men type superpowers, CGI, and what Scott calls "supernatural shenanigans." Despite all this, the film accurately describes Ottoman forms of imperial expansion in the fifteenth century, shows us period accurate costumes, and even has actors speaking in passable Turkish! Why on earth did this film do its history homework when other so-called serious historical dramas not even bother?
In the final two episodes of this mini-series, Steve and Scott talk about movies that actually do a good job of conveying history, or at least as much as possible when handled by Hollywood producers enslaved to suggestions from marketing research reports. The first film is the Alamo (2004).The purported goal of the filmmakers was to have this movie be as historically accurate as possible, or at least more so than the John Wayne Alamo film of 1960. It stars Dennis Quaid as Sam Houston, Billy Bob Thornton as Davy Crockett, Patrick Wilson as William Travis, Jason Patric as Jim Bowie, and Jordi Molla as Juan Seguin.
Demi Moore did not win any Academy Awards for her portrayal of 17th-century Puritan Hester Prynne. But she did succeed in transforming Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous moral drama into a Cinemax movie that also features Indians, deadly fights, burning buildings, flaming arrows, and a rousing speech in which Dimmsdale calls for sexual freedom. Dear listeners, this is not a good film.
In our second John Wayne film, we watch the Duke put on a fake fu manchu mustache and yellow face makeup to play the role he was born NOT to play: Genghis Khan. Scott and Steve discuss the infamous film that, in addition to featuring the worst casting choice in Hollywood history, has hundreds of anachronisms and, worst of all, may have killed dozens of the cast and crew from radiation poisoning due to being filmed near a nuclear test site. The sins of this movie are many and we do our best to chronicle them all.
John Wayne was 62 years old when he tried to portray a fit Vietnam War Green Beret colonel, but the obvious age gap isn't the only head scratcher in this film. Released in 1968, the film was Lyndon B. Johnson-approved attempt to shift American opinion on the Vietnam War. Listen to this episode to see if it worked.
Based on Dan Brown's mega best-selling instructional manual on how to write terrible English, Scott and Steve discuss "The Da Vinci Code," the 2006 Ron Howard film that dares to ask the question: Has the secret life of Jesus been hidden by the Catholic Church and heroically uncovered by half-baked conspiracy theorists who have an extremely poor understandings of the gnostic gospels? The answer will shock you!
In the second episode of this series, Stephen tells us everything he doesn't like about the 2009 film Agora, which is a lot. The movie stars Rachel Weisz (maybe the only good thing about the film) as Hypatia, a real-life 4th/5th-century philosopher in Alexandria killed by political infighting among politicians and clergy. Her actual story is very interesting and tells us much about late Roman civic life, but this movie turns her into a genius that is one part Isaac Newton, two parts Tony Stark, ready to discover a heliocentric solar system a thousand years before Copernicus; however, an ignorant mob kills her and burns her scrolls before she has the chance. To put it very mildly, the film takes liberties with the truth.
This episode is the first in a mini-series that Scott is doing with fellow history podcaster Stephen Guerra (History of the Papacy, Beyond the Big Screen) about some of the most historically inaccurate movies that have ever appear. We kick off this series with Ridley Scott's 2005 Crusader epic Kingdom of Heaven. Scott really did not like this movie. He considers it the worst example of screenwriter wish fulfillment to go back in time and teach horribly intolerant historical figures how to live by 21st-century values, even though they make no sense in context. The movie is so anachronistic that Orlando Bloom's knight character might as well wear a "Coexist" T-shirt during the entire film.
(originally broadcasted on Beyond the Big Screen)
Check out Mindscape by going here: http://wondery.fm/HUPSC
Logic. Perception. Consciousness. These are the things that we process each and every day. But there is much more to our minds than we will ever realize. That’s why I want to tell you about a show that dives deep into the inner workings of our brain. It’s called Sean Carroll’s Mindscape.
Join host Sean Carroll as he sits down with some of the most interesting thinkers in the world to talk science, philosophy, culture and much more. Past guests have included neuroscientists, game designers, and historians.
So if you’ve ever wanted to know how music affects your brain, the origin of human impulse, or how black holes work - then you’ve come to the right place!
In just a moment, you’ll get to hear a preview of Sean Carroll’s Mindscape featuring filmmaker Seth MacFarlane. Sean and Seth chat about The Orville and writing for science fiction.
Next week an eight-part mini-series called Hollywood Hates History launches. Scott co-hosts with fellow history podcaster Steve Guerra to look at some of the most historically inaccurate movies ever made. Offenders include "The Scarlet Letter," the 1995 Demi Moore atrocity; "The Conqueror," a Genghis Khan biopic starring John Wayne; and "Kingdom of Heaven," in which Legolas the Elf successfully creates universal religious harmony in the 12th century Middle East.
Americans and Europeans are confused by much about each other, especially their respective governmental systems. Europeans are baffled by American elections, the powers of the president, and most of all, the electoral college (how again is the popular vote winner not the president?). Americans are even more baffled by parliamentary politics, especially how the prime minister and even the entire ruling party can be removed before election time by this mystical tool of government called a “vote of no confidence.”
What on earth does that mean? Scott's first encounter with this term was, sadly, in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, in which Natalie Portman's Queen Amidala removes the current chancellor for power for his failure to stop the Trade Federation's invasion of Naboo by such a vote. Getting beyond bad filmmaking and Jar Jar Binks, what does a vote of no confidence actually mean? Where does it come from? And how has it been used in the past?
This episode goes over much more, especially the main differences with the British House of Commons vs. the American House of Representatives. Moreover, it looks at the differences between politicians being loyal to the nation vs. being loyal to their political party.
George Washington is nearly as famous for his character as he is a general and statesman. In this episode we look at his famed attributes for leadership and doing such things as keeping together the fragile Continental Army in the hungriest, coldest days of the Revolutionary War.
But perhaps the rarest quality of Washington was his ability not to seize power when he could. Many conquering generals – such as Napoleon – rode into the capital after great victories and took the throne. Washington was the opposite. He only assumed the presidency under great reluctance and refused to serve more than two terms – creating a status quo that lasted 150 years.
This episode of History Unplugged is unlike any we've ever done. Scott interviews Joakim Brodén, lead singer of Swedish heavy metal band Sabaton, whose new album “The Great War” is a concept record focused on World War 1. The album features songs about the introduction of tank warfare and poisonous gas, the Battle of Bellau Woods, U.S. Marine Alvin York, and Canadian hero Francis Pegahmagabow, a First Nation activist and sharp shooter. Interspersed in their discussion are numerous song clips from the album, which presents World War 1 in a way you've definitely never heard before.
In 1587, 115 men, women, and children arrived at Roanoke Island on the coast ofNorth Carolina. Chartered by Queen Elizabeth I, their colony was to establish England's first foothold in the New World. But when the colony's leader, John White, returned to Roanoke from a resupply mission, his settlers were nowhere to be found. They left behind only a single clue—a "secret token" carved into a tree. Neither White nor any other European laid eyes on the colonists again.
What happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke? For four hundred years, that question has consumed historians and amateur sleuths, leading only to dead ends and hoaxes. However, Andrew Lawler thinks he might have found the answer.
Lawler, author of the book “The Secret Token,” talked with an archeologist working on one of the supposed destinations of the colonists and discovered that solid answers to the mystery were within reach. He set out to unravel the enigma of the lost settlers, accompanying competing researchers, each hoping to be the first to solve its riddle. In the course of his journey, Lawler encountered a host of characters obsessed with the colonists and their fate, and tried to determine why the Lost Colony continues to haunt our national consciousness.
Albert Einstein’s rise to fame was not instantaneous and easy. Rather, Einstein’s celebrity was, in large part, not his own doing. His grand ideas (ideas that would change physics forever) were formulated during a time of worldwide crises. The Great War quickly escalated into an industrialized slaughter that bled Europe from 1914 to 1918. Einstein was a victim of that war, even though, as a pacifist, he never held a rifle. Trapped behind enemy lines in Germany, Einstein suffered from wartime starvation and found himself unable to communicate with his most trusted colleagues abroad. But perhaps the most damaging crisis Einstein faced was the war against science. As enemy lines were etched deeper, the worldwide science community became fractured and prejudiced. German scientists were scorned by the Allies, Einstein included. Even in Germany, Einstein was regarded as an outsider for resisting against German nationalism.
Today I'm speaking with Matthew Stanley, author of the new book Einstein's War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I. As Einstein struggled to make his theory whole, his communication with anyone outside of Germany was a dangerous affair. The fact that his theory was on track to debunk Isaac Newton’s conception of the universe made things even more difficult. So, despite the fact that Einstein’s country was at war and he was separated from his closest confidants by barbed wire and U-boats, his unlikely partnership with the Quaker astronomer A. S. Eddington proved to be the most important alliance of his lifetime. Despite the fact that other scientists seeking to confirm Einstein’s ideas were being arrested as spies, Eddington believed in Einstein and his theories and was willing to risk everything to prove their truth. He fought to showcase Einstein’s ideas to scientists around the world.
The serendipitous partnership of Einstein and Eddington, two pacifist scientists a world apart, came to fruition in May of 1919, when Eddington led a globe-spanning expedition to catch a fleeting solar eclipse that offered the rare opportunity to confirm Einstein’s bold prediction that light has weight, thereby confirming his Theory of Relativity. It was the result of this expedition that put Einstein on front pages around the world. Now, precisely one hundred years later, the eclipse is a celebration of how bigotry and nationalism can and should be defeated in the name of science.
Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1968 seemed like it should have been an open-and-shut case. Many people crowded in the small room at Los Angeles’s famed Ambassador Hotel that fateful night and saw Sirhan Sirhan pull the trigger. Sirhan was also convicted of the crime and still languishes in jail with a life sentence. However, conspiracy theorists have used inconsistencies in the eyewitness testimony and alleged anomalies in the forensic evidence to suggest that Sirhan was only one shooter in a larger conspiracy, a patsy for the real killers, or even a hypnotized assassin who did not know what he was doing (a popular plot in Cold War–era fiction, such as The Manchurian Candidate).
In this episode I speak with Mel Ayton, who profiles Sirhan and argued that his political beliefs and hatred for RFK motivated the killing. Ayton, author of the book The Forgotten Terrorist – Sirhan Sirhan and theAssassination of Robert F Kennedy, examines Sirhan’s extensive personal notebooks, revisits the trial proceedings, and argues Sirhan was in fact the lone assassin whose politically motivated act was a forerunner of present-day terrorism. Overall, we reexamine the assassination that rocked the nation during the turbulent summer of 1968.
In this episode we look at all U.S. presidents who served as fighter pilots or in any sort of military combat role. We also look at the first president to fly (it was in a rinky-dink Wright Bros. flyer), the development of Air Force One, and the theory that aviators make better leaders.
If a list were constructed of the most important Virginians in American history, George Mason would appear near the top. His influence on public policy, the Revolution, and the Constitution was far greater than his modern, meager reputation allows. His close friendships with Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Henry, and many others from his state allowed him to influence the direction of state and federal politics.
So why doesn't anyone remember him?
In this episode I'm talking with William G. Hyland Jr, author of George Mason: The Founding Father Who Gave Us the Bill of Rights. Hyland discusses little-known facts about this forgotten Founding Father that made him a powerful contributor to the new nation.
In this episode we are looking at ancient Greek cryptography and the Roman frumentarii, a group of wheat sellers who turned into the empire's premier intelligence outfit in the second century.
In the fourth century BC, Aeneas Tacticus wrote “How to Survive Under Siege.” He goes into considerable detail on cryptography and steganography—the art of concealing a message. Methods of steganography included writing on strips of papyrus and hiding them either on the body of a person or on a horse. The strip could be hidden in a soldier’s tunic or cuirass, or under a horse’s bridle. More creative methods included a message placed on the leaves that were used to bind a wounded soldier’s leg. Most inspectors would not be so thorough in their investigation that they would want to look upon an infected wound or tear away layers of bloodied bandages.
We will also explore the Roman Frumentarii, originally collectors of wheat (frumentum), who also acted as the secret service of the Roman Empire in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The organization was founded by Emperor Hadrian. He pictured a large-scale operation and turned to the frumentarius, the collector of wheat in a province, a position that brought the official into contact with enough locals and natives to acquire considerable intelligence about any given territory. Hadrian put them to use as his spies, and thus had a ready-made service and a large body to act as a courier system.
Spycraft is as old as civilization and just as essential to running a government as taxes, roads, armies, or schools. Sun Tzu devoted an entire chapter to spy craft in his 2,600-year-old treatise The Art of War and understood that critical intelligence was impossible to gather without espionage.
This episode is the first in a two-part series on spy craft in the ancient world. We will explore the origins of spies, the ways they were used, and similarities and differences between—say—Greek or Roman spies and their 21st century counterparts. We will also look at the Old Testament narrative of the Israelite spites who scouted out Jericho and the promised land in the thirteenth century BCE. While many scholars doubt this story ever really happened in the way it was described in the Pentateuch, the story was compelling enough for the CIA to use in the 1970s as a case study of effective intelligence gathering.
If you were a middle schooler in the United States anytime after 1985 and had a study hall with an Apple II, there is a very high chance you played Oregon Trail. After setting out from Independence, Missouri, you led your pixelated wagon across the frontier, hunting bears, fording rivers, and more likely than not, dying of dysentery.
The real Oregon Trail sprang up in the 1830s, when America was going through the worst economic slump it would see until the Great Depression. A mixture of financial urgency and a sense of destiny--Manifest Destiny--convinced tens of thousands of Americans to trek over 2,000 miles from Missouri’s western edge to Oregon Country.
But how can families cross the desert? Or the Rocky Mountains? Or descend the Columbia River? And what about the British HBC’s hold on Oregon Country? Many tried this dangerous path, including fur traders, missionaries, explorers, and early wagon trains that dared to blaze this trail before its heyday of the 1840s-1860s.
Joined with us today to talk about the Oregon Trail is history professor and podcast Greg Jackson. He's the host of the show History That Doesn't Suck
More than 12 million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island during its years of operation from 1892 to 1954. Those that came typically spoke no English and fled religious persecution, famine, or epidemics in their homeland.
But what was it like to actually get processed through Ellis island? In some senses it was more tolerable than we expect. Interpreters were on hand to accommodate you in almost any language. Few were turned away for medical reasons. Processing typically only took a few hours And contrary to folk legend, inspectors did not force anyone to change their name to something Anglicized.
Nevertheless, some faced challenges entering America. Two percent were held up for physical or mental illness; some were detained for weeks or months in Ellis Island's medical ward. If a child were not admitted, parents faced the unbearable choice of returning with them across the ocean or sending them back alone to live with extended family.
But for the vast majority of immigrants, they walked through the doors of Ellis Island to begin their new lives in America. Today, over 100 million are descended from immigrants who passed through this immigration checkpoint. Learn about its legacy on immigration and political life in this episode.
Go to www.ottomanlives.com to check out my new show about the people who made the Ottoman Empire run. The Ottoman Empire lasted for six hundred years and dominated the Middle East and Europe, from Budapest to Baghdad and everything in between. The sultans ruled three continents. But they didn't do it on their own. This podcast looks at the cast of characters who made the empire run: the sultan, the queen mother, the peasant, the janissary, the harem eunuch, the holy man, and the outlaw.
George Armstrong Custer had a storied military career—from cutting his teeth at Bull Run in the Civil War, to his famous and untimely death at Little Bighorn in the Indian Wars. But what was his legacy? Was he a brilliant desperado sadly cut down too early in his life or a foolish glory seeker who needlessly led his men to death, getting a just end for his brutal treatment of Indians?
Custer, having graduated last in his class at West Point, went on to prove himself again and again as an extremely skilled cavalry leader. But Custer’s undoing was his bold and cocky attitude, which caused the Army’s bloodiest defeat in the Indian Wars. We will look at all these aspects of his character in this episode.
“Colored people aren’t accepted as airline pilots.” The “negro type has not the proper reflexes to make a first-class fighter pilot.” These were the degrading sentiments that faced eighteen-year-old Lt. Col. Harry Stewart Jr. as he journeyed in a segregated rail car to Army basic training in Mississippi in 1943. But two years later, the twenty-year-old African American from New York proved doubters wrong when he was at the controls of a P-51, prowling for Luftwaffe aircraft at five thousand feet over the Austrian countryside.
Lt. Col. Harry Stewart Jr. is one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. In this episode I talk with him about his early life, training, and combat missions, including the mission in which he downed three enemy fighters.
He also discusses the injustices he and his fellow Tuskegee Airmen faced during their wartime service and upon their return home. Unlike white pilots, Stewart and other Tuskegee flyers faced the extra danger that if they were shot down over enemy territory they could not hide in plain sight with the population or expect to live. Tragically, one of Stewart’s friends was shot down, captured, and lynched by a racist mob. Stewart and his fighter group defied racially-prejudice expectations and won the first postwar Air Force-wide gunnery competition for propeller-driven fighters. Stewart obtained honorary captain status from American and Delta Airlines after being denied piloting jobs with those airlines’ legacy carriers (TWA and Pan Am) 50 years ago because of his ethnicity.
Vampire lore goes back to the ancient world (revenant legends abound from Rome to China) but vampire mythology doesn't come into its own until at least the Renaissance period. Was the inspiration for it all the bloodthirsty Wallachian ruler Vlad Tepes, the ruler who impaled tens of thousands in the 1400s? Was he the direct inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula? Partially yes, but it's not as clear cut as most think. In this episode we will sink our fangs into vampire lore, the reign of Vlad Tepes, and where Bram Stoker got his ideas for his most famous novel.
In 1942, as World War II was raging, the Gestapo sent out an urgent message: “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.” That spy was Virginia Hall, a young American woman who—rejected from the Foreign Service because of her gender and prosthetic leg—talked her way behind enemy lines in occupied France and went on to become one of the greatest (and most unlikely) spies in U.S. history.
Today I talk with Sonia Purnell, author of the book "A Woman of No Importance." Virginia quickly established a network of spies to blow up bridges and track German troop movements; she recruited and trained guerrilla fighters, arming them with weapons she called in from the skies. As “the limping lady of Lyon” and later “the Madonna of the Mountains,” she became legend. Eluding the Nazis hot on her tail, her face covering WANTED posters throughout Europe, Virginia refused orders to evacuate. Finally—her cover blown and her associates imprisoned or executed—she escaped in a grueling hike over the Pyrenees into Spain. But, adamant that she had “more lives to save,” she dove back in as soon as she could, helping lay the groundwork for the Allied liberation of France.
What is Judaism? What does it mean to be Jewish? Is it an ethnicity (being one of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), a religion (following the tenets of the Torah, Mishnah, and Talmud) or a cultural experience (a common experienced developed through millenia of being ostracized, otherized, and demonized by majority groups in their homelands).
Today I tackled this enormous question by first looking at the origins of the Jewish people. There's not universally accepted answer to this question. Some say the Old Testament account of the patriarchs, the Exodus from Egypt, and the deportations into Assyria and Babylon tell the story. Others say the Jewish people were an offshoot of the Canaanites who developed into their own culture. We then look into the creation of the Jewish diaspora across the Mediterranean world and how Jewish identity shifted as the circumstances of this religious group changed from the ancient world to the medieval and early modern periods. There is no clear answer to all these questions, but this episode will hopefully provide plenty of historical context.
For rare-book collectors, an original copy of the Gutenberg Bible—of which there are fewer than 50 in existence (and which can sell for $100 million)—represents the ultimate prize. One copy, Number 45, passed through the hands of Johannes Gutenberg, monks, an earl, billionaires, bibliophiles, the Worcestershire sauce king, and a nuclear physicist before arriving at its ultimate resting place, in a steel vault in Tokyo. Estelle Doheny, the first woman collector to add the book to her library and its last private owner, tipped the Bible onto a trajectory that forever changed our understanding of the first mechanically printed book.
In today's episode I'm speaking with Margaret Leslie Davis, author of The Lost Gutenberg: The Astounding Story of One Book's Five-Hundred-Year Odyssey. She focuses on two protagonists in her story: the copy of the Gutenberg Bible itself and Doheny, a California heiress who emerged from scandal to chase it. We discussed the value we place on rare books, and the shifting wealth and power of those who hunt them.
Erwin Rommel, a German field marshal in World War Two, was probably more respected and feared than any other figure in the Wehrmacht. He issued early defeats against the British in North Africa against vastly superior forces using a mix of cutting-edge tactics with combined arms assaults and classic Napoleonic military strategy. But who was Erwin Rommel? War hero or war criminal? Hitler flunky? Military genius or just lucky?
In this episode I talk with Samuel W. Mitcham Jr. a military historian and author of the new book Desert Fox: The Storied Military Career of Erwin Rommel—offering a look at the Allies’ most well-respected opponent of WWII. He explores the complexities of the controversial Nazi leader through his improbable and spectacular military career, his epic battles in North Africa, and his fraught relationship with Hitler and the Nazi Party.
One year after the Civil War ended, a group of delusional and mostly incompetent commanders sponsored by bitterly competing groups riddled with spies, led tiny armies against the combined forces of the British, Canadian, and American governments. They were leaders of America’s feuding Irish émigré groups who thought they could conquer Canada and blackmail Great Britain (then the world's military superpower) into granting Ireland its independence.
The story behind the infamous 1866 Fenian Raids seems implausible (and whiskey-fueled), but ultimately is an inspiring tale of heroic patriotism. Inspired by a fervent love for Ireland and a burning desire to free her from British rule, members of the Fenian Brotherhood – a semi-secret band of Irish-American revolutionaries – made plans to seize the British province of Canada and hold it hostage until the independence of Ireland was secured.
When the Fenian Raids began, Ireland had been subjugated by Britain for over seven hundred years. The British had taken away Ireland’s religion, culture, and language, and when the Great Hunger stuck, they even took away her food, exporting it to other realms of the British Empire. Those who escaped the famine and fled to America were inspired by the revolutionary actions of the Civil War to fight for their own country’s freedom. After receiving a promise from President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward not to interfere with any military plans, the Fenian Brotherhood - which included a one-armed Civil War hero, an English spy posing as French sympathizer, an Irish revolutionary who faked his own death to escape capture, and a Fenian leader turned British loyalist – began to implement their grand plan to secure Ireland’s freedom. They executed daring prison breaks from an Australian penal colony, conducted political assassinations and engaged in double-dealings, managing to seize a piece of Canada for three days.
Today I'm speaking with Christopher Klein, author of the book WHEN THE IRISH INVADED CANADA: The Incredible True Story of the Civil War Veterans Who Fought for Ireland’s Freedom. He brings light to this forgotten but fascinating story in history.
The received idea of Native American history--as promulgated by books like Dee Brown's mega-bestselling 1970 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee--has been that American Indian history essentially ended with the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Not only did one hundred fifty Sioux die at the hands of the U. S. Cavalry, the sense was, but Native civilization did as well.
Today's guest David Treuer has a different take on this history. Growing up Ojibwe on a reservation in Minnesota, training as an anthropologist, and researching Native life past and present, Treuer argues strongly against this narrative. Because American Indians did not disappear--and not despite but rather because of their intense struggles to preserve their language, their traditions, their families, and their very existence--the story of American Indians since the end of the nineteenth century to the present is one of unprecedented resourcefulness and reinvention.
FDR launched the New Deal immediately after his 1933 inauguration, but it was not universally popular. Some hated it bitterly. Critics from the right thought it was part of a long-term plan to push America into Soviet-style socialism. Critics from the left like Louisiana Governor Huey Long thought it didn't go far enough. Long pushed the “Share Our Wealth” plan, demanding that Congress confiscate individual earnings over $1 million, using those funds for health care and college tuition. He called anyone who refused to endorse his plan “damned scoundrels” that were fit for hanging.
Perhaps the strangest episode in opposition to the New Deal came from a group of financiers and industrialists, who in 1934 allegedly plotted a coup d’état to prevent FDR from establishing what they feared would be a socialist state. Though the media regarded it as a tall tale, retired Marine Corps major general Smedley Butler testified before a congressional committee that the conspirators had wanted Butler to deliver an ultimatum to FDR to create a new cabinet officer, a “Secretary of General Affairs,” who would run things while the president recuperated from feigned ill health. If Roosevelt refused, the conspirators had promised General Butler an army of five hundred thousand war veterans who would help drive Roosevelt from office.
What are the oldest known tombs that can reliably be traced to a person? These are surprisingly tricky to track down. While archeologists constantly find human remains at an excavation site, there are almost never any identifying marks about the person. This is particularly true in the ancient world. Other than massive sites like the pyramids, we have little knowledge about the final resting places of famous figures. We don't even know the burial site of Alexander the Great -- the biggest celebrity in antiquity.
In this episode we talk about ancient tombs, crypts, mausoleums, and burial mounds. But more broadly, we look at how humanity's understanding of life, death, and commemorating those who passed away left behind more than tombs. It may be the reason for the rise of civilization itself.
From 1941 to 1945, Joseph Stalin exchanged more than six hundred messages with Allied leaders Churchill and Roosevelt. The correspondence ranged from intimate personal greetings to weighty salvos about diplomacy and strategy, and they reveal political machinations and human stories behind the Allied triumvirate.
Today's guest is David Reynolds, author of a new book about the correspondence between the three. He helped edit a volume based on the correspondence among the Allied triumvirate, which illuminated an alliance that really worked while exposing its fractious limits and the issues and egos that set the stage for the Cold War.
In the summer of 1940, Germany sent armadas of bombers and fighters over England hoping to lure the RAF into battle and annihilate the defenders. Day after day the RAF scrambled their pilots into the sky to do battle up to five times a day. Britain's air defense bent but did not break. All that stood between the British and defeat was a small force of RAF pilots outnumbered in the air by four to one. After pushing back the armada, Winston Churchill declared: "Never before in human history was so much owed by so many to so few."
But how did they do it? The answer is effective tactics, plenty of bravery, and a change in German strategy that squandered all their gains.
Why were there no printing presses in the Middle East until four centuries after Europe? Did it have to do with Islam prohibiting this technology? Was the calligraphy lobby too strong? Or is the answer more complicated?
The global spread of the printing press began with the invention of movable type by Johannes Gutenberg in 1439. A few decades later there were millions of books in Europe. But there were few printing presses in the Ottoman Empire until the 1800s. Some historians say this has to do with lack of interest and religious reasons were among the reasons for the slow adoption of the printing press outside Europe. The story goes that the printing of Arabic, after encountering strong opposition by Muslim legal scholars and the manuscript scribes, remained prohibited in the Ottoman empire between 1483 and 1729, initially even on penalty of death.
However, we will see in this episode that scholars and sultans had no problems with the printing press. The real reason for the printing press's slow spread was twofold: First, the thousands of calligraphers made hand-copied books so cheap that printing presses were not needed. Second, Arabic letters are more difficult to render than Latin ones, meaning that the printing press had to become more technologically advanced before it could cheaply and easily churn out Arabic, Turkish, and Persian texts.
The Titanic was filled with medical professionals either working as ship personnel or traveling in a non-professional capacity. There were also plenty of con artists aboard, hoping to worm their way into the wills of wealthy widows. Learn about their stories in this episode.
The musicians of the Titanic famously continued playing as the ship went down, a testimony to practicing one's craft until their dying breath. But did it really happen like this?
Varying accounts exist as to whether the band played until the end and also about what the band was playing. We will explore the accounts in this episode.
Many Titanic passengers were known for setting the styles. In this episode we will profile the two Luciles: famed fashionistas Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon and Lucile Polk Carter. We will also look at John Jacob Astor IV, perhaps the world’s richest man at the time. He founded hotels that were ground-breaking in their day and continue to set trends long after the eponymous founder's death.
Mr. Rogers once said, “When there is a disaster, always look for the helpers; there will always be helpers.
Many died on the night of the Titanic's sinking, but many more would have died if not for the heroic efforts of such helpers as the “unsinkable” Molly Brown and Benjamin Guggenheim, a millionaire who acted with utter calm as he gently assisted women and children to lifeboats, knowing he would die within the hour. Other helpers personally swam infants to lifeboats, using every last breath to help others before they themselves perished.
The cooks and other support staff of the Titanic “drowned like rats” due to not being assigned a clear place in the pecking order of escapees. One who did survive was French cook Paul Mauge, who used his extraordinary wits to survive. This episode chronicles how cooks like Mauge arrived on the Titanic, how they survived (or didn't), and what it was like for the service personnel on the night the ship went down.
Code Names. Deception. Gadgets. It might seem like something out of the movies, but these
are just some of the essential components of being a spy.
ESPIONAGE tells the stories of the world’s most incredible undercover missions, and how these
covert operations succeeded...or failed
Espionage is a Parcast Original podcast from the same storytelling team behind hit shows like
Unexplained Mysteries, Serial Killers, and Conspiracy Theories.
Call to Action: This is the first part of the first Espionage episode. To hear the remainder
of this episode, search for and subscribe to Espionage wherever you listen to podcasts
or visit Parcast.com/espionage to start listening now.
The sinking of the Titanic is memorable for its countless stories, and the reason that so many of them have found their way down to us today was the many writers that were onboard the ship. The first draft of history about the Titanic was written by man prominent writers. We will focus on six in this episode: Paul Danby, Adolphe Saalfeld, Edith Rosenbaum Russell, William Stead, Jacques Futrelle, and Lawrence Beesley
One legendary fixture on the Titanic was a gregarious popcorn vendor known as Popcorn Dan (Coxon). He was one of America's first food truck operators and a highly successful purveyor of popcorn. He was lost on the Titanic and his body was never recovered, although a NY Times article claimed it was him when it wasn't.
Coxon lived an interesting life. He resided in a Queen Anne house on the Wisconsin river, which people thought was haunted. He dressed in a fur-lined coat and loved to maintain a flashy appearance.
But he was still a working-class man. For that reason, our culinary spotlight on him is a staple of laborers in the early 20th century (now it's a delicacy)—Tripe and Onion Soup
In this episode we are looking at the life of Charles Joughin, a colorful character who has appeared in both film version of the Titanic. After the sinking, Joughin claimed he knew it was an iceberg that struck the ship because he saw a polar bear— and it waved to him (although, it should be noted, he told this story to nieces and nephews largely to mask the horror of that last night aboard the Titanic).
At around 12:15 a.m. Joughin began rousing his kitchen staff. Six of his men were already working, and the others he got up out of their beds. “All hands out. All hands out of your bunks.” He directed each of them to take four loaves up for the life boats, fifty-two loaves in all. Joughin’s staff consisted of ten bakers, two confectioners, and a Vienna baker. Of the fourteen of them, ten had worked on the Olympic, the Titanic’s sister ship, and many of them had worked together.
On the night of April 14, 1912, in the last hours before the Titanic struck
the iceberg, passengers in all classes were enjoying unprecedented luxuries. Innovations in food, drink, and decor made this voyage the apogee of Edwardian elegance.
This episode is the first in a series I'm doing with Titanic historian Veronica Hinke called "Last Night on the Titanic." In it we look at individual accounts of tragedy and survival from the figures that made up the passengers and crew of the ship. They include millionaires, artists, fashionistas, bakers, cookers, musicians, doctors, and con-men.
To recreate the experience of what it was like to be on the Titanic before disaster was on anyone's mind, Veronica also goes into detail of the food and drink consumer on the ship, from tripe soup eaten by a third-class passenger to the fancy dessert eaten by a Edwardian lady.
The history of the American Revolution is written by and about the victors like Washington, Jefferson, and Adams. But separating the heroes from the villains is not so black and white.
So how should we remember a man like Major General Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee III—the father of Robert E. Lee— who rose to glory, helped shape the fabric of America, but ultimately ended his life in ruin? He is responsible for valiant victories, enduring accomplishments, and catastrophic failures.
Today I'm speaking with Ryan Cole, author of the new book Light-Horse Harry Lee: The Rise and Fall of a Revolutionary Hero
We discuss how he was a...
Brilliant cavalryman who played a crucial role in Nathanael Greene’s strategy that led to Britain’s surrender at Yorktown
Close friend of George Washington—he gave the famous eulogy of “first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen” which is widely quoted today
Strong supporter of the Constitution—his arguments led Virginia, the most influential colony in the soon-to-be country, to ratify it
Victim of a violent political mob—he was beaten with clubs, his nose was partially sliced off, and hot wax was dripped into his eyes
"A student dunce went swimming and almost drowned. So now he swears he'll never get into water until he's really learned to swim." That was a decent dad joke to be sure. But it's not a joke your dad came up with. Nor your grandfather. Rather, it was a great-great- great(x)50 grandfather joke that dates back at least to the Roman Empire.
In this episode we will explore humor in the ancient world. What were the gags and jokes that made Mesopotamians, Greeks, and Romans laugh? Did they have higher or lower brow humor than us? While the argument can be made for low-brow humor (the oldest written joke has to do with a Sumerian wife farting on her husband), the humor also got arcane and sophisticated (like a New Yorker cartoon of the ancient world).
In particular we will looked at the Philogelos (meaning "Laughter Lover"), a Greek anthology of more than 200 jokes from the fourth or fifth century. From gags about dunces to jests at the expense of great thinkers, we see what made people laugh in the ancient world.
How did two brothers who never left home, were high-school dropouts, and made a living as bicycle mechanics figure out the secret of manned flight? The story goes that Wilbur and Orville Wright were an inseparable duo that were equally responsible for developing the theory of aeronautics and translating it into the first workable airplane.
Today's guest William Hazelgrove argues that it was Wilbur Wright who designed the first successful airplane, not Orville. He shows that, while Orville's role was important, he generally followed his brother's lead and assisted with the mechanical details to make Wilbur's vision a reality.
What happens to a city when its demographics change completely in the space of a few years? To explore this question, we will take a look at the case of Danzig (modern-day Gdańsk) in northern Poland. The city's population was almost entirely German from its origin in the Middle Ages to World War 2. After the war, the population became Polish. To explore this question we will zoom out and look at these big issues: 1) The centuries-long eastern movement of Germans, who spread throughout central and Eastern Europe; 2) The establishment of the Free City of Danzig by Napoleon in 1807 after he dissolved the Holy Roman Empire; 3) Why Hitler wanted to capture Danzig immediately after invading Poland in 1939, even though it held no strategic value; 4) The expulsion of Danzig's German population after World War Two and how the city transformed with the importing of Polish residents, who renamed it Gdańsk. This episode is based on a question from listener Melissa, who wanted me to talk about the history of the city/city-state of Danzig before, during, and after World War II.
In the 1760s, the American colonies were completely incapable of organized resistance. One's loyalty was to their state, as the idea of being an “American” was nearly empty. Few clamored for democracy, as Europe and the rest of the world believed that the highest form of government was monarchy. And most Americans considered themselves British – or at least part of the British Empire.
But in 1776 the United States formally declared itself as a new nation in which all men were equal. They formed a continental army. And within a few years they defeated the world's best military force.
How did so much change in 10 years? To discuss this topic is today's guest Michael Troy, host of the American Revolution Podcast. His show is a chronological history of the Revolutionary War, and he gets deep into details (at the time of this recording the show was 75 episodes in and only up to the year 1775).
Neutrality is not the same thing as passivity. Just ask the many nations who had to walk an extremely thin tightrope during World War 2 to stay out of the war (in which they saw nothing for themselves to gain) but not get invaded by a more powerful neighbor.
Some nations tried merely not to get invaded. Portugal had to keep up its client relationship with Britain but not anger Hitler by helping them too much. Britain claimed the right to use Portuguese ports under the terms of a 14th century treaty. But Portugal had to refuse Britain the right to use the Azores Islands as an airbase until years into the war.
Other nations profited heavily from World War Two thanks to its neutrality. Switzerland was the finance hub of 1940s Europe, as both Axis and Allied powers deposited their valuables in Swiss bank accounts and safety deposit boxes. But in recent years some have called Switzerland's actions war profiteering, especially as Switzerland laundered hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen assets, including gold taken from the central banks of German-occupied Europe. At the war's end, Holocaust survivors and the heirs of those who perished met a wall of bureaucracy and only a handful managed to reclaim their assets. Some of the dormant accounts were taken by the Swiss authorities to satisfy claims of Swiss nationals whose property was seized by Communist regimes in East Central Europe.
Turkey was still devastated by the endless Ottoman wars from 1911-1922 and sat out World War Two. But they held vast reserves of chromite, necessary for making steel, which they happily sold to Axis powers. All the while Turkey held out the hope that Britain could use its islands to invade Europe from the Balkans in return for advanced aircraft. Turkey only entered the war in 1945 (and only to get a seat at the forthcoming United Nations) but profited well from the massive conflict.
This episode is based on a question from listener Chris Wentworth. He asked me why some nations like Turkey, were so involved with World War One but took a backseat during World War Two, which arguably did more to create our modern world than any other event.
In early 1942, while most of the American military was in disarray from the devastating attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, a single USAAF squadron advanced to the far side of the world to face America's new enemy.
Based in Australia with poor supplies and no ground support, the pilots and crew faced tropical diseases while confronting numerically superior Japanese forces. Yet the outfit, dubbed the Kangaroo Squadron, proved remarkably resilient and successful, conducting long-range bombing raids, armed reconnaissance missions, and rescuing General MacArthur and his staff from the Philippines.
Today I speak with Bruce Gamble, author of Kangaroo Squadron: American Courage in the Darkest Days of World War II. He was inspired to write this story by his uncle, a navigator in the squadron. A footlocker contained his military papers and other memorabilia, including a handwritten dairy filled with day-to-day details of his tour.
And an artifact from this story lives on today to honor its veterans. When a B-17E bomber crashed in a swamp on the north coast of Papua New Guinea in February 1942, the nine-member crew survived, escaped to safety, and returned to combat. But until 2006, the bomber nicknamed “Swamp Ghost” remained submerged in water and tall grass. It has been restored and is now a main attraction in the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor.
The Crusades are typically bookended between Pope Urban II's call to reclaim the Holy Land in 1095 and the fall of Acre and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1291. But two of the most notable religious figures of the 1400s—Pope Pius II and John of Capistrano—show that the lines between these periods were considerably blurred. Take the example of Pope Pius II’s famous 1461 letter to Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, which he wrote following the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. The humanist scholar-turned-pope called on Mehmet to convert to Christianity.
Yet behind his back Pope Pius denigrated Mehmet as barbarous due to the same Asiatic pedigree and for destroying classical Greek civilization. He simultaneously worked furiously to promote a crusade against the Ottomans. This fifteenth-century project did not come to pass, but scholars in the last two decades have shown that there was no reason to see a discrepancy between Renaissance intellectualism and Holy War. In fact, Pope Nicholas V issued a papal bull on September 30, 1453 (four months after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople) to urge Christian rulers to launch a crusade to save Constantinople and restore the fallen Byzantine Empire. They were called to shed their blood and the blood for their subjects and provide a tithe of their revenue for the project.
No such crusade was launched that year, but the call launched a final period of European crusading fervor that lasted until the end of the fifteenth century, what many historians consider an end point for the Middle Ages
The Middle Ages was not a thousand-year period of technological stagnation between the fall of Rome and Leonardo da Vinci. It was an incredible period of invention and scientific innovation that saw major technological advances, including gunpowder, the invention of vertical windmills, spectacles, mechanical clocks, water mills, Gothic architectural building techniques, and clocks so sophisticated it took years to cycle through their full calculations, resembling an early mainframe computer more than a timekeeping device.
At the height of the witch burning craze, thousands people, largely women, were falsely accused of witchcraft. Many of them were burned, hanged, and executed, typically under religious pretense. But this phenomena largely didn’t happen in the Middle Ages, and if so it only occurred at the very end of this period.
Witch burnings did not begin en masse until the Renaissance period and did not peak until the Enlightenment period in the eighteenth century. Although executions by being burn at the stake were somewhat common in the Middle Ages, they were not used on “witches”—only heretics and other disobeyers of Catholic teachings received this ignominious death. Witch trials and their accusations of weather manipulation, transforming into animals, and child sacrifices, have no documented occurrence before 1400.
Was it really possible to buy your way out of hell in the Middle Ages? If so, how much did it cost? And what did the Catholic Church do with all this money? In this second episode in our five-part series on the misunderstood Middle Ages, we will explore all these issues and more.
Additionally, you will find out that indulgences still exist today, although not in the way that you think.
The popular view of the Middle Ages is a thousand-year period of superstition and ignorance, punctuated by witch burnings and belief in a flat earth. But the medieval period, more than any other time in history, laid the foundations for the modern world. The work of scholars, intellectuals, architects, statesmen and craftsmen led to rise of towns, the earliest bureaucratic states, the emergence of vernacular literatures, the recovery of Greek science and philosophy with its Arabic additions, and the beginnings of the first European universities.
This episode is the first in a five-part series to explore a revisionist history of the Middle Ages, starting with the Roman Empire’s collapse in the fifth century. We will march through the accounts of Charlemagne’s reign, the Black Plague, the fall of Constantinople, and everything in between. It explores social aspects of the Middle Ages that are still largely misunderstood (i.e., no educated person believed the earth was flat). There was also a surprisingly high level of medieval technology, the love of Aristotle in the Middle Ages, and the lack of witch burnings (those were not popularized until the Thirty Years War in the Renaissance Period).
The Middle Ages were not a period to suffer through until the Renaissance returned Europe to its intellectual and cultural birthright. Rather, they were the fire powering the forge out of which Western identity was forged. The modern world owes a permanent debt of gratitude to the medieval culture of Europe. It was the light that illuminated the darkness following the collapse of Rome and remained lit into the world we inhabit today.
The American Civil War brought with it unprecedented demands upon the warring sections—North and South. The conflict required a mobilization and an organization of natural and man-made resources on a massive scale.
In this episode I talk with Jeffry Wert, author of the new book Civil War Barons, which profiles the contributions of nineteen Northern businessmen to the Union cause. They were tinkerers, inventors, improvisers, builders, organizers, entrepreneurs, and all visionaries. They contributed to the war effort in myriad ways: they operated railroads, designed repeating firearms, condensed milk, sawed lumber, cured meat, built warships, purified medicines, forged iron, made horseshoes, constructed wagons, and financed a war. And some of their names and companies have endured—Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Deere, McCormick, Studebaker, Armour, and Squibb.
The eclectic group includes Henry Burden, a Scottish immigrant who invented a horseshoe-making machine in the 1830s, who refined the process to be able to forge a horseshoe every second, supplying the Union army with 70 million horseshoes during the four years. John Deere’s plows “sang through the rich sod, portending bountiful harvests for a Union in peril.” And Jay Cooke emerged from the war as the most famous banker in America, earning a reputation for trustworthiness with his marketing of government bonds.
2016 was the first election in which a woman won the nomination of a major political party to be president of the United States. But women have been legally running for president as far back as 1872, decades before they could even vote. Since then several dozen women have run for president, almost all of them long shots with nearly no chance of winning. But these long odds do not negate their story and their campaigns tell us much about the times in which they lived.
In this episode I talk with Richard Lim, host of This American President Podcast. We look at the lives of these fascinating figures
-- Victoria Woodhull, the 1872 candidate who ran a brokerage firm through the patronage of Cornelius Vanderbilt. She was as a 31-year-old spiritualist, radical communist, and possible former prostitute with a remarkably canny ability to reinvent herself
-- Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican from Maine and the first woman to serve in both houses of the U.S. congress (she was Senator for 24 years). Smith was an early critic of McCarthyism and a 1964 presidential candidate who fashioned herself as the female Eisenhower.
-- Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress, a 1972 presidential candidate, and an unlikely friend of George Wallace(!)
-- Edith Wilson, the First Lady who essentially acted as de facto president following the stroke of her husband Woodrow Wilson in 1919 until March 1921.
Did you know that in World War Two there were “para-dogs,” or dogs that parachuted along with paratroopers in anticipation of D-Day? Or that carrier pigeons were dropped into France in their bird cages so that French Resistance members could find them and attach messages so they'd be delivered to Allied command in Britain?
America’s highest military award, the Congressional Medal of Honor, was awarded to four-hundred-forty deserving members of “The Greatest Generation” that served in World War II. But in 1943, before the war was even over, Allied leaders realized they needed another kind of award to recognize a different kind of World War II hero-animal heroes.
Founded in 1943, the prestigious PDSA Dicken Medal is the highest award an animal can achieve for gallantry and bravery in the field of military conflict. It was given to fifty-five animals who served valiantly alongside the members of the Greatest Generation.
In War Animals, national bestselling author Robin Hutton (Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse) tells the incredible, inspiring true stories of the fifty-five animal recipients of the PDSA Dicken Medal during WWII and the lesser-known stories of other military animals whose acts of heroism have until now been largely forgotten.
These animal heroes include:
G.I. Joe, who flew 20 miles in 20 minutes and stopped the planes on the tarmac from bombing a town that had just been taken over by allied forces, saving the lives of over 100 British soldiers
Winkie, the first Dickin recipient, who saved members of a downed plane when she flew 129 miles with oil clogged wings with an SOS message that helped a rescue team find the crew
Chips, who served as a sentry dog for the Roosevelt-Churchill conference; Ding, a paradog whose plane was hit by enemy fire on D-Day, ended up in a tree, and once on the ground still saved lives
With the election of America's first African-American president in 2008, many feared that the presidency of Barack Obama would bring out the most reactionary elements in society and end his life in assassination. Did Obama's eight years as president bring out more assassination attempts than other presidents or merely those of different ideological stripes? Find out in the final part in this series on presidential assassination attempts.
Many tried to kill Bill Clinton during his presidency, including former military officers, white supremacists, and a little-known militant named Osama bin Laden. Most famously, Frank Eugene Corder crashed a Cessna onto the White House lawn. Learn about other attempts on the life of the 42nd president in this episode.
After his presidency, a deranged man broke into Ronald Reagan’s California home and attempted to strangle the former president before he was subdued by Secret Service agents. This attempt on his life came on the heels on many other attempts on Reagan, the final president to serve his entire presidency during the Cold War.
The only president to be assassinated in the last century was John F. Kennedy. What caused this failure in the Secret Service's typical protection procedures? Was it a perfect storm of bad luck, a lapse in judgement in the protection detail, or something far more nefarious, as conspiracy theorists have insisted for five decades?
In American history, four U.S. Presidents have been murdered at the hands of an assassin. In each case the assassinations changed the course of American history.
But most historians have overlooked or downplayed the many threats modern presidents have faced, and survived. In this podcast series we will be looking at the largely forgotten—or never-before revealed attempts to slay America’s leaders.
Such incidents include:
How an armed, would-be assassin stalked President Roosevelt and spent ten days waiting across the street from the White House for his chance to shoot him
How the Secret Service foiled a plot by a Cuban immigrant who told coworkers he was going to shoot LBJ from a window overlooking the president’s motorcade route
How a deranged man broke into Reagan’s California home and attempted to strangle the former president before he was subdued by Secret Service agents.
In early 1992 a mentally deranged man stalking Bush turned up at the wrong presidential venue for his planned assassination attempt
The relationships presidents held with their protectors and the effect it had on the Secret Service’s mission
In the first episode of this series, we will look at assassination attempts against Franklin Roosevelt. He received thousands of threats on his life during his four presidential terms. The danger only increased in the World War 2 years, with his protection detail fearing an Axis assassin would take him out. There were several near-misses, with a would-be killer's bullet coming with in two feet of his head, or a torpedo nearly sinking his ship while going to the Yalta Conference to meet Churchill and Stalin.
How did an initially small religious movement envelope such enormous areas of the world? That is precisely what the community of believers under Muhammed did, conquering the Persian Empire and crippling the Byzantine Empire in a matter of decades, two global powers who were unable to do this to each other despite their best efforts. This episode looks at the rise of Islam, the most historically significant event of the early Middle Ages, through the perspective of military and social history.
For decades after its founding, America was really two nations – one slave, one free. There were many reasons why this nation ultimately broke apart in the Civil War, but the fact that enslaved black people repeatedly risked their lives to flee their masters in the South in search of freedom in the North proved that the “united” states was a lie.
The problem of the 1850s - how (for southerners) to preserve slavery without destroying the Union, or (for northerners) how to destroy slavery while preserving the Union – was a political problem specific to a particular time and place. But the moral problem of how to reconcile irreconcilable values is a timeless one that, sooner or later, confronts us all.”
My guest today, Andrew Delbanco, author of The War Before The War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War discusses this topic at depth in this episode. We begin in 1850, with America on the verge of collapse, Congress reached what it hoped was a solution – the notorious Compromise of 1850, which required that fugitive slaves be returned to their masters. But the Fugitive Slave Act, intended to preserve the Union, instead set the nation on the path to civil war.
One person's psychosis can be easily dismissed, but how do we account for collective hysteria, when an entire crowd sees the same illusion or suffer from the same illness? It's enough to make somebody believe in dark magic and pick up their pitchfork, ready to hang an accused witch.
Sadly, such paranoia has led to many witch hunts in the past. In today's episode we look at some of the most notorious historical cases of mass hysteria and moral panics. But these cases don't only extend to Puritan-era witch panics. We will also look at cases that hit closer to home—such as economic bubbles and the housing market crash of the early 2000s.
This episode includes such cases of mass hysteria as
-- Dancing mania, in which German peasants in 1374 spent weeks dancing in a fugue state, with some toppling over dead from utter exhaustion
-- The cat nuns of medieval France, where the sisters became to inexplicably meow together, leaving the surrounding community perplexed
-- The Salem Witch trials, where 19 were executed due to claims of sorcery
-- The Jersey Devil Panic, in which dozens of newspapers claimed in 1909 that a winged creature attacked a trolley car in Haddon Heights
How would you react if you discovered that your family were deeply embedded within the Third Reich? Today I'm talking with Brazilian-born American Julie Lindahl about her journey to uncover her grandparents’ roles in the Nazi regime and why she was driven to understand how and why they became members of Hitler’s elite, the SS.
In a six-year journey through Germany, Poland, Paraguay, and Brazil, Julie uncovers, among many other discoveries, that her grandfather had been a fanatic member of the SS since 1934. During World War II, he was responsible for enslavement and torture and was complicit in the murder of the local population on the large estates he oversaw in occupied Poland. He eventually fled to South America to evade a new wave of war-crimes trials.
As she delved deeper into her family’s secret, Julie also found unlikely compassion from strangers whose family were victimized and ways to understand a troubled past.
He was known simply as the Blind Traveler. A solitary, sightless adventurer, James Holman (1786-1857) fought the slave trade in Africa, survived a frozen captivity in Siberia, hunted rogue elephants in Ceylon, helped chart the Australian outback—and circumnavigated the globe, becoming one of the greatest wonders of the world he so explored.
Today I'm talking with Jason Roberts, author of one of my all-time favorite history books: A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler. We get into all the impossible-to-believe stories that come from Holman's life, including:
-- Holman retraining his senses to use echolocation to “see” the world around him through sight and touch
- -Summiting Mt. Vesuvius as it was on the brink of eruption
-- Riding horses at full gallop
-- Negotiating peace between the British navy and islanders in Equatorial Guinea
History is often looked at through the perspective of a very high-up official. We look at military history through the eyes of a general. We look at political history through the eyes of a president or prime minister.
But what if we look at history through the perspective of drugs? Specifically, what if we look at history through the perspective of marijuana?
This isn't as gonzo of an idea as you might think. In my days as an Ottoman historian I knew someone doing his thesis on opium smuggling in Interwar Turkey and Beyond. The Opium Wars and the massive trade in opium between South Asia and China over the nineteenth century attest to the prominent role of opium within the history of colonialism and globalization.
Today I'm talking with David Bienestock, host of the Great Moments in Weed History about how hashish arrives in Europe via the Napoleonic invasion. In 1798, Napoleon invaded Egypt in a failed attempt to install colonial rule. French soldiers did succeed in enthusiastically adopting the local custom of consuming hashish, a practice with a long, storied history in the Islamic world. When the occupation ended, they brought a taste for cannabis home that lead directly to the formation of Paris’s famed Club des Hashischins, where Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, and Charles Baudelaire drank coffee laced with marijuana.
In particular we discuss:
-- How the origin of the word “assassin” has to do with authorities looking down on consumers of hashish
-- Humanity's 10,000-year history with marijuana
-- How Europe first discover hashish during the Napoleonic occupation of Egypt
Two weeks ago we finished the 25-part series on the 10 most important battles in the Civil War. Some of you had follow-up questions. We ran a poll to so which ones were the most popular. In a recording of a live-streaming Q&A session, James and Scott answer the following questions:
How many civilians died due to battles getting close to population centers (e.g., the Gettysburg battle site is close to the town)?
What was going on with John Wilkes Booth during the Civil War?
Were people at the time aware of events like Harriett Tubman's involvement in the raid on Combahee Ferry? Did that effect public perception?
For various generals (both sides), was there any correlation between how well they did in West Point and how well they did as leaders in war?
Please describe POW camps in more detail.
What do you think about the removal of the statues and the renaming of places that have been named after Confederate soldiers?
Ever wondered what cocktail a fourth-century bishop from Asia Minor would order? That would be an obscure question to ask if the bishop in question weren't the historical basis for the Santa Claus myth. But since we are dealing here with Nicholas, bishop of the Greek City of Myra, we will delve into the question of what would be the favored drink of a cleric who gave gifts in secret while also getting into fistfights with followers of Arianism.
In this special Christmas episode I'm talking with patristics professor Michael Foley. He is the author of the book "Drinking with Saint Nick." In it he compiles holiday drink recipes; beer, wine, and cider recommendations; and instruction on how to pair them with legends of medieval saints.
What is the greatest extent of classical European reach, and how did they affect or influence the culture of the known world in that period?
In today's episode I answer this question—which was submitted by Karl, a listener from Norway. Greek and Roman civilization got much further afield than it had any right to. Forget about Alexander's Hellenistic Revolution reaching all the way to India in the fourth century BC. There's evidence of ancient fleets circumnavigating Africa, Greek explorers whom the Ptolemy's commissioned to travel to Scandinavia, and even Roman jewelry ending up in fifth-century Japanese tombs.
Learn how a tangled web of traders, explorers, and diplomats created the first age of globalization, fueled by commerce and transmitted by the Silk Road.
George Custer, if he is remembered at all, is a cautionary tale of hubris. He grossly underestimated Sitting Bull's forces at the Battle of Little Big Horn and he was killed in one of the American military's worst defeat in its history. This defeat clouds his legacy, which up until then was quite remarkable. During the Civil War he was known as a daring and highly successful cavalry officer. Called the "Boy General" of the Union Army, he whipped the Union army's cavalry corp into shape at the age of 23. A man loved by all, he attended the wedding of a Confederate officer (a friend from West Point) during the Civil War, dressed in Union Blues. He liked the Southerners he fought against, and appreciated his Indian scouts.
This all begs the question of what if Custer survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn? What if he became a gun-for-hire? And what if he joined forces with a troupe of cancan dancers, Chinese acrobats, an eyepatch-wearing rebel cardsharp, and a multilingual Crow scout?
These questions are answered by today's guest Harry Crocker III who is author of a new alternate history book called Armstrong.
Eager to clear his name from the ignominy of his last stand - but forced to do so incognito, under the clever pseudonym Armstrong - Custer comes across evildoings in the mysterious Montana town of Bloody Gulch, which a ruthless Indian trader runs as his own personal fiefdom, with rumors of murder, slavery, and buried treasure.
Harry and I get into Old West Frontier life, how to write in the voice of your subject, and everything else about the glorious complexities of late nineteenth century American life.
In this very final episode, James and Scott discuss the lasting effects of the Civil War and why it is the single most important event in the history of the United States. The Revolutionary War may have answered the question of whether America would become an independent nation, but the Civil War answered the question of what kind of nation it would be.
In this epilogue episode James and Scott talk about the Union and Confederate generals whom we've gotten to know so well after the war finished. They became presidents, professors, bankrupt businessmen, assassination victims, and everything in between.
The Civil War is now finished but our series is not. Scott and James discuss an aspect of the Civil War that for the most part didn't tie into our main discussion: the naval war. Learn how battles occurred on American Rivers, gulfs, shorelines, and even as far away as Alaska.
As the Civil War came to an end, a big question remained for the North and eventually the reunited United States. What would become of its African-American residents? Would they be given full legal rights or only partial? This question was largely answered by the contributions of African-Americans in uniform. Scott and James talk about their story in this episode.