What’s the buzz: Mike Duncan, Radiohead and Brend Ueland
welcome to What’s the buzz, the 25YL feature where our staff members provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In the internet age, there is so much to think about in order to watch, read, listen, etc., that it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter the noise, or find these. rough diamonds. But don’t be afraid! We’re here to help you do what I just described with three different metaphors. Each week, a rotating group of writers will offer their recommendations based on the things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they will be new to us, or hopefully new to you. This week, Clay Dockery recommends Mike Duncan’s podcasts and books, Daniel Siuba reads If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, and Caemeron Crain watches Radiohead‘s “If You Say the Word” video.
Podcasts and Books by Mike Duncan
Clay: As a history buff and avid podcast listener, I had a huge problem. There is just something wrong with most historical podcasts. Either the tone is too deep or too light. Or there are production problems. Or the subject is not catchy enough. Or maybe the host doesn’t have enough personality. The best historical podcasts, the ones that take you back to the very first episode and work your way through all the decline and fall of an empire somehow manages to catch lightning in a bottle.
Mike Duncan has done it twice. Duncan’s first podcast The history of Rome was an early and fundamental entry into the podcasting canon. The show debuted in 2007, when podcasting was still in its infancy, and ran for five years and 179 episodes. The show was about an essentially interesting topic (at least for history buffs) (the rise and fall of the Roman Empire), which was certainly part of the appeal, but it wasn’t all of it. ‘story. The most important aspects were the decisions Duncan made in editing it together. It was well paced, and it was short (sometimes too short). And, most importantly, Duncan made each episode entertaining and full of humor while taking the whole project seriously.
When the show ended in 2012, fans were bowled over. (I wouldn’t listen to the show for another four years, but I still felt the pain of coming to the end of the epic.) Duncan could have done anything with his next podcast, and it seems likely that many if not most people would have let that first success be their legacy. But Mike Duncan actually started another story podcast, and it was a little better.
In September 2013, after a little over a year without producing a podcast, Mike Duncan made his debut Revolutions. The podcast had the same tone and style as The history of Rome but covers the great political revolutions in history. Each revolution is covered by a “season” starting with the English Revolution in the 1600s and ending with the current season on the Russian Revolution. (Well, maybe it ends, the current season has 68 episodes and counts and has just ended halfway through 1917. Vladimir Lenin has just returned to Russia. There are plenty of miles left. to go before sleeping. Fortunately.)
As Duncan did all of this, it’s also clear just how much his skills as a podcaster and historian have developed. The notion of podcasting not only becoming a main source of income for a person, but also bringing them into the public sphere, is an idea that many have tried and few have succeeded in achieving. But Duncan did. I think because his rigorous work on the shows and his love for the topics is really evident in every episode. He has also been successful in this area of more traditional academic interest: publishing. His first book The storm before the storm chronicles Rome in the years before the rise of Caesar and is both a solid and well-done book.
But this is Duncan’s new book, Heroes of two worlds: the Marquis de Lafayette and the age of revolution, which really seals its place in the pop-historian stratosphere. Lafayette is a crucial figure in the American and French revolutions. He is both loved and hated. And he has of course been at the forefront of speech lately due to his pivotal role (and Daveed Diggs’ stunning portrayal) in Hamilton. Duncan uses all of this to create a loving yet incisive biography that somehow covers the entirety of the incredible story of “Citizen Lafayette” in a way that is both eminently readable and incredibly informative.
And here we are now, Heroes of both worlds went out and Revolutions end. It’s unclear where Duncan will go next. But, I can’t wait to see where he decides to take us. (Also, for an amazing experience, listen to the episode of Revolutions on the years Duncan spent in Paris researching the book. The streets of Paris come alive with joy and sadness.)