Revolutions, self-help and the election – podcasts of the week
Hear here is here, your favourite podcast-loving weekly column. I have received an unholy number of emails in the past week, full of recommendations. I can barely contain myself, I have such an exciting week of listening ahead of me.
As you would expect the US is dominating my list at the moment. The UK follows closely behind but I have almost nothing from anywhere else. So I am going to make a concerted effort to find podcasts from elsewhere for future editions. But not today …
We here at the Guardian have transformed our glorious Politics Weekly in the new Election Daily: Bringing you the sharpest analysis and the smartest commentary from around the country, as Britain prepares to vote in the 8 June election. Presented by Owen Jones and Jonathan Freedland – all of our women presenters were too busy on the election frontline that they couldn’t spare the time – are joined every weekday lunchtime by Guardian writers and commentators to unpack the big stories in politics. But never fear, Politics Weekly continues every Friday.
For those of us who can bear to actually engage in this sticky election, Election Daily should be your first port of call; Owen, Jonathan and their guests don’t pull any punches, digging into the spectrum to show that things aren’t as black and white as they seem.
Give it a listen and see what you think
If you want to focus on yourself, then this is a good place to start. Self Renovators is so funny and touching and brilliant. It is riddled with cynicism and sarcasm and is wonderfully relatable if you have ever thought of trying one of the many self-help techniques littering the web. But now the Self-Renovator team is here to try them so you don’t have to. It is a bit rambly, but that is what podcasts are about, they don’t have to be tight productions, anyone can make one – and I am so glad that these two hilarious women did pick up the mic. Catie Herring wrote in to tell me about the podcast. Here’s what she had to say:
Self–help has never been more fun than in the Self-Renovators podcast, in which the comedians Caroline Mabey and Taylor Glenn try out internet self-help advice to see if it makes any difference to their lives.
I love the dynamic between the two hosts: lively and comedic, but with an earnest exploration of each task. They’ve struck a great balance between creating a supportive atmosphere for discussion, but with room to mock each other’s shortcomings. It is a nice take on the ‘comedians exploring mental health’ trend because they are open about their own struggles, but are also genuinely trying to find some tools in each episode.
There’s a diverse range of tasks that they attempt to complete each week, from more in-depth ones such as CBT and Headspace meditation, to sillier ones like dancing to a whole song, or practising ‘gratitude’ mantras first thing in the morning. Sometimes they fail, and some of my favourite bits have been their anger and indignation when they have felt patronised by a particular instruction.
I also like how they give a quick explanation of the science behind each challenge without being too ‘experty’. Taylor and Caroline are incredibly relatable, and good company on a commute. Each podcast is under 50 minutes and they fly by. It’s the ultimate ‘try before you buy’ of mental health, with loads of jokes thrown in as a bonus.
Something really nice happened last week. Peter Adamson, whose podcast featured a few weeks ago, wanted to share his favourite podcast in turn. He pointed me towards Revolutions, by Mike Duncan, the creator of The History of Rome. For those of you with an exceptional memory, you will remember me mentioning that The History of Rome was my introduction to podcasting, and so ultimately the reason I am writing to you today. And it turns out I’m not the only one. Adamson writes:
I’m a podcaster, and it’s Mike Duncan’s fault. Well, not entirely his fault. But I am one of several people who were inspired to start a history podcast after listening to his much-admired The History of Rome series. It covered the story of Rome from the mythical foundings of the Republic down to the fall of the western empire. (The story of the continuing eastern empire has been taken up by Robin Pierson’s The History of Byzantium podcast, which is also excellent.)
After a hiatus, Duncan returned with what has become my favourite history podcast and if you haven’t yet discovered it, you have some catching up to do. After launching in 2013 with the story of the English Civil War, the series has covered the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, Simon Bolivar’s liberation of South America, and more recently the July Revolution in Paris in 1830. Revolutions has everything I like in a history podcast: it tells its story in great detail – the July Revolution for instance was covered in an hour-by-hour and (literally) blow-by-blow fashion. Yet Duncan has a gift for clear storytelling, and there is enough forest to help you appreciate each tree.
The scripted episodes are tightly written and well-researched, with occasional doses of dry humour and unflagging enthusiasm for the subject. Most impressive is that, despite moving across several centuries and different locales, Duncan conveys the sense of a single narrative. Listening on a weekly basis, you get a sense of how revolutions evolved – where at first they were usually unintended consequences, they increasingly became professionalised enterprises.
Duncan’s earlier series was itself revolutionary, or at least pioneering, in inspiring other podcasters. With Revolutions, he shows those other podcasters how it should be done, and shows us all how the modern world was born.