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.
Making Sense of America’s Worst Moments: Jon Meacham on Understanding -- But Not Excusing -- Slavery and the Indian Removal Act
John F. Kennedy once told a presidential biographer that rating presidents from best to worst that it was impossible without a deep appreciation of the office. Perhaps even first-hand experience was necessary: "No one has a right to grade a president - even poor James Buchanan - who has not sat in his chair, examined the mail and information that came across his desk, and learned why he made his decisions.”
While JFK’s view will never stop historians from ranking U.S. presidents from best to worst, he makes a good point that historical figures likely had good reasons for what they did, even if the end result was failure and their reputations were left in tatters. Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act or Thomas Jefferson’s failure to provide justice equally (even though he enshrined the equality of all in America’s founding documents) are explainable and understandable, even if they aren’t excusable.
To explore this theme further is today’s guest is Jon Meacham, host of the new podcast, Reflections of History. Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, and several other biographies, presidential or otherwise.
We discuss the lasting legacies of Jefferson, Jackson, and other presidents who rose or fell to the moment. We also discuss which historical figures should get greater recognition, whether the aftermath of the Titanic gives us ideas on how to mourn national tragedies, and the greatest accomplishments of the 20th century, including, but not limited to, NATO, vaccines, the Space Race, and Jackie Robinson breaking down baseball’s color barrier and accelerating the Civil Rights Movement.
Parthenon Roundtable: Which Single Event Would You Eliminate From History
All of us have terrible regrets. Accepting that job that became dead-end. Marry someone from high school who ended up being a kleptomaniac with halitosis. Emptying out our life savings to invest in Logan and Jake Paul’s NFT collections Don’t you wish you could take it all back?
While we can’t help you with your personal problems, we are pleased to let you know that the hosts of the history programs that make up Parthenon Podcasts are here to get rid of some of the worst events in history and cleaning up our timeline. In just one hour, we will do the following:
•Prevent the Civil War and Emancipate all U.S. slaves in 1861
•Prevent Saddam Hussein from seizing power in Iraq, thus prevent the Iran-Iraq War and both Gulf Wars
•Prevent half a century’s worth of conspiracy theories that sprung up in the wake of the JFK assassination
•Accelerate the invention of the printing press by 1,500 years by stopping the Bronze Age Collapse
Hope you enjoy this talk with James Early from Key Battles of American History, Josh Cohen from Eyewitness History, Steve Guerra from History of the Papacy and Beyond the Big Screen, Richard Lim from This American President, and yours truly from History Unplugged.
The Worst Movie Ever Made Cast John Wayne as Genghis Khan and Exposed the Cast to Nuclear Radiation
John Wayne’s 1956 film The Conqueror was a historical biopic about Genghis Khan far worse than you can imagine. The All-American legend was in full Fu Manchu make-up and depicted the Great Khan as a Mongol madman. He was given Shakespear-esque dialogue that was as grandiose as it was misapplied to the Duke loose way of speaking (one example: “I feel this Tartar woman is for me, and my blood says, take her.”) It was a film so embarrassing that it disappeared from print for over a quarter century. Worse yet, half its cast and crew met their demise bringing the film to life by being exposed to nuclear radiation while on set.
To get into this story is today’s guest Ryan Uytdewilligen, author of “Killing John Wayne, the Making of the Conqueror. Filmed during the dark underbelly of the 1950s—the Cold War—when nuclear testing in desolate southwestern landscapes was a must for survival, the very same landscapes were where exotic stories set in faraway lands could be made. Just 153 miles from the St. George, Utah, set, nuclear bombs were detonated regularly at Yucca Flat and Frenchman Flat in Nevada, providing a bizarre and possibly deadly background to an already surreal moment in cinema history.
We discuss the story of the making of The Conqueror, its ignominious aftermath, and the radiation induced cancer that may have killed John Wayne and many others.
The Arsenal of Democracy: How the Revolver and Repeating Rifle Democratized Gun Ownership and Armed the United States
The United States is the most heavily armed nation in the world, with an estimated 400 million guns in private hands. But few know that this legacy can be directly traced back to a handful of gunmakers who worked in the Springfield Armory of Massachusetts in the early 1800s. Their names became synonymous with American guns—Colt, Smith, Wesson, Winchester, and Remington among them – and they made firearms portable, powerful, rapid firing, and distinctly American. They also created the nation’s industrial base by making guns out of interchangeable parts, becoming early adopters of the assembly line process.
Today’s guest is John Bainbridge, Jr., author of Gun Barons: The Weapons That Transformed America and the Men Who Invented Them. More than just keen inventors and wily businessmen, these iconic gun barons were among the founding fathers of American industry. Their visionary work in the development of rapid-fire weaponry helped propel the U.S. into the forefront of the world’s industrial powers in the mid-nineteenth century.
Seeking Hitler’s Horses: How a WW2 Infantryman Rescued Equines Caught Up Germany’s “Super Horse” Breeding Program
Growing up in the 1930s in Memphis, Tennessee, Phil Larimore is the ultimate Boy Scout—able to read maps, put a compass to good use, and traverse wild swamps and desolate canyons. His other great skill is riding horses.
Phil does poorly in school, however, leading his parents to send him to a military academy. After Pearl Harbor, Phil realizes he is destined for war. Three weeks before his eighteenth birthday, he became the youngest candidate to ever graduate from Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Landing on the Anzio Beachhead in February 1944, Phil is put in charge of an Ammunition Pioneer Platoon in the 3rd Infantry Division. Their job: deliver ammunition to the frontline foxholes—a dangerous assignment involving regular forays into No Man’s Land.
As Phil fights his way up the Italian boot, into southern France, and across the Rhine River into Germany, he is caught up in some of the most intense combat ever as one of the youngest officers in the U.S. Army.
Toward the end of the war, after fifteen months of front-line fighting, he’s sent on a top-secret mission to find the world-famous Lipizzaner horses that Hitler has hidden away.
But it’s what happens in the final stages of the war and his homecoming – particularly the advocacy for amputees and the role that those permanently disabled from war can play in society -- that makes Phil’s story so remarkable.
Today’s guest is Walt Larimore, the son of Phil and author of the new book At First Light: A True World War II Story of a Hero, His Bravery, and an Amazing Horse. He tells a WW2 story about courage, combat, and resourcefulness that continues to resonate today.
Almost President: Stephen Douglas, Thomas Dewey, and Other Failed Candidates That Would’ve Altered History Most by Winning
Dozens of American leaders captured their party’s nomination for the presidency but never reached the Oval Office. How would history have changed if they had won? If Abraham Lincoln had lost to Stephen Douglas, a pro-slavery Democrat, in 1860, then Emancipation would be the last thing on his mind during the Civil War. If Richard Nixon had defeated JFK in 1960, then the Cuban Missile Crisis, Bay of Pigs Invasion, and Space Race could have also turned out very differently.
To explore these counterfactuals is today’s guest Peter Shea, author of the book In the Arena: A History of American Presidential Hopefuls. We discuss the rise, early career, campaign, and later achievements of historical giants like Aaron Burr and Henry Clay, up through modern candidates to get insight into what it’s like to run for one of the most powerful positions in the world – and come up short.
In a speech Theodore Roosevelt gave after losing the 1912 presidential election, he assigned ultimate credit “to the man who is actually in the arena…who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Great history podcast
I’ve listened to several of these now. The host has people with many points of view on. On one he specifically mentioned that he did not necessarily agree with all of the guest’s views.
Today I’m listening to the interview with Jon Meacham. It’s a very good discussion. I have been introduced to many other interesting podcasts through this one.
Great host, great content
Love it. Love the old ones too!
Ive been listening to this pod for years. It’s very well done, informative and interesting. The topics are unusual in a good way. But…. I just listened to the 1619 Project episode and came away stunned. Certainly there are different views of this Project. It’s not flawless. But the vehemence and code words used by host and guest were unreal for a legit podcast in 2022. It truly sounded like a Trumpian apology for slavery. Shameful, honestly. After listening to this episode I researched both sides of this issue to be certain I didn’t overreact. Host and guest’s treatment of this is overblown and biased. in a bad way. Honestly I can’t support this pod anymore if this is the host’s actual outlook