Welcome to my new book – “Condemned To Repeat It”. I’ll be posting chapters here as I write them.
If there’s one comment I’ve enjoyed getting over and over again, in thousands of emails and Facebook messages from podcast listeners over the last fifteen years, it’s a variation on this: “I always thought history was boring, but you guys make it come alive!”
I don’t really know how history got this “boring” rap attached to it. From where I sit, a lot of history is about killing people, fucking people, fucking people over, raping, stealing, lying, cheating – and usually all of those connected together in rapid succession. History is basically stories about raping people, fucking them over, stealing their shit, killing them, and then lying about it. And that’s just the Bible!
At some point I guess people decided that the version of history that’s taught to kids should have those bits censored, so what you are left with is names, dates and bits of paper being signed. Yeah, that does sound pretty boring.
I, however, make history shows for adults, so let’s talk about adult things. The dirty shit. The evil shit. The messy shit. Because that’s what history tends to be – dirty, evil and messy shit.
Another comment I’ve enjoyed getting over the years is the one I get from American listeners who can’t handle the fact that the way I talk about their country makes it sound like it has actively participated in dirty, evil and messy shit. Those comments tend to take the form of ranty ad hominem attacks, calling me “arrogant”, “naïve” and a “communist”, because, of course, anyone who doesn’t think the United States of America rides a white horse, wears a shiny white hat, and shits gold that smells like peppermint must be an arrogant, naïve communist. And God Help You if you draw analogies between things happening in the United States today and episodes from history! Yanks really don’t like that. I’ve regularly been accused of being an “America hater” – even though my wife, whom I love very much, is American, which makes our son half-American, and my co-hosts have usually been American, and most of the culture I love is American (Lou Reed, Orson Welles, Scorsese, Tarantino, James Ellroy, Miles Davis, Jackson Pollock, Apple, etc), I visit America about once a year on average, etc. In their minds, criticism of America can only be driven by hatred of America. It’s a simplistic, childish mindset, but one that is apparently extremely common with Americans. I’ve never had German or French or Russian or Australian listeners complain that I must hate their country because I criticised its past actions. English listeners have, but not as much as Americans.
Anyway – this book is going to talk about some of my favourite stories from the history shows I’ve produced over the last decade and a half. They are probably going to be dirty, evil and messy stories but I think we can all learn something from them. Because if it’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that humans haven’t changed much over the last 2500 years. We have better tools and live longer lives on average, but we are still motivated by the same basic desires. Most of us just want to get laid, avoid starvation, have a roof over our heads, feel loved, raise our kids in relative safety, and have some fun along the way. Your basic Maslovian needs. And then there are the psychopaths, usually about one per cent of the adult population, who want to rule everyone else, and will kill, fuck, steal, lie and cheat to get into a position of wealth and power. The rest of us will usually let them do that, mostly because we can’t be bothered fighting dirty.