History Unplugged Podcast | American History, World History, World War 2, U.S. Presidents, Civil War
Summary: 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.
Mignon Fogarty has spent years helping others sort out the extremely peculiar grammar of the English language. But in the course of her research on how to navigate the weirdness of English, she learned the why of the weirdness of English. Did you know that egregious once meant outstandingly good? Or that the sport badminton comes from an English manor with a love of peculiar sports? Or that many of the words in the Oxford Dictionary of English got there from the suggestions of a serial killer? But the strangeness doesn't stop there. In today's interview Mignon tells us such stories asThe same person who came up with the rule that we shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition also said we shouldn't refer to children as "who" because they aren't rational beingsNoah Webster's first failed dictionary went too far with spelling reform. He included "wimmen" for "women" and "tung" for "tongue" and everybody hated it.The origin of certain phrases (run of the mill, beyond the pale, by the wayside)
Few mixtures are as toxic as absolute power and insanity that comes from megalomania or severe mental illness. When nothing stands between a leader's delusional whims and seeing them carried them out, all sorts of bizarre outcomes are possible. Whether it is Ottoman Sultan Ibrahim I practicing archery on palace servants and sending out his advisers to find the heaviest woman in the empire for his wife or Turkmenistan President Turkmenbashi renaming the days of the week after himself and constructing an 80-foot golden statue that revolves to face the sun, crazed leaders have plagued society for millenia. In this episode we look at mentally unbalanced rulers who made the lives of their subjects miserable. Some suffered from genetic disorders that led to schizophrenia, such as French King Charles VI, who thought he was made of glass. Others believed themselves to be God’s greatest prophet and wrote religious writings that they guaranteed to the reader would get them into heaven, even if these “prophets” were barely literate. Whatever their background, these rulers show that dynastic politics made sure that a rightful heir always got on the throne – despite that heir's mental condition – and that power can destroy a mind worse than any mental illness.
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (Pico for short), was the wunderkind of the Renaissance. In 1486, at the age of 23 he proposed to defend 900 theses on religion, philosophy, natural philosophy, and magic against all comers, for which he wrote the Oration on the Dignity of Man, which has been called the “Manifesto of the Renaissance.” Today we are going to talk to Professor Matthew Gaetano about this remarkable figure. Pico was called a great genius, even in his own time. He defend 900 contested theses drawn from the Greeks, Scripture, rabbis, from Persians, and from Islamic scholars into a syncretic drawing together of learning and culture from all across the then-known world. There were also odd aspects of Pico's thought system— he defended magic and mysticism. But his complex life is an inspiration for us moderns today.
Everybody imagines the World's Most Interesting Man to be a fictional grey-haired lothario who drinks Mexican beer and boasts of his legendary exploits. But what if a man like this really lived? It turns out he did. He is Richard Francis Burton, a Victorian-era explorer who learned 29 languages, went undercover as a Muslim on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and wrote 50 books on topics ranging from a translation of the Kama Sutra to a manual on bayonet exercises. In this episode I explore Burton's life and his incredible achievements. He nearly discovered the source of the Nile with his expedition partner, John Hanning Speke. He had a massive facial scar that came from a Somali tribesman throwing a spear that passed through both his cheeks. He travelled 1,500 miles in a solo canoe expedition down Brazil's São Francisco River, discovering a jungle tribe and deciphering their language. Adventures aside, Burton is best known today for translating the Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra into English. He was the most educated explorer of the Victorian age, a time when only men of rough disposition set out to discover foreign lands, in stark contrast to the landed gentry, who were uninterested in international travel, unless it was in the comfort of a steamship to go administer a colony for the sake of the Crown or as a military officer deployed to extend the global landholdings of the British Empire. Burton published over three dozen volumes, ranging from such topics as linguistics, ethnology, poetry, geography, fencing, and travel narratives. He spoke Greek, Arabic, Persian, Icelandic, Turkish, Swahili, Hindi, and a host of other European, Asian, and African tongues. Learn about Burton's extraordinary life, and how a beer pitchman could never hope to live up to it.
The aftershocks of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor were felt keenly all over America—the war in Europe had hit home. But nowhere was American life more immediately disrupted than on the West Coast, where people lived in certain fear of more Japanese attacks. Today I talk with Bill Yenne, author of “Panic on the Pacific.” He describes how from that day until the end of the war, a dizzying mix of battle preparedness and rampant paranoia swept the states. Japanese immigrants were herded into internment camps. Factories were camouflaged to look like small towns. The Rose Bowl was moved to North Carolina. Airport runways were so well hidden even American pilots couldn’t find them. We talk about the panic on the Pacific coast and fear the Japanese were coming. As a result the most notorious events of World War Two in America—namely the internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry—took place. It is a cautionary tale about how hysteria can cause leaders to seize on political issues in the name of public safety that may cause much more harm than good.
In this anthology episode I answer questions from the audience all centered around one theme. Today's theme is about alternate history and alternate theories to historical questions. Well, three of the questions have to do with this (the ones about the Confederacy, the Titanic, and an American Indian in Iceland). The other two are about quack doctors in the American frontier and the influence that Zoroasatrianism had on Christianity and Islam. Here are the questions answered in today's episode: How would America's economy be different today if the Confederacy had won the Civil War?Are there alternative explanations to an iceberg sinking the Titanic?Did a Native American woman come with Vikings to Iceland 1,000 years ago?Tell me about quack doctors and snake oil salesmen in early America.What influence did Zoroastrianism have on Christianity and Islam?
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 episode I talk with Mel Ayton , author of the book Hunting the President: Threats, Plots and Assassination Attempts—From FDR to Obama, who has looked at the largely forgotten—or never-before revealed—malicious attempts to slay America’s leaders. We talk about the profiles of a typical would-be assassin and what they think they have to gain by slaying the U.S. president. Mel also has many stories, including: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 himHow 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 routeHow a deranged man broke into Reagan’s California home and attempted to strangle the former president before he was subdued by Secret Service agents.The relationships presidents held with their protectors and the effect it had on the Secret Service’s mission
Prostitution, often known as the world's oldest profession, can be traced throughout recorded history. This cliché is so often repeated it remains completely unexamined. Is prostitution really a natural by-product of human society or does it only appear in circumstances where human sexuality is limited or curtailed? In this episode we dive deep into the history of prostitution, from ancient Sumeria and its temple prostitutes to Old Testament Israeli sex workers, to Ottoman Istanbul, and finally to the red-light districts of Amsterdam. In particular we will look at Herodotus' account of the Mesopotamian ritual of sacred prostitution in which Babylonian woman had to attend the temple of Ishtar and agree to sex with any male that askedOld Testament prostitutes from Rahab—heroine of Jericho—to Gomer, a harlot whom the prophet Hosea married as an analogy of Israel's unfaithfulness to YahwehCivic brothels that existed in every medieval European cityOttoman prostitutes who used Islamic law about widows and temporary marriage to cheat the tax codeThe 19th century question over whether prostitution should be legalized and regulated to reduce syphilis or made illegal to reduce public immorality
What if People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” assassinated a U.S. President? John Wilkes Booth has been despised as a traitor, hailed as a martyr, and dismissed as a lunatic. But in the 1860s he was considered the “handsomest man in America”? Before cementing his name in history by assassinating President Lincoln, this actor extraordinaire was the Leonardo DiCaprio of the 1860s. Women packed the audiences wherever Booth played, pawed him for autographs, and tore at his clothes for souvenirs. Women could not resist him—nor could he resist them. Today on the show I am joined by E. Lawrence Abel, author of the new book John Wilkes Booth and the Women Who Loved Him. He discusses stories of stories of infatuation, flings, and heartbreak that Booth interwove throughout his theatrical career and assassination plot. We specifically discussHow Actress Henrietta Irving attempted to kill him in a jealous rageThe “Star Sisters” broke up their act after a jealous falling-out over himPhotos of five women were found on Booth’s body, and only one was of his fiancée Booth’s life was as dramatic as any play. Actor, lover, and assassin, Booth was a complex man whose shocking crime changed the course of American history and cast him forever in the role of an American villain.
Ever since the end of the Civil War, a mythology of Robert E. Lee's military genius was developed by Confederate veterans as a way to support the idea that the South was defeated only because of the Union's overwhelming advantages in men and resources. Known as the “Lost Cause” interpretation of the Civil War, it provided a sense of relief to white Southerners who feared being dishonored by defeat. In this episode, I explore the research of the late Civil War historian Edward Bonekemper, who wrote many books challenging this thesis. He argues that Grant—far from being a bloodthirsty drunk who won by brute force alone—was the most successful Union or Confederate general of the war. Grant won the war by excelling in three theaters. He fought six Confederate armies, defeated all of them, and captured three of them. He succeeded for two years in the West with amazingly minimal casualties—particularly when compared with those of his foes. He conquered the Mississippi Valley and chased the Confederates out of Chattanooga and Tennessee. Lee, in contrast, has been praised for his offensives against the Union Army of the Potomac, he was carrying out an aggressive strategy with aggressive tactics that were inconsistent with what should have been a Confederate grand defensive strategy. The Union, not the Confederacy, had the burden of winning the war, and the South, outnumbered about four-to-one in white men of fighting age, had a severe manpower shortage. Nevertheless, Lee acted as though he were a Union general and attacked again and again as though his side had the burden of winning and also had an unlimited supply of soldiers.
The most powerful political dynasty in 20th-century America was the Kennedys. In addition to holding numerous Senate seats and, most famously, the presidency, they were able to get away with endless scandals. Except for Chappaquiddick. The story begins with a young woman leaving a party with a wealthy U.S. senator. The next morning her body is discovered in his car at the bottom of a pond. The victim was campaign strategist Mary Jo Kopechne and the senator was 37-year-old Senator Ted Kennedy—who left her trapped underwater while he returned to his hotel, slept, and made phone calls to associates. What happened next was a coverup involving one of the nation’s most well-connected families and its network of lawyers, public relations people, and friends who ensured Ted Kennedy remained a respected member of the Senate for forty more years. The story of Chappaquiddick came to major prominence in 1988 with the publication of Leo Demore's book Senatorial Privilege. A new edition, Chappaquiddick, is being released 30 years after the original Senatorial Privilege to coincide with the nationwide theatrical release of the movie Chappaquiddick starring Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Ed Helms, Bruce Dern, and Jim Gaffigan. To talk about Chappaquiddick with us today is Howie Carr, an American journalist, author and radio talk-show host based in Boston. He has spent decades following local crime and dirty politics in New England and wrote the forward to the re-issue of Senatorial Privilege.
Foreign governments did not only start trying to influence American presidential elections in 2016. It goes all the way back to the 18th century. In this anthology episode I answer this question and three others from you, the audience. Two of the questions have to do with presidents, one of them is only indirectly related to presidents, and the last one has nothing to do with presidents, but it's an interesting question about Nazis so we'll go with it. Here they are:How long have foreign governments attempted to meddle in American elections? Does this go back before 2016? Can you tell me about presidential assassination attempts? Do they go all the way back to Washington?How did the Cold War come to an end?Why did so many Nazis flee to Argentina after the Second World War, and how did they get there?
Whether you have a BA in philosophy or have never read a book, your daily life is impacted by Aristotle. Have you ever tried to win an argument? Have you ever tried to solve a riddle? Have you tried to rationalize eating twelve doughnuts? Congratulations: you are engaging in logic, the bread-and-butter of the most impactful philosopher in history. In this episode I talk with Lantern Jack (pseudonym of the host of Ancient Greece Declassified and graduate student in philosophy at Princeton). We get into 4th century BCE Greece, the life of Aristotle, his tutoring of Alexander the Great, and how his philosophy conquered the world. But it's more than the life of Aristotle. Thanks to archaeology and modern scholarship, we now know more about the ancient world than we ever did before. However, the average person today doesn't have access to free, reliable, up-to-date information about ancient Greece. Unlike other fields, the Classics have remained largely confined to the ivory tower of academia. Thats why Lantern Jack started his show. The idea is to declassify the classics and help everyone know about the ideas that kicked off the modern world.
Spies have been a feature of state security and military intelligence since the beginning of warfare. Entire wars have been won or lost according to these secret activities. Today we will look at spycraft during World War Two, a golden age of espionage. Spycraft was an essential element to the war effort as ships, planes, or weapons. At no time were military secrets so valuable. Nuclear technology was vital for both sides if they did not want to fall behind the other. Learning the troop movements of the enemy could make it possible to launch an attack on the level of D-Day, permanently crippling their war machine. In this episode I will discuss the careers of...Richard Sorge, the German playboy based in Tokyo who stole nearly all of Japan's World War 2 plan, sent it to the Kremlin, and prevented Nazi Germany's attempt to invade and capture Moscow.Nancy Wake, a socialite in France-turned- Resistance Fighter who saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives of Allied airmen by smuggling them to the Spanish border.George Koval, the Iowa-born Soviet spy who worked on the Manhattan Project and fed all the scientific breakthroughs to Russia, accelerating their nuclear program by years
You probably know what the Underground Railroad is—you know, the network of secret routes and safe houses set up in antebellum America and used by African-American slaves (with the help of abolitionists and allies) to escape into free states and Canada. But how did it work? How far apart were these slave houses? Five miles, twenty miles, or more? And how did abolitionists help the escaped slaves? Did they provide them food and shelter and send them on their way, or did they personally guide them? And what happened if a slave or Underground Railroad “conductor” got caught? Here to tell us one of the most amazing jailbreak stories in pre-Civil War American history is Gary Jenkins, a retired Kansas City police officer. He tells us about the capture, incarceration, trial and rescue of Dr. John Doy. In 1859, twelve free African-Americans asked Lawrence Kansas leading citizens to help them flee north to escape being captured and sold into slavery. Dr. John Doy and his son, Charles Doy volunteered to go on this dangerous mission. His book, The Immortal 10, tells this exciting story of the slave trade in Missouri though the eyes of Dr. Doy.