Category Archives: Stuff I Like

My Top 5 History Podcasts

My Top 5 History Podcasts

I realised it’s been quite a while since I did a ‘stuff I like’ post, so here’s my top 5 history podcasts in no particular order (webpages included but they’re all available on iTunes):

The Z List Dead List – http://www.zlistdeadlist.com/

British comedian Izzy Lawrence corrals and impressive array of guests to highlight the forgotten heroes and villains of history, the rarely remembered bit-players who nevertheless had an undeniable effect on the course of human events. Examples include miserablist Roman poet and curmudgeon Juvenal, Martin Frobisher the crappiest pirate in history, and genius astronomer Tycho Brahe who had a solid gold nose and a pet elk. Stand-out episode: Series 3, Ep 4 – David Aaronovitch and Jon Ronson on their favourite conspiracy theorists.

Hardcore History – http://dancarlin.com/hardcore-history-series/

Veteran US journo Dan Carlin focuses his well-honed insight on a wide variety of historical subjects, ranging from the fall of the Roman Republic to the current epic analysis of the First World War ‘Blueprint for Armageddon’ (18 hours and counting). Stand-out episodes: ‘Wrath of the Khans’, a terrific potted history of the rise of Genghis Khan and the subsequent course of the Mongol Empire.

Revolutions – http://www.revolutionspodcast.com/

Mike Duncan’s follow up to the landmark History of Rome Podcast is an exhaustive look at the major revolutions in human history. Beginning with the English Civil War, Duncan then proceeds to cover the American Revolutionary War before embarking on an epic, as yet unfinished examination of the French Revolution. Stand-out episodes: #1.12-1.15 charting the transition of Oliver Cromwell from heroic Parliamentarian general to military dictator, sorry ‘Lord Protector’ (like that was fooling anybody).

The Civil War (1861-1865) – http://civilwarpodcast.org/

Husband and wife team Rich and Tracy Youngdahl have taken on the mammoth task of producing a comprehensive narrative history of the American Civil War. Every major event is covered, the episodes based on a wide variety of sources and skilfully written so as to remain compelling without sacrificing important details. Stand-out episodes (so far): #96-99 ‘Sibley’s Campaign’ – a four part look at the Confederate attempt to carve a path to the western seaboard of the USA, an entire aspect of the conflict I knew nothing about.

How is this Movie? – http://hitmpodcast.podomatic.com/

In less than a year Dana Buckler has turned a lifelong obsession with all things movie into an unqualified podcast hit. There are a few interview based episodes but most take the form of an in-depth look at a classic movie or franchise with Buckler’s comprehensive research unearthing details that would trump even the most know-it-all film geek – Frank Sinatra was offered the lead in Die Hard, yes really. Stand-out episode: Jaws.


Last 30 days Book Recommendations

My (seemingly endless) mission to recommend a book a day until Christmas continues. Listed below are the last 30 days books recommendations originally made via Twitter with links to my Goodreads reviews, enjoy:

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245224756

The Complete Halo Jones by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1087239032

The 13th Valley by John M. Del Vecchio https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1087970525

Sandman vol 1 – Neil Gaiman https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1088859511

The Middle Kingdom (Chung Kuo #1) by David Wingrove https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1089546717

Famous Monsters by Kim Newman https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1090388401

Waylander by David Gemmell https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245222398

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/717368757

I am Legend by Richard Matheson https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1092021510

Chickenhawk by Robert Mason https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1092022266

The Terror by Dan Simmons https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1092023174

The Bloody Red Baron by Kim Newman https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1095151043

Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245222508

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1096628137

The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1097568544

Bomber Command by Max Hastings https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1098909928

William Blake: The Complete Writings https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1099401682

1812: Napoeleon’s Fatal March on Moscow by Adam Zamoyski https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1100658699

Legend by David Gemmell https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1101413088

The Alienist by Caleb Carr https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245225119

Promise of Blood by Brian McLellan https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1103023376

Count Zero by William Gibson https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245223685

White Jazz by James Ellroy https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/987381207

The Queen of Bedlam by Robert R. McCammon https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1106115032

The Hell of it All by Charlie Brooker https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/403903373

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1107595048

The Smoke by Tom Barling https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1108498517

First Light by Geoffrey Wellum https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1109452637

The Black Death by Philip Ziegler https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1110232363

I, Partridge by Steve Coogan et al https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1111065964


Last 30 Days’ Book Recommendations

My mission to recommend a book a day until Christmas continues (somehow). Listed below are the last 30 books I recommended via Twitter with links to my Goodreads reviews, enjoy:

 

The Social History of the Machine Gun by John Ellis https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1061343313

The Passage by Justin Cronin https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/898991957

War on the Waters by James M McPherson https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1002062862

The City by Stella Gemmell https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/629233553

Bloody April by Peter Hart https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/255731118

Anno Dracula by Kim Newman https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1065473118

Chopper: Song of the Surfer by John Wagner and Colin McNeil https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1066248236

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/355262163

Skin Tight by Carl Hiaasen https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/681570152

The Gunpowder Plot by Antonia Fraser https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1035131846

The Lost Regiment #1: Rally Cry by William R. Forstchen https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1069002380

Hardware: The Definitive SF Works of Chris Foss https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1070835616

City of Golden Shadow (Otherland #1) by Tad Williams https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1071653247

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1059663565

War in the Air 1914-45 by Williamson Murray https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1073255374

Sharpe’s Enemy by Bernard Cornwell https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1074341502

Stalingrad by Antony Beevor https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245224129

Floating Dragon by Peter Straub https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245223250

Business in Great Waters by John Terraine https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1076793468

NOS4R2 by Joe Hill https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1077415795

A History of Warfare by John Keegan https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1078182446

Alien by HR Giger https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1079122967

Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1079818592

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245222785

The First Day on the Somme by Martin Middlebrook https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1081492776

Mussolini: His Part in My Downfall by Spike Milligan https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1082324809

Slow River by Nicola Griffith https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1083081075

On Writing by Stephen King https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1083807813

Flashman in the Great Game by George McDonald Fraser https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1084672569

Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914 by Max Hastings https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1085620022


Last 30 Days’ Book Recommendations

For those who don’t follow me on Twitter, on 23rd August I set myself the task of recommending a book a day until Christmas along with a short review on Goodreads. Here’s the list for the last 30 days for anyone who missed it:

Hyperion by Dan Simmons – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245223816

The Darkness that Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/324718560

Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1035991441

Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1036810587

Crossed by Garth Ennis – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1037745731

The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/725036643

All Hell Let Loose by Max Hastings – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/717366050

Vurt by Jeff Noon – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1040358888

Watching War Films with My Dad by Al Murray – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/918121939

Broken Angels by Richard Morgan – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245223698

The Thousand Names by Django Wexler – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1043204778

The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F Hamilton – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1044115670

The Dead Zone by Stephen King – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245223368

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245223551

An Animated Life by Ray Harryhausen – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1047059554

Robin Ince’s Bad Book Club by Robin Ince – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/396745389

The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/987382048

Icon by Frank Frazetta – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1050037194

Neuromancer by William Gibson – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245223673

Use of Weapons Iain M Banks – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245223648

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1052797420

Dune by Frank herbert – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245223544

Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245224264

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1055394174

The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1036354909

Voyage by Stephen Baxter – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1057330544

War of the Aeronauts by Charles M. Evans – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/711370188

Dark Fire by CJ Sansom – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1058921216

The Scar by China Mieville – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1059845898

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1060416159


Orbit Website Guest Post: David Gemmell and the Depiction of the Hero

Thanks to the good folks at Orbit UK for hosting my guest post on David Gemmell and the Depiction of the Hero.


RIP Iain M. Banks

A fond farewell to Iain M. Banks, possibly the finest prose writer ever to grace the pages of science fiction. And also goodbye to his long term collaborator Iain Banks, who injected a much needed narrative drive and energy into mainstream literature. I wish I’d met them both.


Top Ten Movie Battle Scenes

Anyone who’s read Blood Song will know my liking for battle scenes, so I thought I’d list my top ten favourites from the movies – as usual in no special order.

Master and Commander – For the Prize! (2003, Dir. Peter Weir)

Patrick O’Brien’s tales of life in Nelson’s navy are brought to vivid life in Peter Weir’s expertly wrought adaptation. Essentially a chase story, as Russell Crowe’s Captain Jack Aubrey pursues a French privateer half way around the world with Ahab-like zeal, paid off in spades in a climactic clash of frigates. The final frenetic confrontation of cannon, pistols and hand-to-hand combat brings home the fact that, for all the romance associated with it, war at sea in the Napoleonic era was still war, and it’s never pretty.

Last of the Mohicans – Huron Ambush (1992, Dir. Michael Mann)

Michael Mann wisely eschews much of Charles Fenimore Cooper’s source novel (it’s frankly unreadable to modern eyes, or at least my modern eyes) to craft a compelling epic of high adventure and romance amid the chaos of the Seven Years War. Mann’s eye for spectacular action is given free reign as Huron warchief Magua (Wes Studi) leads his braves in a brutally effective ambush of an entire British army. War clubs, tomahawks and muskets abound as Hawkeye (Daniel Day Lewis in pre-cobbler days) fights his way towards his imperilled lady love (Madeleine Stowe in pre-collagen days) and woe betide anyone who gets in his way. Simply stunning.

Saving Private Ryan – Omaha Beach (1998, Dir. Steven Spielberg)

The immediate cinematic impact of Spielberg’s recreation of the Omaha beach landings makes it easy to forget that there was a time when filmmakers failed to present the experience of modern battle as anything other than a stark horror story viewed through the lens of an over-cranked camera. But, despite its many imitators, the real-time progress of Tom Hanks’ shell-shocked captain across the blasted and corpse strewn shore-line has never been topped for sheer visceral shock value. If you ever wondered what a burst of machine-gun fire will really do to a human body, look no further.

Henry V – Agincourt (1989, Dir. Kenneth Branagh)

Branagh’s directorial debut proved he’s as able behind the camera as he is in front of it. Naturalistic Shakespeare is a tricky thing to pull off but Branagh and cast manage it with admirable aplomb – even Brian Blessed gets through the whole film without a single shouty moment. Crucial to Branagh’s desire to present events within a a believable medieval context is his depiction of the Battle of Agincourt as a mud-spattered slo-mo slogging match. Men in armour assail each other with swords, maces and daggers in a rain sodden charnel house shorn of any pageantry or chivalrous pretensions. Grimly compelling.

Platoon – NVA Night Assault (1986, Dir Oliver Stone)

Long before such crimes against cinema as Natural Born Killers and Alexander,  Oliver Stone was a good director, proven in this semi-autobiographical tale of brutalised grunts in the Vietnam War. Stone’s protagonists are rarely heroic, quick to panic and would probably shoot John Wayne in the back if he pissed them off. The graphic depictions of combat and atrocity make for often harrowing viewing, complete with massacred civilians, gang rapes and murderous intra-grunt enmity, stretching the viewer’s nerves to the point that the climactic NVA night assault is actually something of a relief. The subsequent battle is a frenzied mix of cacophonous gunfire and flashing tracer bringing home the random nature of combat. It seems in modern war, cowardice and heroism make little difference to odds of survival. Luckily, most of us will never have to find out if that’s true.

Zulu – Rorke’s Drift Rumble (1964, Dir. Cy Endfield)

US emigre director Cy Endfield’s retelling of the siege of Rorke’s Drift in the first Zulu war is a carnival of British cinema delights; a soaring score by Bond composer John Barry, a stand-out breakthrough performance by Michael Caine and Jack Hawkins playing against stiff-upper-lip type as a drunken missionary “Can’t you see you’re all going to die!!” But the real star of the show is the cinematography, capturing the beauty of a South African landscape marred by the bloody spectacle of thousands of Zulu warriors charging through massed rifle fire.

300 – “This! Is! Spartaaaaggh!” (2006, Dir. Zach Snyder)

Frank Miller’s stylised comic book version of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE is given lavish homage by Snyder as muscular bare chested men in leather pants engage in a mutual admiration fest before embarking on slo-mo Persian slaughter viewed through a series of prolonged tracking shots (for some reason 300 has come to be regarded as having a strong gay subtext, can’t think why). This is an unashamedly non-realist approach to ancient warfare featuring battle-rhinos, giants, grenade throwing alchemists and (if you’ve seen the deleted scenes) midget archers – and all the better for it.

Gladiator – Roma Victa! (2000, Dir. Ridley Scott)

If you know a little about Roman history you’ll be aware that Gladiator belongs more in the ‘inspired by’ rather than ‘based on’ category of historical epic – Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Pheonix) was murdered in his bath-house by a slave nine years after assuming the throne rather than being slain in the Coliseum by a former general (who never actually existed) a few months after killing his father – an event he may well have had no part in. But, despite its factual shortcomings, Gladiator contains probably the most accurate depiction of the Roman army at war as General Maximus (Russell Crowe again) leads his legionaries against the barbarous German tribes. Fire arrows fill the air, ballista bolts pin men to trees and catapults rain down fiery destruction on the uncivilised horde as the legions hack and slash their way to victory. “Roma Victa!” indeed.

The Return of the King – Pelennor Fields (2003, Dir. Peter Jackson)

The Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers was a remarkable achievement in itself but even that is eclipsed by the sheer scale of the spectacle offered in Peter Jackson’s final instalment of The Lord of the Rings. Sauron’s hordes of orcs, easterlings and war elephants bear down on the beleaguered city of Minas Tirith in a screen-filling tide that wouldn’t have been possible even in the days when extras would work for less than a dollar a day. However, thanks to CGI we are treated to an unrestrained and largely faithful depiction of the central clash of armies in Tolkien’s classic. From the Ride of the Rhohirrm to the arrival of the Dead Men this is a wondrous spectacle, made all the more impressive by not allowing the visuals to overwhelm the drama – poor old King Theoden, but it was a good death.

Glory – Assault on Fort Wagner (1989, Dir Edward Zwick)

The 54th Massachusetts Infantry was the first black regiment recruited by the Union Army in the American Civil War and earned a blood-soaked place in history by leading an assault on the Confederate Fort Wagner in South Carolina in July 1863. Zwick – later to conjure some highly impressive set-pieces in The Last Samurai – brings home the scale of the sacrifice as Matthew Broderick’s Colonel Shaw leads his troops in an ultimately hopeless charge against the Confederate ramparts, braving a hail of cannon fire and musketry to fight their way into the fort at bayonet point. Although the film makes no bones about the fact that this was a military defeat for the Union, the final scene of black troops and white officers being tossed into the same mass grave conveys a sense that it was at least a battle worth fighting.


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