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History Unplugged Podcast

  • The American Detective Who Fought the Kaiser’s Spy Ring and an Anarchist Bombing Syndicate

    25 JUN 2024 · America in the early twentieth century was rife with threats. Organized crime groups like the Mafia, German spies embedded behind enemy lines ahead of World War I, package bombs sent throughout the country, and the 1920 Wall Street bombing dominated headlines. And one man was tasked with combating these threats. Born to working-class parents in 1867, Willaim Flynn launched the first antiterrorist program, unraveled a German spy network, and took on the Mob. Dubbed “the bulldog” for his tenacity, Flynn earned a high-profile reputation as one of the most respected, incorruptible, and storied law enforcement officials in the country. To explore these issues is today’s guest is Jeffrey Simon, author of "The Bulldog Detective: William J. Flynn and America's First War Against the Mafia, Spies, and Terrorists." He takes us back to an era when counterfeiters plagued butcher shops, German spies rode the subway, and anarchists bombed targets across the country, including using a horse-drawn wagon to set off an explosion on Wall Street that, at the time, was the worst terrorist attack ever to occur in America.
    Played 43m 27s
  • Patton’s Tactician: Geoffrey Keys, “The Best Tactical Mind” of WWII

    20 JUN 2024 · Nineteen months after Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor and forced the United States to enter World War II, boats carrying the 7th US Army landed on the shores of southern Sicily. Dubbed Operation Husky, the campaign to establish an Allied foothold in Sicily was led by two of the most noted American tacticians of the twentieth century: George S. Patton Jr. and Geoffrey Keyes.  While Patton is the subject of numerous books and films, Keyes's life and achievements have gone unrecognized, but his anonymity is by no means an accurate reflection of the value of his contributions and dedicated service in World War II and the succeeding cold war.  To look at this lacuna is today’s guest, James Holsinger, author of Patton's Tactician: The War Diary of Lieutenant General Geoffrey Keyes. His account begins in October 1942, prior to the invasion of French Morocco and Keyes's engagement in World War II and the Cold War. Holsinger has integrated a variety of related sources, including correspondence between Keyes, Patton, and Eisenhower. A day-to-day chronicle of Keyes's experiences in the World War II Mediterranean Theater and the early days of the Cold War in occupied Germany and Austria, Patton's Tactician is an invaluable primary source that offers readers a glimpse into the mind of one of America's most important World War II corps commanders.
    Played 39m 46s
  • The Seven Cleopatras Who Ruled Egypt

    18 JUN 2024 · Behind the legendary, singular figure of Cleopatra stood six other women who bore her name. The infamous Cleopatra we think we know was actually the seventh queen in a long line of powerful female rulers whose stories have been lost to history. The seven queens named Cleopatra, ruling from 192–30 BC, defied the stereotype of the nameless, faceless women of antiquity and instead challenged the norms of their time. Today’s guest, Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones unearths the lost stories of all seven monarchs in “The Cleopatras: The Forgotten Queens of Egypt.” Exploring a part of the Hellenistic World often neglected by historians, Llewellyn-Jones brings to life the complicated, tempestuous stories of the seven queens marrying the same man, sending armies into war, and plotting to overthrow their kings for sole rulership. While each Queen Cleopatra encountered a unique set of challenges and ruled with her own set of strengths, each generation influenced the next, culminating in a powerful dynastic line that ultimately transformed the imperial politics of their house into global politics. The Cleopatras shines a light on the six influential yet forgotten Queen Cleopatras and reveals how Cleopatra VII, whose real story disappears beneath the weight of all the stereotypes we pin on her, should be remembered as a consummate politician who learned from the generations of women before her.
    Played 46m 48s
  • Modern Black Ops Warfare Began with a British WW2 Operation to Steal Boats Off Africa’s Coast

    13 JUN 2024 · When France fell to the Nazis in 1940, Churchill declared that Britain would resist the advance of the German army--alone if necessary. Churchill commanded the Special Operations Executive to secretly develop of a very special kind of military unit that would operate on their own initiative deep behind enemy lines. The units would be licensed to kill, fully deniable by the British government, and a ruthless force to meet the advancing Germans. The very first of these "butcher-and-bolt" units--the innocuously named Maid Honour Force--was led by Gus March-Phillipps, a wild British eccentric of high birth, and an aristocratic, handsome, and bloodthirsty young Danish warrior, Anders Lassen. Amped up on amphetamines, these assorted renegades and sociopaths undertook the very first of Churchill's special operations--a top-secret, high-stakes mission to seize Nazi shipping in the far-distant port of Fernando Po, in West Africa. Though few of these early desperadoes survived WWII, they took part in a series of fascinating, daring missions that changed the course of the war. It was the first stirrings of the modern special-ops team, and all of the men involved would be declared war heroes when it was all over. To discuss this unit, dubbed by Churchill “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is today’s guest, Damien Lewis, author of the book by the same name.
    Played 52m 45s
  • The 7 Wonders of the Ancient World Were Colossal, Prone to Destruction, and Not All May Have Existed

    11 JUN 2024 · For millennia, the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World have been known for their aesthetic sublimity, ingenious engineering, and sheer, audacious magnitude: The Great Pyramids of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Temple of Artemis, the Statue of Zeus, the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse at Alexandria. Echoing down time, each of these persists in our imagination as an emblem of the glory of antiquity, but beneath the familiar images is a surprising, revelatory history. Guiding us through it is today’s guest, Bettany Hughes, author of “The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.” She has traveled to each of the sites to uncover the latest archaeological discoveries and bring these monuments and the distinct cultures that built them back to life.
    Played 46m 44s
  • Being the Ultimate Constitutional Originalist in 2024 Means Donning a Tricorn Hat and Applying to Practice Piracy

    6 JUN 2024 · Many decisions impacting the lives of Americans today adhere to a set of rules established over 200 years ago. The Constitution is in the news more than ever as politicians and Supreme Court justices battle over how literally it should be taken.  Did the framers intend for Americans to follow their instructions as written for eternity?  Or did they want to offer a set of guidelines that would evolve as time marched on?  These are the questions today’s guest, A.J. Jacobs, author of the Year of Living Constitutionally, set out to answer. For one year, he committed to living as the original originalist, expressing his constitutional rights using the tools, lifestyle and mindset of when they were written in 1787. He bore muskets. He wrote pamphlets with a goose quill by candlelight. He quartered soldiers. He tried to pay for goods and services with gold. He applied for a letter of marque from Congress, which would make him a legal pirate (a practice that the U.S. government sanctioned during the Revolutionary War). He gave his friends the same gift that George Washington did: a lock of his own hair. This year-long project was Jacobs’ humble attempt to figure out how to interpret the Constitution and whether we can improve the American experiment.
    Played 46m 23s
  • The Last Time Humanity Believed in Unstoppable Progress: Paris in the Belle Époque (1871-1914)

    4 JUN 2024 · Many of the specific features we associate with Paris today – impressive sites like the Eiffel Tower and Sacré Coeur, French cinemas, and even the distinguished Art Nouveau Metro entrances – were born out the period of the Belle Époque. This era, which lasted from the later 19th century up to the beginning of World War I, is oft characterized as one of pleasure, wealth, and beauty. But it was also an era riven by political unrest, plagued by many of the issues the contemporary world contends with today, with the rise of radical political factions that resorted to extreme protests and violence to achieve their This can be seen in the construction of the Basilica of the Sacré-Coeur, symbol of reactionary French Catholicism, and the Eiffel Tower, centerpiece for the Universal Exposition of 1889—both of which were the result of significant technological progress. That progress also brought electricity (Paris became “the city of light”) as well as industrial displacement, already underway with the other construction projects of Baron Georges Haussmann. To explore these themes is today’s guest, Mike Rappaport, author of “”  We explore social pressure from both right and left to address the deepening sense of social injustice and inequalities in the form of violent anarchism and syndicalism.
    Played 46m 45s
  • The Silk Road Travel Adventures of a 16th Century Mughal Princess and Her Massive Royal Retinue

    30 MAY 2024 · To most Westerners, the Mughal Empire is a forgotten stepchild of world history. Even though it produced the Taj Mahal and controlled nearly all modern-day India, the Mughal Dynasty’s accomplishments are crowded out by those of the Romans, Chinese, and British. Nevertheless, it was a great Asian power from the 16th-19th centuries, comparable to the Ming Dynasty in wealth, population, and military strength, dwarfing its European contemporaries. And one of the greatest figures in that empire was Princess Gulbadan (1523-1603), a daughter of the first Mughal Emperor who wrote the empire’s first history.   Gulbadan was a dynamic and influential figure and a trusted advisor to the Empire. She was part of the peripatetic royal household. The Mughals had moved often across long distances, living for extended periods in the open country in royal tents pitched in gardens, and in citadels. But when Gulbadan was in her 50s, her nephew Akbar the Great established a walled harem in his capital Fatehpur-Sikri near Agra — an effort to showcase his regal authority as Emperor. From behind these walls, Gulbadan longed for the exuberant itinerant lifestyle she’d long known.   With Akbar’s blessing, Gulbadan led a remarkable and unprecedented four-year pilgrimage of Mughal women to the distant Muslim Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina and beyond. Amid increasing political tensions, the women were expelled for their “un-Islamic” behavior, a thinly veiled effort to curb Mughal influence in the Holy cities, controlled at the time by the Ottoman Sultans of Turkey. Their travels home included a dramatic shipwreck in the Gulf of Aden.   After her return to India, Akbar asked Gulbadan to record her memories of the Mughal Dynasty to serve as a source for the first official history of the Empire. What she wrote was unparalleled in both form and content. She captured the gritty and fabulous daily lives of ambitious men, subversive women, brilliant eunuchs, devoted nurses, gentle and perceptive guards, captive women, and children who died in war zones.     To explore Gulbadan’s life is today’s guest, Ruby Lal, author of “
    Played 41m 34s
  • The Months Leading up to the Civil War That Inflamed North-South Tensions from Animosity to Murderous Hatred

    28 MAY 2024 · On November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln became the fluky victor in a tight race for president. The country was bitterly at odds; Southern radicals were moving ever closer to dividing the Union, with one state after another seceding and Lincoln powerless to stop them. Slavery fueled the conflict, but somehow the passions of North and South came to focus on a lonely federal fortress in Charleston Harbor: Fort Sumter. In today’s episode I’m speaking to Erik Larson, author of “The Demon of Unrest: A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak, and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War. “ We analyze the chaotic months between Lincoln’s election and the Confederacy’s shelling of Sumter—a period marked by tragic errors and miscommunications, enflamed egos and craven ambitions, personal tragedies and betrayals. Lincoln himself wrote that the trials of these five months were “so great that, could I have anticipated them, I would not have believed it possible to survive them.” At the heart of this narrative are Major Robert Anderson, Sumter’s commander and a former slave owner sympathetic to the South but loyal to the Union; Edmund Ruffin, a vain and bloodthirsty radical who stirs secessionist ardor at every opportunity; and Mary Boykin Chesnut, wife of a prominent planter, conflicted over both marriage and slavery and seeing parallels between both. In the middle of it all is the overwhelmed Lincoln, battling with his duplicitous Secretary of State, William Seward, as he tries desperately to avert a war that he fears is inevitable—one that will eventually kill 750,000 Americans. Drawing on diaries, secret communiques, slave ledgers, and plantation records, Larson gives us a political horror story that captures the forces that led America to the brink—a dark reminder that we often don’t see a cataclysm coming until it’s too late.
    Played 36m 36s
  • LSD’s Origins in Nazi Germany Brain-Washing Experiments, the CIA’s MKUltra Program, and the Dawn of the Psychedelic Age

    23 MAY 2024 · LSD has been banned in the United States for decades and became a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance in 1970, but it has experienced a resurgence among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to overcome mental roadblocks and psychiatrists running tests to use it as a treatment for addiction, PTSD, and other mental illnesses. But what few know is that LSD has its origins in Nazi Germany. The drug was developed in Switzerland in 1943 and quickly acquired and militarized by the Third Reich. The Nazis coopted LSD for their mind control military research—research that the US was desperate to acquire. This research birthed MKUltra, the CIA's notorious brainwashing and psychological torture program during the 1950s and 1960s. Today’s guest is Norman Ohler, author of “” We discuss: ·    How the history of LSD is interwoven with that of the Cold War and its arms race, and how the US government’s introduction to LSD through Nazi research influenced much of the federal government’s early attitudes around it ·    How, in addition to LSD’s militarized misconception from the Nazis, there were other areasof US drug policy influenced by the Third Reich for over half a century ·    How psychedelic research was marginalized and stigmatized for so long by prohibition and the War on Drugs, and how high the hurdles remain today for approval of psychedelic medicine, despite the opportunities—rather than dangers—they represent
    Played 43m 38s

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...

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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.
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