Imagine you are driving to work. It’s late April and as of yet, there have only been but a few snippets of a summer yet to come. It’s cold, it’s rainy and traffic is worse than usual. You will likely be seeing the red of the brake lights in your sleep when the day is finally over and you rest your weary head on your pillow. The news of the day has become problematic, become an albatross that is dragging down your mood in the morning. You find yourself in need of a break, in desperate need of some sort of escape that can help take your mind off of not just your current situation, but the world around you.
Thankfully there’s the podcast American History Tellers, a new podcast series from Wondery. The show is a deep dive into various eras in history. Season one covered the Cold War, season two hit Prohibition and season three, the current season that is just over halfway through, is covering the Age of Jackson, the first half of the 1800’s in America. The podcast isn’t a normal look back at U.S. history as it approaches the historical events covered from the streets, using the perspective of role players to tell the stories of the stars you likely already know about. At the start of every episode and then sprinkled throughout, the show’s host Lindsay Graham not only provides clarification that he’s not that Lindsay Graham, but a setting of a time and place and a set up of someone in the general vicinity of something being brought up in that episode.
For instance, you’re sitting at a diner and you watch the dude behind the counter get busted for selling booze or you’re a low level Congressman wrestling with the decision whether or not to vote for President Jackson’s Indian Removal Act or you answer the door and are greeted by FBI agents, asking you if you think your neighbor might be a Communist. The gimmick comes so dangerously close to being cheesy, but never does. It becomes endearing; a hook that gets you every time and immediately draws you into that particular episode.
Each episode of American History Tellers moves quickly, yet is still able to be packed with facts and historical anecdotes. Graham’s voice is soothing and relaxed, but not so laid back that it can be tuned out. His voice is the kind of story-telling voice that is inviting and hospitable, politely encouraging you to travel with him as he un-spools yarn after historical yarn. The episodes are written by certifiable smart people, lending some weight to the proceedings. It’s entertaining, yet educational, but also able to only be entertaining if that’s what you want. A good deal for everyone involved.
And while yes, the podcast does provide an escape from the current news of the day, it’s not one hundred percent escapism because it’s not hard to draw parallels and see similarities between the stories they are telling and the ones being reported on the news. The show’s producers reportedly elected to kick things off with the Cold War in the wake of rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. The second season’s examination of Prohibition was lighter in tone than season one, but it spent time equally calling to mind the HBO show Boardwalk Empire and the current Administration’s penchant for blaming the problems in America on others, something that helped lead to Prohibition happening. In season three, the connections are even clearer and not only because of President Trump’s self-proclaimed affection for the show’s main character, President Andrew Jackson, but because of Jackson’s populist rise to power and how it mirrors the way in which Trump came to power.
Future seasons are set to explore the Gold Rush, the Space Race, the American frontier, the Spanish-American War and the history of America’s national parks.