Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day!

Status Update: A little over 26K words into my current project, a middle grade novel about a young drummer boy in the Civil War. A little more than halfway to my goal of 50K words for the first draft. At this rate, I'll finish it sometime in 2012, maybe--but I've set a goal to have the first draft finished by September, and have it polished and ready to sell by January. I'll track my progress here, and we'll see how I do.

Now for my second podcast review, this one on Tony Cocks's Binge Thinking History. Aside from the very cool name--I, for one, have often gone off on thinking binges--Tony brings history to life from a different perspective than the one we Americans often get. See, Tony is British, and he unapologetically brings us the British version of events. He's a little more into dates and facts and names than Dan Carlin, but his podcasts are rich in historical detail, just chock-full of the kind of stuff that brings history to life in the classroom. His podcasts, instead of being single-episode treatises focused on a central theme, are long, in-depth investigations that stretch over four or five or six episodes.

And as I have already mentioned, his point of view is definitively British. His podcasts explore the kinds of subjects nerds like me tell ourselves we'll read about when we have time, then never make the time. His most recent subject is a multi-part discussion of the history of the British navy; in six episodes so far, he's up to Nelson and Trafalgar. Before that was a five-part history of the Battle of Britain. And before that--to me, his most interesting subject so far--was a history of Britain's evolution from feudal monarchy to constitutional monarchy, and the gradual erosion of the king's power in favor of something that looks today much like a representative democracy.

And most interestingly, he contends that Simon de Montford--as the leader of Britain's first Republican revolt--and Oliver Cromwell--as the first prime minister who dared to assert Parliament's power over the king's, and won a civil war over the question--should be added to the list of the United States' founding fathers. I can't say I'm entirely convinced, as our founding fathers tend to have been contemporaries with each other, after all, but he makes a strong case. His history certainly does much to show where our founders got their crazy ideas.

And after all, isn't that what history is about? Ideas don't just spring fully formed out of the minds of those we give the credit for them. Like hailstones or snowballs or glaciers, they start small, get passed on from one person to the next, and each one adds a little bit to them until they become forces unto themselves. Ideas don't do anything without people to understand them and take action and make them work, but when the right people get their brains around the right ideas at the right time, they change the world.

I'm happy to recommend Tony's podcast to anybody searching for something new. Tell him I sent you his way. And don't tell me if his only reaction is "Who?"

Happy Independence Day, folks. I'll be hunting for Simon de Montford and Oliver Cromwell in the fireworks tonight.