Revisionist History ★★
I am not going to mince words about Revisionist History – unfortunately, I don’t care for it despite its high caliber host (Malcolm Gladwell) who is actually pretty great as a radio host. The show claims to revisit events in history where the story has been written and remembered one way, but there is really another side to the story that was lost either at the time of the event or sometime after the occurrence.
I was excited about the premise and the host, but as soon as I listened to the first episode I completely lost interest. “The Lady Vanishes” mixed two stories about art and politics in two different countries, and I was lost very quickly. I may not have the mental capacity to flit from one topic to another and then back to the first easily, and this may be why this show is just not for me. It also didn’t really seem to be about history, and I was immediately confused.
I was introduced to the show by looking at the iTunes chart-I think that means the show was not well marketed which is a shame for someone of Gladwell’s talent. It is part of the Panoply network, and I have not been kind to Slate in the past (see my review for Working) so I guess I’m not surprised at my reaction to this show. Once again, it is a good concept with poor editing.
I hated this article that put so much pressure on the show – what an awful title unless Slate itself gave them this wording. “Serial” level success? Serial went viral-took off on its own because of compelling subject matter and a phenomenal host. It was deliberate and organized at the right times and suspenseful when it was appropriate. Revisionist History’s subject matter could be compelling, but the way the stories are pieced together leaves so much to be desired.
There have been bright spots; three episodes in the middle of the season about various parts of the American school system, mostly focusing on college, bore resemblance to Reveal, a tremendous investigative journalism podcast. Gladwell even added a sprinkle of boisterous personality to the episodes by grilling some of the interviewees in question, which I loved. I really looked forward to each of the next episodes in this series, but I kept thinking – these aren’t really about history … where’s the revision? I just haven’t seen the tie that binds all these episodes together. A more recent episode went down the rabbit hole with Elvis Costello and–fairly unrelated–the song “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. As in the first episode, I just couldn’t focus on what the link was and why Gladwell was going back and forth between the topics.
I know Gladwell doesn’t need me to write a positive review about his work, and I am under no illusion that my subjective opinion would impact his paycheck nor would I want it to because I don’t think this is his fault. I wish that Slate would put much more effort into editing its podcasts so they flow better, make more sense, and maybe even test them with an audience. A podcast should not be hard to pay attention to – no one wants to listen to confusing audio content. For as large of a company as Slate is, I really think they should be putting more effort into their Panoply network. I hope it gets better in the future and that they don’t ruin other shows I really love that they have recently absorbed, like Switched on Pop.
Gladwell certainly tried to shine a light on “history” we don’t know that we don’t understand that well, but it was just too hard for me to listen intently to really have learned much. The Uncertain Hour did a much better job of investigating the story behind something we don’t understand but think we do. Slate – get in touch with APM and figure out how it’s done well.
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Audible Feast Ratings
Educational Value (3 / 5)
Episodes can be educational, but the scripts are so disjointed that it can be difficult to follow over the whole episode. Maybe I’m not the target audience to be educated.
Pop Culture Value (1 / 5)
Host Listen-ability (4 / 5)
Gladwell has a great voice and is very authentic in his narrative – I love when he has a belly laugh.
Flow & Production Value (1 / 5)
Really disconnected flow. Kind of like listening to the stream of consciousness of Gladwell, with no editing.
Humor (1 / 5)
Investigation (3 / 5)
The best episodes were akin to Reveal – investigative journalism – the trio of episodes about college. But those don’t really fit in with the theme of revisionist history, in my mind at least.
Storytelling (1 / 5)
Makes Me a Better Person (1 / 5)
Overall Audible Feast Rating: (2 / 5)
You May Also Like …
15 Minute History, #HERStory, The Uncertain Hour, Reveal, More Perfect, Black History Podcast, Footnoting History, The History Chicks, Stuff You Missed in History Class, Hardcore History
Revisionist History website