Opinion, Podcast Review

Ra-tan Lines: The End is Always Near

In an era when every YouTuber seems to be making their own podcast, it should come as no surprise that longtime podcasters are themselves seeking new lands to conquer. On the 29th of October, we reached the logical conclusion of that trend. It was on that day that Dan Carlin, perhaps the greatest podcaster ever, published a book. There is, of course, an audiobook edition.

What precisely is the difference between Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History” podcast and the audio version of his recent book, “The End is Always Near”? One might imagine a difference of length, but “Hardcore History” episodes have already been stretching beyond five hours each. Some podcasts have almost no preparation before recording, but “Hardcore History” episodes tend to be researched pretty well, at least for a layman without a professional career as a historian. Each “Hardcore History” episode takes months to create. This commitment to quality is part of what makes “Hardcore History” so unique and so incredible.
A longtime listener might hope that the book and podcast would cover different topics. Alas, this is not so. All the topics covered in “The End Is Always Near” have already been covered in “Hardcore History”. Of course, some of the relevant episodes are rather old and behind a paywall. Someone who has already binged Carlin’s entire archive will find no new material at all. Those who haven’t face a bit of a dilemma: is it better to listen to said material in a podcast or an audiobook? And which of the two is the better purchase?
One of the major differences in the listening experience is the choice of apps, or lack thereof. There is a specific technical standard behind most “regular” podcasts, which allows listeners to use almost any app for almost any podcast. Since the audio is stored as a regular MP3, the apps themselves allow the user to manipulate podcasts in all sorts of ways: one excellent recent example is silence removal, which started as a feature of Overcast but spread to a number of other podcast apps. The Audible app doesn’t have silence removal, though it at least has a speed setting. Hopefully more podcast innovations spread to audiobook software as time goes on.
Dan Carlin’s voice sounds a bit different as well. Even when my podcast speed settings match my Audible speed settings, he seems more formal and perhaps a bit louder. It’s a minor difference to be sure, but one that is noticeable after a few hours of listening. Carlin’s tone of voice also seems a bit more uniformly serious to me.
What really makes “The End is Always Near” different, and perhaps inferior, to “Hardcore History” is the fact that it confines Dan Carlin to a script. The book lacks that conversational flair one gets from the podcast, the feeling that the speaker is nearby or even explaining things to you in person. In the book, Carlin explains every concept in the most artificially succinct way he can, and avoids some of the strange tangents that sometimes consume hours of the podcast. In this way, the content of a five-hour podcast can be compressed into an hour of audiobook. However that hour seems less authentic than the five hours it replaced.
All this increased focus might have been a good thing if this book were a deep dive into a specific topic, but it’s not. While each individual episode of “Hardcore History” has a clearly defined scope, “The End is Always Near” doesn’t. Each chapter hardly connects to the one after it. Although the cover promises “Apocalyptic Moments, from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses”, there is an entire chapter about the rather non-apocalyptic history of child abuse. This chapter has the same title and a good portion of the same information as the “Hardcore History” episode on the same topic.
Ultimately, I cannot say that any individual chapter of “The End is Always Near” was bad. They were good enough in isolation, but were bad compared to their corresponding podcast episodes. They also did not fit nicely into a coherent whole: each chapter seemed disconnected from every other.

“The End is Always Near” is an audiobook, not a podcast, so there are no episodes, intro music, outro music or anything else of the sort. “Hardcore History” continues to exist and receive updates: two massive four or five hour episodes every year. “Hardcore History” is still my favorite podcast of all time, but I will no longer be describing it as being “practically an audiobook series”.

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