Mike Duncan (podcaster)
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Mike Duncan in his study (2013)
|Alma mater||Western Washington University (B.A.)|
Texas State University
|Occupation||Podcaster, author, historian|
|Known for||The History of Rome, Revolutions|
Mike Duncan is an American political history podcaster and author. A self-described “complete history geek” grew from an interest in ancient civilizations as a child, with a particular affinity for Roman history. After not finding any Roman history podcasts in 2007, Duncan began The History of Rome. The podcast concluded in 2012. A year later he began Revolutions. Each season of the podcast focuses on one revolution. In 2017, Duncan wrote The Storm Before the Storm, which was well reviewed and appeared on The New York Times Best Seller list.
Duncan was born in Redmond, Washington, and attended Western Washington University, attaining a degree in Political Science with a minor in Philosophy. He is an avid fan of the Seattle Mariners baseball team.
Aside from podcasting and writing, Duncan is currently a stay-at-home dad. Earlier in his career, he worked as a fishmonger; he was in the fish trade most of the time he was recording The History of Rome. Duncan also occasionally creates political comic strips in collaboration with illustrator Jason Novak.
In 2018 Duncan relocated to Paris, France in order to do research for an upcoming book on the Marquis de Lafayette. During the course of The History of Rome, Duncan married and made a special The History of Rome episode on Roman wedding customs in celebration. Duncan and his wife have a son, daughter, and two pets.
Interest in history
Duncan’s interest in Roman history grew from a “general interest in ancient civilizations”. As a child, he would often flip through his parents’ encyclopedia set to the entries on Ancient Egypt or Ancient Greece, the Maya, the Inca, etc. The largest and most encompassing of those civilizations to Duncan was always the Romans. Mike became especially interested in Roman history while reading his grandfather's paperback version of Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Describing himself as “a complete history geek”, Duncan also has a huge interest in American history. He believes the greatest difference between America and Rome is that compared to Rome, America has only spent a short time on the world stage. Despite studying political science in college, Duncan spent much of his free time studying ancient Greek and Latin texts. "I sort of stumbled into it, so I was reading a ton of Livy at the time, and a ton of Suetonius, and then I had just gotten into Tacitus."
Regarding modern history, Duncan has predicted that Silicon Valley may be seen in the future as groundbreaking as the Renaissance was, stating that “we have lived in the last twenty years through some of the most impressive advances in human civilization.”
The History of Rome
Duncan began The History of Rome in 2007, after failing to find any good podcasts about ancient history. The project turned into an award-winning weekly podcast which aired for 179 episodes until 2012 and was downloaded more than 100 million times.
Revolutions has aired since September 15, 2013. The podcast covers modern political revolutions, beginning with the English Revolution. Each season is dedicated to one revolution or revolutionary wave and discusses the revolution through a chronological narrative approach like in his podcast The History of Rome, but the shorter time periods and longer episode length for each season allow greater detail for individual events. Seasons begin with one or two episodes dedicated to the pre-history of the revolution and its causes, sometimes highlighting when and how the revolution could have been avoided. Initially, Duncan planned to limit his podcast to 12-15 episodes per revolution, but he ran over that self-imposed limit with the English Civil War and the American Revolution and decided to give up on it for the French Revolution, which ultimately ended up being 54 episodes not counting supplemental episodes. The series has covered the English Civil War, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, Simon Bolivar and Gran Colombia, the July Revolution, the Revolutions of 1848, the Paris Commune, the Mexican Revolution, and the Russian Revolution, which in January 2020 was announced to be the show's last.
Revolutions also has supplemental episodes that are special episodes not counted in the normal number of episodes and of varying length compared to roughly half-hour normal episodes – some of them focus in depth on a particular topic or person, while others are verbatim reproductions of historical texts such as the United States Declaration of Independence or the French Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen.
Duncan drew inspiration for the Revolutions podcast out of a deep personal interest from his teenage years, "When I was really getting into history when I was a teenager, the American Revolution was my favorite period of American history. I spent a whole period of time being really into the Russian Revolution." As he had done with The History of Rome podcast, Duncan has run a series of tours to accompany the podcast which visit historical sites mentioned on the show. Publications including Time, Popular Mechanics, and The Guardian  have included Revolutions on their lists of recommended podcasts. Benjamin Wittes, after hearing the first two episodes of Revolutions, called the podcast "informative, engaging, told in Duncan's usual easygoing, somewhat comic style that packs a lot of history into relatively brief discussions". The introduction to each episode is a clip from Joseph Haydn's Symphony 92 (Oxford).
Seasons of Revolutions
- English Revolution, aired September 2013 to January 2014 (16 episodes, 4 supplementals)
- American Revolution, aired February to May 2014 (15 episodes, 2 supplementals)
- French Revolution, aired July 2014 to November 2015 (55 episodes, 5 supplementals, 1 PSA)
- Haitian Revolution, aired December 2015 to April 2016 (19 episodes, 1 supplemental)
- Spanish American wars of independence, aired June 2016 to February 2017 (27 episodes, 1 supplemental)
- July Revolution, aired March to May 2017 (7 episodes, 5 supplementals)
- Revolutions of 1848, aired July 2017 to April 2018 (33 episodes, 0 supplementals)
- Paris Commune, aired from May 2018 to June 2018 (8 episodes, 0 supplementals)
- Mexican Revolution, aired August 2018 to March 2019 (27 episodes, 0 supplementals)
- Russian Revolution pt 1, aired from May 2019 to April 2020 (39 episodes, 0 supplementals)
- Russian Revolution pt 2, airing from January 3, 2021 to present.
The History of Rome: The Republic
Duncan published The History of Rome: The Republic, a collection of edited transcripts from the first 46 episodes of the podcast, opening with the founding of the Roman Kingdom and ending with the breakdown of the Roman Republic.
The Storm Before the Storm
On October 24, 2017, Duncan published The Storm Before The Storm, a non-fiction work which explores Rome between 146-78 BC, the period predating the end of the Roman Republic. It entered the New York Times best seller list Hardcover Non-Fiction on the eighth place during its first week. In an interview with the Washington Post Worldview, Duncan claimed his aim for the book was to 'pull back two generations' (from the time of Caesar) 'and ask, “What was it that opened the cracks in the foundation of the Republic?”'
The book received widespread praise, with many reviewers noting how the events described in the book portend to modern times. Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare Blog wrote "Never has a book about history that's two millennia old been so timely...You'll learn as much about the problems we face today from this book as from any newspaper", and a review in the Huffington Post praised his "congenial style", claiming that he "zeros in on Rome’s polarization between “optimates” (conservatives) and “populares” (populists), the disintegration of participatory democracy, and the concomitant rise in inequality, uncivil discourse, and violence. The parallels with modern times, and particularly contemporary America, leap off the page".
Hero Of Two Worlds
Duncan is currently writing his third book, Hero Of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution, about the Marquis de Lafayette during the American Revolution and the French Revolution. It is set to be released in the end of August, 2021.
Benjamin Wittes directly modelled the introduction to the Lawfare Podcast on The History of Rome. Robin Pierson's podcast The History of Byzantium was explicitly modelled after The History of Rome in style, length and quality and was intended by Pierson to act as a sort of sequel to it. Similarly, Peter Adamson mentioned Duncan as one of the reasons he started his History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast. Rian Johnson was listening to the History of Rome podcast as he was writing the script for Star Wars Episode VIII. In a Wall Street Journal article Johnson states:
The stories have a lot of similarities. They’re about family dynamics and family politics. They’re about war and the mechanisms of war. You’ve got characters like Nero who are these insane, larger-than-life, operatic madmen driving their country to ruin. It’s very timely.
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- "About The History of Rome".
- "The Jonah Keri Podcast: Mike Duncan". CBSSports.com. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
- Yglesias, Matthew (2015-11-09). "How Mike Duncan turned a passion for history into a podcasting career". Vox. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
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- "PodcastSquared Interview". Archived from the original on 2013-10-08.
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- "Podcast Awards - Past Winners 2005-2016". www.podcastawards.com. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
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- Thomsen, Michael. "Podcasts Are Doing To Advertising What Uber Has Done To Transportation". Forbes. Retrieved 2017-04-23.
- "The Best History Podcasts to Listen to Right Now". Time. Retrieved 2020-01-06.
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- Wittes, Benjamin (24 September 2013). "Revolutions Podcast". LawFare.
- "Revolutions Bibliography". Revolutions. Retrieved 2020-11-23.
- Duncan, Mike (29 November 2015). "4.0 Another Revolutions Podcast Update". Revolutions Podcast. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
- "Revolutions". Revolutions. Retrieved 2017-04-25.
- "9.25 Loyalty and Betrayal". Revolutions. 24 February 2019. Retrieved 2019-03-05.
- "Mike Duncan on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 2020-12-11.
- Duncan, Mike (2016). The History of Rome: The Republic. Herodotus Press. ISBN 9780692681664.
- "The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic". Kirkus Reviews. PublicAffairs. 21 August 2017. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
- "Hardcover Nonfiction Books - Best Sellers - November 12, 2017 - The New York Times". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
- Tharoor, Ishaan (30 October 2017). "How the Republic starts to fall". Washington Post. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
- Sauter, Vanessa (4 November 2017). "The Lawfare Podcast: Populisms Ancient and Modern with Mike Duncan". Lawfare. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
- "5 HOT BOOKS: A History of Bunk, the Fall of Rome (with Modern Parallels) and More". Huffington Post. 16 November 2017. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
- "Mike Duncan - IMDb". IMDb. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
- Wittes, Benjamin (24 September 2013). "Revolutions Podcast". Lawfare. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
- "AMA with the host of The History of Byzantium podcast". WhatPods. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
- Slaney, Rowan (2017-05-26). "Revolutions, self-help and the election – podcasts of the week". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
- Kornelis, Chris (2018-01-11). "How Rian Johnson Kept His 'Star Wars' Script From Leaking Online". Retrieved 2019-12-21.