Malcolm Gladwell has a podcast. Some of you will require no further information, and in fact have already clicked over to iTunes (or another podcast downloading application of your choice), desperate to download the first episode. Allow me to inform those cooler heads who remain that Revisionist History won’t begin its ten-week run, with one episode out per week, until June 16th. (Update: The first episode is now live and you can stream it below.) But you can subscribe right now (iTunes – Stitcher – RSS), and while you wait over the next few days, you can listen to the preview that Gladwell has already posted.
You can also get a little a taste of Gladwell’s new project by watching the trailer at the top of the post. “Every week, I’m going to take you back into the past,” Gladwell promises in the video’s narration, “to examine something that I think has been overlooked and misunderstood.”
He gets into more detail on the Brian Lehrer Show segment below, in which he describes the first episode of Revisionist History as about the question of what it means to be “the first outsider to enter a closed world,” starting from the career of British painter Elizabeth Thompson, whose 1874 canvas The Roll Call became, for a time, the most famous image in the country. It broke its female artist into the male-dominated world of painting, and seemed, for an even shorter time, to herald a new era rich with high-profile female painters. “Everyone waits and waits for the revolution to happen,” Gladwell says, already into his characteristic storytelling mode, “and it never happens.”
Lehrer reacts to Gladwell’s choice of the story of “the first woman to break through in a male-dominated field” with the obvious question: “Is that a coincidence?” It is absolutely not a coincidence, Gladwell replies, going on to connect the phenomenon in question to not just modern figures like Hillary Clinton but Barack Obama, Julia Gillard, and Margaret Thatcher as well, and in the podcast itself surely many others besides. He also hints at an episode later in the season that begins with an obscure Elvis Costello song — and a “terrible” one at that, he adds — and uses it “as a way of finding out how creativity works, and how an awful lot of what we consider works of genius had an incredibly circuitous path to greatness,” ending up at a gallery looking at Cézannes.
You can sign up for episode updates at the official Revisionist History site. The show comes as a product of Panoply, the podcast network of The Slate Group, and its first season promises slick production in addition to the kind of compelling stories and memorable social-science insights with which Gladwell has made himself famous. And we shouldn’t ignore his talent for marketing, either, fully in evidence from nothing more than the tagline he speaks in the trailer: “Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance.” All this together sounds like more than a good reason to give his podcast a first one.
Revisionist History is listed in our new collection, The 150 Best Podcasts to Enrich Your Mind.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.