Can’t stop being a little bit Christian
"The Rest is History" is a podcast hosted by two Oxbridge-educated Englishmen.
It’s no mean feat, telling the truth about history. History is politicized, covering contested terrain. It’s often told solely by the victors. It’s often grim, and sifting through the bones and ashes isn’t always the happiest endeavor. And it’s often received with a kind of snooty modern superiority.
All that said, it’s important to carry on going back to the past, because it’s of utmost importance to know where we come from. The former history major in me takes that as axiomatic, anyway. In that spirit, I’d like to take some column inches here and commend to you my favourite podcast.
The Rest is History is hosted by Dominic Sandbrook and Tom Holland, two Oxbridge-educated Englishmen. Their friendship is palpable, which is half the delight of listening in. Over the past couple years, the podcast has built an impressive following, recently charting at #1 in the UK, with downloads in excess of 50 million. Sandbrook and Holland both have their areas of expertise; the former writing much about mid-century British history, and the latter covering the ancient world and the medieval era. The podcast itself – nearly 300 episodes thus far – covers a similarly vast terrain.
My first introduction was an episode examining whether the depiction of the Middle Ages in Game of Thrones was accurate (it is, according to Holland, rather not). Since then I’ve relished their short series on the fall of the USSR and the rise of Putin, speculations on the historical influence of the Beatles, the history of childbirth, the history of drink, and a delightful World Cup series which gave attention to the history of each country in the competition (the episode Switzerland: Calvin’s Cancel Culture was great fun).
Deep Christian values
Over Christmas the duo explored, in a two-episode series, the “history” and “mystery” of Jesus. I found much in those episodes that illuminated and opened up my understanding of Jesus and his surrounding circumstances. Some of it raised my eyebrow, too – it’s fascinating to see sacred and secular ways of telling history collide. As I say, contested terrain.
On that score, the religious sensibility of the show is worth noting. Neither Holland nor Sandbrook are Christians, but Christianity often takes centre stage in the podcast, particularly when Holland is the raconteur. Holland’s abiding thesis, across the episodes, is that Christianity is the very substrate of our culture, and so much of what we value – our understanding of the dignity of the human person, or understanding of justice, etc., etc. – is rooted in that fact. Smug moderns don’t always tell the tale thus, so it’s a gift to have Holland bring it to mind. Indeed, someone recently speculated on social media that through his insistence on this thesis, Holland may be – despite his unbelief and perhaps rather unwittingly – the most significant Christian evangelist of our time. A provocative idea. For that reason, and more, I heartily recommend The Rest is History.
This article was first published in our February 6, 2023 issue with the title: “Taking Account.” If you like that title better, you might also enjoy reading CC in print!