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What I'm Listening to: Revisionist History

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"Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance."

The Podcast

Malcom Gladwell, bestselling author of books such as The Tipping Point, Outliers, and most recently David and Goliath has made a splash in the world of podcasting. His new show, Revisionist History, focuses on retelling stories from the past with a new and unique perspective. Gladwell takes interesting, hidden or ignored aspects of historic events and fashions them into clear, captivating narratives. It sounds obvious, but the great podcasts are often written by great writers and Gladwell is one of the best to take up this new medium.

Gladwell isn't just good at writing stories, he's also great at narrating them. His delivery and the overall production quality of the show are superb, comparable with the most well-respected podcasts out there.

While the topics seem somewhat banal on the surface, things like Wilt Chamberlain and a one-hit-wonder painter, the deeper themes include the idea of minority "tokenism", biased interpretations of data and why we willfully make poor decisions. Fascinating stuff.

Another interesting aspect of Gladwell's new show is that it is a limited-run series of just ten episodes. Many podcasts suffer because they lose steam after their initial momentum or lack long-term planning. Others feels rushed to meet the weekly, or even daily turnaround time. Still others deteriorate because the creator starts to burn out after over time. Limited-run podcasts address all these issues. However, platforms like iTunes cater more strongly to ongoing show subscriptions rather that short-term podcasts. It will be interesting to see if the success of this show will encourage the growth of limited-run podcasts.

As one would expect from a show called Revisionist History this podcast isn't without it's biases. I don't recommend it as a purely neutral, even-handed history lesson; if you can't deal with a bit of an agenda steer clear. However, I DO recommend Revisionist History as a entertaining and thought-provoking look at small moments in history.

The Cover Art

Revisionist History Cover Art
Revisionist History Cover Art

As much as I've been enjoying this new show from Panoply, I can't say the same about the cover art unfortunately. The "Malcolm Gladwell" "logo" is so large that it actually overpowers the title of the show. When you throw in the Panoply branding it makes for a very busy cover that leaves the viewers' eyes wondering where to look. I understand the intention to take advantage of the Gladwell brand but it's just way too much here.

The concept of the title text becoming unclear as you near the edge of the words is fine, but the execution is a lacking. It appears that someone just lazily hit the text with the liquify or smudge tool in Photoshop. I can't help feeling that this design really would have benefitted from another round of sketching and revising.

It's not all bad, the typography is very readable and the simple color scheme helps. The cover retains clarity and legibility even at small thumbnail sizes. The design just does not stand up to the amount of refinement and polish that are on display the podcast itself.

ReviewsZach Magnuson