Dan Carlin — Hardcore History, Building Podcasts, Creativity, and More (#20)

The inimitable Dan Carlin.
The inimitable Dan Carlin.

Dan Carlin (@hardcorehistory) is the host of my favorite podcast, Hardcore History.

But… what?! History?! I know. I thought the same thing. How could a history podcast have a cult following?

And yet it did. During research for launching The Tim Ferriss Show, I asked many of the top dogs on the iTunes charts: what is your favorite podcast? Almost without exception, the answer came back: Hardcore History.

Since then, I’ve become friends with Dan (and more obsessed with his show), and this episode explores all the questions I’ve been dying to ask him, including:

  • His early experiments
  • What has worked and what hasn’t
  • His habits, rituals, and routines
  • How podcasting became his full-time job
  • His “radio” voice and how to find your own
  • Creativity
  • And much more…

I hope you enjoy it, and listen to at least one episode of Hardcore History. They’re amazing. I’ve included a few of my favorites below.

#20: Dan Carlin - Hardcore History, Building Podcasts, Creativity, and More

You can find the transcript of my interview with Dan Carlin here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

Hardcore History Episodes Mentioned — If In Doubt, Start with “Wrath of the Khans”

Show Notes and Select Links from Episode 20

  • How the concept of Hardcore History evolved into a massively successful podcast
  • The basic ingredients of Hardcore History’s recipe
  • How Dan keeps his signature tangents out of the “blue room”
  • Why he will never do an episode on the history of Southeast India
  • Advice to those searching for their voice
  • The dramatic effect Dan loves that would be part of every episode, if he could do it all over again
  • The upside of Dan’s special brand of masochism
  • Why he likens himself to a street performer on a really busy corner
  • Who really came up with the idea for Hardcore History
  • Dan’s definition of “success”
  • The gateway drugs of Hardcore History


Books Mentioned in This Episode

This podcast is brought to you by The Tim Ferriss Book Club, which features a handful of books that have changed my life. Here’s the list.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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36 Replies to “Dan Carlin — Hardcore History, Building Podcasts, Creativity, and More (#20)”

  1. “Just copyright your faults man!” – another good podcast. It’s good to watch the evolution of the format. I recently rewatched the first series of Big Bang Theory and it’s very true that a show will develop over time. Those early episodes aren’t Big Bang, and yet in a way, they are.

    Keep at it.

  2. This was an awesome episode. Really liked your interaction; your podcast is fast becoming one of my absolute favourites, along with both of Dan Carlin’s. Top notch job, thanks.

  3. Awesome podcast! I love Dan Carlin, wish more politically oriented people would listen to his Common Sense show.

    His Hardcore History is the best podcast on iTunes hands down. And again, really strong interview.

    Great guest Tim.

  4. “Copyright your faults” is up there with Brian Eno’s “Honor thy mistake as a hidden intention.” BTW, you say you’re interviewing him “on the phone”…but this sounds like a good Skype connection. Correct?

    1. Yep, good Skype connection and Dan has a great mic. It’s the mic and understanding of audio that makes the difference. You can have Skype that sounds just like an in-person studio interview, I’m realizing.

  5. I love how Dan is so humble. Sometimes I get sick of the projected ‘positive’ attitude that alot of podcasters have; Dan is real.

    Thanks, Tim

  6. Wow, where to begin. This is another episode chock full of solid gold concepts for self improvement. One that struck me more was about being yourself. Not only will it work for your business endeavors but it’s the same thing with our lives. When you’re trying to get with someone you like, if you don’t act like yourself, the relationship will eventually blow up in your face since you yourself will start not liking that fake you. ALWAYS BE YOUR TRUE SELF! And I think that’s a big problem with a lot of us, that we don’t know who we really are, we don’t know what we like, we don’t know what our passions are. And that’s not to say there’s something wrong, it just points us in the direction of self exploration, so we can discover ourselves and then begin doing the stuff we really love to do.

    Great podcast Tim, I really liked the audio quality also, both you and Dan sounded really clear.

  7. Tim, I have to give you some constructive criticism. What’s with the punctuation abuse that you’ve creeped in recently? It’s hard to read. Question marks and exclamation marks don’t go together. Can you go back to writing quality blog posts? The content is good, but less social media cutesy stuff would be much better. And the use of acronyms, lost me on that one. Some people still love well written English – context from words as opposed to confusion from acronyms. If you could find a way to keep the great content coming (no pun intended with your other post above) and put it in a non social media way it would be splendid and appreciated. I may even say awesome because I would truly be in awe. Thanks for your efforts and future posts.



    1. Jason, a question mark and exclamation point DO go together in a valid punctuation mark of its own. Its called an interrobang. Look it up.

      1. Annredleaf,

        It’s a non-standard crude form of wiritng. I support the glyph if it is really required, not the bang, as it looks tidyer. A question mark is sufficient for a rhetorical question. Not everything needs an exclamation mark – it’s overused. It’s a symptom of the modern world where everyone has to be heard (read) and people are resorting to gimmicks – much like the capitalisation of words when yelling, the overuse of punctuation and forcing opinions onto others. It can be better. Humans are better.

        My question is: does everything have to be a WTF? world? Is everything so un-nuanced now that people can’t envisage things? I just don’t like this creeping into what I feel is good content and an intelligent source of content. If you disagree that’s fine.


        I really enjoyed the podcast. That guy was entertaining. Your questioning was very good and got good answers revealing a lot.


  8. Wow! Dan really is inimitable! Awesome guest and awesome show, really had a lot of fun listening to this one.


  9. Massive! I took my time to listen, and it looks like Dan is a very mellow guy, energetic, honest and he’s using his creative braincells.

    Morning ritual: based on the children schedule. How familiar, haha!

    Great stuff, Tim!

  10. Tim, with this episode you really set the minimum standard for what’s to come as high as you possibly could. This is the best episode so far. Not only is there a lot of value in the information you two share, but you also leave the listener inspired and energized to go create.

    Keep that up!



  11. I haven’t listened to every episode of your show yet, Tim — but man, this was definitely the best one I’ve heard thus far…

    I had NO clue who Dan Carlin was up until this morning. But now I’m a fan for sure. He’s friggin’ hilarious!

    It isn’t often that a podcast (or anything for that matter) is funny + entertaining + educational + inspiring at the same time.

    Keep up the great work.

    Oh, and that segment towards the end where you asked him who he wanted to punch in the face — that’s actually what resonated with me most about the entire episode.

  12. Tim – I love the way you always turn these into educational experiences. Like it’s not just an interesting conversation but one geared toward furnishing the listener with take-aways and lessons and practicable goals. Keep up the good work, buddy!

  13. Great podcast and I am now a subscriber to Tim’s shows.

    I love Hardcore History, although I’m less of a fan of the near constant focus on military history. I think that this can be overdone, even by professional historians. I’m not suggesting we ignore wars, but there are plenty of non-military aspects of the conflicts that aren’t always studied in detail.

  14. Hi Tim I am really, really, really mad at you because of something that happened during this podcast. Did I say really mad? Because I am REALLY MAD!!!! To the point were I waited a couple days to write this. (Don’t worry I’ll get over it) What got me mad was the discussion about Hell in the Pacific and John Bolton. The idea that only frontline combat vets should have a say in going to war is one of those stupid things that people say that results in terrible policy. Even Robert Heinlien gave the vote to any vets not just combat vets. The thing is you do realize that means you as a non-vet also don’t get a vote one when we do go to war as well as when we don’t? Now I know this is goffy and not what he was he was saying. He was saying we should go to war less. Every war we have been in has had protests. We got into WWII so late because of them and it almost cost us the world. You do know there were no anti-war protests during the Vietnam War right? There were pro communist anti US protesters but no anti war. If there were against war and for peace would they have protested the invasion of South Vietnam in 1975 and the Pol Pot regime? Also check out the how much the “Peace Movement” was reveled to have been controlled by Moscow after the fall of the Soviet Union. Or how big the protest were about what we did in Yugoslavia to stop the rape camps and a second genocide in Europe in less then 50 years.

    Tim you’re a philosopher type guy. I am sure that if you saw someone being attacked in front of you would do something to help. And that you wouldn’t consider it moral to just stand by. In the same why do consider it ok no to do something just because it 12,000 miles away. Dan mentioned time travel. It’s 1938 what would you tell someone who says the US should say isolationist?

    I think the thing that made me most mad is that after he said that combat vet stuff you didn’t ask a very important important question of him. “So what branch of the military did you serve in since you were so interested in military history in college?” I did not see any history of service or anything that would have prevented it. Apologies if there is something. I can’t stand these fricken military history buffs who never bloody bothered to put were their countries uniform on and put their dang butt where their mouth is. Maybe I read Starship Troopers a few too many times. It’s like watching a 300 lb girl in spandex leading a aerobics class. (So far I am down 43lbs from 417) He comes off as such a total hypocrite talking about John Bolton being a hypocrite. Oh and I am a US Navy disability retiree with a VA 70% award level non combat Gulf War vet.

    Wont stay mad at you for long love your books. Have bought multiple copies as gifts and to get ticket for Creativelive seminar.

    1. Thank you for the thoughtful comment, John. I appreciate your honest feedback and candor.

      All the best,


      1. TY….I really love your books and podcasts. Just that one topic really pushes my buttons. Funny thing is I probably will still listen to Dan’s podcast because I am a big military history buff. Though my primary interest is weapons development and soldiers everyday live. Hope I didn’t make you feel bad.

    2. This comment rubbed me the wrong way a bit too: superficially clever, but inherently unwise. Taken to the logical conclusion, it suggests that only frontline combat veterans should have the opportunity to be President, SecDef, NSA or SecState. I’m not sure that’s a place where Mr Carlin would be content.

      This is actually the third time that I encountered a case of a very accomplished and clever guest on the podcast put forward an idea that seemed to me to be shallow.

      Maybe as an antidote (or a balancing), a future podcast could feature someone like Clayton Christensen of Innovator’s Dilemma fame, who wrote a book “How will you measure your life”. There’s a lot of wisdom in there.

    3. Dan Carlin is good at telling military history whether he’s a veteran or not. I’m a veteran and I admire his knowledge of non commissioned officers and junior officers and their importance. Usually only veterans know these things. As a prior Navy guy myself, you should be eating less food, being more active, and less opinionated of someone who does an excellent job. The only excellent thing you do is stuff your fat 350lb face shipmate. You shame the USN. Be gone.

  15. This was really great. You were awkward in your praise of Dan Carlin, which was really “human” of you and made me connect more with your podcast than I had with other episodes.

    We so often idolize and forget that people are just people. Some might be busier, richer, or better known — more “out of reach” than others. But we’re all just living our own hustle.

    Thanks for another great show (and for turning me onto Hardcore History).

  16. Thank you. Ive been a fan of Dan since his first Rogan podcast and have listened to him as much as possible. You did a great job touching on details, interests that I hadnt heard before. Makes me want to listen to Wrath and Prophets again! Brilliant stuff.

    Do you have a list of the rapid fire questions you commonly ask? They are great questions.

  17. Tim and Dan, this came perfectly timed, as I noticed a fatigue from productivity and business related information. Great interview, and of course clicked through into Wrath of the Khans. Holy smoke, Batmen, what an experience for someone who NEVER enjoyed history. Accompanies daily walk-in to work now in a month of “sabbatical” and change from my usual practices. Such rich story telling and delivery. Captivate (and donated – I’m on board). Thank you both.

  18. Thanks for the introduction to Hardcore History Tim! It’s fun to hear you as a fanboy. Listened to Wrath of Khan I and it was amazing!

  19. I keep telling everyone Mt. Fuji is 12,365 feet. Unfortunately it says on Mt. Fuji and on Wikipedia that it’s 12,388. Now I feel like my life is ruined and that I should never listen to a podcast again. THANKS TIM FERRISS.

  20. Just Came Across This Great Interview! Huge Dan Carlin fan, and it is great fun to hear him talk about everything that goes into the podcast. Would love a similar interview based on Common Sense!

  21. I was driving cross-country, really enjoying Tim’s podcasts. I had listened to some of the recent ones, but then decided to start from #1. But after the interview with Dan Carlin I immediately switched to listening to Hardcore History (Wrath of the Khans, parts 1-5) and almost wished I had further to go!. I second the other listener: How come I hadn’t heard of Dan Carlin? Thanks Tim, and I’ll get back to your podcasts soon, lol.

  22. Tim, awesome interview with an amazing subject. Prophets of Doom was also my first introduction to Dan Carlin and I found it nothing short of a revelation.