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If 2020 has taught us anything, it's the power a single year could have on the world. The year 1865 is no exception, especially April of 1865. That's where host Lindsay Graham (who is not the sitting South Carolina Senator) drops us into the storyline, right after Abraham Lincoln's assassination and Vice President Andrew Johnson's rise to power.
Podcast description: “April 15, 1865. President Lincoln is dead and the country in turmoil. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton takes control, determined to bring the assassin to justice—but the hunt for John Wilkes Booth isn’t all that grips Stanton. Lincoln’s successor, Vice President Andrew Johnson, is likely to bend to southern interests and undo the very progress for which Lincoln died. Edwin Stanton must employ every bit of political wile he can muster to secure the future of the freed slaves, and the nation. Consumed by his conviction, Stanton will betray his friends, his honor, and the very constitution he is sworn to protect, all to steer the country towards justice."
Number of seasons and episodes: 1 season, 16 episodes (plus a bonus episode for each providing rich historical details)
Positives: 1865 is an auditory listener's dream, with a full lineup of 38 (yes, thirty-eight!) voice actors playing a variety of roles from Lincoln's assassins to the clashing Southern twang of an irate newly-coronated President Andrew Johnson to Lincoln's chief defender, grizzled Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. I equally do and don't want to see this as a TV show because I'm so stimulated by the fantastic editing and the raw emotion of the voice actors. I have found no podcast that has felt more real in experiencing the history of the moment as I have this one.
Room for improvement: I want a season 2 dropping us in Ulysses S. Grant's rise to power, especially if it could borrow from Ron Chernow's epic tome Grant.
Other reviews: The podcast has a 4.8/5 score from 2,000+ reviews at the time of this article’s publish date. One person who provided a three-star review said “Just finished listening to all of the episodes. I absolutely loved the attention to detail and the artistry of the podcast. However, I am knocking a few stars off because it has just way too many creative liberties with the story. This isn’t history – this is a spin on history. Stanton comes away as the hero when he, in fact, would have shredded the constitution to fit his will. Just like every politician I suppose.” Another who offers five-stars says “This is by far the best podcast I’ve ever listened to. These episodes are so well-acted, produced, and researched. It’s a living history and it’s amazing! Highly recommend to everyone.”
Podcast score: A+
Teacher’s comments: If we think 2020 is a tumultuous time, we know nothing of what 1865 would feel like. The death of arguably our most influential President, his unpopular successor who clashed with his own political party, the reconnection and reconstruction of the South, and the introduction of 4 million new Black citizens is a pivotal year to which tumult knows no bounds. Lindsay Graham and the Wondery/Airship team do a fantastic job of capturing this moment in time in such vivid detail and dialogue that it's hard to escape. While I've had problems with some of his other podcasts (here's looking at you, Wicked Game), it is not hyperbolic to say 1865 is a masterpiece that tells a story not many people know - but should.