Please note that when I refer to the spoken word here, I’m speaking mainly of podcasts and audiobooks, as opposed to spoken word or slam poetry.
My wife asked me yesterday if I had ever heard someone on a podcast and then felt the need to seek out and listen to everything that person has ever done. Of course I had. The object of my aural affection is Jill Lepore, an acclaimed Harvard historian and also a staff writer for The New Yorker. As a reader of The New Yorker I’ve been intellectually enamored with Lepore for years and have made it a point to read most of what she’s recently written, both in and out of the magazine. On the page her brilliance is apparent, but that doesn’t always translate to the spoken word, so you can image my delight when I first heard her voice. That voice! It’s raspy and I dare say sultry, but also confident and expressive. I could listen to her discuss the historical context of the current pandemic all day! And so I decided to seek out basically every podcast appearance she has ever made.
From her multiple appearances on The Ezra Klein Show, including one in which she actually interviews the host, to The New Yorker Radio Hour, to her interview with Kara Swisher on Recode Decode, Lepore is consistently brilliant and seemingly built for the world of the spoken word. I even listened to her give a talk at the New York Historical Society about The Secret History of Wonder Woman. “Are you kidding me?” I said to myself when I discovered this episode. Jill Lepore, the hottest thing in two ears, discussing Wonder Woman??? Um, yeah, sign me up.
Lepore Officially Enters Into the Realm of the Spoken Word
Assuming I wasn’t the only one with an aural affection for Lepore, I figured it was only a matter of time before she launched her own podcast. My assumptions were proven correct in May when she launched The Last Archive. This show from Pushkin Industries is about the history of truth and in each themed episode Lepore dives into the proverbial last archive to discuss the “facts that matter and matters of fact.” It’s wonderfully entertaining, but also deeply insightful and informative. The use of voice actors is a great touch, but it is, of course, Lepore, who holds things down with insightful analysis and an obvious passion for the subject matter. For a show about history and truth, it just turns out to be more fun than you might expect. I'm a huge fan and would highly recommend digging into The Last Archive.
Now I need to explain to my wife, again, why my audio romance with a brilliant professor from Harvard is completely innocent. Wish me luck!