Q&A: Dan Snow

If you had your very own time machine which period of history would you travel to, and why?

The eighteenth century. I’d sail aboard those ships with their miles of rigging and crew dangling above a boiling sea and marvel at the most sophisticated bits of machinery on the planet. Great fashion as well.

Who’s your favourite historian?

Jill Lepore. The Harvard professor writes history for the moment we’re in. She chronicles the darkness of techno-populism threatening our imperfect yet hard won victories on the rule of law, internationalism and democracy.

If budget and travel were no issue, what TV programme would you most like to make?

A history of the sea: from coracles and dugout canoes to super carriers.

Which political leader do you admire least – and why?

What a time to be alive. Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, Xi, Erdogan, Orban, Johnson. Tough category.

Which political leader do you admire most – and why?

Elizabeth Warren is not a leader, sadly, but she could have been. She had a sense of the moment we are living in. Our environment, economy and democracy need urgent attention and she got it. In the UK I admire individuals like Caroline Lucas, Ruth Davidson, Rachel Reeves, Tom Tugendhat and the meticulous if, sadly so far, ineffective Keir Starmer, but the big exciting battles are being fought from these shores.

Who would you ask to a May Covid- rules picnic of six people?

Hilary Mantel and a slew of Tudor historians.

What keeps you awake at night?

The hellish legion of data that my business churns out every second of every day: Listens, subscriptions, churn, unique visits. It’s brutal. What topic doesn’t get enough media coverage? All the topics apart from the one that happens to be in the crosshairs that day. Environment, AI, policy failure in education and criminal justice, Syria, space junk, the Congo, antibiotic resistance….

If you could give one bit of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Take all your risky decisions early. Your twenties is a great time to fail.

Zoom or telephone?

I actually like zooms. Weird, I know.

What simple pleasure do you rate most highly?

Walking through a beautiful landscape.

What one measure would you take to help the environment?

I’d cover the country in windmills. We put electricity pylons all over the land, so how dare we call windmills ugly?

What one person has had the most influence in your life?

My mum. She taught me how to move through a world of other people with their different quirks, outlooks, motivations and emotions.

What is your fondest childhood memory?

Roaming around my grandparents’ farm in Canada for endless summer days with my cousins.

Who would you appoint as your spiritual guru?

I have never considered the possibility of employing one. I read widely, so don’t have one guru. It’s culty.

If you could appoint a world king or queen, who would it be?

Barack Obama. But even he needs to be just a figurehead. Power to the global parliament please.

What have you learned about yourself during lockdown?

I miss planes more than I thought. The rush of smells, the change of temperature when that airtight door opens – a portal to a new world. I am obviously a bit addicted to travel.

Dan Snow’s History Hit is the UK’s most successful history podcast (available on Amazon, Apple and Google podcasts) with almost a million listens every month


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