Five great things a weird 2017 produced

Published 12:06 pm Friday, December 29, 2017

by John Micek

Give thanks and say hallelujah. Our very weird year is just about in the rearview mirror. Only a handful of days remain before we hit ctrtl-alt-del on the calendar, pop the corks and hope that the New Year is substantially better than the one we just had.

But before we close the books entirely on 2017, I wanted to take a couple of minutes to look back on some of my favorite stuff from the past year, whether that was journalism, music, film or television or whatever.

1. The Washington Post’s “Daily 202” newsletter. From Jim Geraghty’s morning wake-up call at the National Review to David Leonhardt’s opinion digest at the New York Times, this year seemed to be the year that email news digests really seem to have come into their own.

And there’s a pretty simple reason for that: 2017 was the year where all of us, regardless of our political persuasion, were pretty much drinking from a news firehose. Whether it was tax talks, healthcare reform, the Russia probe or the Alabama Senate election, there was barely a second for downtime this year.

And that’s what makes this digest by The Washington Post’s James Hohmann so indispensable. Starting with a “Big Idea” that gives some shape to the themes of the news cycle, Hohmann briskly races through the day’s headlines, offering reported snippets and deeper analysis, links to stories by The Post and other news organizations, and a healthy dose of attitude that often makes you forget that you’re eating your spinach.

2. Hannibal, Hannibal, Hannibal. No, not Lechter, though it would be tempting to think so. I spent the better part of 2017 immersed in biographies of Hannibal Barca, the ancient Carthaginian general famed for his forced march across the Alps and his obsessive (but entirely unsuccessful effort) to topple the still emerging Roman Republic.

The first one was “Hannibal,” by Stanford University classicist Patrick N. Hunt. If you’ve ever caught a History Channel special devoted to Hannibal, the chances are pretty good you’ve caught the sandy-haired Hunt, who’s spent years trying to recreate Hannibal’s path across the Alps. This one reads like a History Channel special, moving briskly to its tragic conclusion: Hannibal’s defeat and the ultimate destruction of Carthage by Roman General Scipio Africanus.

The second is “Hannibal’s Oath,” by historian John Prevas. The title refers to the enduring tale that, when he was just a boy of nine, Hannibal’s father, the Carthagininan general Hamilcar Barca, took him to the ancient city’ main temple, where he dipped his hands in the blood of a sacrificial victim and made him swear to dedicating his life to defeating Rome.

Why Hannibal? The story is one of history’s great What-Ifs. What might have become of western civilization if Hannibal succeeded in toppling Rome? What might the world look like now? And how could one of the great tactical geniuses of antiquity just utterly squander his opportunity?

3. Can’t Miss Podcasts. I found two this year that I’ve added to my “Can’t Miss” list. The first is “The Tides of History,” hosted by historian Patrick Wyman (famed for his “Fall of Rome” podcast — see a pattern here?). A couple times of month, Wyman explains some of the seismic shifts in history that have helped shape the world as we know it now. He’s an an engaging personality and the arguments he raises are just fascinating. 

Then there’s “Puck Soup,” the weekly pro hockey podcast hosted by ESPN’s Greg Wyshinski and Dave Lozo of Vice Sports. This one’s strictly for the puck-heads among you since it ventures deep into hardcore fan territory. On the other hand, it’s the only podcast I listen to that makes me fall off the treadmill because I’m laughing so hard.

4. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” I shouldn’t even have to explain this you. The Force is strong with this one. And it’ll make you forget all about those abysmal prequels.

5. The Guardian’s “Sleeve Notes” email. Yes, another email newsletter. With crack journalists such as Alexis Petridis and Kitty Empire in its stable, the London newspaper is doing some of the best reporting on rock and pop music in the business these days. This weekly email newsletter is a one-stop shop for all the writing that’s been done during the week, from deep dives on obscure musical movements you’ve never heard of (the grime scene in northern England) to top 10 playlists of artists you loved and/or forgotten (Soft Cell, anyone?) to live and CD reviews, it’s one of the best ways I know of to keep on top of what’s going on in rock and pop.

All right, that’s it for now. Happy New Year, and we’ll see you in 2018.

JOHN L. MICEK, an award-winning political journalist, is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at