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Cautionary Tales with Tim Harford

History Podcasts

We tell our children unsettling fairy tales to teach them valuable lessons, but these Cautionary Tales are for the education of the grown ups – and they are all true. Tim Harford (Financial Times, BBC, author of “The Data Detective”) brings you stories of awful human error, tragic catastrophes, and hilarious fiascos. They'll delight you, scare you, but also make you wiser. New episodes every other Friday.

Location:

United States

Description:

We tell our children unsettling fairy tales to teach them valuable lessons, but these Cautionary Tales are for the education of the grown ups – and they are all true. Tim Harford (Financial Times, BBC, author of “The Data Detective”) brings you stories of awful human error, tragic catastrophes, and hilarious fiascos. They'll delight you, scare you, but also make you wiser. New episodes every other Friday.

Twitter:

@pushkinpods

Language:

English


Episodes
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When the Robots Take Over... - Cautionary Questions

5/24/2024
Tim Harford is joined by Jacob Goldstein to answer your questions. Does winning the lottery make you unhappy? Is Bitcoin bad for the economy? When does correlation imply causation? And what will Tim and Jacob do when the robot overlords come for their jobs? We love hearing from you, so please keep your questions coming: tales@pushkin.fm. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:39:37

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WW2: How Britain Ignored the Mother of All Secrets

5/10/2024
Neatly dressed in his suit, Hans Ferdinand Mayer was every inch the unassuming corporate executive. So, when he asked to borrow a typewriter from his hotel in Oslo, nobody could have guessed he would use it for one of the most extraordinary intelligence leaks in history. Mayer's gloved fingers punched out the details of Nazi Germany's most sensitive military operations and, when he had finished, he immediately dispatched his documents to the British — who did nothing. Why did the British ignore Mayer? Did they fail to pick out a crucial signal amid the noise of detail — or was something else going on? This episode of Cautionary Tales is based, with permission, on Tom Whipple’s book The Battle of the Beams, which is available from all good booksellers. For a full list of sources, see the show notes at timharford.com. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:43:35

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The Fraudster's Guide to Magic Money

4/26/2024
Sam Israel had a problem. The investors in his hedge fund, Bayou Capital, were expecting spectacular returns. Sam himself had spent years proclaiming the fund's brilliant results. But in reality, Sam had been marking his own homework, publishing fraudulent accounts and using these to lure in new investors. What to do? Well, the logical thing of course: wait around for an extraordinary profitable streak, and in the meantime keep up the ruse... This episode of Cautionary Tales was recorded live at the Bristol Festival of Economics and studies three incredible investment scams. How do pyramid and ponzi schemes snowball out of control, flattening victim and fraudster alike? For a full list of sources, see the show notes at timharford.com. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:01:01:09

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Blood and Gold (with Dan Snow)

4/23/2024
Bonus: When Spanish conquistadors arrived in Peru in 1526, it was the beginning of the end for the Inca. Their bloody pursuit of gold, fame and fortune was rife with treachery and deceit. Within a few short years, the once-thriving Inca empire had been decimated. Tim Harford is joined by Dan Snow for a special crossover episode of Cautionary Tales and Dan Snow's History Hit. Tim and Dan first recap the spectacular defeat of the French knights at the Battle of Crécy in 1346, and then draw surprising parallels with the fall of the Inca Empire two centuries later. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:40:24

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The Rise and Fall of a Megalomaniac

4/12/2024
Nicolae Ceaușescu was not beloved. His regime was vicious and he treated Romania as his personal wallet: while Ceaușescu emptied the coffers to construct a vast, ornate palace, his people starved. He imposed disastrous population control policies on his country, too, which saw hundreds of thousands of unwanted children left to rot in squalid orphanages. Ceaușescu's rule endured for a quarter of a century - then crumbled overnight. How do dictatorships unravel? In a second episode, Tim Harford partners with HBO's new series "The Regime" to investigate real-life dictatorships and the social science that explains them. For a full list of sources, see the show notes at timharford.com. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:58:14

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Inside the Bizarre World of Dictators

3/29/2024
Why are so many autocrats germaphobes? Why was the truth so dangerous for Soviet engineers? And what can salami reveal to us about the mind of Vladimir Putin? This is the first of two special episodes in partnership with HBO's new series "The Regime". Tim Harford investigates real-life dictatorships and the social science that explains them, drawing on insights from game theory and psychology. For a full list of sources, see the show notes at timharford.com. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:42:08

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Pushkin Hosts Celebrate World Happiness Day

3/20/2024
The Happiness Lab’s Dr. Laurie Santos brings together other Pushkin hosts to mark the International Day of Happiness. Revisionist History’s Malcolm Gladwell talks about the benefits of the misery of running in a Canadian winter. Dr. Maya Shankar from A Slight Change of Plans talks about quieting her mental chatter. And Cautionary Tales host Tim Harford surprises everyone with the happiness lessons to be learned from a colonoscopy. Hear more of The Happiness Lab HERE. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:48:05

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Do Nothing, Then Do Less

3/15/2024
Chuck Yeager's plane pitched and rolled as it plummeted from the sky. He grappled with the controls inside the cockpit, but to no avail: he couldn't steady the aircraft. The test pilot was known for his nerves of steel but, as the barren Mojave Desert hurtled towards him, even he was afraid. What to do? It's tempting to think that adding to our lives - more action, more work, more possessions - will lead to greater success and happiness. But sometimes doing less is the better option, as Chuck Yeager was to learn the hard way. In their second crossover episode, Tim Harford teams up with Dr Laurie Santos (host of The Happiness Lab) to examine why subtraction can be so challenging and so helpful. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:35:55

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Buried Evil: V2 Rocket (Part 3)

3/1/2024
As US troops approached a Nazi prison camp, they could hear agonized wailing. The stench of rotting flesh filled their nostrils. Moments later they discovered a pile of smoldering corpses, alongside emaciated survivors. Next to the concentration camp they found something else: tunnels filled with tools — and partially assembled rockets. The soldiers had hit upon the evil heart of the V2 manufacturing program: enslaved laborers, imprisoned underground. And the rocket program's director? Wernher von Braun had already fled. He now had just one concern: persuading the Americans to let him switch sides… For a full list of sources, see the show notes at timharford.com. Do you have a question for Tim? Send it to tales@pushkin.fm and we'll do our best to answer it in a Q&A episode. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:39:17

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Into the Black Lair: V2 Rocket (Part 2)

2/16/2024
In the 1920s, Germany’s Society for Spaceship Travel boasted some of the sharpest scientific minds – like the incandescently brilliant young Wernher von Braun. But it had very little money, and progress was slow. Then, in 1932, the army made a proposal: it would fund more serious research if the enthusiasts at the Society would develop a rocket weapon. Despite a string of failures to launch, von Braun was able to convince key powerbrokers in Nazi Germany that they couldn’t afford to ignore rocket technology. How did he do it? And what happened when the murderous Heinrich Himmler made a play for the rocket program? For a full list of sources for this episode, visit timharford.com. Do you have a question for Tim? Send it to tales@pushkin.fm and we'll do our best to answer it in a Q&A episode. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:38:24

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Supersonic Nazi Vengeance: V2 Rocket (Part 1)

2/2/2024
At the height of World War Two, British intelligence began receiving reports that the enemy was developing a rocket weapon. The idea seemed fantastical — resources in Nazi Germany were scarce and a rocket-building program defied economic logic. But one intelligence chief took the reports of a rocket weapon seriously and he managed to convince Winston Churchill to heed the threat too. The British Prime Minister gave the order to bomb Germany’s rocket factory to rubble, and 600 bomber planes embarked on a full-scale attempt to obliterate it. From the air, the damage appeared devastating. The British thought they had succeeded in crushing the rocket-building program. But they were wrong. For a full list of sources, see the show notes at timharford.com. Do you have a question for Tim? Send it to tales@pushkin.fm and we'll do our best to answer it in an upcoming Q&A episode. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:36:16

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Tenerife: The Most Deadly Air Disaster

1/30/2024
Teaser: In 1977, two planes collided on the runway at Tenerife Airport. Why did the crash happen? And, given that it took place on the ground, why didn't more people escape? In this new two-parter, Tim Harford explores the most deadly aviation accident in history. Both episodes are available now, ad-free, exclusively for subscribers to Pushkin+. If you're not already a subscriber, you can sign up for Pushkin+ on our Apple podcasts show page, or at pushkin.fm/plus. Do you have a question for Tim? Send it to tales@pushkin.fm and we'll do our best to answer it in an upcoming Q&A episode. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:04:02

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Martin Luther King, the Jewelry Genius, and the Art of Public Speaking (Classic)

1/19/2024
One speechmaker inspired millions with his words, the other utterly destroyed his own multi-million-dollar business with just a few phrases. Civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr (played by Jeffrey Wright of American Fiction, Westworld and The Hunger Games) and jewelry store owner Gerald Ratner offer a stark contrast on when you should stick to the script - and when you should take a risk. We're taking a short rest on Cautionary Tales this January. We'll be back again in February, with a treasure chest of gripping, hair-raising tales for your ears. While you wait, we wanted to share some classic episodes from the Cautionary Vault - this is one of our favorites. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:36:49

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DANGER: Rocks Ahead! (Classic)

1/5/2024
Torrey Canyon was one of the biggest and best ships in the world - but its captain and crew still needlessly steered it towards a deadly reef known as the Seven Stones. This course seemed like madness, but the type of thinking that resulted in this risky maneuver is something we're all prone to... We have a treasure chest of Cautionary Tales to bring you in 2024, but first we need to take a short rest. This week we're taking you all the way back to the start, with a classic episode from our Cautionary Tales vault. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:34:19

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When Stalin Killed the Weekend (with The Happiness Lab)

12/22/2023
What if you could never have the same day off as your family and friends? Would you quit your job? What if it was the murderous dictator Joseph Stalin giving you the order? The Soviet Union wanted its factories to run every day, all year long. And so, in 1929, Stalin killed the weekend: workers were prevented from all taking the same day off at the same time. In this crossover episode of Cautionary Tales and The Happiness Lab, Tim Harford and Yale professor Dr Laurie Santos tell the story of Stalin's curious, calendar-reshaping experiment. They explore what it can teach us about time off even today, and why the holidays matter so very much. For a full list of sources, visit timharford.com. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:36:29

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How the Radium Girls Fought Back

12/8/2023
Cautionary Book Club: Mollie Maggia's dentist planned to remove a painful abscess from her mouth. But to his horror, her jawbone disintegrated at his touch, crumbling and splintering until it resembled ash. Like hundreds of her colleagues, Mollie had been slowly poisoned by her work with glowing radium dust. Eight months after her first toothache, she was dead. In the previous episode, Cautionary Tales told the story of the "Radium Girls". Their employers ignored the horrific side effects of these women's work, resorting to obfuscation and even outright lies to deny their claims that they were getting sick. In this follow-up interview, Tim Harford sits down with Kate Moore, author of The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women. Tim and Kate discuss how the women banded together and worked out what was happening to them, as well as how they fought back against their powerful bosses and their monumental legacy. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:40:46

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Glowing Peril: The Magical Glitter That Poisoned a City

11/24/2023
In Goiânia, Brazil, a junk dealer acquires an old medical device from two scrap-metal scavengers. The device itself isn't useful, but it comes with precious lead which will fetch him good money. There's something else inside the device, too: a curious, crystal-like substance that glows bright blue in the dark. At first, the dealer is mesmerized by it: he wants to turn it into jewelry for his wife. But, everyone who comes into contact with the magical glitter seems to get sick. His own family succumbs to nausea and vomiting. A doctor suggests food poisoning - but this isn't like any food poisoning they've ever known before. And soon, the whole city is contaminated. No-one saw this horrifying radiation accident coming. Should they have? For a full list of sources, please see the show notes at timharford.com. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:35:58

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George Washington's Beard of Beetles (with The Dollop)

11/17/2023
Cautionary Conversation: Just before Christmas 1799, President George Washington was riding around his country estate, Mount Vernon, when it began to snow. When he arrived home, guests were waiting for him. Known for his punctuality, he hurried to entertain them - still clad in his damp clothes. The next morning, Washington had a sore throat and a chesty cough. His family decided to take a fateful step: they summoned a doctor. Tim Harford is joined by comedians Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds, hosts of the hugely popular history podcast The Dollop. They discuss the parade of doctors that tended to the ailing Washington, and the various remedies they prescribed - from lamb's blood to a collar of beetles. Tim, Dave and Gareth also look at what happened when cars first hit the streets in the early twentieth century: why did so many cars "turn turtle"? Who were the first jaywalkers? And which British inventor rode around in a giant white stiletto? See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:28:05

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Laser Versus Parchment: Doomsday for the Disc

11/10/2023
William the Conqueror undertook a remarkably modern project. In 1086, he began compiling and storing a detailed record of his realm: of where everyone lived, what they did and where they came from. 900 years later, the BBC began its own Domesday project, sending school children out to conduct a community survey and collect facts about Britain. This was a people’s database, two decades before Wikipedia. But just a few years later, that interactive digital database was totally unreadable, the information lost. We tend to take archives for granted — but preservation doesn't happen by accident; digitisation doesn’t mean that something will last forever. And the erasure of the historical record can have disastrous consequences for humanity... For a full list of sources, please see the show notes at timharford.com. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:39:27

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Cautionary Tales Presents The Dream

11/6/2023
On The Dream, host Jane Marie gets to know the life coaches and gurus who claim they know the secret to living our best lives. Is it all in our mindset? Or our privilege? Or are we all under a spell? Tim Harford is joined by Jane Marie to talk about who coaching works least well for. Turns out it’s the exact people who could benefit most from it, according to the industry. Dr. Sherman James and Dr. Arline Geronimus discuss the downsides of positive thinking, bootstrapping, and mindset culture. For some people, striving has negative impacts on health and happiness. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:45:58