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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.

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

The Wild Turkeys of Schleswig

11/25/2022
There are eight American turkeys painted on the walls of Schleswig's Cathedral of St Peter - which is odd... since the frescoes were created two centuries before Columbus even crossed the Atlantic. How did the creatures come to be added to the medieval Biblical scene? Was this proof that the Germans reached the Americas before Columbus? Or do the painted birds tell a different story all together? For a full list of sources used in this episode visit Tim Harford.com See...

Duration:00:41:17

Cautionary Conversation: The Blitz Spirit and the Blackout Ripper

11/18/2022
In a crisis most people respond with decency and solidarity. The bombing of British cities in the Second World War did not cause society to crumble as was expected, but proved instead human resilience. That defiant "Blitz Spirit" is still a source of pride for Britons... but have inconvenient facts about that time been ignored? Alice Fiennes (co-host of the podcast Bad Women: The Blackout Ripper) explains that the chaos and disruption of the bombing allowed some people to commit awful...

Duration:00:36:30

The Inventor Who Almost Ended the World

11/11/2022
Thomas Midgley's inventions caused his own death, hastened the deaths of millions of people around the world, and very nearly extinguished all life on land. Midgley and his employers didn't set out to poison the air with leaded gasoline or wreck the ozone layer with CFCs - but while these dire consequences were unintended... could they have been anticipated? For a full list of sources used in this episode visit Tim Harford.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:42:30

The Halloween Poisoner

10/28/2022
Candy laced with cyanide and needles in marshmallows, we've long been warned to be suspicious of the sweet treats handed out by strangers at Halloween. But it seems that most stories of "Halloween sadism" are just that, stories. No child seems to have been killed by adulterated Halloween candy... well... there is one terrible exception. The poisoned Pixy Stix of Pasadena, TX. For a full list of sources used in this episode visit Tim Harford.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy...

Duration:00:35:23

Cautionary Conversation: The Conspiracy Theorist Who Changed His Mind

10/21/2022
Charlie Veitch was certain that 9/11 was an inside job. The attack on the World Trade Center wasn't the work of Al-Qaeda, but an elaborate conspiracy. He became a darling of so-called "9/11 truthers" - until he actually visited Ground Zero to meet architects, engineers and the relatives of the dead. The trip changed his mind... there was no conspiracy. His fellow "truthers" did not take Charlie's conversion well. David McRaney (host of You Are Not So Smart and author of How Minds Change:...

Duration:00:41:15

Cautionary Tales Presents: Warfare, The Life of Anne Frank

10/14/2022
This week, it's an episode from Warfare, a podcast from our friends at History Hit. It's 1942. The year Anne Frank and her family went into hiding during the Second World War. It was there that Anne began keeping a diary that would become one of the most recognisable testimonies of the Jewish war-time experiences. But what do we know of her life before the war? Host James Rogers explores the Franks' lives before the outbreak of war, and why this story is still so relevant today. You can...

Duration:00:41:01

The Online Date That's Too Good to be True

10/7/2022
Single and looking for love, Dr Robert Epstein found himself chatting with a slim, attractive brunette online. She seemed perfect... perhaps even too good to be true. Dr Epstein is an expert on artificial conversation - so surely he'd be the last person to fall for a computer? Chatbots fool us more often than we think... especially when they replicate our very worst conversational habits. To read more on this topic try Brian Christian’s “The Most Human Human”. For a full list of sources go...

A Leap of Faith From the Eiffel Tower

9/23/2022
Inventor Franz Reichelt wants to test his novel "parachute suit" from as tall a structure as possible - and the Eiffel Tower seems ideal. Previous trial runs used a mannequin strapped to the chute and have not ended well. Despite this, his plan is to make the Eiffel Tower jump himself. Can he be persuaded to see sense? Self-experimentation - particularly in the field of medicine - has a long and checkered history. Can we learn anything useful from such unorthodox experiments, or are they...

Duration:00:37:34

Cautionary Conversation: Flying on Empty

9/9/2022
A meter is longer than a yard. An ounce is heavier than a gram. We harmlessly mix them up sometimes, but a "unit conversion error" when you're filling up the fuel tanks of an airliner can be fatal. Which is exactly what happened to Air Canada Flight 143. Tim Harford talks to mathematician and comedian Matt Parker about how the aircraft came to take off without the proper fuel load, how no one noticed until it was too late, and why such errors give us an insight into just how important maths...

Tim Talks Bicycles with Patented

9/2/2022
Invented in the mid-1800s, bicycles have had enduring popularity. Across cultures, they have been embraced, promising freedom and mobility at a lower price point. Tim joins Dallas Campbell on Patented: History of Inventions, to discuss the history of the bicycle, from the invention story through to bicycle booms, the C5 Sinclair and the rise of dockless bike sharing schemes. If you're interested in the stories behind the world's greatest inventions - from the mighty steam train to the...

Duration:00:42:52

"You’re Not Howard Hughes!"

8/26/2022
By the 1970s Howard Hughes was the "invisible billionaire”. A business tycoon, a daring aviator and Hollywood Lothario, Hughes had an amazing life story... but hiding away in luxury hotels he wasn't sharing his memories with anyone. Then the recluse told a respected publishing house - via intermediaries - that he was working on an autobiography. The book would be a blockbuster... only it was all a lie. For a full list of sources go to timharford.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy...

Duration:00:40:29

"Who would you dine with? Scott or Amundsen?" Malcolm Gladwell and Tim Harford in Discussion.

8/19/2022
Malcolm Gladwell joins Tim Harford to discuss our recent three-part tale about the race to reach the South Pole. There's talk of imperial decline; the power of the underdog; why getting everything you want is actually a handicap; and limes... lots and lots of limes. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Duration:00:28:03

South Pole Race: When the Limeys Get Scurvy

8/12/2022
Polar exploration is dangerous... but trudging hundreds of miles in subzero temperatures isn't made any easier if you're suffering from scurvy. The deadly vitamin deficiency destroys the body and will of even the strongest and most determined adventurer - and it seems that scurvy stuck down the ill-fated expedition of Captain Scott. But scurvy... in 1912? Hadn't the Royal Navy to which Scott belonged famously cracked the problem of scurvy a century before, with a daily dose of lime juice?...

Duration:00:35:36

The Bowery Boys and the Black Tom Explosion

8/5/2022
Cautionary Tales returns next week, but in the meantime enjoy a story of disaster from The Bowery Boys Podcast. It's July 30th 1916, just after 2am, and a massive explosion rips apart the munitions depot on Black Tom, an island off Jersey City. Tons of debris and jagged shrapnel pepper neighboring Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Thousands of windows across New York are shattered, and millions of residents are awoken wondering what had just happened. Was it an accident or German...

South Pole Race: “Mummy, is Amundsen a good man?”

7/29/2022
Roald Amundsen beat Captain Scott to the South Pole. The Norwegian - using dog sleds and skis - made it look easy... fun, even. He was heading home to safety, while the British party - hauling sleds by hand - were struggling to survive out on the ice. In this case, to the victor went a spoiled reputation. The British grumbled that Amundsen had somehow cheated, or had at least behaved in an underhand manner. These stinging accusations would haunt the adventurer until the day he died in the...

Duration:00:38:33

South Pole Race: David and Goliath on Ice

7/15/2022
1910: Two men are racing to be the first to reach the South Pole. Captain Robert Falcon Scott heads a well-financed, technologically-advanced expedition - aiming to reach the pole in the "proper" and heroic way... on foot. Roald Amundsen's effort is more modest, relying on cheap sled dogs to carry him to victory. Scott - for all his money, for all his fancy equipment, for all his backing from the mighty Royal Navy - is doomed to failure in the icy wastes of Antarctica. Why? For a full list...

Duration:00:39:35

Gladwell on Doctors' Prescriptions, Carbon Copies and the Opioid Crisis.

7/8/2022
What if a little bit of extra paperwork could saves lives and perhaps end an epidemic? Enjoy a cautionary tale from our friend and fellow Pushkin host, Malcolm Gladwell. The new season of Revisionist History begins with a half-baked idea of an obscure bureaucrat in the 1930’s and ends with one of the worst public health disasters in American history - the opioid crisis. Stick around to hear Tim and Malcolm discuss the episode and the importance of admitting you're wrong. See...

Duration:00:48:07

Chicago When It Sizzles

7/1/2022
July 1995: A deadly heatwave gripped Chicago - bridges buckled; the power grids failed; and the morgue ran out of space - but some neighbourhoods saw more deaths than others. Sociologist Eric Klinenberg wanted to know why. So he headed to the hardest hit districts and found that social isolation and loneliness played an unsettling role in their heavy deaths tolls. Does the Chicago heatwave teach us that in dealing with climate change we need to consider not just physical infrastructure,...

Duration:00:42:52

Cautionary Tales Presents: Hot Money

6/24/2022
This week, we're sharing an episode from a new podcast brought to you by Pushkin Industries and the Financial Times. The series is hosted by Tim’s colleagues, reporter Patricia Nilsson and editor Alex Barker. In this episode, Patricia and Alex wonder how it's legal for porn sites to host millions of videos uploaded by uses. The answer is in the story of an Ohio family in the early 1990s. Stick around until the end to hear Tim interview Alex and Patricia on their reporting on the shadowy...

Duration:00:56:15

The French Knight’s Guide to Corporate Culture

6/17/2022
France 1346: The army of King Philip VI is Europe's pre-eminent killing machine. It's accustomed to crushing any force stupid enough to oppose it, and now fully expects to annihilate a motley band of English invaders in a field near the village of Crecy. Except as night falls, it is Philip's army that lies broken and bleeding in the mud. What went wrong? The French knights, it seems, had failed to update their corporate culture. For a full list of sources go to timharford.com See...

Duration:00:41:09