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Cautionary Tales

Author: Pushkin Industries

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We tell our children unsettling fairy tales to teach them valuable life 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 “Messy” and “The Undercover Economist”) brings you stories of awful human error, tragic catastrophes, daring heists and hilarious fiascos. They'll delight you, scare you, but also make you wiser.


18 Episodes
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How To End A Pandemic

How To End A Pandemic

2020-07-1726:479

The eradication of smallpox is one of humanity's great achievements - but the battle against the virus was fought by the most unlikely of alliances. How did the breakthrough happen - and can we guarantee that the world is still safe from smallpox? This episode owes a debt to Stephen Coss’s book The Fever of 1721, Ibram X. Kendi’s book Stamped From the Beginning, and to an article about Dark Winter written by Tara O’Toole, Michael Mair and Tomas Inglesby. For a full list of our sources please see the shownotes at http://timharford.com/ Tim's latest books 'Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy' and 'The Next Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy' are available now. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
That Turn To Pascagoula

That Turn To Pascagoula

2020-07-1031:2213

For years, people had warned that New Orleans was vulnerable - but when a hurricane came close to destroying the city, the reaction was muted. Some people took the near miss as a warning - others, as confirmation that there was nothing to worry about. So why do we struggle to prepare for disasters? And why don't we draw the obvious lessons from clear warnings? Sources for this episode include Amanda Ripley's The Unthinkable, The Ostrich Paradox by Howard Kunreuther and Robert Meyer, Margaret Heffernan's Willful Blindness, and Predictable Surprises by Max Bazerman and Michael Watkins. For a full list of sources see http://timharford.com/ Tim's latest books 'Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy' and 'The Next Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy' are available now. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
The Village of Heroes

The Village of Heroes

2020-07-0325:5318

It looked like any ordinary roll of cloth, but it brought the dreaded plague to the village of Eyam. First it killed the tailor, then resident after resident succumbed. To stop the spread of the disease to neighbouring towns the people of Eyam agreed to isolate themselves and let the plague run its deadly course. This terrible act of sacrifice is still remembered centuries later - but what does it tell us about how far people will go to save the lives of strangers? Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Tim's latest books 'Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy' and 'The Next Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy' are available now. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Clive had a deadly form of cancer, but fortunately there was a new drug to treat it. Imagine his anger when he was told the treatment was too expensive. He’d entered a world where unique human lives are given a value in a mathematical formula. So how much should we spend to extend or save a life? And are some lives worth more than others? Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Tim's latest books 'Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy' and 'The Next Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy' are available now. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
A Tsunami of Misery

A Tsunami of Misery

2020-06-1922:1116

A monstrous wave and then a nuclear disaster forced Mikio and Hamako Watanabe from their home. But being saved from the potential dangers of a radiation leak destroyed their lives in a different way. Why do we overlook the fact that taking action against an urgent danger can also cause longer term ills? WARNING: This episode discusses death by suicide. If you are suffering emotional distress or having suicidal thoughts, support is available - for example, from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Tim's latest books 'Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy' and 'The Next Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy' are available now. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Flames are spreading through a Cincinnati hotel. The staff know it, the fire department is coming, and the people in the packed cabaret bar have been told to evacuate… and yet they hesitate to leave. Why don’t we react to some warnings until it’s too late? Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Tim's latest books 'Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy' and 'The Next Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy' are available now. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
This week we're featuring the second episode of The Last Archive, a new podcast hosted by Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore. When a young black man is charged with murder under unusual circumstances in 1922, he trusts his fate to a strange new machine: A lie detector. It was invented by the man who went on to create Wonder Woman, and whose whole life was a strange blur of fact and fiction. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Tim Harford presents the first episode of the new season of Michael Lewis's Against the Rules. It wasn’t that long ago that coaches were confined to sports. Now they’re everywhere. Who’s getting all this coaching, and who isn’t? Credit card companies are making billions of dollars off of people who don't understand the rules of the money game. Can a good coach help level the playing field? Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
In this special episode of Cautionary Tales, we feature Cautionary Tales host Tim Harford's TED Talk Daily from 2018. What can we learn from the world's most enduringly creative people? They "slow-motion multitask," actively juggling multiple projects and moving between topics as the mood strikes -- without feeling hurried. Tim Harford shares how innovators like Einstein, Darwin, Twyla Tharp and Michael Crichton found their inspiration and productivity through cross-training their minds. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
We may mock our ancestors for seeking the advice of oracles, soothsayers and psychics, but today we rely heavily on computer programs and math formulas to help us navigate our world. If we continue to follow them unthinkingly, should we be surprised when we end up in unexpected and dangerous places? Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
It was the biggest concert of Keith Jarrett's career - but the pianist was in for a shock when he entered Koln's opera house. The only piano at the venue was a broken-down wreck. Should he risk humiliation and play anyway or simply walk out? The collaboration between pop superstar David Bowie and arch disruptor Brian Eno offers a lesson that staying in your comfort zone isn't always the best option. Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
In 1917, a brilliant British officer developed a way to use an emerging military technology: the tank. The British army promptly squandered the idea – but the Germans did not. Blitzkrieg, the devastating advance of German tanks across Europe in 1940, was invented by the British. This is a common story: Sony invented the forerunner of the iPod, Xerox the personal computer, and Kodak the digital camera. In each case they failed to capitalize on the idea. Why? Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Both of the world’s greatest economists, Irving Fisher and John Maynard Keynes, thought they could see into the future and make a killing on the stock market - and then both were wiped out by the Wall Street Crash. One died a pauper, the other millionaire. What does it take to bounce back from ruin? Oh... and UFOs. Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
The Deadly Airship Race

The Deadly Airship Race

2019-11-2938:2940

A British Lord wanted to build the best airship in the world - and so he had two rival design teams battle it out to win the juicy government contract. Competition is supposed to bring the best out of people, but run in the wrong way it can cause people (and the things they produce) to fall apart in the most horrifying ways. Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Galileo tried to teach us that adding more and more layers to a system intended to avert disaster often makes catastrophe all the more likely to happen. His basic lesson has been ignored in nuclear power plants, financial markets and at the Oscars... all resulting in chaos. Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
One crisp morning in Berlin, in 1906, a small group of soldiers were led on an extraordinary heist by a man they believed to be a Captain. So how did an ageing nobody in a fake uniform trick them into aiding him in the crime of the century? Some say we humans will obey orders from anyone who dresses the part... but the real reason why we fall for tricksters time and again is far more interesting. Fraudsters and charlatans reel us in slowly by using psychology against us. Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
DANGER: Rocks Ahead!

DANGER: Rocks Ahead!

2019-11-1535:1454

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 utter madness, but the thinking that resulted in such a risky manoeuvre is something we are all prone to do when we fixate on a goal and a plan to get us there. Read more about Tim's work at http://timharford.com/ Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Coming November 15 from Tim Harford and Pushkin Industries, Cautionary Tales relates a true story of a time when something did not go according to plan. Some of these true stories are tragic, some are comic, but like the great fables and parables, each of them has a moral. Equipped with the latest research from psychology, economics and the social sciences, Harford explains why things went so awry – and teaches us lessons that we won’t forget. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Comments (30)

Teresa Wilkinson

"Cautionary Tales" is an absolute feast for the intellect, full of historical references, data, modern tech, and of course those wonderful Cautionary Tales

Jul 21st
Reply

Claire Howdle

Great episode and very relevant to what's happening in the world today, couldnt agree more with the moral to the story at the end, Covid is NOT the worst that could happen but a very good warning for the future, thanks for outlining that Tim 👍

Jul 12th
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Nicole Whalley

bad a

May 21st
Reply

Nicole Whalley

nh1aaazm lmao .qmm1a al

May 21st
Reply (3)

Alex Harris

What a load of nationalistic crap. General Monash was the first to use blitzkrieg tactics. and it was because the British had no say in it, in 1918.

Apr 21st
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Teresa Wilkinson

love this podcast, funny, witty, intelligent, interesting .... more please!

Mar 16th
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Barry Hemmings

Yep...fantastic work here. Keep them coming :)

Jan 29th
Reply

agustin venegas

anyone caught the start fairytale that he said not to google? i wanna google it

Jan 15th
Reply (1)

Jonathan Pillinger-Cork

Makes me think, entertains me and means I tell other people all about it. 5*

Jan 5th
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Claire Howdle

love love love these! exactly what I'm into but didnt know it until they were released as there was nothing else out there that was similar. Please hurry up with the 2nd series 😁

Dec 31st
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Nate Picone

brilliant scripting, story weaving and narration. Thanks Tim and team. I can't wait for season 2.

Dec 31st
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Lizzie Sullivan

Really enjoying this new show. Totally meant for adults, young adults, but not kiddies. I enjoy the host’s voice and cadence as well as the content.

Dec 30th
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Gina Boosey

very original, such a good idea, 5 stars!

Dec 18th
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Garrett Dickson

This hardly seems to be a tale of competition, and more a tale of how corrupt socialist governments inevitably become.

Dec 8th
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Bahram Kalviri

That's enjoyable, well polished, enlightening and original #podcast.

Dec 7th
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Dan Pullar

Great job guys. so original!

Dec 7th
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Mark Kenna

Great job excellent show thanks a mill

Dec 3rd
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eyal Vadai

Wonderfully made! Very interesting, thank you very much

Nov 29th
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Michael O'Connell

Amazing show, I'm hooked already!

Nov 28th
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yamilee tats

i cant wait to here more tales...good stuff

Nov 26th
Reply (3)
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