128 episodes

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.

Cautionary Tales with Tim Harford Pushkin

    • History
    • 4.7 • 1.4K Ratings

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Requires subscription and macOS 11.4 or higher

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.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Requires subscription and macOS 11.4 or higher

    WW2: How Britain Ignored the Mother of All Secrets

    WW2: How Britain Ignored the Mother of All Secrets

    Cautionary Tales will be LIVE on stage in London this May. Tickets are on sale now: https://www.tegeurope.com/events/cautionary-tales/

    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.

    • 43 min
    The Fraudster's Guide to Magic Money

    The Fraudster's Guide to Magic Money

    Cautionary Tales will be LIVE on stage in London this May. Tickets are on sale now: https://www.tegeurope.com/events/cautionary-tales/

    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.

    • 1 hr 1 min
    Blood and Gold (with Dan Snow)

    Blood and Gold (with Dan Snow)

    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.

    • 40 min
    The Rise and Fall of a Megalomaniac

    The Rise and Fall of a Megalomaniac

    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.

    • 58 min
    Inside the Bizarre World of Dictators

    Inside the Bizarre World of Dictators

    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.

    • 42 min
    Pushkin Hosts Celebrate World Happiness Day

    Pushkin Hosts Celebrate World Happiness Day

    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.

    • 48 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
1.4K Ratings

1.4K Ratings

TallouS ,

How Britain ignored the Mother of all secrets

Excellent - what a story! Brilliantly told - Tim is a storyteller par excellence! Thank you

CypriotManc ,

Fascinating topics fantastically presented

The thorough and thought provoking insights into a diverse range of incidents could easily suffer from an unwieldy script in lesser hands. Tim and all of the production team have nailed down the balance between making each episode easy to follow without patronising the listener.

The quality of production is tip top and the presentation is more polished than most BBC Radio 4 documentaries. It is a testament to the hard work put into the show that they are able to put out such amazing content so regularly!

vodkAtrace ,

Brilliant Telling

Tim Hartford is one of the very best presenters and researchers of truly interesting facts and stories from human history. The structure of each show is so well paced leading to the cautionary point of the episode.
Always engaging and as with everything Tim is part of, well researched with intelligent comment.
One of the very best shows available if you like exploration in to human nature, and it’s frailty, and its historical relevance.

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