69 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
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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

    The Wild Turkeys of Schleswig

    The Wild Turkeys of Schleswig

    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 omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 39 min
    Cautionary Conversation: The Blitz Spirit and the Blackout Ripper

    Cautionary Conversation: The Blitz Spirit and the Blackout Ripper

    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 crimes - and especially a trainee RAF pilot who embarked on a vicious killing spree under cover of darkness.   

    Find Bad Women: The Blackout Ripper wherever you get your podcasts. 
    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 32 min
    The Inventor Who Almost Ended the World

    The Inventor Who Almost Ended the World

    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.

    • 36 min
    The Halloween Poisoner

    The Halloween Poisoner

    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 information.

    • 35 min
    Cautionary Conversation: The Conspiracy Theorist Who Changed His Mind

    Cautionary Conversation: The Conspiracy Theorist Who Changed His Mind

    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: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion and Persuasion) joins Tim Harford to discuss what happened to Charlie Veitch; what it tells us about those who hold strong beliefs even in the face of damning contrary evidence; and why persuasion isn't always the right answer.  
    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 41 min
    Cautionary Tales Presents: Warfare, The Life of Anne Frank

    Cautionary Tales Presents: Warfare, The Life of Anne Frank

    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 find more from Warfare at https://podfollow.com/the-world-wars.
    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 41 min

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