57 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. iHeartMedia is the exclusive podcast partner of Pushkin Industries. 

Cautionary Tales with Tim Harford Pushkin

    • History
    • 4.7 • 3.6K 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. iHeartMedia is the exclusive podcast partner of Pushkin Industries. 

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Requires subscription and macOS 11.4 or higher

    South Pole Race: When the Limeys Get Scurvy

    South Pole Race: When the Limeys Get Scurvy

    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? How did the 'Limeys' seemingly unlearn that lesson? 

    For a full list of sources go to timharford.com
    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 33 min
    The Bowery Boys and the Black Tom Explosion

    The Bowery Boys and the Black Tom Explosion

    Cautionary Tales returns next week, but in the meantime 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 sabotage? 

    The Bowery Boys is show about the people and events that have shaped the history of New York City, and really, shaped America.

    Listen to more episodes of The Bowery Boys at https://www.boweryboyshistory.com/bowery-boys-first/bowery-boys-podcast or wherever you get your podcasts.
    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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

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

    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 polar wastes.

    For a full list of sources go to timharford.com
    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 35 min
    South Pole Race: David and Goliath on Ice

    South Pole Race: David and Goliath on Ice

    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 of sources go to timharford.com
    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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

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

    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 omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 48 min
    Chicago When It Sizzles

    Chicago When It Sizzles

    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, but social infrastructure too?  

    Eric Klinenberg's classic text on the topic is called Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago. For a full list of other sources go to timharford.com
    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 38 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
3.6K Ratings

3.6K Ratings

jmarieyogi ,

Learn from History

Tim Harford shows us how to actually learn from history in the most insightful ways. Don't judge that you know the story or that it doesn't "look" interesting. It always is.

Bhoelle1809 ,

Obsessed

I was coming off of a multiple-year SYSK addiction and in desperate need of a new podcast. I tried the other “Stuffs,” but never quite got excited about any of them. I settled on 99PI (which I still listen to often), but it wasn’t quite doing it for me. I had resigned to the idea that SYSK was just too good and that I’d never find a podcast quite as entertaining. But then Cautionary Tales was featured on an episode of 99PI and I had to check out the show. I immediately downloaded 10 episodes and have been listening to it nonstop. There may never be a podcast as entertaining as SYSK, but Cautionary Tales is more enthralling, exciting, mysterious and satisfying than anything I’ve ever heard.

Anyone who is a fan of history (particularly the little-known kind), mysteries, riddles, true-crime, and thrillers will enjoy this show. It’s got it all. Don’t get me wrong, 99PI is great, but it’s a little dry. Cautionary Tales is not a competitor to it, and I hope I’m not implying it is, but it serves a similar purpose while being vastly more entertaining. Each episode is presented as a short story, a folk-tale for adults, surrounding true-life events from history. Each episode features an underlying moral lesson, with barely noticeable commentary on contemporary society within the subtext of the story. These are - as the title aptly describes - cautionary tales, and we’d all be better off if everyone listened to this show.

Please, PLEASE, don’t stop producing. In fact, increase production please, without sacrificing quality. I’ll send you all the money I can, just please don’t stop. This show is outstanding and I can’t thank all involved enough.

jbdavis ,

Masterpiece

Don’t let the narrative nature of this show fool you. It brilliantly challenges its listener to consider the beautiful lessons to be learned from failure. We will all be better for taking the time to listen

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