73 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 • 3.8K 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

    LIVE: The Myth of the Million Dollar Tulip Bulb

    LIVE: The Myth of the Million Dollar Tulip Bulb

    Recorded before an audience at the Bristol Festival of Economics (11/17/2022)

    The Dutch went so potty over tulip bulbs in the 1600s that many were ruined when the inflated prices they were paying for the plants collapsed - that's the oft-repeated story later promoted by best-selling Scottish writer Charles Mackay. It's actually a gross exaggeration. 

    Mackay's writings about economic bubbles bursting entertained and informed his Victorian readers - and continue to influence us today - but how did Mackey fare when faced with a stock market mania right before his eyes? The railway-building boom of the 1840s showed he wasn't so insightful after all. 

    For a full list of sources used in this episode visit Tim Harford.com
    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 38 min
    DOUBLE BILL: When a Plague Struck World of Warcraft/Blood on the Tracks

    DOUBLE BILL: When a Plague Struck World of Warcraft/Blood on the Tracks

    As a special New Year treat we're presenting two Cautionary Tales Shorts - which have previously only been available to paying Apple and Pushkin+ subscribers. 

    When a Plague Struck World of Warcraft: The makers of WoW wanted to spice up the fantasy computer game by introducing a virtual disease - "Corrupted Blood". It was supposed to be a fun challenge for expert player - but the illness became a pandemic which wiped out villages, cities and then whole realms.

    AND

    Blood on the Tracks: The signalmen running a busy stretch of railroad on the Scottish border had to adhere to strict rules to prevent crashes - but did those regulations fail to take into account human nature? Despite all the logbooks, alarm bells, levers and regulations, the signalmen didn't seem to notice a packed troop train barrelling towards them.

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

    • 34 min
    "Snow Crashing Into The Metaverse" from Imaginary Worlds

    "Snow Crashing Into The Metaverse" from Imaginary Worlds

    This week, we’re sharing an episode of Imaginary Worlds. For the last 30 years, the real world has been catching up to Neal Stephenson’s vision of the future in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, which influenced the creators of Google Earth, Second Life, Oculus Rift and more. Now the centerpiece of the novel, a virtual world called The Metaverse, may become a daily part of our lives thanks to Facebook (renamed Meta) and other big tech companies. In this episode of Imaginary Worlds, host Eric Molinsky explores whether it’s a good idea to use a satirical cyberpunk novel from decades ago as a blueprint for the future.You can hear more episodes of Imaginary Worlds at https://www.imaginaryworldspodcast.org
    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 29 min
    The Company That Cancelled Christmas

    The Company That Cancelled Christmas

    More than 100,000 families - many of them amongst the poorest in Britain - put money aside for Christmas gifts and other seasonal treats in a savings club called Farepak. It wasn't a bank, and it wasn't great value for money... and it went bust. Kids went without toys, and festive dinner tables were left bare. 

    Why would someone put their hard-earned money into such a scheme? And what does it tell us about how we often view Christmas as a time for frenzied spending? 

    For a full list of sources used in this episode visit Tim Harford.com 

    CAUTIONARY TALES RETURNS 6 JAN, 2023. HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND SEE YOU IN THE NEW YEAR. 
    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 35 min
    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

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
3.8K Ratings

3.8K Ratings

pamerj ,

Extraordinary!

I look forward to every episode, so informative, interesting and enjoyable. Also, the most pleasant voice in podcasts.

ToucheDeF ,

Entertainment & Logic Exercise

I’ve listened to podcasts that I’ve loved for years and have never written a review. I’m flawed. However, I’m so hooked on this show that I’ve finally been moved to effort. Cautionary Tales expertly manages to 1. Tell a true story 2. Review the consequences of the events in that story, and 3. Challenge the listener to look at the cause/effect from different perspectives that could have changed the outcome of the events for the better. What makes this podcast such a stand out is how these steps are repeated show after show, and at NO point do I get the impression of judgement or superiority from the host or the writing. Tim Harford does such an excellent job of narrating these tales in an academic tone that doesn’t judge the people and there choices in these dramatic events, and he kindly challenged the listener to look at everything from different points of view with the benefits only hindsight can give. If you enjoy learning, logical exercises, dramatic storytelling, and relaxed narration, this podcast is definitely for you.

Nyx857 ,

Great but…

I really like this podcast, I enjoy the narration and it gives me a lot to think about, but I’m getting tired of the episodes from other podcasts. It’s like half cautionary tales and half other podcasts. Who listens to a podcast because they want to listen to a different podcast? It really irks me that I think there’s a new episode that’s downloaded only to find it’s some other podcast with an uninteresting topic and bad narrator.

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