The longest running television series of the 20th century was Gunsmoke, a western set in the notorious Dodge City, Kansas. Malcolm sweeps away mountains of legal scholarship to make a bold claim: The simplest explanation for the Supreme’s Court’s puzzling run of gun rights decisions may be that the justices watched too much Gunsmoke when they were growing up. Enjoy this episode from Revisionist History, another Pushkin Industries podcast.
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1957. Jørn Utzon receives a phone call: he's just won an international competition to design a brand new opera house for the Australian city of Sydney. Utzon is unknown in the field, so this is a triumph. The young architect couldn’t have imagined what a bitter victory it would turn out to be...
The Guggenheim in Bilbao; the Burj Khalifa in Dubai; the Shard in London. These days, everyone seems to want an iconic building. But Sydney Opera House was the first, the greatest – and the most...
Cautionary Book Club: When Morgan Stanley offered to lease Chicago's parking meters for the princely sum of $1 billion, the City Council were convinced that they had struck gold. They hastily signed the deal. But they soon learnt that they hadn't just traded away parking revenue - they had traded away the streets themselves...
In this hybrid episode of Cautionary Tales, Tim Harford first tells the story of the Chicago parking metres fiasco of 2008. In the second half, Tim is joined by Henry...
1812. A band of "Luddites" is laying siege to a textile mill in the North of England, under cover of night. They plan to destroy the machines that are replacing their jobs. But mill owner William Cartwright is prepared: he's fortified his factory with skilled marksmen, fearsome eighteen-inch metal spikes and barrels of sulphuric acid.
Today "Luddite" is a term of mockery — a description for someone who's scared of technology. But in 1812, Luddism was no laughing matter for the likes of...
Cautionary Conversation: Andy Warhol’s assistant, Gerard Malanga, is facing a long prison sentence in Italy. He’s forged several Che Guevara portraits and tried to pass them off as genuine Warhols. What happens next is a landmark event in the history of art and authenticity…
Tim Harford is joined by Alice Sherwood, author of Authenticity, to discuss truth and fakery in modern times. Today, authenticity seems to matter more than ever — and yet we’re also constantly assailed by people and...
Heroic explorer Frederick Cook has just returned from the very roof of the world, the first man to reach the North Pole. Or so he says. Journalist Philip Gibbs has been watching him, and he’s convinced he’s lying.
When Gibbs publishes that belief, he stands alone. Cook has a gripping manner and an excellent reputation: his winning tale must be true. Diners boo Gibbs at a restaurant, newspapers publish sly-looking caricatures of him, and he even receives threats of violence.
Cautionary Conversation: Did a Nazi put America on the moon? To celebrate the launch of his mini-series on the V-2 rocket, Tim Harford sits down with Pushkin’s resident V-2 expert, Ryan Dilley. They discuss the so-called “Father of Space Travel”, Wernher von Braun, and satirist Tom Lehrer’s musical lampooning of him.
A three-part mini series on the V-2 rocket is available now for Pushkin+ subscribers. We’ll be back again on August 4th with a brand new episode of Cautionary Tales on the main...
Henry Petroski is one of Tim Harford's favourite fellow nerds. His study of engineering failures has profoundly influenced Tim's own writing, including the classic Cautionary Tales episode Death on the Dance Floor.
Petroski passed away in June 2023, at the age of 81. This week, in honour of the late great engineer, Tim looks back at the catastrophic Kansas City Hyatt Regency disaster of 1981. The hotel's space-age sky walks -- 60 tonnes of glass, concrete and steel -- crashed down onto the...
Cautionary Conversation: An invasive parakeet species began spreading in New York City - and the government decided to kill every last bird. Tim Harford is joined by Ben Naddaff-Hafrey, host of The Last Archive, to talk about the great parakeet panic of the 1970s and a history of anxieties about population growth.
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“If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss..."
Those words - from Rudyard Kipling's poem "If" - were based on charismatic nineteenth century doctor, Leander Starr Jameson. In Britain, Jameson was worshipped as a plucky hero: a bastion of courage and mental fortitude. Ironically, he was also responsible for the Jameson Raid, a South African coup that was an unmitigated disaster.
Kipling's champion might have spearheaded a fiasco - but could the...
Today, the idea of controlling the weather is controversial. Scientists who research geoengineering have even received death threats. But once upon a time, people were optimistic about remaking the climate in entire regions of the world. They approached this science with a touching faith in the power of human creativity.
Absent-minded genius Irving Langmuir was one such scientist. He dreamt of making deserts bloom and conjuring rain from an arid sky. He even believed that his experiments...
Today, we're sharing an episode of the gripping Pushkin series Lost Hills: The Dark Prince. The brand-new season takes a deep dive into the surf world to explore the legacy of Malibu's Dark Prince: Miki Dora. A surfer known for his style, grace and aggression, he ruled Malibu from the 1950s to the 1970s. Celebrated for his rebellious spirit, he was also a conman who led the FBI on a 7-year manhunt around the world.
Episodes 1 and 2 are out now: https://apple.co/losthills. And of course, if...
CIA agents in Havana complaining of mental fog, dizziness and ear pain in 2016. Children in Miami in 1974, hyperventilating and wracked with abdominal pain. A medieval outbreak of the “dancing plague”. A chorus of meowing nuns.
These mysterious and seemingly disparate events may have a simple explanation — and one that’s often overlooked when it comes to understanding strange new syndromes.
For a full list of sources used in this episode visit Tim Harford.com.
Why does economics get a bad rap? How did a small Hungarian airline wreak havoc in the 2000s?
What cautionary tales can we glean from Tim’s own life? And what’s his favourite role-playing game?
You sent in your questions and now - with the help of podcasting maestro Jacob Goldstein (What’s Your Problem?) - Tim is answering them.
Do you have a question for Tim? Please email any queries you might have, however big or small, to [email protected]
See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy...
You can gamble on horses or on the turn of a card - but Daniel Gould made a living betting on the outcome of the annual Eurovision Song Contest. Daniel made a profit because he studied the voting history of the competition, as well as the cultural and geo-political factors that predict which songs will triumph and which will score "nil point".
In 2018, Daniel was so sure of his system of reducing the risk that he took out a loan on his home and bet it on Israel's song to win... only to...
Anna Marie Jarvis wanted a national holiday to honor the dedication and sacrifice of America's mothers. She wasn't the first person to propose a Mother's Day - but her campaign caught the imagination of the people and the ears of the politicians.
Congress officially recognised Jarvis's Mother's Day in 1914 - but the indefatigable campaigner had allied herself with businessmen with vested interests in such an annual event. Mother's Day soon span out of its creator's control and caused an...
It could cure any 'female ailment' - even cancer - said the adverts. But Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound was, in fact, just a concoction of herbs and alcohol of no proven medicinal merit. That didn't stop desperate American women from buying bottles of the stuff - and writing to Lydia Pinkham for medical advice.
Why did her customers shun 'expert' doctors and opt instead for quack medicines? And why, when Lydia Pinkham finally came in for criticism, did no one question the efficacy...
Cautionary Conversation: In 1990, a small extremist group launched a nerve gas attack on passengers riding the Tokyo subway. Thousands of people were hurt, more than a dozen died. At the time, such use of a chemical weapon seemed new and uniquely terrifying.
But advances in biology mean that today it's possible such a group could create a virus like Covid... with the potential to kill millions. What are the dangers and what can we do to combat them? Tim Harford talks to writer Michael...
Air traffic controllers are meant to stop aircrafts from flying into one another... and if they fail, computer systems are installed to warn pilots of a coming collision. But sometimes these humans and computers give conflicting and confusing advice. Who to believe?
When a cargo plane and a Russian airliner collided in just such a situation, the authorities scrambled to work out how to prevent a repeat of the disaster... but a grieving father decided to seek revenge on those he held...
Cautionary Conversation: When a small-town detective gets a tip about a missing woman, he believes he's uncovered a highly-trained chameleon: a foreign spy. Soon, Esther Reed is on the Secret Service's Most Wanted list, and a nationwide manhunt has commenced. But all is not as it seems.
Jake Halpern joins Tim Harford to talk about the latest season of his Pushkin podcast Deep Cover: Never Seen Again. They discuss the dangers of incrementally increasing lies; how and why certain stories are...
In the early 90s, cutting-edge advertising agency Chiat/Day announced a radical plan, aimed at giving the company a jolt of creative renewal. They would sweep away corner offices and cubicles and replace them with zany open spaces, as well as innovative portable computers and phones. A brand new era of “hot-desking” had arrived.
Problems quickly began. Disgruntled employees found themselves hauling temperamental, clunky laptops and armfuls of paperwork all over the office; some even had to...
With the 95th Academy Awards just around the corner, Tim Harford looks back at a basic lesson. 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. This principle has been ignored in nuclear power plants, financial markets and at the Oscars... all resulting in chaos.
For a full list of sources for this episode, go to timharford.com.
Tim is taking your questions. Do you have any...
Cautionary Conversation: Celebrated physicist Professor Paul Frampton was on his way to Brussels to meet the love of his life, swimwear model Denise Milani. Or so he thought. When he found himself in jail, he realized he’d fallen prey to a confidence trickster.
Tim Harford is joined by Maria Konnikova - journalist, psychologist and best-selling author - to talk about swindlers: what motivates them; what they look for in their victims; and how to avoid being conned altogether.
Steve Jobs called It “the most amazing piece of technology since the PC.” According to Jeff Bezos It was not only “revolutionary,” but infinitely commercial. It was a fiendishly clever and massively hyped invention. But in the end It — also known as the Segway — was a failure.
What makes an invention useful and valuable? Jimi Heselden’s pragmatic brainchild the Concertainer might hold the answers. First used to shore up the collapsing walls of a canal, it ultimately solved problems that Jimi...