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Cautionary Tales – Frankenstein Versus the Volcano


When Mount Tambora erupted it spewed ash across the globe; blotting out the sun; poisoning crops; and bringing starvation, illness and death to millions. It may also have helped inspire great scientific and cultural advances – including the horror masterpiece Frankenstein. How well do we adapt to catastrophe and what are the limits of our ability to weather even the worst circumstances?

Cautionary Tales is written by me, Tim Harford, with Andrew Wright. It is produced by Ryan Dilley, with support from Courtney Guarino and Emily Vaughn.

The sound design and original music is the work of Pascal Wyse. Julia Barton edited the scripts.

Thanks to the team at Pushkin Industries, including Mia Lobel, Jacob Weisberg, Heather Fain, Jon Schnaars, Carly Migliori, Eric Sandler, Emily Rostek, Royston Beserve, Maggie Taylor, Nicole Morana, Daniella Lakhan and Maya Koenig.

[Apple] [Spotify] [Stitcher]

Further reading and listening

Wolfgang Behringer “Tambora and the Year without a Summer

Gillian D’Arcy Wood “Tambora: The Eruption That Shook The World

William and Nicholas Klingaman “The Year without Summer

Robert Evans “Blast from the Past” Smithsonian Magazine July 2002

Jill Lepore “The Strange and Twisted Life of ‘Frankenstein’The New Yorker 5 Feb 2018

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein and the Villa Diodati

In our Time: The Year Without A Summer

Mick Hamer “Brimstone and bicycles” New Scientist 26 January 2005

Michele Acuto, Shaun Larcom, Ferdinand Rauch and Tim Willems “Calamity Is an excellent teacher

Bruce Sacerdote “When the Saints Go Marching Out

Deryugina, Kawano and Levitt “The Economic Impact of Hurricane Katrina on its Victims

Emi Nakamura et al “The Gift of Moving

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