In Review

Podcasts of the week: painful mistakes and extraordinary people 

Featuring Cautionary Tales, Philosophy Bites, and Call Me Mother

Cautionary Tales, Tim Harford’s terrific podcast about learning from painful mistakes, has returned for a second series, said The Sunday Times. This time, Harford looks at subjects including Gerald Ratner, the jeweller who blew up his business by joking about his “crap” products. Compellingly told, the stories draw on insights from a range of disciplines including economics and psychology, and have dramatic contributions from actors such as Helena Bonham Carter (she appears as Florence Nightingale) in an episode about how data visualisation changed ideas about public health. Another podcast that delivers intellectual thought in a highly digestible format is Philosophy Bites. Presented by Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds, it provides introductions to great thinkers and schools of thought. In each instalment, they are joined by a subject specialist: look out for Peter Salmon. He is the author of a biography of Jacques Derrida, but confesses that even he, as a student, floundered with the “tricksy” Frenchman. Since then, he has uncovered what the progenitor of deconstruction was on about – and he “actually makes him sound pretty reasonable”. 

One of the standout moments on Desert Island Discs last year was the former England footballer Ian Wright talking about the profound effect that one of his primary school teachers, the late Sydney Pigden, had on his life, said Hannah Verdier in The Guardian. On his new podcast, Ian Wright’s Everyday People, he talks to other ordinary people who have helped change the world slightly for the better. One is Chris Brannigan, a soldier who walked 700 miles barefoot to raise money for gene therapy to treat his daughter, who suffers from a rare genetic disease. They discuss his unbending determination to complete the challenge, and it is “inspiring” to hear how unafraid both are “to express their emotions”. 

Another “small revolutionary”, said Miranda Sawyer in The Observer, is the 73-year-old non-binary American author Kate Bornstein. She was the first guest interviewee on Call Me Mother, a new podcast from the author Shon Faye, in which she talks to “older LGBTQ+ pioneers”. Bornstein, who was born male, recalls how at nursery school she lined up with the girls, because that’s where she felt she belonged, but the teacher told her to join the boys’ line. “And I stayed there for 20, 30 years,” she tells the interviewer, mildly. Surprisingly, “it was Scientology, with its belief that everyone is a thetan, rather than a gendered human, which helped Bornstein find her way”. Her story makes for a “lovely listen” on a podcast that is full of warmth and wisdom.

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