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Futility Closet

Sep 13, 2021

In 1917, a New Jersey company began hiring young women to paint luminous marks on the faces of watches and clocks. As time went on, they began to exhibit alarming symptoms, and a struggle ensued to establish the cause. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Radium Girls, a...


Sep 6, 2021

The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 is remembered for its destructive intensity and terrible death toll. But the scale of the disaster can mask some remarkable personal stories. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the experiences of some of the survivors, which ranged from the horrific...


Aug 30, 2021

The modern strawberry has a surprisingly dramatic story, involving a French spy in Chile, a perilous ocean voyage, and the unlikely meeting of two botanical expatriates. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the improbable origin of one of the world's most popular fruits.

We'll also...


Aug 23, 2021

In 1864, two ships' crews were cast away at the same time on the same remote island in the Southern Ocean. But the two groups would undergo strikingly different experiences. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Auckland Islands castaways and reflect on its implications for...


Aug 16, 2021

In 1959, Marine pilot William Rankin parachuted from a malfunctioning jet into a violent thunderstorm. The ordeal that followed is almost unique in human experience. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Rankin's harrowing adventure, which has been called "the most prolonged and fantastic...