Not far from where I grew up, there’s a village called Eyam with a story to tell – a story of a plague, and of tragedy, and of heroism.
That old tale sits easily with stories of our modern response to the pandemic: too many people seem unwilling to suffer the slightest inconvenience to help others.
Has human nature really changed so much? Or might it be that the old story, and the new ones, are leading us astray?
Written by Tim Harford with Andrew Wright. Producers: Ryan Dilley with Marilyn Rust. Sound design/mix/musical composition: Pascal Wyse. Editor: Julia Barton. Publicity: Christine Ragasa.
Thanks to the team at Pushkin Industries, Heather Fain, Maya Koenig, Mia Lobel, Carly Migliori, Jacob Weisberg, and of course, the mighty Malcolm Gladwell.
Further reading and listening
The story of Eyam has been covered repeatedly in the media of late (the BBC got there a few years early) but a particularly useful source is Patrick Wallis in 1843 Magazine, who provides a valuable note of historical scepticism.
Rutger Bregman’s compelling book is Humankind.
James Meek writes an excellent and horrifying account of the earlier plague of 1348 in the London Review of Books.
The conversation between Eddie Compass and Fred Johnson is reported by the Floodlines podcast.
Geraldine Brooks wrote a novel about Eyam, Year of Wonders.
The study of the petrified forest is Robert B. Cialdini, Linda J. Demaine, Brad J. Sagarin, Daniel W. Barrett, Kelton Rhoads & Patricia L. Winter (2006) Managing social norms for persuasive impact, Social Influence, 1:1, 3-15, DOI: 10.1080/15534510500181459