Cautionary Tales – Martin Luther King Jr, the Jewelry Genius, and the art of public speaking (CLASSIC)

19th January, 2024

One speechmaker inspired millions with his words, the other utterly destroyed his own multi-million-dollar business with just a few phrases.

Civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr (played by Jeffrey Wright of WestworldThe Hunger Games, and the James Bond films) and jewelry store owner Gerald Ratner offer starkly contrasting stories on when you should stick to the script and when you should take a risk.

Cautionary Tales is written by me, Tim Harford, with Andrew Wright. It is produced by Alice Fiennes; this classic episode, first released in February 2021, was produced by Ryan Dilley and Marilyn Rust.

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

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Further reading and listening

I discussed the contrast between the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gerald Ratner in my book, Messy.

Key sources on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. include Taylor Branch Parting the Waters, David Garrow Bearing the CrossStephen B. Oates Let the Trumpet Sound, the Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr., Patrick Parr’s profile in The Atlantic and Alex Haley’s interview with Dr King in Playboy.

Gerald Ratner was interviewed by my Financial Times colleague Emma Jacobs in a piece we wrote together titled “Regrets? I’ve had a few.” Gerald Ratner’s full speech is available to view online.

Sherry Turkle’s book is Reclaiming Conversation and Charles Limb gave a TED talk about his work on improvising brains.

My book, “The Data Detective” is available in the US/Canada . (Elsewhere the same book is titled “How To Make The World Add Up”.)

“Nobody makes the statistics of everyday life more fascinating and enjoyable than Tim Harford.”- Bill Bryson

“This entertaining, engrossing book about the power of numbers, logic and genuine curiosity”- Maria Konnikova

I’ve set up a storefront on Bookshop in the United States and the United Kingdom – have a look and see all my recommendations; Bookshop is set up to support local independent retailers.

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