The Gist

The World’s Worst Year Ever

Harvard professor Michael McCormick thinks it’s 536 A.D.

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Episode Notes

On the Gist, Fauci guess-timates. And, today in Remembrances of Things Trump: dead ducks and poisoned undies.

In the interview, Harvard professor Michael McCormick is here to tell Mike about the worst year in recorded history. According to him, it’s 536 A.D., a year when a volcanic eruption blocked out the sun, a bubonic plague that recurred every few decades began, and Ireland was without bread for four years. He and Mike discuss how we’re able to pinpoint so precisely the date of these events, how it affected humanity, and that sometimes the history lesson is things can always get worse. McCormick is the Frances Goelet Professor of Medieval History at Harvard University.

In the spiel, if our ancestors got through, so can we.

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Podcast production by Daniel Schroeder, Margaret Kelley, and Cheyna Roth.


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  • Mike Pesca is the host of the Slate daily podcast The Gist. He also contributes reports and commentary to NPR.