During the siege of Leningrad in World War II, a heroic group of Russian botanists fought cold, hunger, and German attacks to keep alive a storehouse of crops that held the future of Soviet agriculture. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Vavilov Institute, whose scientists literally starved to death protecting tons of treasured food.
We’ll also follow a wayward sailor and puzzle over how to improve the safety of tanks.
Tippi Hedren, star of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, shared her home with a 400-pound lion.
Sources for our feature on Nikolai Vavilov:
S.M. Alexanyan and V.I. Krivchenko, “Vavilov Institute Scientists Heroically Preserve World Plant Genetic Resources Collections During World War II Siege of Leningrad,” Diversity 7:4 (1991), 10-13.
James F. Crow, “N. I. Vavilov, Martyr to Genetic Truth,” Genetics 134:4 (May 1993).
Olga Elina, Susanne Heim, and Nils Roll-Hansen, “Plant Breeding on the Front: Imperialism, War, and Exploitation,” Osiris 20 (2005), 161-179.
Peter Pringle, The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov, 2008.
Boyce Rensberger, “Soviet Botanists Starved, Saving Seeds for Future,” Washington Post, May 12, 1992.
Michael Woods, “Soviet Union’s Fall Threatens ‘Gene Bank’ for Food Crops,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 26, 1993.
Joel I. Cohen and Igor G. Loskutov, “Exploring the Nature of Science Through Courage and Purpose,” SpringerPlus 5:1159 (2016).
Peter Nichols, A Voyage for Madmen, 2001.
Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall, The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, 1970.
Ed Caesar, “Drama on the Waves: The Life and Death of Donald Crowhurst,” Independent, Oct. 27, 2006.
This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Tommy Honton, who cites this source (warning: this link spoils the puzzle).
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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.
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