January 22, 2010

Contents Unknown

A man named David Maclean finds himself in a train station in India, with no idea how he got there or who he is. His memory gone, he has no choice but to let other people—police, doctors, friends, family—create an identity for him. David's book about this incident is called The Answer to the Riddle Is Me. Plus other stories of filling in the blank.


On every British nuclear submarine, there is a safe. Inside that safe is another safe. And inside that safe is a handwritten letter from the British Prime Minister, to be opened only if the country has been decimated by nuclear war. Host Ira Glass talks with journalist Ron Rosenbaum about these peculiar letters. (7 minutes)

This story includes excerpts from a radio documentary called "The Human Button" (click to listen or right-click to save the file), which originally aired on BBC Radio 4 in December, 2008. For more information visit Radio 4. Ron Rosenbaum wrote about it on Slate and in his book How The End Begins.

Act One

Needle In A Crapstack

If you don't pay the rent on a self storage unit, eventually all of your stuff can go up for auction. But the people bidding aren't allowed to dig around. They just peer in from the outside with flashlights, guessing where there are valuables. Jon Mooallem visited auctions in Northern California, and learned the surprising techniques people use to tell junk from treasure. Jon is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, and is author of the book Wild Ones. (16 minutes)

Act Two

He Shapes Ship Shapes By The Sea Shore

Fred van Doorninck and George Bass were unlikely candidates for pioneering underwater Byzantine archaeology—Fred hates water, and George found the Byzantine era boring. But that's exactly what they did, when they devoted 50 years to uncovering the mysteries of a shipwreck. Along the way they changed how we think about a thousand years of history. Planet Money's Adam Davidson tells the story. (12 minutes)

Act Three

The Answer To The Riddle Is Me

On October 13, 2002, David MacLean woke up in India with no memory of who he was or how he got there. He had no choice but to let the people who recognized him—and even strangers—fill in his identity. David wrote a book about the experience of losing his memory, called The Answer to the Riddle Is Me. (20 minutes)