Analyzing What Went Wrong

One subject that I find incredibly interesting is failure analysis. This discipline involves analyzing an event such as a crime, a homicide, an airplane crash, or a disaster and trying to figure out the root causes using science, evidence, and other empirical data.

When combined with a voice-over narrator who describes the situation, analyzes the root causes, and explains lessons learned, it is a formula for a very engaging story.

This is my curated list of TV shows, books, podcasts and YouTube videos that focus on analyzing disasters to figure out “what went wrong.” I have put this post together in the hope that it helps someone out there discover more great shows or content around this theme, if you find it intriguing as well.

Television

American Greed (2007-Present)
This CNBC original show primarily focuses on investigating white-collar crimes such as finance and investment fraud and real estate schemes. Excellent narration by Stacy Keach. Available on Peacock.

Forensic Files (1996-2005)
Investigates homicide, arson, and other crimes by using forensic science to identify what happened. This show is a personal favorite and was mostly narrated by the late Peter Thomas. Airs on HLN in the U.S.

Modern Marvels: Engineering Disasters (1995-2015)
Modern Marvels is an original History Channel show that debuted in the 1990s and focuses on engineering and construction projects throughout history as well as the present day. A spin-off called Modern Marvels: Engineering Disasters tells the story of famous disasters throughout history, as well as what went wrong. Some episodes are available on YouTube, others with a History Vault subscription.

Masterminds (2003-2007)
Each episode of Masterminds tells the story of one seemingly impossible robbery or crime. Some of them are truly impressive in their size and scope. Narrated by Jamie Watson, this series is available on YouTube or for purchase on Amazon Prime.

Mayday/Air Crash Investigations (2003-Present)
Each episode tells the story of a significant incident or crash in the commercial aviation industry. Episodes may cover historic incidents up through the present day. A lot of the re-enactments are overly dramatized and repetitive, but the show is still watchable. Some seasons are available on YouTube while others are on the Smithsonian Network or National Geographic Channels in the U.S.

YouTube

AOPA Air Safety Institute
This channel reports on crashes and incidents among private/sport pilots in the U.S. The channel combines excellent computer generated visuals and graphics with voice over narration. It is remarkable how many incidents are caused by a cascading failure of many small mistakes that alone would not be enough to cause a disaster. Visit Air Safety Institute YouTube Channel

Mentour Pilot
Channel creator and pilot Petter provides expert level analysis of commercial aircraft incidents and accidents on this channel. His friendly, knowledgeable personality and stunning visual re-creations are among the best I have seen. Absolutely enjoy every video he makes. Visit Mentour Pilot YouTube Channel

Fascinating Horror
This YouTube channel dives into lesser-known accidents and tragedies throughout history, from building collapses to structure fires to transportation accidents. Visit Fascinating Horror YouTube Channel

US Chemical Safety Board (CSB)
This channel has made me an expert in Process Safety. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigates accidents at industrial sites in the U.S. and provides a detailed account of the factors that led to the disaster. Their videos feature computer animations and excellent commentary. I consider the video “Blowout in Oklahoma” to be their finest work. Visit U.S. CSB YouTube Channel

Books

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
Journalist and writer Alfred Lansing published this incredible account in 1959 of Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition from 1914-1917. This incredible true story is a must-read for any fan of the true adventure / survival genre.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Published in 1997 by Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air describes the fatal climbing accident that took place on Mount Everest in 1996. A review of the incident offers insight into what went wrong on the world’s tallest mountain.

Podcasts

Armored (2021)
This 10 episode mini series from Audiochuck focuses on armored vehicle robberies. Each episode is a stand-alone story so dive right in wherever you like. Listen to Armored Podcast

Norco 80 (2021)
This 8 episode mini series (plus 3 bonus episodes) from LAist Studios tells the true story of a bank heist gone wrong in Southern California in May of 1980. The narrative goes deep into the backstory as well as the events of the crime in harrowing detail. Listen to Norco 80 Podcast

Other Sources
What have I missed? Are there any shows, books, or other methods that I have missed which tell engaging stories of disaster and failure analysis? Post a comment below to share your favorite one, if it’s not already on this list!

About the author

Trevor Freeman

Trevor Freeman is a writer, photographer, and maker who loves learning new things. His favorite food is pizza. He received a Bachelor's Degree in Business Management from Grand Canyon University. He lives and works in Phoenix.

You can follow Trevor on Twitter @TrevorFreemanAZ, on Instagram at @arizona.dreamin, and on YouTube: TheRealTrevorland.

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