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What was the worst year to be alive on plan­et Earth? 

We make the case for 536 AD, which set off a cas­cade of cat­a­stro­phes that is almost too hor­ri­ble to imag­ine. A super­vol­cano. The dis­ap­pear­ance of shad­ows. A fail­ure of bread. Plague rats. Using evi­dence painstak­ing­ly gath­ered around the world — from Mon­go­lian tree rings to Green­landic ice cores to Mayan arti­facts — we paint a por­trait of what sci­en­tists and his­to­ri­ans think went wrong, and what we think it felt like to be there in real time. (Spoil­er: not so hot.) We hear a hymn for the dead from the ancient king­dom of Axum, the clos­est we can get to the sound of grief from a mil­len­ni­um and a half ago.

The hor­rors of 536 make us won­der about the par­al­lels and per­pen­dic­u­lars with our own time: does it make you feel any bet­ter know­ing that your suf­fer­ing is part of a glob­al cri­sis? Or does it just make things worse?”

Speak­ing of your suf­fer­ing through a glob­al cri­sis, Coro­na­som­nia is a not-so-sur­pris­ing side-effect of the glob­al pan­dem­ic. More and more of us are hav­ing trou­ble falling asleep. We want­ed to find a way to get inside that night­time world, to see why peo­ple are awake and what they are think­ing about.

So we opened up the phone lines to talk to you – stay­ing up all night, tak­ing hun­dreds of calls, spilling secrets, and at long last, watch­ing the sun­rise peek through.