The Best of the Great Courses

 

I listened to my first Teaching Company courses, now known as The Great Courses, over 20 years ago. A dear friend suggested that I listen to The Great Ideas of Philosophy by Prof. Daniel N. Robinson. It was magnificent, and I soon had finished ALL of Prof. Robinson’s courses: The Great Ideas of Psychology, Consciousness and Its Implications, Greek Legacy: Classical Origins of the Modern World, and American Ideals: Founding a “Republic of Virtues.” Every course was incredibly illuminating.

In college, I could count the number of Great professors on one hand: my Trig/Statistics/Calculus professor, an American History professor, and the great David Bell, an English professor. Daniel N. Robinson had all the qualities of a great teacher, primarily the ability to present a survey class, like The Great Ideas of Philosophy, which included the Western philosophers from the pre-Socratics into the 20th century, as if he were a full believer of the philosopher on whom he was lecturing.

I have since listened to (and occasionally viewed, but I much prefer listening while driving or walking) dozens more. Here is a list of some of the other professors I find to be great, “great” meaning I will listen to their courses again and again with unfailing pleasure.

Note: Never pay full price. Wait until the courses you want go on sale for 70% less or more.

Robert Greenberg: The most prolific of the Great Courses professors, Prof. Greenberg does Classical Music right. Funny, smart, and compelling, I recommend you start with one or all ten of his Great Masters series, which have a minimum of technical musical language. Great Masters: Mozart–His Life and Music. After those, if you want to get a deeper knowledge of the formal language of Classical Music, try either his survey course How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, or Bach and the High Baroque.

Michael Sugrue: Only one course, but it doesn’t get better than this: Plato, Socrates, and the Dialogues. I steal from him shamelessly. Why? In the words of Stravinsky, when challenged that a portion of one movement of his symphony sounded like it was stolen from Mozart, said, “Of course, I stole from him. He’s great.”

William R. Cook: Prof. Cook, and his occasional compatriot professor Ronald B. Herzman, is fantastic on courses like: St. Augustine’s Confessions, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Francis of Assisi, Lives of the Great Christians, Machiavelli in Context, The Catholic Church: A History, The Worlds Greatest Churches, The Cathedral, and Tocqueville and the American Experiment. No, as it happens, I am not a Catholic.

Thomas L. Pangle: Only one course, but it’s required: The Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Consitution.

Steven L. Goldman: For the best in Science and related topics: Great Scientific Ideas that Changed the World, Science in the 20th Century: A Socio-Intellectual Survey, and Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It. A marvelous trilogy of courses.

There are more, but start with any of these. I’m sure some of you have a few courses you would recommend.

Enjoy!

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  1. Mountie Coolidge
    Mountie
    @Mountie

    Like you I made my discovery of the Great Courses over 20 years ago. Here’s a partial inventory of what we’ve got. We’re not too good about keeping them together on the bookshelf so there’s a whole bunch of them lying about the house in different places near different media devices (e.g. the Blu-ray player). Currently I’m doing one on the bill of rights and civil liberties. If the course comes with the speaker notes book I highly recommend buying it.

    • #1
  2. Bob Armstrong Thatcher
    Bob Armstrong
    @BobArmstrong

    Mountie (View Comment):

    Like you I made my discovery of the Great Courses over 20 years ago. Here’s a partial inventory of what we’ve got. We’re not too good about keeping them together on the bookshelf so there’s a whole bunch of them lying about the house in different places near different media devices (e.g. the Blu-ray player). Currently I’m doing one on the bill of rights and civil liberties. If the course comes with the speaker notes book I highly recommend buying it.

    There’s a Great Courses offering on Robotech?!? Sign me up!

    • #2
  3. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Top three shelves are all Greenberg.

    • #3
  4. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    I just ordered Robinson’s Great Ideas of Philosophy (2nd edition) from Audible.  Thanks for the tip.

    • #4
  5. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    Mark Alexander: Never pay full price. Wait until the courses you want go on sale for 70% less or more.

    It’s very likely that your local library system will offer a good selection of Great Courses (for free! Or for a very few tax dollars). Many are also included with an Amazon Prime subscription.

    • #5
  6. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Mark Alexander: There are more, but start with any of these. I’m sure some of you have a few courses you would recommend.

    I recommend just about all.  Here are only some of the Great Courses we have (some are getting yellow with age):

    My wife is currently streaming classes, but I prefer CDs and DVDs.  I like having something tangible in my hands when I say “I own it” . . .

    • #6
  7. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Charlotte (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander: Never pay full price. Wait until the courses you want go on sale for 70% less or more.

    It’s very likely that your local library system will offer a good selection of Great Courses (for free! Or for a very few tax dollars). Many are also included with an Amazon Prime subscription.

    I mentioned Audible, above, and concur that the library is a great alternative unless one wants to “own” or wants something not available.  They come to about $12.50 over the course of an Audible subscription if one is into that.

    • #7
  8. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Stad (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander: There are more, but start with any of these. I’m sure some of you have a few courses you would recommend.

    I recommend just about all. Here are only some of the Great Courses we have (some are getting yellow with age):

    My wife is currently streaming classes, but I prefer CDs and DVDs. I like having something tangible in my hands when I say “I own it” . . .

    I bow before the Master Student.

    • #8
  9. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander: There are more, but start with any of these. I’m sure some of you have a few courses you would recommend.

    I recommend just about all. Here are only some of the Great Courses we have (some are getting yellow with age):

    My wife is currently streaming classes, but I prefer CDs and DVDs. I like having something tangible in my hands when I say “I own it” . . .

    I bow before the Master Student.

    Makes you wonder how he finds time for that cocktail.  Practice, I suppose.

    • #9
  10. Richard Easton Member
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Bob Brier is great on Ancient Egypt.  Alan Kors is also wonderful.

    • #10
  11. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    I finally during the pandemic got to listening to a few Great Courses.  It was on my to do list for years but was always traveling so much, I didn’t have time.  But Audible in my car has gotten me through quite a few of them:

    John McWhorter’s “The Story of Human Language”, was outstanding.  I listened to another one of his as well on English. 

    I really enjoyed “Food, a Cultural History” by Ken Albala.

    I just got through “The History of Ancient Rome” by Garrett Fagan and liked it so much I started his “Emperors of Rome” .  Lovely Irish accent.

    After that one, however, I’m going to use some of your suggestions.  

    • #11
  12. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Shameless self-promotion:

    Learn the history of philosophy from me on YouTube.

    • #12
  13. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Shameless self-promotion:

    Learn the history of philosophy from me on YouTube.

    Augustine would approve!

    • #13
  14. Weeping Member
    Weeping
    @Weeping

    Mark Alexander: Never pay full price. Wait until the courses you want go on sale for 70% less or more.

    Or check out their streaming service, Great Courses Plus. I’m not sure all of the courses they have on DVD are available on the digital platform, but a lot of them are there.

    I have enjoyed several courses by Dorsey Armstrong – namely “The Black Death”, “Great Minds of the Medieval World”, “King Arthur”, and “Years That Changed History: 1215”. I’ve also enjoyed several of their tour-type courses, like “Exploring the Mayan World” by Edwin Barnhart

    My husband and I are currently enjoying the dry humor of Robert Bucholz in his course, “A History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts”.

    • #14
  15. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Charlotte (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander: Never pay full price. Wait until the courses you want go on sale for 70% less or more.

    It’s very likely that your local library system will offer a good selection of Great Courses (for free! Or for a very few tax dollars). Many are also included with an Amazon Prime subscription.

    I used to get some through our local library. That goes back a ways, though. More recently, but not so recently that I remember them all in detail, I’ve listened to the following from Audible.Com. 

    The Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Derrida by Lawrence Cahoone

    The Story of Human Language by John McWhorter

    The Irish Identity:Independence, History, and Literature by Marc C Conner

    The Fall and Rise of China by Richard Baum

    A History of Russia: From Peter the Great to Gorbachev by Mark Steinberg

    Turning Points in Middle Eastern History by Eamonn Gearon

    A History of Eastern Europe by Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius

    Before 1776: Life in the American Colonies by Robert J Allison

    Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation by Phillip Cary

    Some of these are audible.com exclusives. They may not be the greatest of the great courses.

    The McWhorter one was good.

    I’m a little skeptical about parts of the Richard Baum lecture about China. There is a problem with being given access to a totalitarian regime and the way it affects one’s objectivity.

    I don’t remember learning much that was new to me in the one about Russia. 

    The Liulevicius one left a lot uncovered, as one would expect for such a big topic.  I think the one about Life in the American Colonies was good, but it has been a while and I don’t remember specifics. 

    The one about Irish literature is the most memorable, because it was in it that I first learned about the Blasket Island Writers. I finally got to visit the Great Blasket Island on May Day two years ago, and last month I wrote a QOTD about it for The Humble Sock, where some former and current Ricochet people hang out.   I suppose I could post a version of it here sometime, too.

    • #15
  16. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation by Phillip Cary

    Shameless self-promotion: He endorsed my earlier and cheaper Augustine book.

    • #16
  17. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation by Phillip Cary

    Shameless self-promotion: He endorsed my earlier and cheaper Augustine book.

    Maybe that’s how I first learned of Cary, but probably not. I don’t remember much about the lecture series, either, other than that it left a favorable impression on me.  It is one that I’d go back and listen to again, if I didn’t have so much in my queue.

    • #17
  18. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Weeping (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander: Never pay full price. Wait until the courses you want go on sale for 70% less or more.

    Or check out their streaming service, Great Courses Plus. I’m not sure all of the courses they have on DVD are available on the digital platform, but a lot of them are there.

    I have enjoyed several courses by Dorsey Armstrong – namely “The Black Death”, “Great Minds of the Medieval World”, “King Arthur”, and “Years That Changed History: 1215”. I’ve also enjoyed several of their tour-type courses, like “Exploring the Mayan World” by Edwin Barnhart

    My husband and I are currently enjoying the dry humor of Robert Bucholz in his course, “A History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts”.

    Maybe 50%

    • #18
  19. Sheila Coolidge
    Sheila
    @SheilaP

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Shameless self-promotion:

    Learn the history of philosophy from me on YouTube.

    Please tell me you put these in podcast form! 

    • #19
  20. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Sheila (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Shameless self-promotion:

    Learn the history of philosophy from me on YouTube.

    Please tell me you put these in podcast form!

    Don’t even know how.

    But I could email my notes to people who want them.

    • #20
  21. Sheila Coolidge
    Sheila
    @SheilaP

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Sheila (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Shameless self-promotion:

    Learn the history of philosophy from me on YouTube.

    Please tell me you put these in podcast form!

    Don’t even know how.

    But I could email my notes to people who want them.

    Its kinda a pain in the rear, but I did figure it out, so I am sure you can. The hardest part, for me, was biting back my hate for Apple and setting up an account to upload my videos. I only lasted 3 episodes, but I did it. LOL You already have the material… the videos, all you have to do is upload them to Apple, (I say say as if it were the simplest thing…which it is after you are all set up).

    • #21
  22. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Sheila (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Sheila (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Shameless self-promotion:

    Learn the history of philosophy from me on YouTube.

    Please tell me you put these in podcast form!

    Don’t even know how.

    But I could email my notes to people who want them.

    Its kinda a pain in the rear, but I did figure it out, so I am sure you can. The hardest part, for me, was biting back my hate for Apple and setting up an account to upload my videos. I only lasted 3 episodes, but I did it. LOL You already have the material… the videos, all you have to do is upload them to Apple, (I say say as if it were the simplest thing…which it is after you are all set up).

    I dunno. I reckon it has potential.  I doubt I can remember in which videos I was doing hand motions to illustrate something.  Definitely Hegel . . . .

    • #22
  23. Sheila Coolidge
    Sheila
    @SheilaP

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Sheila (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Sheila (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Shameless self-promotion:

    Learn the history of philosophy from me on YouTube.

    Please tell me you put these in podcast form!

    Don’t even know how.

    But I could email my notes to people who want them.

    Its kinda a pain in the rear, but I did figure it out, so I am sure you can. The hardest part, for me, was biting back my hate for Apple and setting up an account to upload my videos. I only lasted 3 episodes, but I did it. LOL You already have the material… the videos, all you have to do is upload them to Apple, (I say say as if it were the simplest thing…which it is after you are all set up).

    I dunno. I reckon it has potential. I doubt I can remember in which videos I was doing hand motions to illustrate something. Definitely Hegel . . . .

    I have done a few Great Courses on Philosophy (among other things), but I really like Podcasts. The podcast “Philosophize This” is pretty cool, I am about to start my 3rd time through (unless I can figure out your YouTube playlists). I listen to all 150 episodes then digest for a 6 or 7 months then listen to all 150 again, and so on. Its all good, but it would be really great if there was one with a deeper dive. On your YouTube page I see that you have 11 videos on Plato’s Republic I would love that, but do I need to listen to Socrates 1st? Or a full course on Plato including Socrates? I just don’t know where to start, and how to progress. With as many courses as I have done you would think I would have a much better understanding, but because I have been doing general over view type courses, over and over, it takes a lot longer to sink in, or maybe its just my thick skull. LOL

    Also, Podcasts can be video as well, Sometimes I listen to Joe Rogan and sometimes I watch, if I am listening and he puts something on screen, like playing a clip, I can pick up my phone and watch the clip then go back to listening. I also do that with Uncommon Knowledge, some interviews just have to be watched like Antonin Scalia was wonderful to watch.

    • #23
  24. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Sheila (View Comment):

    on Plato’s Republic I would love that, but do I need to listen to Socrates 1st? Or a full course on Plato including Socrates?

    Not really. Those videos would be fine with the “What Is Good for the Soul?” Socrates cartoon as an intro.

    Also, Podcasts can be video as well, Sometimes I listen to Joe Rogan and sometimes I watch, if I am listening and he puts something on screen, like playing a clip, I can pick up my phone and watch the clip then go back to listening. I also do that with Uncommon Knowledge, some interviews just have to be watched like Antonin Scalia was wonderful to watch.

    Indeed. Uncommon Knowledge and all the Daily Wire I do as podcasts, but I know they’re YouTubes too.

    You’ve given me something to think about, if I remember. Maybe I could check for some videos that are longer and watch them to see if they rely on visuals much. Or maybe I could start doing some videos with podcasting copying in mind.

    • #24
  25. KevinKrisher Coolidge
    KevinKrisher
    @KevinKrisher

    Also great: the Modern Scholar courses, especially the philosophy courses by the outstanding Peter Kreeft of Boston College. I recommend Faith and Reason: the Philosophy of Religion for starters.

    • #25
  26. KevinKrisher Coolidge
    KevinKrisher
    @KevinKrisher

    Weeping (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander: Never pay full price. Wait until the courses you want go on sale for 70% less or more.

    Or check out their streaming service, Great Courses Plus. I’m not sure all of the courses they have on DVD are available on the digital platform, but a lot of them are there.

    I have enjoyed several courses by Dorsey Armstrong – namely “The Black Death”, “Great Minds of the Medieval World”, “King Arthur”, and “Years That Changed History: 1215”. I’ve also enjoyed several of their tour-type courses, like “Exploring the Mayan World” by Edwin Barnhart

    My husband and I are currently enjoying the dry humor of Robert Bucholz in his course, “A History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts”.

    Dorsey Armstrong is the best. But I’m biased toward the history department at Purdue.

    • #26
  27. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):

    Also great: the Modern Scholar courses, especially the philosophy courses by the outstanding Peter Kreeft of Boston College. I recommend Faith and Reason: the Philosophy of Religion for starters.

    Some of those are available from audible.com.  I see there is one in my library: World War l: The Great War and the World It Made by John Ramsden.

    • #27
  28. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander: There are more, but start with any of these. I’m sure some of you have a few courses you would recommend.

    I recommend just about all. Here are only some of the Great Courses we have (some are getting yellow with age):

    My wife is currently streaming classes, but I prefer CDs and DVDs. I like having something tangible in my hands when I say “I own it” . . .

    I bow before the Master Student.

    Makes you wonder how he finds time for that cocktail. Practice, I suppose.

    We have the Great Courses lessons on spirits and wines:

    https://www.thegreatcourses.com/professors/jennifer-simonetti-bryan

    Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan is an absolute treat when discussing the distillation process and the various cocktails derived from a particular type of spirit.  My wife disagrees, but I swear JSB starts to get hammered by the end of each lesson . . .

    • #28
  29. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    Bob Brier is great on Ancient Egypt. Alan Kors is also wonderful.

    The ancient Egypt course was fantastic!  The one thing that blew me away was how the pyramids were already considered ancient by the latter line of pharohs.

    • #29
  30. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Weeping (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander: Never pay full price. Wait until the courses you want go on sale for 70% less or more.

    Or check out their streaming service, Great Courses Plus. I’m not sure all of the courses they have on DVD are available on the digital platform, but a lot of them are there.

    I have enjoyed several courses by Dorsey Armstrong – namely “The Black Death”, “Great Minds of the Medieval World”, “King Arthur”, and “Years That Changed History: 1215”. I’ve also enjoyed several of their tour-type courses, like “Exploring the Mayan World” by Edwin Barnhart

    My husband and I are currently enjoying the dry humor of Robert Bucholz in his course, “A History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts”.

    Dorsey is awesome . . .

    • #30