Dan Klein writes me about The Teaching Company

Here are the Teaching Company courses that I feel I have benefited most from:

Rufus J. Fears, Famous Greeks

Rufus J. Fears, Famous Romans

Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament

Seth Lerer, The History of the English Language

Andrew C. Fix, The Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Rise of Nations

Brad S. Gregory, The History of Christianity in the Reformation Era

Robert Bucholz, The History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts

Dale Hoak, The Age of Henry VIII

Peter C. Mancall, Origins and Ideologies of the American Revolution

Thomas L. Pangle, The Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution

Patrick N. Allitt, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire

Patrick N. Allitt, The Conservative Tradition

Frederick Gregory, The Darwinian Revolution

Which do you all recommend?  Here is a Quora forum on the same issue.


My favorite so far:
Understanding Linguistics: The Science of Language - John McWhorter

also good:
Joy of Thinking: The Beauty and Power of Classical Mathematical Ideas

In linguistics, the Introduction To Greek:Learning an Ancient Language, is pretty good, I am currently watching it. Only two mistakes in the first four hours ( the wrong accent on the second syllable of the Greek word for "plans" in lecture 5, "Verbs in the Present Tense", and an unqualified assertion that Chinese tone language experience effortlessly translates to Greek tonal accentuation familiarity in lecture 3, Basic Rules of Greek Accentuation - it doesn't (see Vox Graeca, still in print, for details. of course Vox Latina is a more useful book but there is so much more information about how classical Latin sounded than how classical Greek sounded). Koterski, a Fordham professor, is really good on the Nichomachean Ethics and on wisdom literature, I listened to every lecture from beginning to end, only about 20 per cent of the time was completely wasted (which is a real good ratio). The Haydn bio was good, although could have been better on the liturgical music and the best of the symphonies (as good as the last 12 symphonies were, there were a few uninspired stretches, something you would not know from your Great Courses bio of Haydn). The catalogs the Great Books company sent out used to have pictures on the first or second page of some "earth sciences" shyster/ideologue/intellectual from GMU who thought he could usefully explain his views of all of science - well maybe he could, up to a point (his name was Hagen or something Wagnerian like that), and they relentlessly promote the rather sophomoric Ehrmann (his takes on Biblical reality are, as far as I know, no different than briefs filed in court, there is only one side that he wants to support, poor guy. He must be a hard worker, the Loeb Library hired him as an editor, but, I repeat - poor guy.)

To be fair it could be me who is wrong about the accent on the second syllable of the Greek word for plans in lecture 5. In any event, I very much recommend that course (Introduction to Greek), and the Koterski courses, and Greenberg on Haydn.

and it would be wrong to expect the Great Courses to get you enough up to speed on a subject to know, for example, that of the 10,000 most common Latin nouns there are approximately 1,000 - not much more, not much less - with vowels of lengths that are not just unknown but actually indeterminate - which is actually interesting in a way one only understands after truly trying to understand the poetry of the poetry of that beautiful language and the poetry of the prose, and why Plautus was, actually, funnier, line for line, than even Shakespeare in most of his many comedies - or to know why almost no 20th century writer had the basic knowledge of Irish to evaluate Finnegans Wake fairly, as if a convention of champagne aficionados got redirected to the best uisce beatha convention one could imagine this side of dreamland (I am thinking of one famous writer in particular whose parody of Finnegans Wake was so bad that it hurts to read it).

For example, nobody knows how Vergil pronounced Italy (italia) in real life (long I in the first syllable, or short) but we all know how he pronounced it in the Aeneid (long I, for fairly simple prosodic reasons). A boring observation,I suppose, if detached from the reality of a world where there are actually people who care about poetry, even Latin poetry; but an interesting observation, one likes to think, in a world where not every single one of the billions of us considers Latin poetry not worth the effort.

"Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality" by Dr. Richard Sapolsky of Standford was incredibly engaging and corrects some long held myths I held about brain function, genetics, and human behavior. Builds everything from the ground up over 20+ lectures.

Great Great Course, indeed. Sapolsky's Human Behavoral Biology on YouTube is the best thing on since sliced bread. Seriously, it's fantastic.

I can't say enough good things about 'Big History', by David Christian. It was fantastic!

Here is a visual overview of the course:


Man are you gonna be sad when you die in 50 years and there's no 'singularity'

Wait, are you implying that you aren't going to help resurect me post Singularity??

At any rate, it is an interesting graph that goes quite well with Big History.

Fair enough. That site had some cool graphs but some of them stop around 2005. I'm just teasing you about your technophilic utopianism.

From the Great Books to the Great Courses - infotainment on the march in the best of all possible worlds..

At least this process is not an autocratic top down approach, if wikipedia is to be trusted - 'Professors must first pass auditions that are screened by The Great Courses' customers.' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Courses

City Journal posted an article back in 2011 on The Great Courses which looks as the content the company offers in more detail (and talks of its alignment in the culture wars).

Unlike Prior's snark about infotainment, that article was interesting. Lo and behold, people like to learn stuff, sometimes via a downloaded filmed/taped lecture series that eschews the radical politics of Arts faculties circa 1998.

The article was interesting although I do have to say their devotion to market research and polling doesn't make them look too good in my eyes - first of all People don't necessarily know what they want actually and second of all if you're just listening to lectures to re-inforce your beliefs and not have anyone challenge them then maybe it IS just infotainment.

You try too hard.

I have purchased for my children dozens of their courses. A few have been disappointing (solving puzzles or sudoku or something like that, and a course on Asia/Japan that seemed off, I can't remember), but, the rest have been great. They (and we) watched, or listened to the programs, and enjoyed and learned. As an example, one we purchased was an extended, 12 or 24 hours, on photography (sorry I am too lazy to go look), and they were absolutely fascinated and began applying the knowledge to their efforts. Our family photos while still boring, look better. While pricey, I recommend their courses.

How do these compare to the PBS programs, for example the series "The Story of English" vs "The history of the English language " ?

I think they are superior.

PBS is fluff. Far more info content with Great Courses. PBS stuff is well produced, though.

Alan Kors, one of the founders of the FIRE free speech foundation, is an extremely adept lecturer for the medium of tape. He knows exactly how to pace his lectures and how much redundancy to insert for listeners not in the classroom.

Most Teaching Company lecturers seem to assume they will be getting 100% of your attention, but Dr. Kors seems to assume around 90% attention. Thus, other lecturers are fine for listening to in the car if I stay in one lane, but if I had to change lanes, I'd lose the thread and have to back the tape up. With Dr. Kors, however, I could keep up with his lectures on Voltaire (or whomever) no matter how demanding traffic got.

"Robert Bucholz, The History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts" was great.

History of Ancient Rome by Garrett Fagan was also very good.

"Model thinking" by Scott Page (on Coursera).

Congratulations to you! You win Today's Cuck Award for choosing this course as your favorite!!!

Robert Greenberg on any kind of music; Peter Saccio on Shakespeare.

Exactly, all of his are amazing and have opened my eyes (ears) to all kinds of music. Currently listening to "String Quartets of Beethoven" and amazed.

Agree! I enjoy listening to (for example) Mozart much much more after watching his "How to Listen To and Understand Great Music."

Greenberg is da [sic] man. Makes a lot of green for the Great Courses.

I have enjoyed each Ehrman series I have gotten my hands on.

Ehrman is a real scholar and definitely worth listening to, but he's extremely dodgy on a whole host of issues. Be aware that his is only one take on the New Testament.

I second most of the above and also loved Patrick Allitt's history of the Industrial Revolution.

In addition to the McWhorters mentioned above (and the Fears, RIP -- that guy could tell a story), Elizabeth Vandiver's various classics lectures are insightful.

Totally agree. I'd recommend her Classical Mythology lectures as the best place for anyone to begin with her. The lectures on Greek Tragedy and Herodotus are also favourites.

Huge Teaching Company fan here. I have been listening for 19 years.

My favorite was Daniel Robinson's "Great Ideas of Philosophy." I actually disagree with him on most of the big philosophical questions but I thought he was the best of a very good group despite this.

Rufus Fears is one of my least favorite professors. His approach to history is to assume that the right way to teach history is to convey what he thinks are its biggest moral lessons even at the expense of a focus on actual events. His version of history is the good guys against the bad guys with not a lot of room for moral complexity.

I haven't listened to these courses but had the pleasure of being smacked by his walking stick in a few of his classes as an undergrad. Some of his classes were intended as story time with Uncle Rufus and focused on using the classics to talk about the morality and modern lessons. I'll have to dig back in my books but if I remember the classes were supplemented with Tacitus, Suetonius and Herodotus as well. They weren't intended as a strict discussion of the history.

The engineering courses taught by Stephen Ressler. Imagine having a professor who's really good at doing in-class demonstrations, then think what would happen if he's no longer constrained by the classroom and has been given a solid budget to make stuff for real.

Thomas Harl's History of the Peloponnesian War was quite good.

I might have to snag a few of the ones people mentioned above. Some of those sound good.

Harl's courses are generally good, but he can lose you in the detail. Towards the end of his course on the Vikings I got quite bored listening to the story of yet another group of Norsemen conquering another group in the south.

Its Kenneth Harl-and all his courses are great. His anecdotes are very amusing.

Harl's courses are all good, and it's hilarious the way he starts out talking in this calm, measured, low-key voice and then gets more and more agitated, loud, and excited as the lecture proceeds.

I have listened to probably twenty different courses over the years. The standout, best course is John McWhorter's Understanding Linguistics, as mentioned by others. Bart Ehrman on Christianity/New Testament, Patrick Allitt on Conservatism, Larson on Evolution were also very good.

Hmmm from the fan base here sounds like the series should be renamed from The Great Courses to the Great Cuckolds.

Hilarious. Why don't you apply to teach the Great Courses course on humor?

Allie's American Religious History is also really good, especially in light's Tyler's recent post about religion.

A somewhat related recommendation: the University of Chicago maintains an archive of Leo Strauss lectures, both audio and text. Self-recommending.


A thanks to all the above for their recommendations. With the one exception of Robinson's Consciousness and its Implications (which damn near made me unconscious) all the Great Courses I viewed have been good for the last 15 years. Now if they would stop sending daily e-mails life would be great.

Not completely related, but a while back you had asked about arguments for belief in God. Edward Feser's new book, Five Proofs for the Existence of God, defends five classical proofs and their metaphysical underpinnings against known objections. If you are an honest reader, I think you will find the proofs formidable enough that, whether or not they actually work, you personally won't be able to pierce them. Anyway, I recommend you throw it on the pile for the little that my opinion is worth.

I'd listen to any of them depending on interests. We have a collection. Their use of Ehrman as their exclusive go-to guy for Scriptural studies is annoying as he is a controversial figure in that realm. One of the characters they contracted to lecture on Thomas Aquinas made a twit-nuisance out of himself in the course of it. My personal favorite was Philip Daeleader's lectures on medieval history, but the early middle ages is not something that interests everyone.

Ehrman is indeed highly obnoxious, but they've also got several who are much more traditional in orientation- Johnson, Cary, and (in OT/Jewish scripture) Rendsberg

While most of the courses at GC present mainstream views in their area, Bart Ehrman's views on the New Testament are quite one sided. For example, one of the main disputes in New Testament studies is whether Jesus made claims to divinity in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke). It is obvious that Jesus in the synoptics did not directly claim divinity, as he did in John. However, the question is whether some of the very strong claims he did make in the synoptics could be made without also implicitly claiming divinity.

You get none of that debate in Ehrman. Just a flat dismissal of the idea that Jesus made divine claims in the synoptics.

So, take with a huge grain of salt.

Michael Sugrue on Plato
David Roochnik on Greek Philosophy and Plato's Republic
Amy Jill-Levine on the Old Testament
Phillp Cary on Augustine and the History of Christian Theology
Garett Fagen on Roman history
Jeremy McInerney on Greek history
Elizabeth Vandiver on Classical Mythology
Thomas Williams on Medieval Philosophy
Mark Berkson on World Religions
Lawrence Cahoone on Modern Philosophy and Modern Political Thought
Suzanne Desan on the French Revolution
Clare Kinney on Shakespeare's Tragedies
Cynthia Chapman on Biblical Israel
Dorsey Armstrong on King Arthur
Herzman and Cook on Dante and St. Francis (avoid their course on Augustine).
Charles Mathewes on Augustine's City of God

I've heard a bunch of them, they are mostly pretty good though less information than reading, so I only hear them when I'm walking.

Right now I'm almost done with the audio book (not by TLC) by Fukuyama, "Political Order", it's pretty good albeit a bit too ponderous for my taste.

Bonus trivia: according to Fukuyama, the Mancur Olson thesis of stationary vs roving bandits cannot be right except as a logical construct since taxes under stationary bandits were historically so low: by some accounts (not mentioned by Fukuyama) the Roman Empire's total taxes were about 3%/year, Fukuyama mentions less than 5% a year. Surely roving bandits cannot have been that much more? That said, if you add "corvee" (forced labor) in the medieval era, the 'taxes' can approach 50%, but by and large it's not that great in general. Also see the Boston Tea Party where people got upset over a small single digit tax. Since Fukuyama later asserts that taxes upset people in the French Revolution, and blames taxes for the collapse of the medieval Hungarian empire (they did not pay their army), likewise for the Ming? dynasty, you have to nevertheless conclude that taxes were important, but not the prime mover for government formation.

I'm a huge fan and have consumed probably 50-60 courses or so over the last decade, mostly in history.

My all-time favorite is Harl's "The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes". An extremely well-put-together course on a generally under-taught/under-known subject, and of course Harl is a terrific lecturer

Much of what I'm into is historical. Also excellent are
- Fagan's "History of Rome" / "Emperors of Rome" coverage of Roman history
- Noble's "Late Antiquity: Crisis and Transformation" covers well the ancient / medieval transition
- Ressler's "Understanding Greek and Roman Technology" is uniformly fantastic
- Magness's "The Holy Land Revealed" is solid on biblical archaeology
- Cary's "History of Christian Theology" is generally very good, with the quibble that he gets too protestant- and American- centric in places

Outside of History
- Every music course I've listened to from Robert Greenberg is superb, Even if you're a music person already, his surveys are great
- Kloss's "History of European Art" is a solid survey
- Schumacher's "Quantum Mechanics: The Physics of the Microscopic World" is excellent for people interested in the topic but who aren't math-y. Schumacher generally is a good lecturer

Harl is great on Byzantium. I'll look forward to "Barbarian Empires of the Steppes." Fagan's "Hisotry of Rome" was fantastic on the nuts and bolts of Roman government.

I am genuinely keen to understand the perspective that champions watching these courses, instead of reading essential books (both textbooks and otherwise).

Can watching a course on medieval Europe ever equal reading Gibbon? Can you learn more about the Conservative tradition by watching the Patrick Allit course as opposed to reading the thinkers themselves (Burke, Aristotle, Tocqueville among others)?

1. In many areas of study, secondary material is essential. In philosophy and political thought, for example, you would be foolhardy to think you will get much out of the classic texts on their own.

2. Oral delivery seems to force people to be clear and concise, which makes the lecture format ideal for basic introductory material.

3. In many areas of study, like history or science, there are no undying classics per se. Even history books that have become classics of literature tend to become superseded as history.

4. The audio format is ideal for when you are doing other things, like cleaning, driving, going for a walk etc. It allows you to multitask.

Most people aren't going to read Gibbon. The choice isn't between a TGC video and Gibbon. It's between the video and nothing.

"Can you learn more about the Conservative tradition by watching the Patrick Allit course as opposed to reading the thinkers themselves (Burke, Aristotle, Tocqueville among others)?"

Yes, because your reading can lack context.

Gibbon is great to read, but the main reason to watch a course in addition is that Gibbon is flat-wrong on a great many topics and details. He gets away with it by being such a fantastic writer (and in his defense he wrote long before any serious archaeology had been done and a great many late antique texts recovered), but his conclusions do not deserve the authority they enjoy

I just mentioned Gibbon as one example.

So for Late Antiquity, reading both Gibbon and Peter Brown should cover most of what you need to know, with far greater nuance than what a course can offer.

Brown is a secondary source too, and I doubt the average person would get much more out of Brown than Noble's GC lectures.

The cheapest way to get GC lectures is to get an Audible subscription. You get x number of credits per month depending on how many credits you want, starting at 1 credit per month at $15, and you get to keep your courses even after you cancel your subscription. Audio only, of course, which means some visually oriented courses not available.

I just mentioned Gibbon as one example.

So for Late Antiquity, reading both Gibbon and Peter Brown should cover most of what you need to know, with far greater nuance than what a course can offer.

I was thinking of buying but I see no one is recommending any of the economics or finance course.

Timothy Taylor.

I have friends who think highly of Taylor's GC economics lectures, but haven't listened to them myself.

I agree with those who recommend Greenberg on music and Kloss on art history. I didn't see Alex Filippenko's lectures on astronomy mentioned (96 lectures). Also, Sean Carroll has very interesting lectures on the Higgs boson and Time. The BBC has a weekly broadcast called In Our Time hosted by Melvin Bragg. Wide range of subjects discussed by a panel of three specialists. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qykl

J. Rufus Fears "Life lessons from the Great Books" changed my, well, life.

Academic, learn-ed, yet personal.

RIP Mr. Fears - you were a great teacher!

I think Ehrman's classes have long topped their best seller lists but you won't learn anything from them that is not covered in far greater detail in his books

Big History was something I was excited for based on the Bill Gates endorsement but was a big disppointment

They have a class on Mental Math that had some cool tricks for doing computations in your head and the professor (forget his name from Harvey Mudd) was impressive at the skill

Gotta be Art Benjamin, for awhile he had an informercial selling Mathemagic DVDs, I think he has a book with the same title. I'm not sure if the DVDs were meant for children (or adults) who wanted to become better at doing arithmetic, or if they were meant for the "recreational math" audience, i.e. tricks and puzzles.

But apparently he's both a very good performer and a very good math instructor.


Agree with those who recommended Noble, Ressler, & Harl-I have enjoyed many course by them. Noble is probably the finest classical lecturer around-amazing how he doesn't consult notes. Ressler's engineering courses are great-his models are very enriching . Everything by Harl is worthwhile & he has a lot of courses. Also would recommend the Books that Matter:City of God by Matthews. The Cathedral by Cook will make you want to fly to France. Simonetti-Bryan's course on spirits& cocktails was fun as well-especially if you take her advice & mix along

Robert Garland's "Greece and Rome: an Integrated History of the Ancient Mediterranean" was a treat--I listened to it twice. He looks at the "Roman" empire explicitly as a Greco-Roman fusion. Great stuff on everyday life, medicine, recreation, work, religion. I got a lot out of it.

Kenneth Harl's "The World of Byzantium" and Garrett Fagan's "The History of Ancient Rome" are also favorites.

We've been customers for 25 years (at least). Our daughter's homeschooling in some ways revolved around the fact that a Great Course was almost al ways playing in the car -- exceptions were made for Weird Al and Jeff Foxworthy.

Sadly many of the older lectures are no longer available, in particular an audio only course on the American Way of War, some VHS only high-school level courses on history, and two audio only series on Contracts and Torts. I'm commenting work so can't look up the professors' names.

Agree with others re Harl and Greenberg and Kors.

I stand corrected.

Haven't visited their website in a while, and Linwood Thompson's High School lectures are again available, as are the Frank Cross lectures on law.

I liked Robert Solomon's "Existentialism and the Meaning of Life" quite a bit.

The Teaching Company's chapter-by-chapter set of lectures (from James Heffernan) on James Joyce's "Ulysses" made reading the book much more enjoyable and edifying.

The two Gregory Aldrete courses I've listened to--"The Decisive Battles of World History" and "History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective"--are brilliant, well-delivered, and manage to be both broad and packed with interesting detail.

+1 for "Global Perspective," though I was a bit annoyed at how India just kind of disappeared halfway through the course...

By the way for you cord cutters if you own a Roku box, Great Course has a channel, once I set it up on my Roku, a lot of my course appear on the channel, not all of them.

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