Say something about yourself!
A different reader. I have two issues with Robert Garland's presentation. First, he has a fairly noticeable lisp. I don't think this would bother me if it didn't somehow compound his far bigger shortcoming. He reads one. word. at. a. time. With great emphasis on each word in a way that if I was just learning the language I would love. He doesn't do it in the part that you can hear in the sample and on other occasions he is clearly speaking off the cuff and sounds perfectly fine. The other 90% are very difficult to listen to. If the subject were just slightly less interesting, I could easily delete the whole thing.
Not even a little.
It may be a matter of mismatched expectations and presentation, but this course ranks near the of the 60+ Great Courses I have purchased over the years. Much of the material is presented in the 2nd person, which I understand is for effect, but it didn't work at all for me. Professor Garland frequently tells "us" how we feel about the things that have happened to us, often using a mixture of sentimentality and deadpan sarcasm that I found confusing and distracting. Frequently these quips attempted to be critical of bias, but often fell flat and seemed to further illuminate the inherent bias in the course. Furthermore, he doesn't miss an opportunity to interject first-person stories about his own experiences and feelings, which could be awkward and were largely or completely irrelevant.
But if I had to pick a single criticism, it would be that so much of the material is unsubstantiated during the presentation. Even if it is based on historical fact, I found myself constantly questioning whether the author might have simply invented a narrative to bridge gaps in the archeological record. Some of the "substantiated" references are to myths and legends, but without noting that these stories may well be hyperbole and/or symbolic in nature. On what basis should we interpret them as facts that reflection the nature of daily life? A far better treatment of this sort of source material is found in Professor Kenneth W. Harl's course "The Vikings." That course together with Dorsey Armstrong's "The Medieval World" were much more informative and authoritative for the periods and populations they cover.
So, your mileage may vary, but I found this to be perhaps the least enjoyable set of lectures from the Great Courses in my library. It seemed more like historical fiction than history.
This tour-de-force overview over several hundreds of years of popular views on human history is, content-wise, well selected, easy to follow and gives a great first introduction into what historians believe to be next-to-true about "people like you and me living throughout the times".
Since the course only gives a broad overview, a lot (and I mean A LOT) of details are left out, variances in people's life and believes are ignored (and have to be).
Mr. Garland says his area of expertise isn't the "middle ages" (roughly about 1000 years of enormous changes to the way people lived), on the other hand reliable knowledge about people before that time is very limited, no matter how convinced Mr. Garland may seem to know.
So the lectures have to be taken with several spoons of salt.
What bothered me the most was the - sorry for the word - arrogance of a "modern Christian guy" seriously JUDGING the way other people, especially in times long gone, believed or saw the world. Passages like "there couldn't be a more absurd way of believe system" (this aren't his exact words, it is just what I FELT he was saying) about a multi-god-believe-system are absurd themselves, since the very concept of "any god" isn't exactly science. But it isn't just the believe-systems, but also the "state of mind" people were in. The constant comparisons between ancient ways of thinking and modern "we know what is right" attitude made the course hard to follow at times.
Mr. Garland ... separates ... every ......word ......from ......... the ......... next ...(you get the picture, don't you?)
His intonation stays very alike throughout a lecture. It sounds as if he is more or less reading from a script and, although he sounds excited about what he is saying, the CONSTANT excitement along with the ... separation ... of ... words ... without ... any ... professional ... dramaturgy ... would make me fall asleep if I listened to Mr. Garland in a life lecture at university.
I converted parts of the audio book to mp3 and used an audio editing software to narrow down the gaps (without speeding up the actual spoken words), which allowed me to follow the content a lot better.Mr. Garlands narration is, unfortunately, a typical "university professor style":
He knows a lot, he loves his topics, he WANTS to take people part in this and the energy he puts into his efforts to drag students along is overpowering him.Yet: He DOES love his topic and he DOES have a lot to offer. I am very interested in reading his books now and I'd love to chat with him :-)
My original verdict was "1.5 stars on performance". That would have been unfair, there are, by far, worse narrators present on Audible. Mr. Garland is easy to understand, he does not derail from the topic, he gives a lot of good examples and tries to match limited time to an enormous amount of content.
On the negative side my most intense reaction was that the constant "judging" of non-Christian believe-systems along with a very, VERY limited distance to the "modern western" religions shocked me*.
The lack of pointing out a lot of POSITIVE social achievements (that the Christian churches have destroyed by force), especially along the lines of equal rights for men and women, but also regarding the understanding of what a slave is, was sad, it's not as if human society only has improved over the last 2000 years.
On the positive side Mr. Garland tried hard to make "every day life" as understandable to a modern "next door guy or girl" as possible without getting into too much detail. You do not need ANY knowledge of history to understand what he is talking about (this may be part of my issue here).
It is the broad picture, the parallels throughout thousands and thousands of years of human history that gives the listener a glimpse of what "history" is about.
* As an example: Mr. Garland puts Aristoteles, Platon and Sokrates in the same sack, although those three present such fundamental changes in the "image of what a human being is" (including slaves and women). One could easily say that, the closer we get to "modern times", the "worse" (in modern understanding) it got, while nowadays "ethic and moral" are mainly based on the later philosophers (Aristotels in particular), it's exactly those later theories that are racist, sexist and ignorant. But, pointing this out would have contradicted the (unmentioned) theory of the course that "things constantly got BETTER throughout the times" ...
Did Mr. Garland succeed in making me understand how "the people on the other side of history" thought, lived and changed (meaning those of whom the history books do not tell you)?
This course covers too large a time span to really make me UNDERSTAND what a Roman Citizen "ticks" like or what a peasant in 1300 in North-England really believes in.
Mr. Garland takes it as granted that "there is but ONE GOD" and that believing the Christian way is the "natural order of things". NO, he is not teaching religion here, don't get me wrong! He just assumes that his listeners "know their god".
Many - seemingly strange - ways of living in the past are very closely related to the respective religion and/or philosophy. Mr. Garland concentrates on describing official practices (such as sacrifices), but did not succeed in making me understand how people could believe one way or another and let this (religious) believe actually govern their whole lives. I _do_ have some grasp of that topic from other courses (real life) and some decades of personal studies, but I still find it very hard to really comprehend.
To be fair, I can only repeat: It is the span of time this course covers (topic-wise) and the strong simplification owed to that fact that leaves me unsatisfied. 48 lectures seem like a lot, but to really understand the life of someone you just need more than 15-30 minutes of arbitrary examples from every day life.
reviewing from phone, so keeping it brief.
filled with memorable vignettes, uplifting references, sad and brutal accounts of the lives of those not considered great.
Felt this was much an educational performance and story as a series of lectures.
Garland has a passion for the subject, a pleasant voice and adds heart and sincerity to the lectures.
A great deal of this material was familiar to me but certainly not all, and I relished the chance to hear not only a skillful presentation but some thematic development which you may not get from reading a hundred disparate sources.
This was a great listen. I loved hearing about how daily life was for various groups of people throughout history. I always had an interesting fact to share with my fellow teachers in the mornings after my commute/Audible time!
He added little jokes throughout the book that cracked me up. High five-ing Cro Magnons may not sound funny to you now, but after Professor Garland tells you about a suspense filled spear hunt for a giant mastodon/mammoth and then ends that hunt with a high-five, trust me.. you'll giggle.
I would listen to a chapter or two in one sitting. You almost want to take a little brain break in between each culture.
I have a meandering interest in history that rambles from one epoch to another, often so disjointedly that even I forget how I end up in any given title. This course did a wonderful job of drawing many of the threads of history together into a cohesive narrative. The caveat, of course, is the need to keep in mind that the "Ancient World" of the title didn't extend far from the Mediterranean. I found that 'slight' to the rest of the planet somewhat disturbing, but the course did, nevertheless, provide a wonderful overview of the societies it actually acknowledged.
These were well constructed lectures that presented an interesting selection of topics on ancient life, primarily in western Europe. Don't expect to find out anything about life in Central Asia or the Indus Valley or Peru. However, you will get a lot of good information about Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Britain in particular. I have some background in all of these cultures, so I was particularly interested in the lectures on topics that I hadn't read about, such as life for refugees in Greece or life for people with disabilities.
As mentioned above, the chapters on refugees and life as a disabled person were topics that I'd never encountered before in any of my readings about the ancient world.
He has a very lively speaking voice, and his occasional personal anecdotes add to the lectures. There are not so many such anecdotes that the content of the talks is diluted, though.
Dr. Garland's description of life in a Roman garret was exceptionally vivid. It sounded quite sad and dismal.
The overall construction of the lecture series is very well thought-out, including references back from one lecture to previous lectures in which similar topics had been mentioned in different cultures and a summary lecture that skillfully reiterated the major topics.