Other than about five merely 4-star minutes on what medieval knights wore in one of the later lectures, I can find little to fault with this Great Course. Robert Garland makes the past come alive in colorful, carefully chosen, elegant prose. One shouldn't let oneself be fooled by a posh British accent, but let's face it - it doesn't hurt. Nor does Garland's dry humor. He describes the ancient Egyptians, for example, as wearing a lot of "bling", and notes that while the Norman invasion brought to the English language words for cooked cow and pig, i.e. "beef" and "pork", the frenchified Norsemen neglected to teach the Brits how to cook and left them to eat appalling food for another thousand years.
Surrounding these lighter moments is endlessly fascinating information about how people lived, such as that Rome was full of five-story apartment buildings. Who knew? And that the ancient Egyptians were such a conservative society that only experts can tell the age of paintings they made 500 years apart -- so little did their art change over time. I also came away with a rather different impression of Ancient Greece than I went into the course with, thanks to Garland's detailed descriptions of the separation of the sexes and the way slavery worked. In many ways Ancient Greece reminded me more, in the end, of the Arab world where I have lived, than of modern Western democracies.
Some might bristle a bit at the slight academic leftist bent to some of the lectures, with their focus on the poor, the slaves, women, the everyman. This is, however, the point of the course, after all, and once you get past the occasional sense that someone's been hanging out a bit too long with the sociology department the information conveyed is all fascinating, not least the nuanced descriptions of how slavery worked in the ancient world (also reminiscent of how slavery still works in remote areas of the Sahel and Maghreb).
One insight I found provocative was that there was what Garland calls a lack of a social conscience in the ancient world. It occurred to no one, apparently, that slavery was in any way wrong, or that the sexes or even all men were deserving of equal rights. Given the many modern-seeming sentiments -- about love, virtue, self-discipline, ambition, etc.-- that Garland describes among the ancients, it's surprising that none of the many great thinkers of these early civilizations came up with at least the idea that no kinds of humans were, deep down, better than any others, or deserving of the status of chattel. (Of course then Jesus came along and had these ideas to some extent, and he was a product of that world.)
Another thing I liked about this course was that just when you were thinking, "Really? How can we know that?" about one or another factoid, Garland would explain the source of the information, without every burdening the lecture with too much referencing. And again, just when you would start thinking, "Really? Did they really say that or think that? Am I supposed to just take your word for it?" he would pull out the perfect quotation from an ancient source, giving credence yet again to the sense he delivers so elegantly throughout, that these people really were not so different, in the end, from ourselves.
Intriguing until you realize how many times the author says some version of, "we don't know of course, but we can speculate that..." We apparently KNOW a lot less about daily life in the ancient world than the title implies. There a whole sections that are pure speculation.
The author speaks in short clauses, not complete sentences, with pauses between the clauses. It's distracting, but passable.
Disappointing for all the speculation. Sure, it's a tough subject but "speculation" isn't the solution.
If the "speculation" were removed and the content was limited to what the author can actually support, this might be condensed to 10 half hour lectures.
I didn't love this course. Some parts were good, and I learned a *couple* of new things, but overall it seemed slow and not unfamiliar. It was a good premise, to explore history from the perspective of your average ancient Greek craftsman, Roman wife, or medieval nun, but I found much of it intuitive and even redundant. Professor Gardner was clearly enthused and enthralled by his topics, and loved telling his story in a first or second person as if actually in ancient Egypt touring Alexandria, or watching a chariot race... But I was not as invested.
I would have been interested to hear a bit more, in fact, on some of the periods and peoples which he covered quickly - Babylon, Persia, pre-Roman Britain... And what about the folks not in the greater European region during those times? He mentions the Saracens in the crusades lecture, but we get very little on them and the Arabic culture that's been developing while we were preoccupied with the Battle of Hastings... Not to mention the other folks beyond the Western World... I understand that he could elaborate more and greater varieties of folks when there was more info from archaeology to give evidence, but I think his discussions of the lives of women and slaves, of the poor and infirm, were all so similar that they might have been combined somehow.
Even when it wasn't redundant feeling, I felt familiar with a lot of the material already. I think I got 98% of what he discusses on Egypt from the Great Course devoted to Ancient Egypt. And I felt like little was new in Greece and Rome - though perhaps I just had a good high school history teacher. And I did have the advantage too of having traveled to many of the Hellenistic sites mentioned on a school sponsored trip - so having been to Olympia, Epidurous, Athens, and Delphi, I was familiar with those stories if the healers, the games, the temples, and the oracles, etc. On that trip too, we visited Rome and Pompeii, so I have imagined the Gladiators, the forum, the baths, etc. so not much was new to me in that era of topics either. Actually, some of the only unfamiliar material was in his more detailed discussions of the death practices. I took a class too, during my study abroad in Scotland, on the Celts and wrote papers on Boudicca and Roman architecture in Britain, so nothing new to speak of from those lectures. Most of what he discussed in the Medieval section I knew from having read the really great historical fiction Katherine by Anya Seaton - that book had everything from Chaucer himself and the royal court, knights, the peasants, the plague, the castles, the heretics, and more...
I did like that he put being a knight and a crusader into better perspective, that is so very romanticized generally. The penultimate lecture on relaxing - sports and music etc was good too.
Basically, I have reaffirmed that I would not have wanted to live in any of those times or places. If I had, I'd have likely been abused if I lived past childhood at all, and would have likely have died in childbirth by now, and if not, I still can't expect to live more than another ten years and will likely do so in poverty. And thank goodness for modern medicine!
Oh, and I can't forget to mention this cause it bugged me the whole 24+ hours : Prof Garland is a good lecturer and really into his stuff, but his lisp drove me nuts. He sounds completely normal, even stereotypical British classicist -until he pronounces the letter "s"... Having studied some articulatory phonetics, I think I can say fairly that his sibilants were overly lateralized, creating a big messy "shh" sound amidst otherwise good elocution. I don't mean to hold it against him, but it Drove me nuts. Listen to the sample before buying, in case that's a deal breaker for you.
When I drive, I read... uhm listen. I like SciFi, Fantasy, some Detective and Espionage novels and Religion. Now and then I will also listen to something else.
Focussing on Everyman throughout history, Dr. Robert Garland, Roy D. and Margaret B. Wooster Professor of the Classics at Colgate University, USA, attempts to put you, the listener, in the everyday sandals of different people of the Ancient World. Cladding the listener with the respective identities of a Palaeolithic human (1 lecture), a Mesopotamian (1 lecture), an Egyptian (4 lectures), a Greek (11 lectures), a Roman (11 lectures), the different ancestors of the British (4 lectures) and that of a Medieval person (7 lectures), he confronts you with the lives of ordinary humans. This is probably the reason why the material presented is so interesting.
The comparisons with our own day and age makes it fascinating. Dr. Garland is a tour guide that takes you through the proverbial looking-glass to show you the other side of history. This metaphor he uses in various way throughout the course hence he is able to bind 48 30 minute lectures together in a whole. I admire the way he carefully compiled and structured the course. He kept me with him even though I am not British or American. (I was acutely aware of his Western bias during the course. It is probably also the reason for its popularity.)
Throughout the lectures, Dr. Garland was engaging. I didn’t count any ‘uhm’ or ‘ah.’ The course is highly polished and tremendously informative. So if you are interested in history or just everyday life, recline at this table the cuisine is ready to be enjoyed.
I'm not much interested in who won which wars, or in developments in weaponry and battle tactics, or in ancient politics. This series of lectures delves into what *does* interest me: how everyday people lived their lives, in as much detail as possible, in a generous selection of ancient (western) cultures. Professor Garland's delivery is the icing on the cake. He seems knowledgeable and clearly interested in his subject matter, but lightens his lectures with a gentle and sometimes irreverent (but never disrespectful) twinkle. One credit bought me more than 24 delightful hours of pleasant and informative listening. One of my best purchases from Audible.
This was my first Great Courses book. What a treat to learn so many things that I had no real Idea about. I have bought several courses since then and find that if I speed up the voice to 2 times the normal speed I can digest all kinds of information rather quickly. If I had payed more attention in school, this info would not be so new to me. The narrator was very interesting to listen to and gave a perspective of the common man that I found very enjoyable.
Audible listener who's grateful for a long commute!
The Villa of the Papyri is nestled on the bluffs of the Pacific Palisades in California. Finished in 1974, it was closed for renovations and reopened in 2010 as "The Getty Villa." J. Paul Getty's Villa - and The Getty Center in West Los Angeles are, as Getty promised, free to all.
Okay, maybe the original Villa dei Papiri was in Herculaneum, which was destroyed in AD 79 - along with Pompeii - when Mt. Vesuvius erupted. Pompeii is now temporarily at the California Science Center in Exposition Park, near the LA Coliseum and USC.
I coincidentally finished listening to Dr. Robert S. J. Garland's "The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World" (2010) just before I took out of town family to the Pompeii exhibit. Garland's lectures were so concise and vivid, I recognized every single artifact and I knew what it was used for - and keep in mind, I listened to the Audible version which doesn't come with books. I knew what kind of artisan made something, the training they had, and whether they were a slave, a manumitted slave, or free born. I looked at a restored fresco, and impressed my sister by telling her that the ancient Romans would have changed the painted scene as fashions changed. Trends and fads are as old as Ancient Greece. Just as the 1980's Laura Ashley overstuffed and frilled pastels and floral wallpaper gave way to furniture and frames various hues of the same color, tailored linens, hardwood floors and painted walls 30 years later, the painted harbor scene popular during one emperor's reign gave way to starkly contrasting blocks of color, proving that abstractionism isn't a modern construct. I even knew when I got to the gift shop which replica jewelry belonged with the exhibit, and the social class of the women who would have worn it. It didn't stop me from buying the regionally misplaced and historically non-existent Sphinx earrings just because I liked anyway.
The title of this series of lectures is a misnomer, though. Garland's lectures on Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt, and to a limited extent Ancient Persia, are worth the price and the listen. However, he's missing entire major ancient civilizations: China's written history is more than 4,000 years old; there's the Mayans, who were a civilization for about 3000 years, until the Spanish arrived, with their viruses, in 900 AD; and many other cultures that flourished and vanished or were absorbed by conquerors. These civilizations had writing, so they were historic, not pre-historic.
If the title had been accurate, I'd give this 4 instead of a 3. It's not higher because some of the lectures are repetitive. I did enjoy Dr. Gardner's voice and his delivery, but I wasn't so excited that I listened to more than one lecture a day.
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The time didn't drag, but I didn't learn much new, having read many well-researched books about these eras.
I was expecting richer content, total immersion on other cultures and times, like what's in David Hackett's Albion's Seed. This didn't come close to that.
For a college professor, his delivery was excellent. Could tell he'd rehearsed, researched, and written about the content extensively.
No. This is more for background use by film producers and set and clothing designers.
If I'd paid Colgate's tuition for this course, I would have been shocked. For one thing, I can't imagine how someone could come up with in-depth exam questions from content this light.
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.
I love listening and usually get in at least three hours a day. I like fiction, biographies and medical non-fiction.
This is (I think) my sixth Great Course, and it is my favorite by far. The range of history covered is remarkable, and I loved getting details about the life of an ordinary person in Babylonia, Rome or (especially) Egypt. Medieval times were far more interesting than I expected. I think I had grown to think the middle ages were a time when the sun didn't shine and old women were constantly being put to the flame as witches. Not so. People were learning, loving and moving forward.
In past Great Courses, the lecturers (who are not the professional readers in most of the Audible selections) frequently annoyed me with verbal tics. Not Professor Garland. This was especially surprising since he has a slight lisp. His selection of stories, detail and occasional glimpses of his own life added to the enjoyment of this course.
I feel I know far more about our distant ancestors and will look for other courses by Professor Garland.