I absolutely love The Great Courses. I've listened to at least 30 of them, and I have to say that Customs of the World might be my favorite. It was so packed with observations that were both fascinating and practical, I think I'll find myself wanting to listen again in years to come.
I'm struggling in my mind to suggest a better name for this course, because it's about so much more than customs. It's about how culture profoundly affects how people and societies interact, along with practical advice on how to observe and interact with people from all cultures and subcultures both around the world and at home. This course is invaluable not only to world travelers, but to anybody who engages with people from other cultures, whether at work or socially.
Professor Livermore divides the course into three sections. The first explains the concept behind cultural intelligence. The second set of lectures is a comprehensive look at the ten established dimensions along which cultures consistently differ. The final set of lectures takes a deep dive into each of the major cultural regions of the world, pointing out the dominant norms of each, along with suggestions on how to observe and interact with people from within those regions.
Professor Livermore is clearly a prominent academic leader in this field, but he is also a remarkably experienced traveler and a captivating storyteller. Throughout the course, he draws on his own experiences to enrich the discussion and make it personal. He is excellent.
I have watched or listened to many of The Great Courses series, and Professor Patrick Allitt ranks among my very favorite professors. I had previously listened to his course called American Religious History, and loved it. He is both a scholar and a natural storyteller. His lectures are filled with fascinating portraits of historical figures that rival any audio book in terms of drama and intrigue.The moment The American Identity started playing through my car speakers, I heard Professor Allitt's voice and a broad smile of recognition came across my face because I knew I was in for an entertaining treat. 36 half-hour lectures flew by like the wind, and I found myself looking for excuses to spend more time listening.
Each lecture profiles a different American selected by Professor Allitt as representative of various aspects of American Identity. Professor Allitt is a Brit who has been the Cahoon Professor of American History at Emory University for over 25 years. He is like a modern day de Toqueville, offering a brilliant perspective on what makes America unique.The very first lecture about the settler John Smith set the tone. What a fascinating character. Forget the myths you were told in elementary school. Turns out Smith was an insufferable social climber and pragmatist who didn't actually spend that much time in America, but set the tone of meritocracy for the new land. By the end of that first 30 minutes, I knew I had already gotten my money's worth.
This was my second of The Great Courses by Professor Allitt. Fortunately, he has a half dozen other titles, and I plan to listen to or watch them all.
This recorded course from the spectacular Great Courses series serves as both a master class in the art of rhetoric, and a deep dive into the evolving philosophies of Abraham Lincoln through his remarkable career. Listening to this course will forever change your view about the 16th president, the civil war, and the state of the union and racism in the mid-19th century.
Perhaps it's because my interest was more about the latter than the former, but I will admit that I didn't really get seriously into this course until about halfway through, when we got to Lincoln's presidency, the Civil War, and his most famous speeches.
The Lincoln Douglas debates during his early Senatorial race are fascinating, but they took up a lot of this course and the discussion around them was as much about Lincoln's debating style and tactics as it was about the substance of his developing philosophy. All that being said, I must admit that understanding how his philosophies developed over time is critical to understanding the man in his later years (and critical for understanding how his 1858 "House Divided" speech was misunderstood then and still today).
Professor Zarefsky is passionate about the subject and is clearly among the foremost Lincoln scholars.
It is worth noting that this course is one of the oldest of The Great Courses recordings, dating back to the 1990s. It's introduced as "The Great Courses on Tape"(!) and Professor Zarefsky can actually be heard flipping pages of notes as he speaks. This of course takes nothing from the excellent presentation of the material.
I never had any particular interest in linguistics, but I LOVE The Great Courses, and if you follow their Facebook page, you learn pretty quickly that two linguistics professors (John McWhorter and Anne Curzan) are constantly getting rave recommendations from listeners.
As a result, I have now taken the plunge, and thanks to The Great Courses, I am in danger of becoming a linguistics nut.
The title of the course (Myths, Lies, and Half-truths of Language Usage) is really just a provocative way to say that this comprehensive survey of the English language is guaranteed to bust any preconceptions you had about "proper" English.
John McWhorter is quick-witted, quirky, and clearly an expert in his field. Unlike with some professors, you won't be tempted to use the speed controls on your Audible app to speed him up. He moves quickly and packs a ton of information, stories, and silly asides into every 30 minute lecture. You get your money's worth.
Professor McWhorter covers the complete history of how English evolved to it's present-day state (or states, to be more accurate), making the point repeatedly that modern English is itself filled with shortcuts and bastardizations of its ancestors, all for the sake of economy and clarity.
You'll learn that prescriptivist notions of "proper" English never even emerged until the arrival of the printing press, and the first dictionaries didn't come until centuries later. So the notion that proper language usage is a fixed thing, frozen in time, is a relatively new phenomenon.
So be warned. If you are looking to learn what's "proper," you will likely be frustrated by McWhorter or any of the other linguistics offerings from The Great Courses. McWhorter repeatedly hammers home the point that language is fluid, and like it or not, all the grammar teachers in the world could never stop language in it's tracks.
Overall, a fun listen. The Great Courses has three other titles by McWhorter, and I will be buying them all!
"Transformational Leadership" merits another 5 Star review for The Great Courses. After listening to Professor Roberto's other great course on The Art of Critical Decision Making, I couldn't wait to listen to this one.
It did not disappoint. Professor Roberto is extremely easy to listen to, mixing stories and examples from well-known companies and executives with the very latest research and management theories. He is a management guru on top of his game.
The course is a survey course. Professor Roberto takes on transformational leadership as a theme, but in doing so covers a wide range of management tools and theories that any executive might bring to bear in trying to lead transformation.
Accordingly, no single topic gets more than a 1/2 hour's worth of attention, making it the audio equivalent of a page-turner. Among other things, Roberto covers leadership traits and styles, change management, motivation and reward systems, tools of influence and negotiation, team building, creativity, innovation, and much, much more. It's an easy listen, but a dense course, in the best sense of the word.
The lectures on creativity and innovation hit home. And I was surprised to learn about recent research showing that creative people are the most likely to be dishonest.
Yes! But that would be impossible, as it's the full length of a college course.
If you are a manager looking for a little inspiration, you'll find it time and again in this course. If you are looking to study the topic in depth, this is one you'll listen to multiple times. In addition, the course is chock full of references to other great management books.
Storytime with Grandpa
I LOVE The Great Courses, but this was the first course I've listened to from the late Rufus Fears, and he is definitely not for everybody.
If you are on the fence, check out The Great Courses podcast in which Professor Fears was recently featured. It will give you a sense of what he's like (of course, you can also just take the plunge and check out the course, because of the Audible/Great Courses terrific satisfaction guarantee).
This was my first course with Rufus Fears. I know a lot of Great Courses fans and most of them LOVE Rufus Fears. Visit The Great Courses Facebook page and the fans there just can't get enough Rufus Fears. Why is this so? As far as I can tell, it's all about style. In the recent podcast I learned that Professor Fears was one of the only Great Courses professors to lecture without scripts or notes. That makes sense, because listening to Rufus Fears is like listening to your grandpa tell stories. He is first and foremost a storyteller.
Don't get me wrong. His courses are fact filled, educational, and definitely entertaining, but the criticisms in some of the other reviews are also accurate. His approach to history is to embellish. For example, he recounts events of 3000 years ago by imagining conversations between the key players of the time. Fun, yes. Illustrative, yes. Accurate historically? Obviously not.
And then there are his opinions. His worldview is distinctly Christian and distinctly American (and a flag waving American at that). So it should be no surprise that Fears' list of events that changed history is heavily weighted towards western civilization, and particularly towards 20th century America. If that sort of thing bothers you, you will be bothered.
I recommend checking out one of his courses, because if you like Fears, the good news is that he has a large library of interesting courses that will keep your Wish List busy for months. But if all this makes you pause, then I recommend starting with a different one of The Great Courses. If you like history, there are many great ones. The two they have on Foundations of Western Civilization are outstanding.
P.S. - He is a slow speaker. I recommend using the speed controls on the app to go faster.
I never would have sought out this course, but I picked it up on a whim, based entirely upon the reviews on The Great Courses website. I must say thank you to all the reviewers, because I found this to be one of the most delightful and captivating of the 30+ Great Courses I've listened to.
Professor Allitt is completely engaging, and packs each lecture with great portraits of historical significance, entertaining anecdotes, and recommendations for continued reading.
His enthusiasm for the subject is evident throughout, and his ability to help one view the U.S. through an outsider's perspective (he's British) makes him a modern day de Tocqueville.
If I had any complaint, it might be that non-western religions get very little attention. However, that very well may be the proper proportion given the dominance of judeo-christian religions in U.S. history.
Do not hesitate to listen to this course. It's a guaranteed winner.
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