This course makes some attempt to give a comparative perspective on several of the religions of the ancient Mediterranean. The religions covered are mentioned in the publisher's summary, and if you know very little about the religions covered, you will no doubt learn something about each, as I did. However, some major mediterranean religions are left out, most notably Phoenician/Carthaginian religion; also absent is any treatment of Celtic or Iberian peoples' beliefs. Only the briefest mention of the Etruscans as well.
This is especially grievous in light of the large amount of time spent on Judaism and Christianity; these are no doubt Ancient Mediterranean religions, and thus worthy of some coverage, but they -- Christianity especially -- are covered in more detail than for instance the beliefs of classical Greece; this is unfortunate given that Christianity and Judaism are covered in-depth by so many other Great courses lectures, and are bound to be more familiar to most listeners besides.
There is also very little time devoted to the rituals and actual practice involved in each religion, and too much spent on discussing stories told in the context of ancient religion that are not actually religious documents, such as the various ancient epics. As much as I love the Epic of Gilgamesh, this doesn't seem like the place for a close reading of it; more information about each of the ancient Mesopotamian gods would have filled that time better.
However, if you know very little about ancient Mediterranean, this wouldn't be a bad place to start. And if you are primarily interested Christianity, this course would be a great place to learn about the context that gave rise to it. I definitely learned many things from this course, but I can't help feeling that I could have learned a lot more.
This book is an engaging and informative look at Cambodia's history, which provides, at its beginning, a quick timeline of the region's pre-modern history before delving into the bloody years of the later 20th century that made the very name of Cambodia synonymous with unspeakable brutality.
The author was an NYT correspondent, and had in his youth experienced some of the Nazi terror, a fact which he mentions a few times in passing. Such an interesting perspective almost makes me wish he had abandoned some of his journalistic impartiality and brought more of himself into the story, but in general his detachment serves him well.
The book suffers a bit from the fact that it is now almost 20 years old -- it was written as a contemporary history, and thus is due for an update. It also suffers for being seemingly the only history of Cambodia available on audible, something which I hope will be rectified soon. It is a short book, and as such is not as detailed as it could be.
I don't agree with another reviewer who claims it doesn't work well as an audiobook; it works as well as any history book, and requires some concentration; I wouldn't listen to it while driving, for instance.
Walter Dixon's performance suits the tone of the writing very well. I think both would have benefitted from a bit more emotional range, but their measured and objective styles are well suited to each other.
This is an excellent history course for a number of reasons. The first is that it makes an attempt at global coverage, which is rare. We hear about Asian and African and South American countries that are often ignored in Western-centric modern histories. Another is that it is interpretive -- not merely stating facts but identifying larger themes and tendencies as well. It also tackles social and cultural events and changes of the century, giving a history of ideas, not merely politics -- and the 20th century is a time when ideas were very powerful. Finally its nice to hear a woman's perspective on the 20th century; there seem to be very few female lecturers on history in the Great Courses' repertoire, which may be representative of the field writ large, but is nonetheless disappointing from such a great company.
As far as performance goes, Radcliff -- just like all the other Great Courses people -- is a professor and not an orator, but she has a fine, NPR-ish voice that makes for very decent listening. Someone else pointed out that she says "in other words" (or its equivalents) a lot, which she does -- but the re-wording that follows always helps to elucidate the point, so I can't consider it a fault.
Anyone wondering what the life of an ordinary person (i.e. not a political figure, or the types usually biograph-ized) was like under Nazi rule will learn a lot from this book; Massaquoi goes into great detail discussing his daily life, and it's from a rare and interesting perspective. I was struck by how normal his life was (until the war) and one of the important and sobering takeaways from this book is that the racism he endured under the Nazis was in many ways less severe than what he experienced in America -- and what many black people still suffer through here today.
Though it's certainly worth a listen if the above appeals to you, Massaquoi's story is bogged down by rather tedious writing. He lacks the ability to make a scene really come to life, and offers few vivid descriptions. Worse, he repeatedly makes the rookie mistake of telegraphing the result of a scene beforehand: he'll say something along the lines of (to paraphrase) "I had a bad feeling about this, and my fears would turn out to be well founded," and to THEN write the scene in which that happens, thus removing any chance at narrative suspense. And he does this ALL THE TIME.
The reader has a pleasant voice and cadence but his emotional range is rather limited and he struggles with the German words.
There are a lot of Harl lectures in the GC series, and his knowledge of diverse ancient historical subjects is impressive. But he is in many ways an old-school historian, in that he focuses on military actions and the push-and-pull of state borders -- often to the exclusion of the wider themes and cultural topics that are being so wonderfully folded into history by a newer style of historians... This is ok -- different tastes. But where Harl's lectures suffer is that they are not organized according to any single category -- sometimes he goes by chronology, but sometimes he skips backward; sometimes he goes by region, sometimes not... The overall effect is disorganized and so it's harder to follow these lectures than some of the other Great Courses. Also, his voice is, well, annoying, and though lecturers are and should be chosen for their intellect and not their oratorical prowess... dang: Harl's voice really grates. He also stumbles over his words, flubs grammar, and chronically mispronounces ancient names and demonyms. You'd think TTC would edit for that kind of thing.
Despite all that, there is a lot of good information here. But it is not, as others have stated, history from the barbarians' perspective. It is still very much Roman history, from the Roman perspective -- just with an eye toward barbarian movements.
If you're looking for Roman history, listen to Fagan's lectures on The History of Rome and The Roman Emperors first. They're better in all respects.
What a great experience this version of the epic is! What a pleasure to listen to. Normally I would bemoan the unscholarly treatment Mitchell has given the story; I'd never condone such loose treatment of, say, the Homeric epics. But given the fragmentary nature of the epic as it has come down to us, such a treatment is the only way to enable us modern readers to really dig in to the story, to experience it as a literary work rather than an archeological artifact. And what a wonderful story, and a titanic literary achievement it is!
George Guidall is fantastic as always; one could not ask for a better reading.
Listeners should note that the epic itself is only about half of the audiobook. The second half is an essay about the epic as literature, its discovery, and the editor's process. Not a bad essay, though a little lightweight.
Garland gives a very succinct and digestible, and yet impressively extensive and deep, account of the kind of details that "capital H" History, if you will, leaves out. This angle on history has garnered more and more interest in the past few decades, and yet it's still fairly difficult to find information on it that's this good. Garland gets into the details that let you really picture life in the ancient world.
This will be an excellent resource to anyone who is interested in ancient history and wants to be able to visualize what it was like to live back then. I'd also recommend it to anyone who wants to write fiction set in the ancient world, as it'll give you some idea of what your characters should be going through on a day-to-day basis: very important for realism!
Garland's diction is not smooth the way one might want the reader of a story to be, but his highly annunciated and somewhat halting speech patterns are actually great for a lecture; it's how one might read a history book aloud to oneself for maximum comprehension and retention of facts. Also, he's got a bit of a lisp, but don't let that put you off; it's really not unpleasant once you get used to it.
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