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Becky Popenoe

Stockholm, Sweden
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  • 7
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  • Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, 2nd Edition

  • By: Robert Sapolsky, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Robert Sapolsky
  • Length: 12 hrs and 14 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 530
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 469
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 468

When are we responsible for our own actions, and when are we in the grip of biological forces beyond our control? What determines who we fall in love with? The intensity of our spiritual lives? The degree of our aggressive impulses? These questions fall into the scientific province of behavioral biology, the field that explores interactions between the brain, mind, body, and environment that have a surprising influence on how we behave.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Perfect Follow Up

  • By Douglas on 08-31-13

Important & beautifully conveyed

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-05-15

Sapolsky's stated approach of mixing "buckets" of knowledge - genetics, neurobiology, anthropology, ethology, etc. - works beautifully to create non-simplistic explanations of human behavior and to counter all sorts of popular science attempts to oversimplify why we act the we do and why we turn out the way we do.

The bottom line is that "it is both nurture and nature!" - but with sophistication and erudition about the exact mechanisms that are at play, and attention to the limits of how nurture can modify nature, and to the limits of nature's ability to fully determine anything. Perhaps it is more correct to say that, ultimately, Sapolsky really undoes the nature/nurture dichotomy altogether, because nature is never "un-nurtured", so it only takes expression in particular environments -- hormonal, environmental, social, etc. At the same time, there is always a biological substrate there that "nurture" has to work with. This is basic at one level, but Sapolsky explains beautifully the details of how this happens at different levels of brain chemistry and, as important, how we know this.

He does an especially good job of explaining the basics of neurons, neurochemistry, and brain anatomy -- not so easy without a blackboard, but he manages!

For me this course hit the sweet spot in terms of avoiding politicization of issues and letting the science and specific experiments speak, however "right" or "left" friendly the results.

It seems like I should try to come up with some criticisms so here goes: Since Sapolsky cites by name many important scientists, it seems he could have given Carol Gilligan her due for challenging the male-oriented Kohlberg theory of human development; which, incidentally still seemed to color his version of how kids mature (Kohlberg, not Gilligan). Also, some of his riffs on child-rearing talked as if punishment of children is a given feature of all childrearing, which in Sweden where I live it is not. No one in Sweden would recognize the form of childrearing with rewards and punishments he seemed to take for granted.

This course is not a lazy-day kind of listen. I listened while on long walks, and let's just say I didn't manage to notice much of the nature around me while listening. The course is intense, but fabulous!

Audible -- is there a way one could get the slides that go along with these lectures? They aren't 100 % necessary to following along, but would be nice to have.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity

  • By: David Christian, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: David Christian
  • Length: 24 hrs and 26 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,436
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,293
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,293

How is it possible for the disciplines of cosmology, geology, anthropology, biology, and history to fit together? These 48 lectures answer that question by weaving a single story from accounts of the past developed by a variety of scholarly disciplines. The result is a story stretching from the origins of the universe to the present day and beyond, in which human history is seen as part of the history of our Earth and biosphere, and the Earth's history, in turn, is seen as part of the history of the universe.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • The Big Picture of Big History

  • By John P. Gillespie on 09-01-13

Riveting, fascinating, highly educational

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-05-15

Interestingly, the part of this course I liked best was the first half or two thirds, which is essentially based on physics, astronomy, evolution, biology and archeology -- that is, not the historian's traditional grazing grounds. It made me wonder how good a history course could be if taught by a scientist . . . .

This course opened my eyes to new vistas of knowledge, and I loved every minute of it.

  • History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration

  • By: Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius
  • Length: 11 hrs and 59 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,057
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 959
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 951

Mutiny. Disease. Starvation. Cannibals. From the ancient wayfarers to modern astronauts, world explorers have blazed trails fraught with danger. Yet, as History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration vividly demonstrates, exploration continues to be one of humanity's deepest impulses. Across 24 lectures that unveil the process by which we came to know the far reaches of our planet, you'll witness the awe-inspiring and surprisingly interconnected tale of global exploration.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Captivating from start to finish!

  • By Quaker on 04-19-15

Wonderfully entertaining stories

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-01-15

I've loved many of The Great Courses but this one was among the most fun to listen to. I thought Liulevicius found just the right balance between the grand narrative and intriguing details from each voyage of exploration & discovery. I loved that he began "at the beginning," with human wanderings across the earth. His lecture on the colonization of the islands of the Pacific was particularly fascinating. He has lovely "asides" into Montaigne's early cultural relativism, Jules Verne's classics, The Odyssey, T.S. Eliot & more that contextualize the voyages he describes in wider social history. On top of all this he has an energetic and precise speaking-style that I found very pleasant to listen to.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest

  • By: Jennifer Paxton, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Jennifer Paxton
  • Length: 19 hrs and 7 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,338
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,223
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,203

These 36 lectures tell the remarkable story of a tumultuous thousand-year period in the history of England. Dominated by war, conquest, and the struggle to balance the stability brought by royal power with the rights of the governed, it was a period that put into place the foundation of much of the world we know today. As you journey through this largely chronological narrative you'll see key themes emerge, including the assimilation of successive waves of invaders, the tense relationship between kings and the nobility, and the constant battles over money and taxation.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • I'm sad it's over!

  • By Claudia Murray on 04-24-14

Great performance

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-18-15

Jennifer Paxton is a fantastic storyteller. Her delivery of this course is perfect - not an "um" or an "uh" to be heard in any of the 36 lectures (or however many there were). Even when I was getting a bit lost among the Henry's, Richard's, half-great uncles and all the other kingly kinship drama that seems to have shaped so much of the politics of Medieval England, Paxton's lectures were always a joy to listen to. Paxton exhibited unpretentious mastery of the subject, gliding seamlessly between battle plans, social history, and literature. She inserts just the right amount of detail, and just the right amount of humor, into the telling. I know she has one other briefer course, and I hope she will narrate more.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World

  • By: Robert Garland, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Robert Garland
  • Length: 24 hrs and 28 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,920
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,477
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,443

Look beyond the abstract dates and figures, kings and queens, and battles and wars that make up so many historical accounts. Over the course of 48 richly detailed lectures, Professor Garland covers the breadth and depth of human history from the perspective of the so-called ordinary people, from its earliest beginnings through the Middle Ages.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Tantalizing time trip

  • By Mark on 08-21-13

Erudition, Elegance, Entertainment

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-13-14

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.

81 of 85 people found this review helpful