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Publisher's Summary

Do the lessons passed down to us by history, lessons whose origins may lie hundreds, even thousands of years in the past, still have value for us today? Is Santayana's oft-repeated saying, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it", merely a way to offer lip service to history as a teacher - or can we indeed learn from it? And if we can, what is it that we should be learning?  

In this unflinching series of 36 lectures, a world-renowned scholar makes the case that we not only can learn from history, but must. 

Drawing on decades of experience as a classical historian, Professor Fears explores history's patterns to conclude that ignoring them - whether by choice or because we've never learned to see them - is to risk becoming their prisoner, repeating the mistakes that have toppled leaders, nations, and empires throughout time. 

In this personal reflection on history, Professor Fears has taken on the challenge of extracting the past's lessons in ways that speak to us today, showing us how the experience of ancient empires such as those of Rome and Persia have much to teach us about the risks and responsibilities of being a superpower. 

He shows how the study of those who left their impact on an earlier world - Caesar Augustus or Genghis Khan, George Washington or Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi or Josef Stalin - can equip us to make responsible choices as nations, citizens, or individuals in a post-9/11 world where those choices are more crucial than ever.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2007 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2007 The Great Courses

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

History in broad strokes

Any additional comments?

An insightful, entertaining search for the patterns of history. Reminds me of a quote attributed to Mark Twain: “History doesn't repeat itself but it often rhymes".

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Best set of lectures in the great courses

I have listened to many of the lectures given by the great courses and this is by far the most relevant, most eloquently performed and the most informative of all of the lectures I have listened to so far. The professor was engaging, the subject matter was well prepared and the information was brought into the perspective of our own day and age. Rufus Fears shall indeed be missed.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A great performance on the myth of history

If history is a lie we choose to believe, than these lectures deliver it in a palatable form. I think of this as a counter balance to Zinn revisionist history. It gives clear, almost simplistic "lessons" we learn from all of history. Dr Fears always gives a performance that, to me, even rivals Dan Carlin.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

Excellent performance but factually flawed

The lecturer was obviously a world-class chronicler of history, but his conjectures of historical logic are lacking, specifically having a particular viewpoint. Dr Fears subscribes to the "Great Man Theory" of historical explanation (very popular in the 19th century) and outright refutes the idea that sociological phenomena or ideologies shape the course of history. This is evident in the multiple times he claims that WWII would not have happen had it not been for Hitler. Highly speculative, and contested by multiple historians. He also takes American Exceptionalism as a given, even an ideal, and claims that recognition of Israel was the "most moral act ever taken by a President". So while this is excellent storytelling about history, the listener should be aware of the subjectivity of the historical explanations adopted by the lecturer. However, if you're looking for ideas with enough fervor to even breath life into Manifest Destiny and other past conservative ideas, you may well like what Dr Fears has to say.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Misleading and simplistic

After reading such good reviews of Fears, I was disappointed in this class. Fears is a dramatic and even spellbinding lecturer, but he often presents a misleading view of history. For example, he asserts that WW II would not have occurred without Adolph Hitler — even though it’s highly conjectural whether the Germans would have refrained from war under a different leader (and, Hitler or not, the Japanese were waging war in Asia). He also claims that wars last longer when democracies are involved, which fails to account for the 100-years war and other multidecadal wars during Europe’s bloody history long before democracies emerged. I really wanted to like this class. But I gave up after three lectures because I no longer found it credible.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Anecdotal over fact

What disappointed you about The Wisdom of History?

After many hours of listening, the author made his way to Abe Lincoln, a subject I know a bit about. In order to tidily fit his narrative of connecting Lincoln's contribution to history as some sort of divinely directed happening, he makes a point that Lincoln died on Good Friday. This detail works great for his "last great hope" tale and messianic purpose of Lincoln - only thing is - it's just not true! Lincoln died the day after Good Friday. As a scholar of history, he surely knows this, and while it may be a small detail, it made me wonder how many other areas of history were scrubbed for nicely fitting anecdotes to work. If I elect to listen to an 18-hour lecture, I want the truth not hyperbole.

What was most disappointing about The Great Courses’s story?

Not knowing if I was being hoodwinked.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

disappointment

17 of 27 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Fascinating performance by a master historian.

What did you love best about The Wisdom of History?

I enjoyed Dr. Fears' observations of how history was shaped through the decisions made by both great leaders and those who were faulted and near-sited.

What did you like best about this story?

I liked the flow of how historic decisions affected, or should have affected, subsequent decisions. The leadership characteristics of both strong and weak were discussed in detail and provide great insight into the value of a strong leader who is not afraid to go it alone and do the right thing, which often was different than the popular opinion for the time.

What about Professor J. Rufus Fears Ph.D. Harvard University’s performance did you like?

I loved the presentation style of Dr. Fears and the concise yet informative review of historic events that have shaped history.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

The book grabbed my attention immediately. I found it hard to find a good stopping point for a break because the narrative keeps you thirsting for the next bit of information.

Any additional comments?

A very good piece of work from a master historian.

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HELPFUL WITH BASIC LIVING

Well done and good for application in our living. Professor Fears did a masterful with great historical content!

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best book yet!

narrator was engaging, story was terrific. every American needs to listen to this book, now!

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Brilliant and forceful!

I wish every American would take the time to listen to this audio book and ponder the legacy we leave behind!!

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  • Deus
  • 01-19-17

A lecture by Uncle Sam himself

If this book wasn’t for you, who do you think might enjoy it more?

It will be enjoyed more by the jingoistic crowd from America. The America F&$k yeah type.

What could The Great Courses have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Removing factual inaccuracies. His grasp of history seems very slim.

What about Professor J. Rufus Fears’s performance did you like?

Nice storytelling.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Wisdom of History?

The later aspects involving Lincoln, Roosevelt and the Vietnam war.

Any additional comments?

Please do not label this as "The wisdom of world history". That is false advertising. This should be labelled as "An American perspective on world history" or something of the sort. This is the most biased course I've ever listened to. Even things I generally agree with come out as propaganda in the manner with which it is told.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Atreides
  • 10-31-14

The wisdom of history (assuming you're American)

Prepare to have history analysed from an American perspective and to have it assumed that you are also living in America. This was the strongest impression I got from this book, which was otherwise quite easily forgettable. The lecturer's voice is pleasant to listen to, and he tells a good overview of history as an engaging story. However I don't think that I have taken away much wisdom from this lecture.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Alison
  • 02-23-18

brilliant

very thought provoking and challenging. the presentation and the presenter were so good I didn't want to stop listening. for anyone interested in learning from history or to increase in wisdom... thoroughly recommended.