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Publisher's Summary

We’re surrounded by inventions. Clocks, appliances, cars, televisions, cell phones...the list goes on and on. Where did all these inventions come from? How do they work? And how do they reflect - even define - the values of our culture?

Now, you can learn the remarkable stories surrounding monumental inventions - and how consequential these inventions were to history. Taught by Professor W. Bernard Carlson of the University of Virginia, who is an expert on the role of innovation in history, these 36 enlightening lectures give you a broad survey of material history, from the ancient pottery wheel to the Internet and social media. Along with recounting the famous inventions you might expect, such as the steam engine, the airplane, and the atomic bomb, this course explores a number of surprising innovations, including beer, pagodas, and the operating room.

From ancient China to 21st-century America, from the English coal mines to the high-tech companies of Silicon Valley, this course takes you around the world and across the ages to introduce you to some of the most innovative moments in human civilization. This unique approach to history will boost your technology literacy and give you a completely new appreciation for the everyday objects around you.

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

©2013 The Great Courses (P)2013 The Teaching Company, LLC

What listeners say about Understanding the Inventions That Changed the World

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great content but poor editing on the delivery

So many places he stutters or slurs the words... This made it very hard to listen to. The content is top notch so I persevered, but, it was very annoying to listen to an audiobook that is not 'edited'. Also, this is the audio from a 'visual lecture', so there are parts where he visually demonstrates something that you of course cannot see.

30 people found this helpful

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Ambitious course and needs more work

I have great interest in history of science/innovation and avid reader. Covering such a broad range of topics in 17.5 hr is a huge challenge, which left the instructor no choice but being selective.
I have technical expertise in a very narrow field, which is covered in a few lectures in the last 1/3 of the course. I found his technical description of some of science/technology (around those topics) quite inaccurate, which could be misleading for those not familiar with those technologies.
Also, noticed that a few data and factoid were incorrect.
Combination of inaccuracies and wrong data adversely impacted my trust for the rest of materials. I will not quote anything from this course, unless it is verified by independent/trusted sources.

19 people found this helpful

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Good content, but presentation is lacking.

This was a good audiobook overall, with interesting content and commentary, but the performance of the presenter was lacking at times.

First, there were many instances of vocal mistakes and utterances that could have easily been removed by re-recording a short segment or even just through better editing and mastering. As a result, it sounds very unpolished at times, which takes away from the enjoyment of it.

Second, there are numerous instances where the presenter refers to diagrams and demonstratives that are simply not visible via audiobook. Unless you happen to be familiar with the technology already, I would imagine many would have trouble understanding what is going on during these segments.

Overall, come for a good discussion on invention history, but don’t expect a polished audiobook on the scale of an audio novel.

3 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Terrible narration.

He was clearly reading the material, apparently for the first time. So hard to listen to.

3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Exciting stories. Bad editing.

The stories told by the narrator are engaging and lively, they cover inventions in a unique and rewarding manner.
As many others have stated, as an audiobook, this recording is very difficult to listen to. The narrator frequently refers to props and charts, which are of no use to a listener. The narrator also struggles at times in the recording of this audiobook, which makes it is difficult to follow along.
Recommend Audible or Great Courses go back and edit this recording.

7 people found this helpful

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Presumably the video version is better.

While these lecture is often informative and entertaining, it’s quite obviously simply the audio feed of a series of video lectures, as Carlson often refers to diagrams when explaining how the various inventions work. These diagrams often can’t even be found in the supplemental PDF that comes with the lectures, but even if they did, you can’t exactly look them up while driving to work.

6 people found this helpful

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Not bad. Not great.

Not bad, but rather conceptually naïve and simplistic at some points. Dr. Carlson should have taken the trouble to practice correctly pronounce non-English language names and terms. He slaughters almost every name and term in languages other than English. Also, it sounds as if Carlson is simply reading aloud from a book (and not very effectively) rather than lecturing - there are just too many misreads.

2 people found this helpful

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Ultimately Engaging, with Shortcomings

Others note the key challenges with this title: 1) frequent references to models and photographs which cannot be seen by the audiobook listener 2) Less than professional delivery which includes mispronunciations, missed words and sometimes wrong words. These both annoy, but ultimately you can get past them when the content becomes engaging. Which it does. Eventually.

One of my biggest criticisms comes in the use of the word "Inventions" in the title. Ultimately this is NOT a series of stories about individual developments. Rather it is an economic history of humankind. Most of the items discussed had no inventor and no breakthrough moment. What they do share is that they evolved to become important aspects of how humans interact and exchange value. Some of these are quite mundane (Shopping malls), others, ultimately, hew closer to popular imagination: computers, the Internet, etc.

If my experience of the book stopped there, I would certainly have rated it higher. However, one relatively early chapter happened to deal with a subject which I have studied professionally most of my life. In that chapter, statements are made which are utterly incorrect and grossly misleading. (Some I have never heard from any source, ever.) After listening to that chapter I really considered returning the book for a refund. And from then on, I viewed the book as far less authoritative. But after setting it aside for awhile and listening to another chapter that was of interest, I came around to this presentation of "economic history as entertainment" approach. It became more of a title to fall asleep to rather than one for prime-time listening (and learning).

1 person found this helpful

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This is simply the ripped audio of a video lecture series...

...and as such, I believe the listener is missing out on a valuable channel of information. There are no adjustments to this conversion, no additional descriptive information to make up for the times when the instructor says something like, 'here is a thing, see how it looks.' Anyone who has used the descriptive audio track option on a motion picture Blu-ray will be familiar with the narrator's voice that describes the setting and action of a scene between blocks of the film's dialogue. Given that the Great Courses lectures are presented as educational, it's a shame that no effort was made to augment the ripped audio with further illuminating description-- the more information we have, the better educated we might be.

I think I should point out that the full video of this lecture series is available on Prime Video, and the course may be more satisfying in its native format. I've already requested from my local public library another Great Courses video series--another lecture series that I've purchased on Audible that is, yes, just another ripped audio track.

Those who produce Great Courses are engaged in a dismaying trend.

1 person found this helpful

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If you don't know where you've been . . .

Though "Connections" by British author, James Burke, remains my all time favorite inventions guru, Dr. Carlson does a great job describing a wide range of important innovations which have come about through the contributions of inventors and the historical and social forces which lead to their introduction, use and offspring. I would be curious to learn which inventions didn't make the 'cut'; I might guess these surgeries were painful to have been made. Please, take this course!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Peter
  • 01-16-19

Not an audiobook

This is the audio track to a visual lecture. It is littered with reference to pictures and items being shown, but are not reflected in the accompanying material. Nevertheless it does a decent job of explaining a number of important inventions and their place in history and society.
PS: author should get his history straight though: ‘WW1 was fought between Britain and Germany’. Really?

5 people found this helpful

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  • Duncan
  • 01-18-19

Interesting Content - Sub standard narration

I found the content of interest, the narration in my opinion was poor, lots of mistakes and re-starting of sentences. The American accent does not work for me either.

1 person found this helpful

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  • JCS Talbot
  • 05-12-20

Dreadful Delivery!

How very disappointing this Great Courses was for me. Having listened to upwards of a hundred GCs on many subjects, this falls well below the usual standard and it is quite the worst one I have ever listened to. Don't get me wrong, the subject matter is top-notch and fascinating, but the delivery was dreadful. Most of the lectures had multiple silent pauses lasting several seconds for no apparent reason and the lecturer often stuttered - I assume in his eagerness to share his enthusiasm for the subject. Then there were the frequent references to diagrams or articles on display or being operated, complete with sound effects, in what must have been a lecture theatre - this is not very helpful to the listener of a GC audiobook - and the accompanying pdf file did not elucidate. I feel that more takes were required to achieve a smooth, stutter-free delivery and to remove references to his demonstration items, diagrams, etc. Also, more careful and better editing of the recording to remove the silences would improve this GC a huge amount.