Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your Life

Course No. 4600
Professor J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
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Course Overview

What makes a written work eternal—its message still so fundamental to the way we live that it continues to speak to us, hundreds or thousands of years distant from the lifetime of its author? Why do we still respond to an ancient Greek playwright's tale of the Titan so committed to humanity's survival that he is willing to endure eternal torture in his defiance of the gods? To the cold advice of a 16th-century Florentine exiled from the corridors of power? To the words of a World War I German veteran writing of the horrors of endless trench warfare?

Most important of all, what do such works—"Great Books" in every sense—mean to us? Can they deepen our self-knowledge and wisdom? Are our lives changed in any meaningful way by the experience of reading them?

In this course, Professor J. Rufus Fears presents his choices of some of the most essential writings in history. These are books that have shaped the minds of great individuals, who in turn have shaped events of historic magnitude.

This course does not analyze the literature or discuss it in detail; rather, it focuses on intellectual history and ethics. What Professor Fears does is to take the underlying ideas of each great work and show how these ideas can be put to use in a moral and ethical life.

Beginning with his definition of a great book as one that possesses a great theme of enduring importance, noble language that "elevates the soul and ennobles the mind," and a universality that enables it to "speak across the ages," Professor Fears examines a body of work that offers an extraordinary gift of wisdom to those willing to receive it.

From the Aeneid and the Book of Job to Othello and 1984, the selections range in time from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the 20th century, and in locale from Mesopotamia and China to Europe and America.

A Chronology of Fundamental Choices

And though every thoughtful reader's list of historically important books will likely differ, few would argue against the profound importance of any of these selections. Together, they show how humankind has dealt with the choices revolving around the three themes of God, Fate, and Good-and-Evil—and how those choices shape our morality and direct our lives as we answer the question in the fourth main theme of this course: How should we live?

This course by the University of Oklahoma's three-time "Professor of the Year" is a vital intellectual and moral journey that remains constantly invigorating because of a teaching style that keeps even the most abstract concepts readily accessible.

Professor Fears is especially diligent about referring back to the main themes identified at the beginning of the course and comparing the position taken by each new author to what previously discussed authors have said. As a result, you'll find that each new lecture is smoothly layered into an ever-growing accumulation of knowledge. Each work comes alive, its ideas rich in consequence.

Even if you're already familiar with these works from a literary standpoint, this is a course well worth your attention; Professor Fears approaches each of these works from an entirely different direction, considering philosophical and moral perspectives that superbly complement a purely literary understanding.

Ideas Crucial To Every Thoughtful Person

And as Professor Fears is eager to point out, a grasp of those perspectives is crucial to the education of every thoughtful person.

"History is our sense of the past," he notes. "And these great books are our links to the great ideas of the past. This course is built upon the belief that great books, great ideas and great individuals make history.

"That's not a popular notion today, and certainly not in the academic world. In the academic world, we like to think that it is anonymous social and economic forces that make history. Slavery, for example, is the great object of study for those who ponder the lessons of the ancient world. Well à they're wrong. Karl Marx, who is the intellectual father of this notion that social and economic forces make great ideas, was wrong.

"It is the great ideas that propel men and women to become great in themselves. It was the great idea of truth that made Dietrich Bonhoeffer [the Lutheran pastor who defied Hitler and was hanged as a traitor] into a great man. It was a great idea of truth—and the great idea of God and of conscience—that made Socrates into a great man and left those Sophists, those academics, those professors of his day, trailing in the dust bin of history.

"History will say how well we have learned these values from the great books... all come together to educate us. For that is the ultimate goal of a course on the great books: wisdom."

What Can We Learn From The Great Books?

The point, of course, is that it is not the Great Books themselves that are important, but the values we learn from absorbing them. Professor Fears offers dramatic illustrations of choices taken and values chosen, and of the lives lived as a result.

He speaks, for example, of how Mohandas Gandhi relates the impact on his life of the time he spent each day reading the Bhagavad Gita's "Song of God" as he brushed his teeth.

A willingness to gain wisdom was also a characteristic of Gandhi's great antagonist, Winston Churchill, as Professor Fears shows us when the course turns to three of the works authored by the British statesman.

Fundamental ideas about right and wrong reverberate through these lectures, as history's most profound thinkers ponder questions about life, death, God, and morality:

  • In the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, you'll see how words written as a means of self-education by a man who knew how ephemeral Rome's empire really was became an enduring guidepost on the path to wisdom.
  • In comparing the funeral orations given by Pericles in Athens and Lincoln at Gettysburg, you'll experience two of the most profound statements ever made about the necessity for just wars, as two great leaders grapple with the same questions addressed by Vergil in the Aeneid.
  • In Gilgamesh, you'll see how a search for eternal life and an understanding of why we must die teaches a questing ruler the greater importance of how we should live.
  • In the three plays of the Oresteia, you'll see how murder, revenge, duty, and divine intervention are used to show how the power of choice given us by free will is not, by itself, enough, and that disaster can ensue when choice is not guided by wisdom.

A Blueprint for "The Good Life"

This course encompasses Professor Fears's blueprint for "the good life," from the point of view of a historian who has ventured into philosophy and ethics, stemming from his own interest in great historic statesmen and from his interest in the history of freedom.

The themes in this course make it an ideal companion to other Teaching Company courses by Dr. Fears, including Famous Greeks, Famous Romans, Churchill, and especially A History of Freedom.

A Course Imbued with Optimism

According to Dr. Fears, optimism is the ultimate lesson of these great books.

"Never give up. Live your life and realize that every day, just as Thoreau told you and just as Homer tells you, every day you can begin again."

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison
    This lecture uses the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who sacrificed his life to fight totalitarianism, to illustrate a great book's most important attribute—its ability to speak to you as an individual and help shape the ideals by which you live your life. x
  • 2
    Homer, Iliad
    We discuss the Iliad's role as one of the most deeply religious books ever composed, an enduring statement of the living tradition of polytheism and a profound effort to understand the meaning of life. x
  • 3
    Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
    Though written to himself, this Roman emperor's great work has proven an enduring legacy, a reflection of an ethical life as applicable today as it was almost 2,000 years ago and a monument to self-sufficient wisdom. x
  • 4
    Bhagavad Gita
    Composed in the same period as the Iliad, the Bhagavad Gita is regarded as the supreme creation of Sanskrit literature. Though an epic statement of polytheism, it proclaims truth as an all-encompassing, single, divine power. x
  • 5
    Book of Exodus
    The most influential religious book ever composed, the Book of Exodus has shaped three great living religious traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—in its proclamation of a single, all-powerful God. x
  • 6
    Gospel of Mark
    Each of the Gospels presents a portrait of Jesus differing in emphasis. Mark, drawn from the firsthand account of Peter, is the most concise and dramatic. Its Jesus is both prophet and philosopher, testifying to his search for wisdom by his trial and death. x
  • 7
    Koran
    We examine the sacred book that holds for Muslims the same place that the words of Jesus do for Christians, the words of the book itself held as the revelation of God to humankind. x
  • 8
    Gilgamesh
    The question of fate or destiny is at the core of the earliest literary work to come down to us, the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, composed in the 3rd millennium B.C. in what is now Iraq. x
  • 9
    Beowulf
    Gilgamesh proclaims a heroic ideal: We are fated to die, but in the meantime, let us strive to be as great as possible. This same message is the theme of the first great work of English literature, the 8th-century Anglo-Saxon epic, Beowulf. x
  • 10
    Book of Job
    If God is good, why does evil exist? The Book of Job is the most enduring attempt to answer that question, a profound disquisition on the ultimate mystery of God and the frailty of any human attempt to understand the divine. x
  • 11
    Aeschylus, Oresteia
    The three plays of the Oresteia rank with the Oedipus of Sophocles as the greatest of Greek tragedies, a story of murder, revenge, duty, and divine intervention that raises in stark form the dilemma of free will. x
  • 12
    Euripides, Bacchae
    For the great Athenian tragedians, it is moral blindness that leads to hybris (also hubris) and ruin. Pentheus in the Bacchae of Euripides exemplifies those who believe themselves wise but are, in fact, fatally ignorant. x
  • 13
    Plato, Phaedo
    Fifth-century Greece sees the development of a more profound concept of the immortality of the soul. For Socrates, the belief in such an immortal soul was the ultimate question, as portrayed by Plato in the Phaedo. x
  • 14
    Dante, The Divine Comedy
    The Divine Comedy is the supreme summary of the thought of medieval Europe, ranking with the Aeneid of Vergil as one of the most influential epic poems ever composed and key to shaping the Italian language as it is spoken today. x
  • 15
    Shakespeare, Othello, the Moor of Venice
    The ancient Greeks and Romans did not have a figure comparable to Satan or the devil. To them, evil came in the form of human actions. In Renaissance England, this same idea was portrayed magnificently in Othello. x
  • 16
    Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound
    Aeschylus, like the other great Greek tragedians, believes that we gain wisdom from those who suffered on a titanic stage—in this case, the great rebel Prometheus, who defied the will of Zeus to benefit humanity. x
  • 17
    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's book stands as a massive indictment of the evil of Joseph Stalin and of the Communist system, portraying with chilling insight the role of ordinary people in carrying out this evil. x
  • 18
    Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
    Like Othello, Julius Caesar was written at the height of Shakespeare's creative talents. Its theme is honor and duty, the duty of a man to resist evil by violence and murder if necessary. x
  • 19
    George Orwell, 1984
    In his novel 1984, George Orwell raises the pertinent and disturbing question of whether any individual can resist the modern power of the state, brilliantly illuminating the logical consequences of subordinating the individual to anonymous social and economic forces. x
  • 20
    Virgil, Aeneid
    We examine Virgil's epic as both a work of literature and as a powerful and influential statement of the necessity of war in a just cause and the moral value of duty. x
  • 21
    Pericles, Oration; Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
    Two great democratic statesmen used the occasion of a public funeral for the war dead to proclaim democracy an absolute good. Separated by almost 2,500 years, these two funeral orations represent the most profound statements of the necessity of just wars. x
  • 22
    Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
    Published in 1928, the best novel about war ever written gave voice to the feeling that nothing was worth another war, paving the way for appeasement policies in both Britain and France that in fact made another and even more horrible war inevitable. x
  • 23
    Confucius, The Analects
    Few intellectual figures in history have so influenced a civilization as Confucius, the teacher whose wisdom guided the intellectual, political, and ethical life of China for more than two millennia. x
  • 24
    Machiavelli, The Prince
    Confucius taught the art of government as it should be; Machiavelli as it really is. Written in 1513, The Prince might be called the handbook of modern politics and foreign policy, just as useful now as it was then for anyone interesting in gaining and keeping power. x
  • 25
    Plato, Republic
    Plato's Republic might be called the greatest book on politics, education, and justice ever written. As The Divine Comedy embodies the values of the Middle Ages and the Aeneid those of Rome, the Republic embodies the ideals and values of classical Greece. x
  • 26
    John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
    Published in 1859, John Stuart Mill's On Liberty is the classic statement of the liberal ideal of democratic government and social justice. For Mill, government exists to serve the individual, and individual liberty is the end of government, not a means to an end. x
  • 27
    Sir Thomas Malory, Morte d'Arthur
    Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur captures the passion, consequences, and contradictions of romantic and spiritual love. One of the first great works of English prose, it summarizes the civilization of medieval chivalry in its ideal form. x
  • 28
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Part 1
    Goethe ranks with Shakespeare and Dante as one of the three supreme geniuses of European literature, comparable to Homer and Vergil. In the first part of Faust, Goethe grapples with the implications of attaining knowledge at any cost. x
  • 29
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Part 2
    The question of the role of beauty and cultural standards is one that every thoughtful person must decide on his or her own terms. We explore these themes against the backdrop of the moral growth and ultimate redemption of Dr. Faust. x
  • 30
    Henry David Thoreau, Walden
    Thoreau, the most American of thinkers, is an unabashed Romantic in exploring the relationship of Man to the natural world. Walden is the journal of his recovery of self-meaning and independence by his return to nature. x
  • 31
    Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
    Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is the greatest history written in the English language. Here, we look at Gibbon and his history as a statement of "a philosophical historian," who searches the past for laws to guide us in the future. x
  • 32
    Lord Acton, The History of Freedom
    Though Acton never wrote his planned history of liberty, he left behind, in numerous essays and unpublished notes, a legacy of historical thought that remains a message of supreme importance to us today. x
  • 33
    Cicero, On Moral Duties (De Officiis)
    On Moral Duties is one of the most influential works on education ever written, directly contradicting the view that might makes right and making clear that an immoral act can never be expedient. x
  • 34
    Gandhi, An Autobiography
    By drawing on the traditions of Indian thought and reading the Bhagavad Gita daily, Gandhi makes his own path, focusing his entire life on a search for truth and teaching us that there are many roads to wisdom and victory. x
  • 35
    Churchill, My Early Life; Painting as a Pastime; WWII
    Churchill might well be called the greatest figure in the 20th century. We look at three books by this Nobel Prize–winning author and find wisdom to guide us in drawing fundamental lessons for our own lives. x
  • 36
    Lessons from the Great Books
    We review the lessons of the course and our definition of what makes a great book—a definition as true and vital today as it was in the age of Socrates and Cicero. x

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Your professor

J. Rufus Fears

About Your Professor

J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
Dr. J. Rufus Fears was David Ross Boyd Professor of Classics at the University of Oklahoma, where he held the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty. He also served as David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Before joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, Professor Fears was Professor of History and...
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Reviews

Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your Life is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 162.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Thoroughly Enjoyed this Course... I actually bought this course many years ago and have listened to it occasionally over the years with great pleasure. Recently I bought it again as a gift for someone and was prompted via the website to write a review. The late Prof. Fears is (or was) a truly outstanding speaker, an old-school scholar, and a genuine delight to listen to. I revisit all of his courses once or twice a year and always enjoy them immensely. I personally have an M.A. in German Literature and I am fully aware of the limitations of his scholarship from a modern perspective. For example, you will not learn about Derrida, Kristeva, Judith Butler, Zizek, Lacan, deconstructionism, or the rest of post-modern and contemporary literary criticism, theory or perspectives. Instead, you will explore a vast array of great books, review their plots and main characters, and learn about some common themes in those books as proposed by Prof. Fears. And let me tell you, very few professors can bring a great book to life like he can. He is an exceptionally eloquent speaker, full of energy, wit, and charm, and an extremely knowledgeable classical scholar. He also has that divine spark of optimism and an almost irresistible sense of old-world moral values that I find thoroughly uplifting, refreshing, even inspiring. If you look at the other reviews of this course, you will find a split down the middle between people who love it and those who criticize his old-school approach to literature. So, forewarned is forearmed -- praemonitus praemunitus. If you think you'd be satisfied with a lucid and entertaining perusal of some great world literature, you'll likely find this course a genuine delight and perhaps also morally inspiring. If, however, you are a specialist or a current literature student at the graduate level, you'll probably find this course deficient by current critical standards. Personally, I'm a little bit of both, an avid reader of world literature, new and old, and I'm well-versed in modern theory and criticism. And hey, I liked this course very, very, much. Go figure! Maybe it's because the lecturer really is that dynamic and interesting. And let's face it, you can always re-examine the great books from a more contemporary perspective later. And when you do, let's hope you're even half as eloquent and charming as Prof. Fears.
Date published: 2018-08-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Happy with the content but disappointed I can’t access on my iPhone while walking.
Date published: 2018-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Books that changed the world Excellent lectures. Very enjoyable! Will buy again from you
Date published: 2018-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Books That Have Made History An excellent course taught by J. Rufus Fears, an excellent teacher. Dr. Fears has a tendency to let his voice soften at the end of a sentence which is sometimes a problem for me, an 82 year old. Several of your professors do this but they, apparently, are not trained in oral journalism. Note that those who are look directly at the camera when speaking giving the illusion of eye-contact with the viewer. That helps but so would closed captions. Probably too expensive? I also like both of Dr. Fears ties.
Date published: 2018-02-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I found his lecture style a bit off putting. The point of view of the lecturer often over shadowed the book he was discussing.
Date published: 2018-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating, Charming Professor Fears is a dynamic lecturer, dramatizing much of his material. I thoroughly enjoyed this course and being reintroduced to classics I hadn't perused since my youth and college days. I may not agree with all his observations, but that's what learning is all about: testing your opinions against new information and adjusting them or not.
Date published: 2018-01-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Prof used platform to express his values I was looking forward to this course, but the Professor let me down. He has the knowledge of great books, but he used the course to express his personal views about "absolute right and wrong," "duty," and much more. He should have been more professional in his selections and more objective in his reviews and lectures.
Date published: 2017-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An acquired taste I almost turned this one off. Seriously, almost skipped the whole course. But, you know, he has his own viewpoint. He almost seems like the type of professors that professors warned me about in college. A professor that deals in absolute truths, absolute rights and wrongs. But, after a few lectures I came to appreciate not only his style, but content as well. This course delivers good, memorable summaries of major literary works as well as a brief analysis. Not only recommend, but recommend to those who start, that they finish.
Date published: 2017-10-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rufus Fears is your best teacher. You need more of his lectures!
Date published: 2017-07-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Least Favorite Course I found Dr. Fears lectures very rambling. He seems to come up with the same conclusions regardless of the book he is discussing.
Date published: 2017-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Course I have purchased several courses from you and this one will be my favorite - a great topic, a great professor, a great delivery.
Date published: 2017-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Love Rufus Fears Prof. Fears is and excellent storyteller and makes history come alive, I am trying to listen to all of his classes.
Date published: 2017-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from darwin books photo brain All the courses I have taken so far have been excellant
Date published: 2017-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I bought this course because of the professor, Rufus Fears. He is the best. I recommend all of his courses.
Date published: 2017-03-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Some great choices, others not as much. Professor Fears selects 30 works of history that can impart wisdom for a set of Universal values: power, courage, moderation, honor, duty, honesty, and justice. Having only read half a dozen of the 30 recommended works, I now have a good starting point for incorporating more classical literature into my 2014 reading list. Professor Fears speaks as southern preacher from a pulpit, in broad sweeping grandeur statements. He is an excellent storyteller and well worth the 18 hour investment of listening to his course. Learned a tremendous amount!
Date published: 2016-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful lectures on the great books From reading other reviews, the late Professor Fears' style of lecturing obviously is controversial. He had a point of view and was willingly to share it with his listeners. I found Professor Fears' lectures as extremely thought provoking, even if you don't always agree with his point of view. I have listened to two of the three parts and have enjoyed them all. Professor Fears has introduced me to writers with whom I previously was not particularly familiar (e.g., Bonhoeffer, Confucius, Marcus Aurelius, Virgil, the Greek playwrights, etc.). Fears has a special knack of distilling each book to it essence. After listening to most of the lectures, I can hardly wait to read the work discussed and know more about it. I definitely will be listening to the third part. Very highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love this course !! I bought this course in CD format, to listen in the car as I travel a lot for my work. I enjoy listening to Dr. Fears story telling ability, something which current academia seems to have lost. This CD has remained in my travel collection for over 10 years now, and I find myself listening to it again about once a year and still enjoy and learn something new every time I listen. It has also prompted me to hit up my local library and check out many of the books to read them myself. Many of these are books I would not have read or even known existed if not for being introduced to them by this course. I have recommended this course to many friends and bought copies as gifts for several family members and friends. They have all told me they enjoyed the coursed too, and prompted long hours of discussion on the meanings each of us took away from Dr. Fears course. Thank you!!
Date published: 2016-02-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing Up to now i have thoroughly enjoyed all my Great Courses. This course however has been misrepresented. I found the Professor prejudiced and unpleasant to listen to. He sounds like a preacher in Hillsong or one of the new American born again Christen church. He also makes comments as if he is talking exclusively to such a group. In the discussion of Mohamed he said something along the lines that that is what Moslems believe compared to what WE BELIEVE. The discussion of Alexander Solzhenitsyn ignores that fact that AS was a far right supporter of the Vietnam war. In other words the Professor comes across as biased rather than objective, biased towards some American religious right point of view. I am not American ( Australian, we consider ourselves similar but different to Americans) but I haven't found other courses prepared in such a way that they are not suitable for non Americans. My main disappointment is that I did not pick up anything about this bias in the course publicity information.
Date published: 2016-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderfully eclectic collection I doubt that I have anything to add when you already have 135 reviews of this course, but The Teaching Company wants me to review it, so here goes! This is a wonderfully eclectic collection of books, ranging in length from All Quiet on the Western Front to the three volumes of the Gulag Archipelago and from the ancient Baghavad Gita and two books of the Bible to Gandhi and Churchill. Each lecture begins with a comment on the previous book and an introduction to the new one, and the professor is enthusiastic about each one. I liked him so much I promptly ordered all the rest of his Teaching Company courses. I didn't want the series to end. Can he do some more books. please?
Date published: 2015-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful listening for the car I have another of Prof. Fears courses and I just love this guy! He is a great teacher and presents the material in an engaging way that is a delight to listen to. He also gets me thinking in ways others don't. Love listening to his lectures while going back and forth to work and found this course to particularly thought provoking and entertaining at the same time! Anyone reading this that loves to read and ponder on ideas of morality, wisdom, courage and about the "WHY" we are here would love this course! Prof. Fears has challenged me to read a lot of the books in this course that I haven't read and re-read some I have. Best course yet!
Date published: 2015-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engrossing! I have been an English teacher for 40 years , and I also majored in history. One cannot easily separate literature and history. Much of this course was familiar to me, but it make connections for me that I had not made as I studied and taught separate pieces of literature. I am an early riser and found myself listening to two lectures a day from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m.! What a way to begin my day. I have been enlightened and will consult these lectures again I am sure as I enrich my literature course and examine my own life. I also enjoyed the course on mindfulness with Prof. Muess.
Date published: 2015-03-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Chewing the Scenery I never thought I'd spend this much time learning about ancient classical literature. It never made any sense to me, but Professor Fears brings something to it that makes it fun and interesting. It is his sense of drama that captured my attention and made me look forward to the next lesson. Yes,he gets carried away at times, but I appreciate his effort to risk putting himself on stage in an effort to bring the story to life.. For sure, he is not boring. He is a wonderful storyteller. I love the fact that he makes it clear what he feels is the principle of the story; what are the timeless questions and moral/ethical issues explored in the book. He explains the historical context of the setting and tells who the author is and how he fits into the culture of the time. He is very clear about the elements that make a book great and reminds us often how they apply to each book. I thoroughly enjoyed his series on "The Lessons of History." I learned so much from them I decided to get another of his courses i'm not sorry I did.
Date published: 2014-10-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The worst course I have watched I have watched about a dozen of the Great Courses and have never been disappointed before this.. If I could get my money back on this one I would. Any person who would claim that the USA and the Roman Empire are the ONLY two super powers that the world has ever seen must be an idiot. He goes on to claim that the US and the Roman Empire are the only two empires that have been absolutely dominant militarily, economically, politically and culturally powers the world has seen.. To see such a man rise to such a position indeed says a great deal about the "culture" he has risen from.
Date published: 2014-08-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from What about the books? I have enjoyed Teaching Company courses for years but this one does not cut it. He speaks for half an hour on each book barely mentioning it. While I have read many (not all) the books he "discusses" I could not even recognise what his points were. I am a bit dissapointed.
Date published: 2014-08-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Can't recommend this one. This is the 11th great course I've listened to and the first one that I will not finish. Listening to Rufus Fears is like getting stuck at the holiday dinner table with a somewhat drunk, old uncle who holds you hostage at mouthpoint. I can not recommend any course by Rufus Fears.
Date published: 2014-02-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Recommend with reservations. It’s hard to review a course like Rufus Fears’ _Books that Have Made History_ because the course is sprawling and covers 34 different works from widely ranging time periods. I will offer my review from one angle: did the course inspire me to seek out the books he discussed. I have listened to other courses by Fears (e.g., Great Greeks and Romans) and appreciate his style in bringing the people to life. Even if I disagree with Fears (e.g., that Caesar was the greatest man who ever lived, and that only an era that duels can understand honor), he does encourage one to consider what he’s saying. He also stirred my interest in wanting to understand more about some of the figures. To return to Caesar, his lectures motivated me to read the classic and modern sources on Caesar and to think of what kind of person I think he (and Brutus) is. Further, although many people have argued that Fears is promoting some sort of Christian agenda in this course, that’s not entirely true. His biggest error is equating all the various gods as really a single god (namely, his god). Given his comments, it’s clear that is a Christian god, but that’s secondary to the main equivocation. Plus, once you notice it, it’s quite easy to ignore this bias. Though I had already read most of the books in this series, he spurred my interest in other books that I had never heard of (e.g., Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s _The Gulag Archipelago_) and others that I had never read (e.g., Aeschylus’ _Prometheus Bound_). So, if the measure of a course is how well he inspires thought, and encourages further study, this course was worth the time. Yes, he tried too much, yes his summaries of books were shallow, yes he has peculiar biases (e.g., his insistence that the King James translation of the Bible is the best), and yes there are other courses that are better (Grant Voth’s History of World Literature or the team taught Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition), but this course could serve as introduction to great works. Would I start here? No, probably not, but that doesn’t mean I am upset I took the last few months to listen to it. As I said, it’s hard to review this course.
Date published: 2014-02-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Prof Fears If you would like listening to an amalgam of Paul Harvey and a Southern Baptist pastor, Prof Fears is for you. He has a broad familiarity with these texts, but a simplistic one based on a 1950's view of the world. His reading of the Gita, for example, bears no resemblance to any other interpretation I've ever encountered.
Date published: 2014-01-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Beginning I found this lecture series in my local library several years ago, and that was the beginning of my happy association with The Great Courses. What I learned from Professor Fears and this course is that it can take decades before you discover the important lessons to be learned from books you read in your school years or in college and that makes them worth revisiting.
Date published: 2013-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My favorite course so far I've become quite hooked on Great Courses, having 8 of them now under my belt and am currently working through 2 more. This has been, to date, absolutely my favorite. The course will not be what everyone is looking for, though. It is not a detailed textual study, an exploration of genre, or an in depth examination of metaphysical implications of any of the works that are discussed. What it is, is inspirational. Professor Fears maintains a laser like focus on how these examples of superior literature (or as he would say, great literature), exemplify the highest ideals of mankind. The professor is extraordinarily dramatic in his presentation. So much so, on occassion, that I found myself laughing out loud in my car as I listened to him speak in the voice of the character he was describing. Yes, it could be over dramatized sometimes. But for me, that only added to the fun of it. I highly recommend the course and have a long waiting list of borrowers at my work place.
Date published: 2013-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb I believe I have listened to most if not all of Dr. Fears' lectures probably five or more times each. He has been one of my most beloved Teaching Company professors and I can't describe how incredibly sad I am to learn he passed away last year. If you can afford it, you should purchase a copy of each and every one of his courses. They will provide hours and hours of delight, knowledge, and wisdom; and like all great teachers, will inspire you to continue your own studies through the actual texts. Dr. Fears you will be dearly missed!
Date published: 2013-07-31
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