European History and European Lives: 1715 to 1914

Course No. 8270
Professor Jonathan Steinberg, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
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Course No. 8270
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Course Overview

Thirty-five of the most influential people who lived during the 200 most difficult years in the history of the West form the subject of this dramatically different course. Who were these artists, writers, scientists, and leaders in the context of history? How and why did their lives shape our times and reflect their own?

They lived during the years 1715 to 1914, and they include:

  • Augustus the Strong—his gargantuan appetites nearly exhausted his royal treasury
  • Charles Darwin—a disinterested theology student whose real obsession was to explain things
  • Sir Robert Walpole—an extraordinary politician with an even greater mastery of corruption
  • David Lloyd George—his incomparable political strengths were put to a radically different purpose
  • Mary Wollstonecraft—her groundbreaking manifestos launched feminism but offered little protection from the irony of her own biological destiny
  • Captain Alfred Dreyfus—he was condemned to Devil's Island in a notorious miscarriage of justice that foreshadowed the Holocaust
  • Napoleon Bonaparte—his conquests and administrative genius turned the French Revolution from chaos and disorder to stability and permanence.

What do these people have in common? And what links them to such similarly disparate figures as Marx and Engels, Marie Antoinette, Edmund Burke, C.P.E. Bach, Metternich, Pope Pius IX, Nathan Rothschild, or Louis Pasteur?

They are all major players in the grand drama of history, whether ruler or statesman, artist or philosopher, general, scientist, or leader of a faith. And each plays a role in this course—a deft mix of history and biography—as a way to understand this history.

A Dramatic Classroom Approach

Professor Jonathan Steinberg makes clear at the outset that this approach is different from anything he has seen in almost 40 years in the classroom.

This course:

  • Focuses on 35 people whose lives represent the crucial forces that shaped European history during two decisive centuries
  • Examines the transformation of Europe from a world of "lord and serf, horse and carriage, superstition and disease" into today's modern state of "boss and worker, steam and steel, science and medicine."

A March through Living European History

In this innovative course you hear Professor Steinberg's extensive use of carefully chosen quotes from the people themselves and from several biographical sources. This attention to detail also includes musical excerpts when he discusses composers Bach and Wagner.

As you grow to understand the living context of European history, you appreciate the great transforming themes embodied by the people who populate this fascinating march.

The two most important themes are the movement toward democracy—culminating in the French Revolution—that dominated the first of the two centuries covered, and the Industrial Revolution with the explosion of science and technology that dominated the second.

Democracy and Science, Beetles and Battlefields

In choosing the characters whose lives most reflect these themes, Professor Steinberg has not confined himself to those who are most often studied—monarchs, politicians, military leaders—but has included scientists, artists, philosophers, and industrialists, and even an entire population threatened with starvation—the Irish.

Professor Steinberg ably explores how the nature of absolute rule evolves from the unquestioned autocracy of a ruler like Augustus the Strong to the many styles of enlightened absolutism exemplified by rulers such as Maria Theresa of Austria, Catherine the Great of Russia, and Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II.

You see how the success of even enlightened rulers was ultimately betrayed by limitations, whether imposed by human nature, the backwardness of a realm, or the nature of reason itself.

You follow the emergence of the public sphere, the shattering of artistic boundaries, and the creation of new marketplaces as bold new visionaries including Samuel Johnson, Goya, C.P.E. Bach, Goethe, and Wagner take the public stage.

You watch as science achieves a profound new importance—often at the expense of religion—as theories and discoveries of people such as Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur are framed by historical context.

Professor Steinberg draws pictures with words, from the image of Darwin excitedly stuffing a newly captured and squirming beetle into his mouth because he has nowhere else to put it, or a description of Napoleon's profound battlefield influence on his troops—an ability to inspire loyalty that helped make his life, in Professor Steinberg's words, "the single most important" encountered in this lecture series.

It is, considering the company kept during these 36 lectures, a bold statement.

Why History through Biography?

After an introductory lecture on history as a "soft" science, Professor Steinberg describes his course as a road map to the period in which the world of Europe becomes like our own and a new "self," set in a new social reality, becomes the dominant actor.

Each of the remaining 35 lectures is named for, and devoted to, a personality or group of people. The lectures unfold chronologically over 200 years.

"To lecture on lives raises a serious problem of method," says Professor Steinberg. "Much of what happened in the years 1715 to 1914 depends on the lives and activities of ordinary people whose struggle for existence and happiness makes up the great story of modern history.

"Changes in population, disease, famine, immigration and emigration, factory labor, strikes and trade unionism, literacy, emancipation of women, armies, and empires are mass phenomena, not individual ones. No single life can remotely express these huge forces," he points out.

"What justifies the biographical approach?" asks Professor Steinberg. He gives three reasons:

"First of all, it is fun. It is in our nature to be interested in one another. The people whom we shall study are among the most interesting people who have ever lived.

"Second, it is way to look at the great changes. If we see the times in which our figures lived as a kind of lens or magnifying glass, we can look for the background, as well as the foreground. We know what they could not: What happens next.

"Third, it is a way to educate ourselves. It draws out our awareness of ourselves and our world."

By looking at what even the greatest of the actors of the past could not see or understand, we get a glimpse of what we may be missing in our own thinking. When we observe the way people in the past seemed unaware of great changes now obvious to us, we have a useful moment of self-doubt. What are we missing in our world? We become one degree less self-confident that we know what is going on.

"That touch of humility, that creative moment of hesitation, that openness to the possibility that we might be wrong, those are the signs of a real historical education," states Professor Steinberg.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    History as a "Soft" Science
    This lecture is a road map to the period in which the world of Europe becomes like our own and a new "self," set in a new social reality, becomes the dominant actor. x
  • 2
    Augustus the Strong—Princely Consumption
    The life of the Duke of Saxony and King of Poland is far from unique among the rulers of his time and is a way to understand the lost world of "old regime" Europe. x
  • 3
    Robert Walpole—Politics of Corruption
    England's first modern prime minister belongs to an aristocratic, premodern social order. Yet his shrewd, corrupt, and comfortable administration clearly offers a look at our own world beginning to take shape. x
  • 4
    Frederick the Great—Absolute Absolutist
    This monarch's 46 years of rule embody the principle of rational autocracy and reveal its limitations, for no ruler, no matter how brilliant, can avoid the paradoxes built into mortality and human nature. x
  • 5
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau—A Modern Self
    Novelist, philosopher, and political theorist, this major figure of the Enlightenment is the first representative of what becomes our modern sense of self. x
  • 6
    Samuel Johnson—The "Harmless Drudge"
    The most famous literary figure of 18th-century England is himself the subject of the greatest biography in the English language, and represents a new stage in the evolution of modern communications: the emergence of mass media and the public sphere. x
  • 7
    Maria Theresa—Mother of the Empire
    Ruler over a complex of states and territories, but forbidden by gender to claim her title as Holy Roman Empress, this remarkable woman raises for the first time in this course the "Austrian problem" that would dominate European politics from 1740 to 1914. x
  • 8
    David Hume—The Cheerful Skeptic
    Now widely regarded as the greatest philosopher of knowledge, Hume's publication of A Treatise of Human Nature in 1739 applies the experimental method to ideas and demolishes all the existing rules of thought. x
  • 9
    C.P.E. Bach—Selling the Arts
    The most distinguished son of J.S. Bach develops an expressive style far different from that of his father and spearheads the emergence of art as a commodity, suddenly available to a new middle-class public. x
  • 10
    Catherine the Great—Russian Reformer
    Seeking to Westernize Russia, Catherine's astonishing successes and equally clamorous failures illustrate the dilemma of striving for her nation's modernity while preserving its soul. x
  • 11
    Joseph II—The Rational Emperor
    Maria Theresa's son is the champion of rule by pure reason, but his attempt to impose rationality unleashes history's law of unintended consequences and spotlights the inherent dilemma of enlightened despotism. x
  • 12
    Goethe—The Artist as Work of Art
    The first bourgeois artist to become a megastar, Goethe is to Germany what Shakespeare is to England; his unleashing of romanticism causes an entire generation to reframe its values. x
  • 13
    Adam Smith—The Wealth of Nations
    A Scottish moral philosopher discovers the nature of modern capitalist markets and the division of labor but sets limits that his champions overlook to this day. x
  • 14
    Marie Antoinette—Queen Beheaded
    A young queen's notorious reputation for pleasure and extravagance comes to symbolize the blindness of the old regime in the face of the need for change. x
  • 15
    Edmund Burke—The New Conservatism
    Rising to high office on the strength of intellect alone, this "extraordinary man" pens Reflections on the Revolution in France and invents modern conservative thought. x
  • 16
    Robespierre—The Democrat as Terrorist
    Terror becomes a modern political concept as this provincial French lawyer's attempt to force people to be free, virtuous, and happy leads to the execution of 40,000 "enemies of the people" and, ultimately, himself. x
  • 17
    Mary Wollstonecraft—The Rights of Women
    Her eventual death after childbirth makes biology her destiny in the most terrible way, but not until the career of this "first feminist" launches a debate whose impact is still felt. x
  • 18
    Napoleon—The Revolutionary Emperor
    The most important life covered in this course represents the implementation throughout Europe—by force—of the principles of the French Revolution, but reduced and contained in the interests of political order. x
  • 19
    Metternich—The Spider and the Web
    A genius at persuasion makes Metternich Napoleon's greatest adversary—not on the battlefield but over the lacquered tables of diplomacy—as he attempts to restore the balance of power in Europe after 1815. x
  • 20
    N.M. Rothschild—Financier to the World
    The "English" Rothschild provides the financial foundation for Britain's victory over France, but the problem of emancipated Jews as symbols of capitalism and change also helps create modern anti-Semitism. x
  • 21
    Goya—The Painter as Social Critic
    Goya's uncompromising portrait of his times represents a starting point for 19th-century culture, exploiting the new romantic cult of genius to exert influence beyond art's conventional boundaries. x
  • 22
    Giuseppe Mazzini—Idealist of the Nation
    Combining Romanticism with a largely "imagined" nationalism, Mazzini creates an explosive mixture that fails to create the mass movement he envisions, even though his ideal of an "Italian people" ultimately becomes reality. x
  • 23
    George Eliot—A Scandalous Woman
    The "greatest English novelist" scandalizes her own generation as both a "professional woman" and as a person "living in sin," reflecting in her great work, Middlemarch, the changes through which she is living. x
  • 24
    The Irish Starve—The Great Famine
    This "collective biography" of a starving people reflects both the limits of 19th-century liberalism and the problems of population growth, disease, and subsistence. x
  • 25
    Napoleon III—The Empire of the Boulevards
    Obsessed with his uncle's legacy, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte tries to end the instability of French politics by restoring the first Napoleon's system in the "land of revolutions." x
  • 26
    Pius IX—The Infallible Pope
    The most important pope of the 19th century declares war on the modern secular state and enunciates the doctrine of papal infallibility, setting the terms of the Church's struggle to adapt to the modern world. x
  • 27
    Richard Wagner—Revolution in Music
    The first prophet of the new irrationality and the cult of art seeks to redefine art as an alternative to conventional religion. x
  • 28
    Marx and Engels—The Perfect Collaboration
    Two dramatically different men nevertheless form a perfect working relationship, and their lifelong collaboration alters the course of history. x
  • 29
    Otto von Bismarck—Blood and Iron
    Germany is reunified, without destroying the old absolutist state, by a diplomatic realist whose character is very different from the image handed down by history. x
  • 30
    Charles Darwin—Origin of Species
    Though arriving at Cambridge to study for the ministry, Darwin creates still another crisis in faith, creating the new theory of evolution and almost single-handedly destroying the old account of creation. x
  • 31
    Queen Victoria—"We are not amused"
    Giving her name to an entire era, this remarkable queen makes the British monarchy the popular symbol of the middle classes while becoming the catalyst by which the British political system transforms itself. x
  • 32
    Friedrich Krupp—The New Plutocracy
    Monarchy, feudalism, technology, capitalism, the new sexuality, and the mass press all combine in this family story of a huge industrial concern torn by contradictory forces of modernity and autocracy. x
  • 33
    Louis Pasteur—Modern Laboratory Science
    A French chemist and pioneer microbiologist changes the way we live in this examination of scientific creativity and the structures developed by 19th-century society to make scientific work possible. x
  • 34
    Count Leo Tolstoy—Lord and Serf
    The struggle of Russia to retain its soul while modernizing resurfaces in the story of a privileged aristocrat whose inner journey brings him to a real-life ending far different from its beginnings. x
  • 35
    Alfred Dreyfus—First Act in the Holocaust
    The false accusation of a Jewish French officer is both the last act of the French Revolution of 1789 and the first act of the tragedy that will lead to the Holocaust. x
  • 36
    David Lloyd George—Champion of the Poor
    The youngest character in our series is also one of the most extraordinary, breaking the power of the House of Lords, introducing social security, and creating the modern welfare state. x

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Your professor

Jonathan Steinberg

About Your Professor

Jonathan Steinberg, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Jonathan Steinberg is the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Modern European History at the University of Pennsylvania. He completed his undergraduate work at Harvard University. He earned his Ph.D. from Cambridge University and served for 30 years as University Lecturer in European History, Fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and Vice-Master. Professor Steinberg served as an expert witness in the Commonwealth of Australia...
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Reviews

European History and European Lives: 1715 to 1914 is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 77.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Neither history nor biography, or perhaps both This series of lectures is interesting in that it can be said to be neither history nor biography, or it can be said to be both. Professor Steinberg examines key elements of European history as it evolves from the late 18th century through to the early years of the 20th, a period of enormous change. The late 18th century European would barely have recognised early 20th century Europe, so this is a fascinating period. The biographies have been selected to illustrate these changes in politics, society, the arts and thought. If there could be a criticism, it is that sometimes the biographies were a bit thin, but that is the price that must be paid for the 30 minute format, and to fit the framework of not only introducing the person but their place in a changing Europe. I, for one, am prepared to accept the compromise. So, don't expect a 30 minute biography on any of these subjects, but roughly a 50/50 look at the person and their context. I found most of the lectures to be very engaging, especially those which dealt with the Holy Roman Empire and its decline. I also found Prof Steinberg's delivery to be top notch. Don't expect this to be a full history of the period, or complete biographies of the people concerned, but expect to be introduced to the currents that flow through this period of European history and society.
Date published: 2015-11-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Somewhat boring...WAY too much reading A novel concept/approach to teaching, but overall I was disappointed with this course. Way, way too much reading. Also, a bit too much "background" and not enough of the actual biographies of the subjects, and a bit much on the suppositions without clear evidence or justification (Osama bin Ladin and Robespierre? Really?). One of the few courses I've purchased where I feel I've sort-of wasted my money.
Date published: 2015-10-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspiring Dr. Steinberg's presentations are truly inspiring, and his "experiment" in portraying European history through biography is a brilliant success. Like all truly creative endeavors, the experience of the course cannot so much be described; it must be experienced. After completing the 36 lectures in 15 days, in which I listened to many of them twice, I come away feeling both inspired, and disappointed that the Teaching Company does not have more courses by this extremely knowledgeable, interesting, and dryly witty academician. I came away feeling that the course was a labor of love for him, and, consequently, listening to his lectures became a joyful experience for me, not to mention that a large gap in my knowledge and understanding of European history has been overcome.
Date published: 2015-09-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from European History and European Lives: 1715 to 1914 I recently viewed this course on DVD. I must say that the content and presentation of the course were generally excellent although it must be said that the professor, excellent tho he was, appeared to read his lectures throughout the series. Further, there was not much in the way of illustrations which would have enhanced the quality of the course substantially. Nonetheless, the Professor is clearly brilliant and his presentations interesting and compelling. I particularly enjoyed his presentation sequence --that is that for each of the "Lives" he covered he also provided the political and social data to illustrate what was going on in the world at the time of the "lives". So he provided both biographic and other contemporary information about his subjects. in an engaging and informative way. I would recommend the course, but I don't think a DVD is necesssary. This is something I've learned over the years I've been taking these courses. Look to the date of the lectures or call the Great Courses to learn how many illustrations go with each of the lecture series. Then one can make an informed decision on whether to purchase video or audio formats.
Date published: 2015-07-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Too aural, lacking visual While I enjoyed the unique approach and learned a good bit, Dr. Steinberg's points would have benefited greatly from a screen display of the quotations that he read in all of his lectures. His reading was not the best, in any event, and the material was clearly meant for printed presentation rather than oral.
Date published: 2015-03-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good But Not Great I think Prof. Steinberg largely succeeds in this very ambitious course. His selection of biographies is interesting and comprehensive, and, unlike other reviewers, i think the historical context he provides in each lecture is very helpful and in many ways necessary to a full understanding of the chosen subject. His enthusiasm for the course and its subject matter is palpable, and that enthusiasm certainly helps draw in the listener and retain the listener's interest. That said, I found his lecture manner and speaking style to be a bit over the top from time to time - smacking of an elitism or an intellectual arrogance that is usually benign but occasionally off-putting. The audio format is quite adequate for this course. A solid course but not my highest recommendation.
Date published: 2014-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great info This is one of several courses I have rated excellent. If you are interested in modern European history, this course is a must. The course uses short biographies to explain the evolution of Europe's history from the ancien regime when kings ruled by divine right to modernity.
Date published: 2014-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific insight into the key players I listened to this series a while back and really enjoyed the capsules relevant to each one. This was a time of rapid change and in many cases, power was limited to a few people. So these individuals used their powers to great effect and helped shape our modern world. They show the full range of views one can have to changes in relationships, science, mankind, travel and international relations.
Date published: 2014-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Different Way to Study History I am presently 1/3 of the way through the course but the presentation of discrete learning units about one person is a novel way to introduce the learner to a wider range of history than the usual course. Not all of the topics covered would be enough to be part of a wider history course in that part of Europe, but the person and the time of history are just as important to our understanding of how past events in Europe have affected the current political and economic climate there. Because I often listen to the Great Courses in the car, it can take a quick moment or two to get caught up to where I was when I stopped especially if I don't drive for a couple of days. With these 30 minute lectures you don't run into this. The professor has chosen a wide range of different types of people and I've learned a lot. I've purchased more than 100 Great Courses and have rarely run into a bad course, but this, along with the Turning Points series, is a chance to relax a bit while still learning a lot.
Date published: 2014-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great course My wife attended Wharton, and many of my friends attended the University of Pennsylvania. The course reflects the institution and the professor, with a high attention to detail, and easy sense of explanation, and a dry sense of humor. There is also a great perspective, and I am really enjoying the course. I think the course also reflects the years spent in England and gaining insight into European culture.
Date published: 2014-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a pity Mr Steinberg only made 1 course with the TC A very good course, and fully worth paying for and listening to. I agree with other reviewers that these lectures work best as a coherent course and listened to sequentially, but I think they could still be valuable (and enjoyable) individually--esp. if a listener returned to favorites. These lectures were prepared in 2003 and, 11 years on, they're beginning to tell their age. I say this in a positive sense, however: the content is timeless, but it is clear Mr. Steinberg was very much on top of current events and concerns when he was preparing this course. I would like to have heard other courses done by him.
Date published: 2014-05-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Refreshing Approach This review will pertain to the Audio version. When I ordered this course, I didn't quite know what to expect. First of all, I read the course scope, looked over the lecture titles, and reviewed some of the sources recommended. After I listened to the first lecture, and realized the extent of preparations that the professor did, it helped me have an open mind, as I approached the course. As other reviewers have commented here, one must go start to finish, to get maximum benefit of the course. I don't feel that one would benefit much, by only picking biographies that were appealing. I was initially, only familiar with a small handful of those personalities listed. As I began to take the course, and got about a third of the way thru. I began to see the threads and major themes that Dr. Steinberg was weaving. I learned a great deal about some personalities, and a lesser degree on some others. Dr. Steinberg's approach is more of a thematic, rather than a chronological one, although the figures are presented in chronological order. This seems to be a wise decision, given that there is much overlap of ideals and accomplishments, during this time period. The professor covers a lot of social history, and how the given personality fit into the social fabric of the era. Dr. Steinberg has a great voice, and is an outstanding lecturer. The audio version was quite sufficient for me, although sometimes, the maps might have been helpful. At the same time I was taking this course, I was also taking the course on the American Revolution. I often like to take courses that cover material from the same time frame, in order to get a different historical perspective. This helped me to better understand what was happening , at the same time, on the other side of the world. If 4.5 had been an option, I would have selected this, and I would like an option to recommend it, with reservations. Although there is a great deal of excellent material here, I don't, however, feel that the course is for a newer TGC customer, or one that might not already have some elementary understanding of the scheme of European history. There are many excellent courses from TTC that can supply this need however
Date published: 2014-05-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating, But... There's much of value in this course. The professor does a good job of showing the transition from the Old Regime to the modern world and does so in depth and richly through the fascinating lives he explores. In addition, one often finds gems in these biographical accounts that are fascinating and worthwhile. The professor's curiosity, intelligence, and erudition show in many places. Having said that, I do not deem the course a great success, nor can I recommend it to my discerning friends. The biggest problem is that the professor tries to do too much and, as is often the case with such ambitions, accomplishes too little. Each lecture is about a life of a historical figure of interest. But there's also always some attention to the history of the region or nation of the person, the background of the person and his or her family, some general biography of the person, stories about some special features of the person's work, various curious detours, and assessments (or speculation) about the person's place in the bigger picture. All of this is often of interest, but the poor little frame of a lecture can't bear the weight. Sadly, the course frequently breaks down altogether. The professor exacerbates this problem by getting caught up in minutiae that must interest him intellectually but do not advance the course. Detours, for example, into the personal lifestyle of one of the Krupp heirs or the complex chemistry of some of Pasteur's work are but two examples. The professor enjoys the grand statement and too-easy speculation. Robespierre was "Democrat as Terrorist." Osama bin Laden was "a child of the French Revolution." "Burke became the prophet of a right wing he would not have liked." (What?) "Marxism represents the most brilliant, comprehensive theory of everything ever developed by the mind of man." (Seriously?) Nazism was the virtually inevitable end of the journey begun by the Dreyfus affair. So on, and so forth. There are indeed nice features to the course, but, given the flaws, I feel generous to give it four stars.
Date published: 2014-04-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing! In this series of lectures, Professor Jonathan Steinberg endeavours to summarize 18th and 19th century European history by presenting the biography of 35 persons that he judges to be particularly significant (with the Irish famine exceptionally counting as a ‘person’). Sadly, two shortcomings are striking. First, there is recurring discussion from one lecture to another regarding the validity of the approach taken. This breaks the listener’s concentration with respect to the topics at hand and perversely reduces the pertinence of Professor Steinberg’s method. Second, and even more significantly, many of the various historical figures are not covered in depth but seem to be excuses for the lecturer to expound on a topic he personally finds important. In short, way too much is expressed in the first person. Overall, though reflecting considerable scholarship, this course can only be recommended to those already vastly familiar with the topic who will be in a position to fill in the gaps left by the lectures’ format.
Date published: 2014-04-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Informative, but some cringeworthy moments I enjoyed the format and presentation. But the lecture on Mary Wollstonecraft nearly put me off the rest of the course. Prof. Steinberg devotes a significant amount of time at the end of the lecture to expounding on his opinion that feminism is flawed because it ignores the possibility that "men and women simply think differently." As evidence of this difference, he presents a couple of weirdly identical anecdotes about women of his acquaintance behaving in a catty and irrational manner. He clearly has no idea what he's talking about #and knows nothing about any of the research that's been done on gender and psychology#, and ends up embarrassing himself.
Date published: 2014-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Best of the Best This is my very favorite of my growing collection of courses. The concept of using biographies to illuminate great and pivotal moments in history was a stroke of brilliance. The personal history makes the larger history accessible and engaging, and Prof. Steinberg uses them to open up a window into the culture and society. Prof. Steinberg is dry, amusing, and self-effacing. It is clear that he enjoys the material and lets us know what is new to him as he presents the material which makes HIM very accessible as well. This course makes good use of pictures from the time, which other courses could learn from. I repeatedly watch this and continue to glean new tidbits of information from it. Marvelous.
Date published: 2014-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History at its Best This is a marvelous series for anyone who loves history, biography, or plain good story telling. Jonathan Steinberg is a stellar lecturer. His choice of subjects was wide-ranging, yet all seemed to pull together to give an integrated and compelling account of the development of modern Europe. I did not find one episode that was boring or felt irrelevant. A wonderful listen from beginning to end!
Date published: 2013-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Whole > The Sum of the Parts AUDIO Absolutely fascinating and impressive! A quick review of the lecture titles would lead one to believe that this is another course on the great figures of the past (excepting, of course, the seemingly out of place lecture, the Irish Starve: The Great Famine). To be sure, the course includes many interesting historical figures, and Professor Steinberg brings an impressive background as scholar and teacher. But this is much more than a series of 35 loosely joined biographies of 18th and 19th (and one 20th) century figures. Professor Steinberg not only artfully presents us with a “portrait gallery” of individuals, but also uses these biographies to paint, brush stroke by brush stroke, a much larger picture of Europe during this period. Professor Steinberg shows how the modern world evolved, “How…the world of lord and serf, horse and carriage, superstition and disease, turn[ed] into the world of boss and worker, steam and steel, science and medicine…”. To fully appreciate this course, it must be listened to from beginning to end. One will miss a great deal if he just cherry-picks the figures of most interest, considering that, at the very least, many of them are mentioned in later lectures by way of comparison or example. More importantly, however, one will miss out on the fascinating continuity as Professor Steinberg deals with such topics as the well-known –isms, e.g., Romanticism, Nationalism, Marxism, etc.; the rise of the secular state; the crisis in religion; industrialization, science and technology; demographic changes; the Jews in Europe; and, the transformation of art and the “public sphere”. Though a lot of territory (literally) and time are covered, I did not feel rushed or confused. Everything seemed to fit well together. I especially enjoyed listening to Professor Steinberg: he has a pleasant voice and style, and offers many helpful personal comments and evaluations. In this regard, his “conversion” to Wagner fleshed out and personalized that lecture. The only biography that does not work well enough for me is that of Louis Pasteur. Professor Steinberg seems to go into too much technical detail regarding Pasteur’s scientific achievements. That is, however, a minor quibble. This course is a good and easy introduction to European history (as well as to important historical figures), tying developments to real people rather than reciting otherwise lifeless facts . You are in for a treat with this TC course.
Date published: 2013-10-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Should be rolled out to all senior schools This is the way to present history! Each lecture is a prismatic gem which sheds light on a particular period and all its contingent issues. The precision of presentation and language makes these lectures totally memorable. The most valuable element is the anchoring of history to a personality, so providing an excellently structured and and easily navigated memory palace. It is for this reason I would advocate these lectures being adopted for the history curiculum in schools. If only I had had history presented in this way at school or college! Thank you Professor Steinberg.
Date published: 2013-01-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely enlightening. If you ever had a question about the merit of The Teaching Company, kindly allay your fears by purchasing this course on European history. I'm not especially interested in European history -- I'm more specifically interested in Germany and the United States. I believe it is rather dense to stick to what one already finds interesting, though; indeed, some of my favorite non-fiction books were chosen specifically because I doubted they could interest me. This course, however, enlightened me to a degree I had not thought possible. Professor Steinberg's presentation is not merely supremely competent; it is also highly entertaining. This course will form an important part of your education, no matter what your age. I recommend it without a second's hesitation.
Date published: 2012-12-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from WORTHY BIOGRAPHIES CD series - To a novice like me, Professor Steinberg's biographical lectures are very insightful about European leaders during the 200 years beginning in 1715. For many of the individuals, my knowledge was very rudimentary prior to listening to these lectures; thus, these lectures broaden my knowledge. One criticism is that Professor Steinberg spends an excessive amount of time setting the context of the individual so that the biographical portion seems generic for many individuals. There is significant bias about several of the individuals such as Charles Darwin to the point that Professor Steinberg seems on the verge of deifying the person. Nevertheless, I enjoyed listening to the series because it introduced me to biographies worthy of further interest.
Date published: 2012-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Most Entertaining History Course I have listened to more than 20 history courses offered by the Teaching Company. I am not an academic, and so I don't consider myself an expert on choice of materials to covered, balance between competing academic views, etc. But I do want to share my opinion that the lectures in this course, in addition to being very informative, are more entertaining than the average Hollywood movie. The Teaching Company does a wonderful job of giving us access to professors who can entertain, as well as enlighten. But against tough competition in this area, I consider Jonathan Steinberg to be the clear winner.
Date published: 2012-09-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not bad. This course attempts to tell the history of 19th century Europe by presenting 34 brief biographies of prominent European figures from the period. Unfortunately, the course also features a hagiography of Karl Marx. Sadly, this kind of kid-gloves treatment of Marx is to be expected from an ivory tower academic, so the hagiography was more of an occasion for eye-rolling than a disappointment. That Said, Steinberg is a good storyteller, introducing the listener to some fascinating personalities. The selection of the subjects mixed the famous like Darwin, the infamous like Napoleon and the all too obscure like Augustus the Strong. This selection gave a wonderful birds-eye view of how modern thought, modern ideas and modern ways of doing things developed from the medieval and early modern world. But Steinberg's assessment of these matters is called into question by that above-mentioned hagiography of Marx. He gives a fifteen-point guide to understanding Marx's thought (liberally slathering his work with fulsome praise). This fifteen-point guide might as well be considered a fifteen point syllabus of errors, seeing as how each and every point is quite obviously a mistake, an over-simplification or simply trivial. Steinberg's inability or refusal to note the error of Marx's ways leads him to jump through hoops to rationalize the death and destruction resulting from those attempting to bash the square peg of human nature into the round hole of Marxist theory. His rationalizations are, as you would expect from an academic, weak, at best. This calls his judgement of all of his subjects into question, but I didn't notice many other real howlers in the rest of the course content. Overall, the course was good enough to overcome the massive weakness of its containing a hagiography of one of the most destructive minds of the 19th century, and still be considered a decent course. But only just.
Date published: 2012-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Course Ever I have purchased most of the Teaching Company courses over the years. This is the best. Professor Steinberg is a gifted lecturer. But what really sets him apart is his intellegence, i.e., his comprehensive subject knowledge, rational assessment and insightful conclusions. I would buy any course he taught.
Date published: 2012-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best courses ever The content as well as delivery are excellent. Prof. Steinberg displays an ideal combination of scholarly erudition and story- telling skills. Once I started listening, I didn't want to stop. Other reviewers have commented in detail on the content, but I will just add that his choice of historic figures aptly brings to life the critical political, military, scientific, economic and artistic developments of the two centuries covered. If Prof. Steinberg offers another course, sign me up!
Date published: 2012-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good view of the small and the big Very well done. Interesting presentations of the individual historical figures and the professor does an excellent job of weaving them into an overall narrative of European history. The big themes are given coherence by the smaller snapshots. Enjoyable teacher with very agreeable style and delivery.
Date published: 2012-07-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Ambitious but not flawless Prof. Steinberg takes on quite a challenge, to tell the story of the development of modern Europe through individual lives. For the most part, he actually succeeds. I found this course quite entertaining, and I disagree with those who criticize Prof. Steinberg's presentation as dry and without humor. On the contrary, he has a very dry wit that I found quite entertaining. I do agree with the reviewers who criticize his frequent insertion of his own political views. He recorded these lectures during the first term of George W. Bush and his contempt for Bush comes through time and again. While I don't begrudge any professor occasionally injecting his political views (if honestly labeled as such), Prof. Steinberg does it so often that it became tiresome. The best lectures are the ones covering the 18th and early 19th centuries, especially on Walpole, Frederick the Great, Rousseau, Hume and Goethe. He seemed to get weaker as he approached the 20th century, such as his last lecture, on David Lloyd George, which basically skipped George's most important role in life, that of wartime British Prime Minister. While I agree with some of the critics, I do strongly recommend the course for its breadth of knowledge about these historical figures, and especially for the social and historical context in which they lived. It is in providing this context in each lecture where Prof. Steinberg shines the brightest.
Date published: 2012-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Plenty of "ah ha" moments, in small doses. DVD review. EUROPEAN HISTORY AND EUROPEAN LIVES is a brave attempt to illustrate the birth of modern Europe between 1714 and 1914 through the lives of 35 influential men and women. Dr Steinberg's focus is clearly the German-speaking parts of the continent, along with England and France. But he also devotes a few lessons to Spain, Italy and Russia to provide some contrast. More specifically, this 200-year tapestry is woven through with 4 main threads: 1. The main one is POLITICAL with the French Revolution (1789-99) serving as an irreversible break — between an ancient, feudal hierarchy of mutually-exclusive, yet interdependent social castes — and more equalitarian nation-state striving for power through technology, nationalism, freer markets, universal education and specialized government bureaucracies. 2. The ARTISTIC thread illustrates this transformation very well. Pre-revolutionary writers, painters and musicians used their talent to exalt God or noble patrons. Near the end of the 18th Century, however, a "public space" or market opened up in London where writers like Samuel Johnson could make a living (or starve) by selling directly to a fickle public with money to spend for new ideas and sensations. This "market" eventually spread to other arts and regions of Europe. Inevitably the line between high culture and flashy entertainment got blurred. 3. The main INTELLECTUAL trend was from broadly educated generalists (like Hume, Adam Smith, or Darwin) to narrow specialists like Pasteur. Scientific information and complexity increased at such a rate that productive work required teams of experts, not solitary amateurs. This also meant that much scientific thinking became incomprehensible to the general public. There was a trade off. Technology raised everyone's standard of living. At the same time, new ideas in biology or astronomy cast doubt on old religious certainties. 4. Finally, MASS URBANIZATION raised social expectations. In the feudal, largely rural social order, poverty and inequality was God-ordained. Peasants were tied to the land, minorities like the Jews had to endure waves of pogroms, and women were fated to childbearing and subservience. The shift to city life gradually changed all of this. The social order became a "social contract" (Rousseau) in perpetual renegotiation. Wealth was produced through machines, not nature, and should be shared more equally, even with the unemployed. Mass pressure through demonstrations and "terrorism" became more acceptable. No elite was secure forever. "Wait a minute," you may ask, "these abstractions sound fine, but is this not a series of biographies? Where are the juicy bits?" And so they are. Catherine the Great of Russia had plenty of vigorous young lovers, and Rousseau was a narcissistic exhibitionist. But each biography (30 minutes) only devotes half or a third of its time on such details. Much more space is reserved for the way these lives illustrated or influenced the larger social trends listed above. PROS • This course gave me many "ah ha" moments by connecting historical facts in new, unusual ways. CONS • But at the same time, I absorbed the information best in small doses: 1-2 lessons max. Steinberg's delivery is dense, unleavened by humor. • This course presupposes a basic familiarity with European history, the kind provided by TTC's excellent FOUNDATION OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION 2. Jump in without it, and you will get bored or frustrated. • The background knowledge required for each course varies greatly. The artist biographies (ex. Samuel Johnson, Goya or Tolstoy) are self-explanatory. Some political ones, on the other hand (Mazzini, Pius IX or Bismarck come to mind), are filled with references to other personalities with few explanations. Course "density" in other words is very choppy. Three "cons" and one "pro". This doesn't sound good, you may wonder. I disagree. I really applaud Dr. Steinberg's hard work, and loved this lecture series. It taught me a lot. At the same time the entertainment factor is low, unless European history and large-scale social trends interest you.
Date published: 2012-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really, really, really good I have listened to dozens of Teaching Company courses and this it among the top two or three. I liked this one as much as Greenberg's Bach series or some of the very good Ancient Greece lectures. This is really superb. The professor is knowledgeable, entertaining, and clear. It is simply really really really good.
Date published: 2012-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Fascinating History Course This is one of many Great Courses in history that I've enjoyed. If you want to teach me history, I say "Tell me a story." Covering prominent individuals in history just turns out to be an approach that works beautifully. It also worked beautifully for Professor Fears' courses on Famous Greeks and Famous Romans. The professor is an excellent lecturer and his passion for communicating about the selected lives comes through in each lecture. One of fascinating aspects of the course was just seeing which lives he found most worth covering. I loved that he singled out a number of artists to include. His passion for, and keen interest in, his chosen subjects comes with a steady stream of well considered and strongly held opinions. One of the best features of the course is how well he expressed his personal opinions all along the way. What a shame it would be not to hear what such a brilliant and learned man really thought about the material he is teaching. Every lecture is too short. Every one left me wanting much more on the subject. This is very positive. I wanted to read books on his subjects; and I wanted to hear him lecture about another 100 lives. It is true that focusing on 36 lives does not provide an overall picture of European history for the period. Some reviewers had some trouble over this. But it is unavoidable, and this aspect of the course, too, left me longing to learn more and more and... I am delighted that I bought this course and intend to review it again. There's no way to digest anywhere near all of it in just one time through.
Date published: 2012-01-25
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