Major Transitions in Evolution

Course No. 1518
Taught By Multiple Professors
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Course No. 1518
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Course Overview

How and when did life on Earth get to be the way it is today?

  • Imagine a world without bees, butterflies, and flowering plants. That was Earth 125 million years ago.
  • Turn back the clock 400 million years, and there were no trees.
  • At 450 million years in the past, even the earliest insects had not yet developed.
  • And looking back 500 million years-a half-billion years before the present-the land was devoid of life, which at that time flourished in a profusion of strange forms in the oceans.

These and other major turning points are the amazing story of evolution, the most remarkable force in the history of Earth, the organizing principle throughout the biological sciences, and the most important mechanism scientists use to understand the varieties of life on our planet.

To learn about these major transitions, each of which brought forth new possibilities for life, is to embark on an unforgettable look into the past. It's also a captivating opportunity to get a deeper understanding of how evolution works, to draw intricate connections between living things, and to think about life-not just yours but the lives of everything around you-in new ways.

Major Transitions in Evolution tells this science-detective story in 24 lavishly illustrated lectures that focus on the giant leaps that gave rise to nature's boundless diversity. In a course of breathtaking scope, you study the conditions that led to the first complex cells, flying insects, flowering plants, mammals, modern humans, and many other breakthroughs. And in the process of studying the past, you gain a powerful understanding of the present world.

Given the broad scope of the subject, this course is taught by two professors: Anthony Martin, a paleontologist and geologist at Emory University, and John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Each is an outstanding teacher in his field, adept at making the subject interesting and accessible no matter what your background in science. And in the final lecture, the two appear together for an absorbing conversation on common themes in the epic saga of life on Earth.

Giant Leaps that Brought Us to Today

Among the major transitions you cover are these:

  • From simple to complex cells: Life's first major evolutionary transition was the leap from basic prokaryotic to more complex eukaryotic cells, which contain a nucleus and other specialized structures. This was the crucial step that eventually led to plants and animals.
  • From fish to four legs: The iconic image of evolution is a fish emerging onto land. This transition might not have happened without shade provided by the newly developing forests, whose protective canopy gave the first fishapods protection from the sun.
  • Dinosaurs become birds: Dinosaurs didn't go completely extinct; they survive today as birds, whose distinctive wings, feathers, and other features are visible in transitional fossils such as Archaeopteryx, from about 150 million years ago.
  • Modern humans: The evolution of tree-dwelling primates to upright-walking apes later led to the evolution of modern humans-a species that invented agriculture, poetry, computers, and the techniques to trace its own lineage and that of all life.

You also explore many other transitions that occurred between these milestones, and you take an intriguing look ahead to speculate about the future direction of evolution. From the deep past until today, evolution has been a story with countless subplots, false leads, and reversals of fortune. But it has had one overarching theme-that life is wondrous, resilient, and endlessly surprising.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Macroevolution and Major Transitions
    Professor Anthony Martin introduces the nearly 4-billion-year history of life by reviewing the basic concepts of macroevolution—the appearance of new forms of life from older forms of life. Learn how macroevolution leads to the major transitions covered in the course, such as the development of multicelled animals, flowering plants, and primates. x
  • 2
    Paleontology and Geologic Time
    Plunge into “deep time” by examining the two major types of evidence used in paleontology, which is the study of ancient life: namely, body fossils (shells, bones, molds, casts, eggs) and trace fossils (tracks, burrows, nests). Also, see how fossils are used together with radiometric dating to construct the geologic time scale. x
  • 3
    Single-Celled Life—Prokaryotes to Eukaryotes
    Complex life traces back to the Proterozoic eon, when simple one-celled organisms called prokaryotes evolved specialized structures and became new types of cells called eukaryotes. Investigate how this major transition took place, paving the way for the profusion of life forms explored in the rest of the course. x
  • 4
    Metazoans—The Earliest Multicellular Animals
    Make the leap from individual eukaryotic cells to organized groups of cells, called metazoans, which represent the first animals. Learn what distinguishes animals from plants, and how strange forms of animals flourished about 600 million years ago in shallow-marine environments devoid of predators. x
  • 5
    The Development of Skeletons
    Fossil beds such as the famous Burgess Shale in Canada show that life diversified quickly in the Cambrian period, about 500 million years ago. Discover that the reason relates to an “arms race” between predator and prey, which saw the development of skeletons and other mineralized parts. x
  • 6
    The Rise of Vertebrates
    Delve into a long-running paleontological mystery: conodonts survive only as tooth-like fossils, but paleontologists now know these were parts of eel-like creatures with primitive backbones. Such early vertebrates later diversified into fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. x
  • 7
    Colonization of the Land
    Venture out of the water and onto land to learn how life adapted to terrestrial environments in the early part of the Paleozoic era, 500 to 400 million years ago. Algae, fungi, plants, and animals all had to evolve to survive and thrive in what were originally forbidding, barren landscapes. x
  • 8
    Origins of Insects and of Powered Flight
    Travel to the Devonian period, roughly 400 million years ago, and look at the early evolution of insects and insect flight. This major transition gave rise to what are today the most diverse and evolutionarily successful group of animals. x
  • 9
    Seed Plants and the First Forests
    Landscapes without large trees were typical before the early Carboniferous period, about 400 million years ago. Survey the fossil record for clues to the evolution of the first seed plants, called pteridosperms (“seed ferns”). These and other plants formed early forests, now preserved in much of the world’s coal deposits. x
  • 10
    From Fish to 4-Limbed Animals
    The canopies provided by early forests gave vertebrates new opportunities to get out of the water and start moving around on land. Learn how all four-limbed vertebrates (tetrapods) owe their evolutionary origins to lobe-finned fish that started this transition about 380 million years ago. x
  • 11
    The Egg Came First—Early Reptile Evolution
    The chicken versus egg question has a thought-provoking answer from evolution. Explore the factors that led to the enclosed, amniotic egg, an adaptation that allowed primitive reptiles to spread into new environments on land, some 150 million years before reptiles branched into birds—and only much later into chickens. x
  • 12
    The Origins and Successes of the Dinosaurs
    Jump ahead to the Triassic period, about 250 to 200 million years ago, to investigate how small diapsid reptiles, whose living descendants include crocodiles and lizards, evolved into the most popular and iconic of all animals from the fossil record: the dinosaurs. x
  • 13
    Marine and Flying Reptiles
    Dinosaurs dominated the land from the Triassic to Cretaceous periods, about 230 to 65 million years ago, but evolution favored other reptiles to rule the seas and sky. Inspect these many “-saurs,” including ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, mosasaurs, and pterosaurs. x
  • 14
    Birds—The Dinosaurs among Us
    “Dinosaur” has become a synonym for a failure to adapt to changing circumstances. But the dinosaur lineage survives today through birds. Starting with the remarkable transitional fossil Archaeopteryx, examine the evolutionary transition of theropod dinosaurs into graceful creatures of the air, which still retain some dinosaur-like characteristics. x
  • 15
    The First Flowers and Pollinator Coevolution
    Flowers are so widespread that it’s hard to imagine a world without them. Return to just such a setting in the early Cretaceous period, and follow the selection pressures that led to primitive flowering plants, which developed in concert with the evolution of bees and other pollinating creatures. x
  • 16
    Egg to Placenta—Early Mammal Evolution
    Discover how mammals evolved from reptiles around 230 million years ago and later underwent an evolutionary leap from egg-laying to giving live birth. Surviving the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago, they took off in an astounding burst of adaptive radiation. x
  • 17
    From Land to Sea—The Evolution of Whales
    Among the transitions that took place about 50 million years ago was the move of some land-dwelling mammals to marine environments, leading to modern whales. Considering that some whales became the most massive animals in the history of Earth, explore the question, “Why so big?” x
  • 18
    Moving on Up—The First Primates
    Professor John Hawks takes over from Professor Martin in the first of his six lectures on the evolutionary steps from early primates to modern humans. Learn how the first primates were uniquely adapted to navigate the complex canopies of ancient forests about 60 million years ago. x
  • 19
    Apes—Swinging Down from the Trees
    Trace the evolution of some primates into monkeys and apes, culminating in “the age of apes” beginning around 25 million years ago. Within their great diversity of size, diet, social structure, and ways of moving, one ape lineage appeared in Africa different from the others, sharing many features with modern humans. x
  • 20
    From 4 Legs to 2—The Hominin Radiation
    Examine fossil clues to the first major transition of human evolution: the development of upright walking. Being a biped has many advantages but also some major drawbacks. What body changes allowed early hominins like Australopithecus (including the famous Lucy) to walk efficiently on two legs? x
  • 21
    First Humans—Toolmakers and Hunter-Gatherers
    The first stone tools, 2.6 million years old, mark a change to a human-like social and cognitive system. Probe the nature of such early implements, and the hunting and gathering culture they represent—a way of life that placed many demands on human brains. x
  • 22
    From Homo to sapiens—Talking and Thinking
    Follow modern humans from their African homeland, about 100,000 years ago, as they dispersed into the ancient populations of Europe and Asia, challenging the territory of earlier humans. These rivals include the Neandertals, who are now much better understood through the decoding of their genome. x
  • 23
    Our Accelerating Evolution
    Human evolution did not stop with the advent of modern people. Consider how humans today are the descendants of incredible survivors, with a legacy of new genes that continue to affect diet, disease, physical appearance, and features such as skull and brain size, which has actually decreased in the past 10,000 years. x
  • 24
    Reflections on Major Transitions
    Conclude the course by experiencing a fascinating discussion between Professors Martin and Hawks as they compare perspectives, probe common themes in the major evolutionary transitions over the past x

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Your professors

Anthony Martin John Hawks

Professor 1 of 2

Anthony Martin, Ph.D.
Emory University

Professor 2 of 2

John Hawks, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Dr. Anthony Martin is Professor of Practice in the Department of Environmental Studies at Emory University, where he has taught courses in geology, paleontology, environmental science, and evolutionary biology since 1990. He earned his B.S. in Geobiology from St. Joseph's College (Indiana), M.S. in Geology from Miami University (Ohio), and Ph.D. in Geology from the University of Georgia. At Emory, he has been recognized with...
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Dr. John Hawks is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of WisconsinñMadison, where he has taught courses ranging from biological anthropology to brain evolution since 2002. He earned his B.S. in Anthropology from Kansas State University and M.S. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Michigan. Early in his career, Dr. Hawks focused on fossil and archaeological evidence for human evolution....
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Reviews

Major Transitions in Evolution is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 58.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good overview Particularly enjoyed Professor Hawkes presentation The first 18 lectures were a bit tedious at times, but overall very informative
Date published: 2017-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Deep time...deep thoughts DVD version This was my second time through these lectures...the first being a little over four years ago. Since then I have spent time with Drs. Sutherland, Hazen, Wysession and others who have dealt with the natural world, trying to answer the age-old question(s) of how and why we are where and how we are (that makes sense, trust me). No one set of lectures can address these questions, but taken together they can shed light on not only these questions, but the manner in which we should try to understand, not only the answers, but the questions themselves (you can never get to the right answer, if you don't ask the right question). What I mean here is that, for those trying to decide whether or not to fork-out a chunk of change for this lecture set, or a lecture set on the Ancient History of Egypt (also an excellent lectures series), you should know that, like most natural, and earth, history courses one is never enough. Any topic dealing with earth's history and the natural progression of the inhabitants therein, has to be taken in context with other courses (physical geology, biology, natural philosophy and logic). Any and all of these sciences require an understanding of deep time...the hardly imaginable amount of time that the earth has existed...and an appreciation of the unimaginable numbers of organisms that lived their lives out in all sorts of ever-changing environments. These lectures attempt to examine...from a survey-course level...some of the natural transitions that have occurred based on a close examination of the rock record, i.e. fossil...and modern technology. For the course to be as effective as I believe it is, one must have a grasp of the basic concept of earth's processes, and an understanding of the concept of uniformitarianism (basically, what happened in the past is happening in the same manner today). Dr Martin lays the ground work for these very-long-ago transitions from no-cell to single-cell to very complex organisms that exploded 'round about 538 MILLION years ago. He further explains, using the fossil record, the transitions within species (speciation) and then into the evolution into an entirely different specie...each transition carefully documented from the fossil record. The case presented is very convincing. Then, enter Dr Hawks with his discussions of the ascent of homo sapiens over the last 4 - 7 MILLION years. His lectures outline the careful studies of the evolution of man using both the fossil record as well as the burgeoning field of genetics and DNA mapping. His concluding remarks in lecture 23, as well as the ending discussion between the two lectures requires thought...sometimes deep thought...about who the heck we are and how we got here...and where we might be headed. Now isn't that why you're reading this? Very much recommended, but don't expect the lectures to answer all your questions. Wait for a sale...I got the DVD for just a hair over $1/lecture...less that a cup of Joe at you neighborhood Starbucks.
Date published: 2016-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Evolution Revision. An excellent and informative course. Well taught and presented. Good graphics. The discussion at the end was entertaining and illuminating. Well recommended.
Date published: 2015-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Major Transitions in Evolution This is the first purchase I have made with The Great Courses. I must say it is excellent in all aspects. Really well presented thank you
Date published: 2015-08-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Quick overview This introductory course meets its objectives of covering major transitions in evolution. However, I was left disappointed, wanting more detail. A broad overview is what you get. I responded better to Dr Hawk's presentation style (which is the last 1/3 of the course) than Dr Martin's.
Date published: 2015-01-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Major Transitions in Evolution I found this course to be a major disappointment compared to the other geology courses available. The concept of major transitions is good, but Professor Martin's presentations are confusing and jump from one concept to another without completing his thought. I find it very painful to watch. It compares poorly to Professor Sutherland's A new History of Life... I have not watched the section on primate evolution, which I hope will be better.
Date published: 2014-02-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from perfect for advanced high school biology I purchased this with the intent to use (in part) as a second year of high school biology for my homeschooled daughter, and this will fit the bill nicely. "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" Dobzhansky. If you do not agree or are not willing to entertain this notion, don't waste your money buying this program, but for those of us who wish to experience the unfolding story of life and is marvelous variety, this is a wonderful walk through time. The second presenter is far more comfortable in this format than the first, who is awkward. Can't give five start as the presentation itself suffers at time, but overall, I am quite pleased.
Date published: 2013-08-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A great introduction to evolution and many of its Overall a great introduction to evolution and many of its interdisciplinary subfields. I particularly enjoyed seeing the perspective of a geologist/paleontologist to start things off and then the tag-team to cover human evolution from primates. I especially loved the philosophical conceptualization of "deep time" (in analogy with "deep space") particularly as one considers the even broader idea of "Big History". Though the professors here don't delve into Big History directly, they're covering a large portion of the cross-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary studies which underpin a large portion of the field. More specifically taking the general viewpoint of "transitions" in evolution underlines this conceptualization. Though the transitional viewpoint seems to be a very natural and highly illustrative one to take, I would be curious in seeing alternate presentations of evolution from a pedagogical standpoint. It was nice to hear a bit of alternate discussion in the final lecture as well as discussion of where things might "go from here." I do wish that there were additional follow-on lectures that covered additional material in more depth. It would also have been nice to have included a handful of lectures from a microbiologist's viewpoint and background to give some additional rounding out of the material and this could have been done either in the early parts of the material or certainly around the discussions of primate evolution. Overall all though, these are wonderfully self-contained and don't require a huge prior background in material to understand well. It's always great to see lecturers who truly love their fields and have the ability to relate that through their lectures and infect their students. From a purely technical standpoint, I'm glad to see that The Teaching Company only offers a video version of (as opposed to their usual additional offering of audio-only) as having pictures of the fossils and organisms under discussion and their relative physiological structures was very helpful. Additionally having the recurring timecharts of the portions of geological time under discussion was very useful and generally reinforcing of the chronology. Somewhat monotonous from a visual perspective was the almost programmatic back and forth pacing between two cameras during the lectures which at times became distracting in and of itself. Certainly including a third camera would have added some variety as would having had camera operators to zoom in or move the camera around while the lecturers stand relatively stationary. (Though the production value here is exceptionally high, small details like this over the span of several hours of watching become important. As an example of better execution, I prefer Glenn Holland's "Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean" as a model - though there wasn't as much additional visual material there, the lectures were simply more "watchable" because of the camera work.)
Date published: 2013-07-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good course but one-sided I really enjoyed this course all along. Professors presented their lectures in a clear tone at a good pace. The lectures are very well illustrated which kept my attention on high. The only problem with this series is it is full of speculative ideas. The course is littered with phrases like 'it may have been', 'it seems to be'. The professors talked as if they were present when macroevolution took place from one species to the next. There is no mention of frauds done to prove evolution like Piltdown man, Lysenko affair, Paul Krammerer's toad evolution etc. They offered a lot of examples of microevolution and then jumped into fanciful ideas like how birds evolved from dinosaurs. Also some controversies among evolutionists are not presented. Every statement is made as if there is unanimous acceptance among all evolutionists regarding fossils. For example, Donald Johansson, the man who found the Lucy fossil which he declared to be the mother of all mankind, is challenged by evolutionist Richard Leaky III, who, looking at the same fossil, declared it to be the fossil of a monkey. Two evolutionists looking at the exact same evidence came to entirely different conclusions; that's not scientific evidence, it is opinionated conjecture based on their own personal belief systems. The professors also ignored to mention that challenges to Cambrian Explosion. Well respected scientist Stephen Meyer just pre-released his new book, Darwin's Doubt concentrating on Cambrian Explosion. How come all major phyla suddenly appeared at once in Cambrian Explosion? Did they have a conference to take a uniform jump? Oh, ya, Stephen Jay Gould told us about punctuated equilibrium but there is no scientific mechanisms with the potential to bring on such orchestrated jumps in fossil strata. The professors also did not mention the biggest transformation of the homo sapiens, uniqueness of conscience. Evolutionists like Thomas Nagel challenged the view that Darwinism could ever explain the nature of conscience (read his book Mind & Cosmos for the full treatment of this problem). This is exactly the problem with the logical conclusions of Darwinian thinking. Human beings have no free will, they are at the mercy of the 'dancing of DNA' to use Richard Dawkins words. I look forward to a course from Teaching Company in which great scientists like Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe would challenge the idea of evolution. We should listen to both sides of the debate because it is hard to believe that Einsteins and Newtons could come from rocks and ponds no matter what processes acted upon the rocks and ponds.
Date published: 2013-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A favorite Of the many courses I have done this topic grabbed my imagination. The difficulty of getting a grasp on deep time and our minuscule role in it even on a biological scale is brought out here. There is unevenness in the content at times but fascinating story. Followed this with Dr Hawkes series.
Date published: 2013-04-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An easy to understand overview This is a nice introductory course for someone who wants to know how life evolved from single celled organisms to today's extant species. There are some errors in the videos (diploid is shown as a double chromosome, and haploid as a single chromosome; either chromosome can be from a diploid or haploid cell. Sea anemones is wrongly pronounced as sea anenomes [sic]). This course filled in a lot of information that I am using to develop an invertebrate zoology course. The presenters are good speakers, and most of the information appears sound (with the understanding that paleobiology is a rapidly changing field).
Date published: 2013-02-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from well worthwhile I enjoyed this course, which TC wisely offers only on DVD: it's full of very important and useful pictures and other graphics. I like the great sweep of the course from the origin of life on Earth through the evolution of Homo sapiens. The course reflects the latest scholarship and struck me as covering the most important transition points well. I would have liked a bit more information on the likely mechanisms and detailed transitions in the main evolutionary pathways (especially in the first 6 lectures). But overall the material was very informative and fairly thorough. I found Prof. Hawks (who does the last 6 lectures covering primates) to be the more engaging speaker than Prof Martin. The latter is a very clear speaker but a bit dry.
Date published: 2013-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from packed with information Having watched this course once, I am now going back and watching each individual episode three times each before proceeding to the next episode. This course is just so information dense, there are so many concepts to assimilate. Stuff like the paleodistribution of the continents, climate variations, and just getting a handle on deep time. I found some slight inaccuracies not in the delivery by the professor, but by those who prepared some slides and handbook notes for the course. For instance, the professor talks about chemical fossils in the form of steranes, but the slide talks about sternames, and the handbook calls them "scrapings". I know the professor spent some time in Australia, but I dont think it affected his accent that much! All in all a load of information, so be ready with the pause button.
Date published: 2012-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from well worth the money This course is by far the best I have purchased yet. Professor Martin did an excellent job in his presentation and explanation. Professor Hawks was less convincing, but still good none the less. I am watching it now for the second time and still learning more from it... Good Job Guys!
Date published: 2012-08-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting but also disappointing The history of life on our planet is a fascinating story and thus I eagerly acquired this course. I had viewed "Origins of Life" immediately preceding this course and felt that learning about the many pathways of life's history and development would be a nice sequel to the problem of its origin. (Note to The Great Courses: the two courses would be a good set.) Professors Martin and Hawks are genial communicators, and quite knowledgeable in their fields: geology and paleontology, and paleo-anthropology, respectively. The visual exhibits nicely enhanced the lecture material; Professor Martin's fossils and artists' reconstructions, and Professor Hawks' skulls, were engrossing. While Professor Hawks' presentation style was low key, Professor Martin used a fair amount of understated humor which unfortunately fell flat for me. The course is essentially a descriptive course which is the source of my modest disappointment. The transitions in evolution are largely confined to the standard progression of single-celled to multi-celled to vertebrates to tetrapods (4 limbs) to reptiles to mammals, when an alternative approach could have focused on more functional developments such as photosynthesis, movement, sight, and endothermy. While the two lecturers suggest that "genetics, paleontology, and developmental biology can be integrated to better discern the patterns and processes of macroevolution", the focus of Professor Martin's lectures is largely confined to fossils and relies much on comparative anatomy (he is, after all, a paleontologist). We get a couple of references to molecular clocks but that is all. Since this course is largely descriptive with virtually no theory, it does not address some fascinating, albeit speculative, issues such as: (1) does the evolution of life progress gradually or are there bursts of change followed by periods of stability? (2) is life's development completely random or are there "pathways" more likely than others? (the professors mention "convergent evolution" a number of times which refers to similar adaptations at different times) (3) does the dominant bilateral symmetry have some kind of physical logic to it or is it simply a random outcome? (4) is there a "complexity arrow" to life's history or is that development simply a matter of statistical variation? Perhaps I'm asking too much of the course but addressing speculative inquiries such as these would have provided a little more intellectual heft to the course and nicely supplemented the steady progression of fossil photos.
Date published: 2012-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A truly Great Course Awesome! If you are looking for a course that is crystal clear, justifiably accurate, incredibly informative and very very well organized, presented engagingly by two professors that clearly love teaching. This is your course. It is true that it is a bit fast paced......... but it is also true that it has to cover a few billion years in only 12 hours. You will probably not be able to follow the course while doing other things but unlike some of the other washed down courses you will learn a lot. Just listen. These two teachers are broad and deep. Kudos. My only regret is that such topic and teachers would have deserved a much longer course.
Date published: 2012-06-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from HAVE YOUR FINGER ON REWIND BUTTON This is a good example of why these lectures should be delivered to a live audience instead of just reading from a teleprompter. In the case of Dr. Martin, his pace is so fast it is at times unintelligible. At times he is just racing through Latin and technical terminology with little or no explication or elucidation on how the material connects to " transitions" in evolution. The graphics are of little help as they are often just rapidly flashed on the screen and in print so small the material is barely legible. As is the trend with many GC courses in recent years, the course guides are of little help as they are so sparse in content as to be useless. This seemed like a course that was hastily assembled with little thought to preparation. The jumping from topic to topic with mountains of data jammed in made it comparable to some of the worst college lectures I attended. Even the occasional attempts at humor to provide relief from the deluge of trivia were so camera-contrived they lacked effectiveness. Other reviewers indicated that the latter parts of the course under Dr. Hawks were a slight improvement - I never made it that far, after struggling through 12 lectures, I abandoned the course. I clearly do not recommend the course but if you really want to try it, make sure you have your finger on the rewind button.
Date published: 2012-05-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Introduction to the Wonders of Evolution My high school and college education were somewhat deficient in science. Accordingly, I welcome the many courses by the Teaching Company which are rich in this field. This particular course was fascinating, fun to take in, and immensely rewarding in helping me understand both the "Deep Time" of geology and the wonders of the fantastic evolution of life in all its forms and glories. Both professors were very accessible in manner: friendly, learned, enthusiastic, and blessed with a sense of humor, too. I continue to marvel at the skill it takes to be both highly learned in an area of knowledge and able to communicate this information in an accessible, understandable way to those of us much less informed. Typical of the impact of the Great Courses on me, however, I no sooner finished this course than I placed an order for courses focusing even more deeply on geology. I guess no higher compliment can be given to great teachers with sound content than that! I do wish that both gentlemen, especially Dr. Martin, would have used a few more illustrations of the individual fossils of which they were speaking. The visual content of this course, already very good, would have been enriched by this, and the observer could more easily have followed the narration. I also concur with some of the recommendations of the reviewer "Folly," when he wrote that "Prof. Martin overused the technical names. It might have helped had those terms remained on the screen for much of the time he was discussing that particular subject. The time-line diagram that both instructors used repeatedly is difficult to read. It should have been reproduced in the accompanying booklet, long with the table that is included." These are useful recommendations by "Folly" and would make the course more observer-friendly. All in all, a wonderful course taught with enthusiasm and a relish for discovery. My compliments!
Date published: 2012-05-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing I found the first instructor, Prof. Martin, VERY difficult to understand. His enunciation is very poor, and I often just could not follow him. Yes, I have a hearing problem, but I have no problem understanding his colleague, Prof. Hawks, nor instructors in other courses. I rated the presentation as low as I did because of Dr. Martin. Prof Hawks would have received a 4. Moreover, Prof Martin overused the technical names. It might have helped had those terms remained on the screen for much of the time he was discussing that particular subject. The time-line diagram that both instructors used repeatedly is difficult to read. It should have been reproduced in the accompanying booklet, long with the table that is included.
Date published: 2012-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More than Just Dinosaurs and Humans! I love the story behind the evolution of life on Earth and enjoy watching educational programs on evolution with my son. The trouble is, most of the content out there is limited to dinosaurs and the last 30,000 years. Well this course covers those topics, but it does so much more. I enjoyed both lecturers and appreciated the fact that two different specialists teamed up to produce a more comprehensive course. I especially enjoyed learning more about "deep time" and the early evolution of life on Earth. I only regret that this wasn't a 36 or 48 lecture course so that additional transitions could have been covered, but what was addressed was a delight. The lecturers make the subject approachable such that I'd recommend this to anyone interested in the subject. My nine year old even watched a few with me!
Date published: 2012-01-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Course on Classification I expected this course to relate the theory of evolution with evidence from the world of paleontology. What I learned was a lot of important paleontology evidence but not much in relating that evidence to the theory of evolution. Just because the "evidence" is there for evolution within species and organized in a system of classification doesn't prove that the "evidence" is indeed proof or explanation of evolving beyond that species level. I'm sure such explanations exist but none were really presented in the course.
Date published: 2011-12-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A helpful overview I particularly appreciated how the presenters tied geology and genetics into the paleontological discussions - for example, not just focusing on changes in the fossil record, but also covering how plate tectonics as well as climate and ecosystem changes accelerated natural selection at key times. I also found it refreshing that the course didn't spend any time philosophizing about evolution or 'defending' it - there are plenty of other courses, including several from the Teaching Company that retread that trampled battlefield. It was nice to just dig into the science. If you're still on the fence about evolution via natural selection, you might want to start with a course or book that will help you with your philosophical objections first: Dawkins' classic "The Blind Watchmaker" did the trick for me, so I'll pass on that recommendation. It's a bit long in the tooth, but since it is more about correcting popular misconceptions about evolution than it is about laying out the science, most of what's in there still applies. My only complaint with this (otherwise excellent) course is that I think the Teaching Company could have done a LOT more with adding visuals. Only one out of every four or five species mentioned get any visual, and even there one usually gets either a fossil OR an artist's reconstruction, but seldom both. Unless you're a paleontologist, you don't know what all these creatures are - and while the one image chosen might be a representative of a group of related animals, it'd be nice to see the small changes across time by showing all the creatures mentioned - it is, after all, a course about change over time. There were some very effective teaching moments when the second presenter brought in casts of different hominid skulls so that a larger number of them could be compared at once. But I think the whole course could have been that visually informative. That being said, they did a nice job with flashing timelines nearly every time a presenter used a term for a geological age, like Eocene or Carboniferous so that if you didn't already know these terms going into the course, you'd be able to learn them rather gently as the lectures progressed. At the end of the course, I felt I had a good big picture view of the current state of knowledge about the origins of the biodiversity in the world today, as well as of human origins.
Date published: 2011-11-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Excellent Review of the Evolution of Life I am a retired professional biologist and as such I have taught specialized courses in the systematics of arthropods. I thus was quite interested to see a course on the major transitions of evolution among the offerings of The Great Courses. I was not disappointed. This was a well-organized and well-developed course and it presented the major evolutionary transitions of life on earth in a manner easily understandable to anyone with a high school education, while including some more recent developments in evolutionary biology of which I was unaware. The lecturers were excellent. I recommend this course without any reservations to anyone who wants to really understand the evolutionary history of life.
Date published: 2011-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from THOROUGH, FAR REACHING This series of lectures covers an immense amount of ground in twelve hours. Divided between the two professors with Dr Anthony covering a large number of evolutionary phases of life in what he describes as 'deep time,' and Dr Hawks covering developments from early primates to where we are as a human species today. They finish with a conversation between the two of them. There are a considerable number of technical, latin names for what is described, but that should not deter anyone. Dr Anthony refers regularly to a time chart. It would have been helpful, in my opinion, for him to have devoted some time to describe the chart and how he intended to employ it, although it's pretty self evident. His information is fascinating to someone who never has looked in detail at the specifics of evolution. I wish he had spent more time on how insects got their wings, but that's a petty point when one considers how much ground he covers. Dr Hawks presents what is known about the evolution of humans in his usual, polished fashion which makes for absorbing viewing. For a more detailed and dramatic rendering of the interaction of homo sapiens and neanderthals, one is referred to the August 15 & 22, 2011 issue of the New Yorker. It's Annals of Evolution article by Elizabeth Kolbert, 'Sleeping With the Enemy,' provides additional insight to some of the material Dr Hawks covers. This series of lectures is very intellectually stimulating and deals in a straight forward manner with the complicated issues of the what science knows about evolution to date. It's recommended to anyone who has the remotest interest in this subject as well as those who want to pick up a general knowledge of the subject just for the fun of it.
Date published: 2011-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course The number of disciplines these guys have to be knowledgeable about is mind-boggling: geology, archaeology, paleontology, anthropology, cytology, comparative anatomy, botany, entomology, ecology, chemistry, physiology,dentistry, zoology, and genetics, just to name a few; I probably left some out. And then to synthesize it all into an interesting and comprehensible presentation is really an art.
Date published: 2011-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best from The Teaching Company I enjoyed every minute of this series. It contains a great deal of information spanning huge amounts of time that is presented in a very clear, well organized, and comprehensible manner. Both Martin and Hawks are good speakers and pleasant to listen to, Martin uses his sense of humour with out over doing it. This series was so good that I will listen to it a second time before I pass it on to my brother.
Date published: 2011-08-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good but would be better with more visuals The course was interesting and well delivered. However it is available only on DVD, and so we expected it to have plenty of pictures, fossils or artists impressions. There were some, but for the most part we watched just a professor. I am afraid the modern audience, raised on PowerPoint-s and "animal Planet", is spoiled and likes visuals.
Date published: 2011-07-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Information dump This course is a mixed bag. The basic subject should make for a very good course, but I'm not sure the professors pulled it off. Dr. Martin speaks (i.e., reads the teleprompter) very fast, and puts way too much information in each lecture. So his lectures amount to an 'information dump." I found that to really follow him, I had to keep stopping the DVD to review. Dr. Hawks presented things at a more comfortable pace. But, neither professor organized the content of his lectures very well, adding to the "information dump" appearance, and making it seem that the subject is just a collection of facts without much theory holding it together (which I'm sure is not true.) In short, there is a LOT of good information in the course, it's just not presented very well. I would suggest that the professors rewrite their lectures and redo them, preferably in front of a live audience, and come out with a second edition. Finally, as others have also pointed out, the timeline graphics are miserable. The professors frequently use a chart of the geological eras, but, very surprisingly, it is not included in the course book.
Date published: 2011-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional!! LIke the gentleman from Connecticut, I had taken Big History which helped a great deal. Big History was a wonderful introduction. It also dealt with the solar system, et al which this course does not. When it comes strictly to planet earth, Major Transitions was the real deal. Each segment within the course was just one eye-opener after another. As the course moved forward and back, it was astonishing to think of how well planned, sensible and astonishing the evolutionary process was and continues to be. Spiritually, the course does not prove by any means that there is a God, and I am not a religious person, but it certainly caused me to question why any scientist would deem him or herself an atheist. When you come to understand all the multitude of things covered in this course, which was but a small snapshot of the total picture, and realize why and how each one occurred, it is both overwhelming and flabbergasting. Which then lead me to ask, what is the purpose behind all of this? Why did all of this happen and where is it all heading? Especially when you consider that some of the findings addressed were as recent as 2010 and they are confident there is far more yet to uncover. I assure you that whatever you come away with from this course will be far more than you ever will have without having sat through it. Major Transitions provides a whole new understanding and perspective about man and everything that surrounds us presented in a wonderful way by two exceptionally talented professors. This includes the inner-connections, the interdependencies, and the symbiotic relationships that exist throughout the world. In one word, what this course offers beyond any Teaching Company Course I have ever taken, and I have taken many, is enlightenment. Buy it, watch it and digest it. You won't ever look or think about things in quite the same way again.
Date published: 2011-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent job This is one of the very best science courses I have seen from the teaching company. Maybe part of my enthusiasm is due to my personal interest in this subject. The professors are very different: Dr Martin is a very petite man with a corny sense of humor; Dr Hawks has a great speaking voice (sounds like the actor Tom Selleck), Both are excellent! I strongly recommend this course to those with an interest in evolution, and ancient life. For those of only passing interest, this course may be more than you want, even dry.
Date published: 2011-04-29
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