The Skeptic's Guide to the Great Books

Course No. 2112
Professor Grant L. Voth, Ph.D.
Monterey Peninsula College
Share This Course
4.6 out of 5
42 Reviews
83% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 2112
Audio Streaming Included Free

Course Overview

Hamlet. Moby-Dick. War and Peace. Ulysses. These are just four of what are considered the "Great Books"—works of literature that have been singled out as essential parts of a well-read individual's reading list. The only problem: The "Great Books" can be daunting, intimidating, and oftentimes nearly impossible to get through.

The truth of the matter is that there is so much more to literature than these giants of the Western canon. In fact, you can get the same pleasures, satisfactions, and insights from books that have yet to be considered "great." Books that are shorter, more accessible, and less dependent on classical references and difficult language. Books that, in the opinion of popular Great Courses Professor Grant L. Voth of Monterey Peninsula College, "allow you to connect with them without quite so many layers of resistance to work through."

When you take this skeptical approach to the "Great Books," you open yourself up to works that are just as engaging, just as enjoyable, and—most important—just as insightful about great human themes and ideas as anything you'd encounter on a college-level reading list. Professor Voth's course, The Skeptic's Guide to the Great Books, is your opportunity to discover new literary adventures that make worthy substitutes to works from the Western literary canon. In these 12 highly rewarding lectures, you'll get an introduction to 12 works that redefine what great literature is and how it can reveal startling truths about life—all without being such a chore to read.

Discover Alternatives to the Great Books

The first half of The Skeptic's Guide to the Great Books focuses on what Professor Voth considers direct "alternatives" to more canonical works of literature. In each case, he convinces you that you won't be missing out on much by reading these books instead of their more famous cousins and proves that these selections can be just as substantive, challenging, and stimulating. He also points out that reading these "alternatives" can give you a good introduction to the canonical works—especially if your initial attempts to tackle them have proved frustrating.

Here are three examples of the books you'll explore in these lectures, along with the canonical counterparts they substitute for.

  • Dead Souls as an alternative to War and Peace: Like Leo Tolstoy's mammoth novel, Nikolai Gogol's shorter work captures the heart and soul of 19th-century Russia in a lot fewer pages. Using digressions, lyrical passages, humorous episodes, and epic similes, Dead Souls offers as much enjoyment and insight as War and Peace but without the intimidating length.
  • Angels in America as an alternative to the plays of Bertolt Brecht: While plays such as Mother Courage and The Good Woman of Setzuan are wonderful on stage, you can't get the same enjoyment from reading a Bertolt Brecht play as you can by reading Tony Kushner's kaleidoscopic commentary on the culture and politics of 1980s America. In addition, Kushner's work is funny—making us laugh in a way that Brecht's plays seldom do.
  • The Master and Margarita as an alternative to Faust: While Goethe's Faust demands that a reader spend his or her entire life poring over its intricate references, Mikhail Bulgakov's novel (in which the Devil visits Soviet Russia) does not. And in addition to being a provocative and engaging story, it comes with more readily accessible ideas about religion and nationalism.

Uncover the Power of Nontraditional Literary Genres

You'll also encounter books from genres that traditionally fall outside the purview of the Western canon. Just because these books are more popular with everyday readers doesn't mean they don't possess the same power to challenge, guide, and inspire us as their more "established" predecessors do. For example, you'll learn

  • how John le Carré's The Spy Who Came In from the Cold transforms the spy novel into serious literature by asking thought-provoking questions about the relationship between the political ideas one professes and the methods used to defend them;
  • how the graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons injects the comic-book format with a startling level of realism by casting its superhero characters in darker, more ordinarily human shades; and
  • how Yaan Martel's Life of Pi proves that just because a novel is a best-selling success doesn't mean it can't offer readers an unforgettable lesson on the nature of an individual's spiritual journey through life and the enduring power of faith.

Get a Personal Encounter with 12 Entertaining and Wise Books

Winner of the Allen Griffin Award for Excellence in Teaching, Professor Voth excels in these lectures at both unpacking the significance of a literary work and instilling excitement for it, be it a novella, a collection of short stories, or a play. If you're new to these works, he will have you running to your nearest bookstore or library to discover what you've been missing. And if you've already encountered some of these books, you'll be eager to revisit them and explore what you may have missed on your first reading.

"The world is full of good books," Professor Voth says. "And if you're careful in the way you read them ... there's no end to the pleasures of the ever-expanding world of literature." So discover these pleasures for yourself with The Skeptic's Guide to the Great Books and get a personal encounter with 12 works of literature that are short enough to not daunt you, entertaining enough to keep you turning the pages, and wise enough to teach you something about being human.

Hide Full Description
12 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    A Skeptic's Way; Gogol's Dead Souls
    Start with an overview of what it means to take a skeptical approach to the "Great Books." Then, dive right into the course with Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls, a marvelous short novel that proves just as effective as War and Peace at capturing the diverse spirit of early 19th-century Russia. x
  • 2
    Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London
    Travel to the seedy, impoverished underside of 1920s Europe with this lecture on George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London. In particular, explore how this book blurred the lines between literature and journalism and foreshadowed the New Journalism style of Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, and others. x
  • 3
    Cisneros's The House on Mango Street
    Stories about growing up have long been a part of literature—and one that Professor Voth considers to be frequently overlooked is Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street. Here, delve into some of this collection's most important stories and the ways they reflect powerful themes and ideas about maturation. x
  • 4
    Warren's All the King's Men
    Discover why Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men stands in the shadow of some of Joseph Conrad's canonical novels. Pay particular attention to the book's engaging narrator, Jack Burden; its broken chronology that jumps backward and forward; and its stirring views on justice, politics, and the dangers of digging up the past. x
  • 5
    Kushner's Angels in America
    Learn how you can get just as much from reading Tony Kushner's epic play, Angels in America, as you can from reading the works of Bertolt Brecht. Professor Voth helps you navigate the plot and themes of this masterpiece, which explores everything from Reagan-era America and homosexuality to Mormonism and the end of Communism. x
  • 6
    Didion's Slouching towards Bethlehem
    What do the essays in Joan Didion's Slouching towards Bethlehem have in common with more classic examples from writers like Montaigne and E. B. White? How do their styles and subject matter tap into the "atomization" of California in the 1960s? And why should you consider reading this work in lieu of Charles Dickens's Sketches by Boz? x
  • 7
    Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita
    Make better sense of the narrative complexities of Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, a fantastical novel that depicts the confrontation between Soviet state control and a visionary individual. Also, see how this Russian masterpiece looks when read in the shadow of one of its most important inspirations: Goethe's Faust. x
  • 8
    Zusak's The Book Thief
    Move to the second part of the course, which considers important works from genres that traditionally fall outside of literary canons. Professor Voth shows how Markus Zusak's The Book Thief—in its unusual point of view, its World War II Germany setting, and its lack of sentimentality—is more than just a young adult novel. x
  • 9
    James's Death of an Expert Witness
    P. D. James undoubtedly expanded the scope and reach of the detective novel genre, letting it offer many of the same pleasures and insights we get from traditional literary fiction. See her skills at work in one of her most popular books, Death of an Expert Witness. x
  • 10
    Le Carré's The Spy Who Came In from the Cold
    What P.D. James did for the detective novel, John le Carré did for the spy novel with The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. Despite the fact that his characters are conceived in terms of the roles they play in the plot, le Carré manages to turn this thrilling tale of espionage into a stirring commentary on cold war–era values. x
  • 11
    Moore and Gibbons's Watchmen
    Uncover the literary strengths of graphic novels with this look at Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's revolutionary work, Watchmen. This realistic look at the world of superheroes, you'll find, is capable of dealing with the same challenging ideas that you'd expect from a more canonical work of literature. x
  • 12
    Skeptics and Tigers; Martel's Life of Pi
    How does Yann Martel's Life of Pi make the case for the literary merits of the blockbuster bestseller? End the course by exploring this question, then stepping back and reevaluating the merits of treating nontraditional literary works with as much importance as those in the canon. x

Lecture Titles

Clone Content from Your Professor tab

What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Audio Includes:
  • Download 12 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 102-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

Enjoy This Course On-the-Go with Our Mobile Apps!*

  • App store App store iPhone + iPad
  • Google Play Google Play Android Devices
  • Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Tablet + Firephone
*Courses can be streamed from anywhere you have an internet connection. Standard carrier data rates may apply in areas that do not have wifi connections pursuant to your carrier contract.

Your professor

Grant L. Voth

About Your Professor

Grant L. Voth, Ph.D.
Monterey Peninsula College
Dr. Grant L. Voth is Professor Emeritus at Monterey Peninsula College in California. He earned his M.A. in English Education from St. Thomas College in St. Paul, MN, and his Ph.D. in English from Purdue University. Throughout his distinguished career, Professor Voth has earned a host of teaching awards and accolades, including the Allen Griffin Award for Excellence in Teaching, and he was named Teacher of the Year by the...
Learn More About This Professor
Also By This Professor


The Skeptic's Guide to the Great Books is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 42.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I should have read the description more carefully. There's no point in taking a "Great Books" course except to learn about the Great Books without reading them. This course is about a number of books which are "as good as" the Great Books but not part of that canon. Who cares? I've got shelves of good books I've been trying to get around to reading. Someday, I hope, I'll read them. This course describes a bunch of books the professor likes -- none of them sound like anything I'd read on my own. That said, he's a perfectly good lecturer with a good way of describing books. But I couldn't work up any enthusiasm for reading the non-canonical books he happens to like.
Date published: 2018-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor's Explanations are excellent! I purchased this CD recently and have had only time to listen to Lecture 1, and am looking forward to the remaining 5. Professor Voth is fun to listen to and very thorough.
Date published: 2018-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding and engaging I almost never take the time to write a review of the dozens of courses I have listed to. Almost all are excellent, and only a few have been big disappointments. I'm not a big literature buff, but I found the content, the tone, the intelligent commentary, and the soothing voice narrating this course absolutely first rate. Who knows? He might even have convinced me to try a few of these books.
Date published: 2018-01-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and engaging Curiosity led me to this course and I was pleasantly surprised. It has been many years since US history class. I found that my knowledge was lacking, either from old age affecting memory or not getting the straight scoop originally in classes I took. The professor was engaging and I enjoyed his classes
Date published: 2017-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good-natured and engaging This course provided a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. Each book was discussed in an interesting way for someone who had not yet read it. The professor's lecturing style is amiable and his diction is excellent. My only two quibbles with the course are (1)The title and premise are gimmicky; and (2)I don't believe I learned anything over and above what these 12 books are about.
Date published: 2017-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not knowing how my grasp of literature might be enriched by a “skeptic’s guide,” I bought this course only because I trust the Great Courses brand. Prof. Voth repaid my trust with 12 lectures that explain how top writers produce works that engage readers with unique experiences and insights into the human condition. On its face, this course is about 12 books. In fact, it’s about the motives and methods of the very best writers. Thank you, Professor Voth!
Date published: 2017-04-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Accurate title Quite interesting except that I'm unlikely to ever be tempted to read the books he mentions for the most part. The Book Thief is interesting!
Date published: 2017-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Now I Have Even More Books to Read audio download version This very enjoyable course has as its assumption, that most of us have not in fact read “The Great Books” and likely won’t anytime soon, or at all. Therefore Professor Voth provides worthy alternatives to the Great Books that we won’t read. Now I do dislike the premise, as I’ve read a great many of the books to which he provides alternatives, as well as a good many of the alternatives. I do like the alternatives that I have read and based on the lectures, I plan to read the suggestions that I have yet to read. In some cases, I was totally unaware of either the book or the author. For example I not even heard of Sandra Cisneros nor her collection of short stories, “The House on Mango Street”. I was so intrigued by Dr Voth’s lecture on this book, that I have placed it on top of my reading list. The authors and works with which I was familiar were handled accurately (meaning of course that I agreed with Dr. Voth’s points). As an example his description of P.D. James’s writing is exactly why I have read all of her mysteries, many of them more than once. Further, his background on writers that I thought I knew was enlightening.. For example, I found out a lot more about Robert Penn Warren than I knew and now plan to reread “All the King’s Men”. Professor Voth’s delivery is measured and easy to understand, though he is not particularly scintillating Aside from my quibble with the notion that readers have not read Tolstoy, for example, I found this course quite rewarding. Recommended
Date published: 2016-12-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worth the cost Professor convinced me to read a couple of the books I had not read previously, provided insight into the ones I had read previously and taught me something about structure of fiction.
Date published: 2016-10-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Evaluating Worthwhile Options I'll begin this review with a simple equation. Libraries + Bookstores = A mountain of choice. How does one narrow down the available choices to something more manageable? No one wants to waste time on a book that isn't worthwhile. So I decided to buy the course. Having read the course description, you may ask: Are the books selected by Prof. Voth too obscure? I had not read any of them before listening to the course, but I was able to find 8 out of 12 at a local big box bookstore. Therefore, they are being published and enjoyed. Since completing the course, I've finished the Le Carre and Didion selections. I liked Le Carre's spy novel, but Joan Didion's essays about California in the 1960's were a revelation. How did I not know about this writer until now? I'll definitely read more of her work. Given a few false starts (Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky), I wanted to find an 'approachable' Russian novel. Prof. Voth recommended Gogol's "Dead Souls" because it includes many of the elements that make Russian literature compelling, and I've now added it to my future reading list. In summary, the concept of this course is sound: Worthy alternatives to the 'Great Books' are available! At 6 hours, I feel that I received a good return on my investment. My second review (CD).
Date published: 2016-06-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Which Books are we Talking about I think the course could have a better name: "The Skeptic's Guide to the Great Books" made me think I was going to get a review of the GREAT BOOKS by a Skeptic - which might have been interesting since I am a Cynic. That turned out NOT to be the case. This course talks about 12 'other' books that the Skeptic claims are a lot like a certain 'Great Book' but easier to read - and then goes into detail about what he liked in the 'other' book which he is reviewing. I was looking for reviews of about 12 of the 'Great Books'. Not to say I wasn't interested in the review of the 'Skeptic's' choice - I have already ordered two of them on Amazon. BUT ... the course was not really what I thought it Advertised to be by its Title. Aw shucks! There is probably another Great Course that reviews some of the "Great Books", but I really am not going to be reading 'War and Peace' any time soon.
Date published: 2016-06-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The titles more interesting than content I am not a big fiction reader. These would please my English teachers, but once the content of the books were discussed, I found my mind wandering badly. I had purchased expecting a more historical background. There is some of that, but more in terms of writing style and plot motifs from generation to generation. It became a list of books for me not to purchase! It is not a complete loss for a science geek, but it clearly aimed at a different audience than me.
Date published: 2016-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Stimulus To Read This is one of those Great Courses that one can listen to anytime and find great enjoyment whether one is a dedicated reader or a casual one. The lectures themselves are informative and pleasurable regardless whether one picks up any of the books and reads them. I have some background in literature and have spent a lifetime trying to take a big bite out of the "classics." Some are truly life-altering and others are truly tough to get through. Professor Voth's captivating lectures on these "non-classics" stimulated me to get hold of first one, and then all nine of the twelve "books" I had not read before. His descriptions and interpretations of these works were stimulating and led me to works such as "All the King's Men" that I had heard of but never considered reading. There is not a loser in any of these recommendations. You can listen to this short course all at once or take it in doses weeks and months apart and casually read the work suggested and come away with having encountered a "gem".
Date published: 2016-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An exploration of literature. I listen to this CD as I am driving. Some of the books so intrigued me I have ordered them to read. Others I had read but gained considerably from the review. It is a bit like hearing a story well told by an erudite and enthusiast companion and an undressing of a good book to enjoy again or for the first time.
Date published: 2016-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspirational Audio download. Dr Voth's lectures clearly and concisely suggests alternatives to the books we might have wanted to read, but never really had the gumption to start, let alone finish, them. (As a youngster I read 'Moby Dick'... mostly because of the white whale...but was much too young to grasp the real meaning of this classic.) I doubt if I will ever read 'War and Peace' or anything by Goethe, but I will read "Life of Pi', Orwell's 'Down and Out in Paris and London', and maybe Bulgakov's 'The Master and Margarita'. These lectures made me aware of a wider range of literature and reminded me how much I used to like to read...not to mark off the list of classics I had conquered, but just for the pure enjoyment. Thanks, Dr Voth...recommended! On sale, coupon and all that.
Date published: 2015-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Invitation to Other Really Good Literature The Skeptic's Guide offers a friendly and accessible approach to really, really good books that often echo The Great Books, or, in some instances, that march out along new paths. As a member of a book club that strives to read The Great Books, daunting as they may be, I nonethless appreciate the skeptic's alternatives. They offer not works to supplant the canon, but rather ones to supplement it or to serve as friends along the way to tackling their heftier comparison pieces. Recently, our book club finished War and Peace. Yes, that War and Peace. Even so, Gogol's Dead Souls holds itself out for some later year, when Russian literature calls, but maybe in a smaller dose. I am particularly appreciative of the attention paid The Watchmen, which I have read twice, and The Book Thief, which I now wish to read, as offering great literature in a different package.
Date published: 2015-02-24
Date published: 2015-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good stuff I approached this as a reading course. I didn't get into the; read this instead of that aspect. I used Dr Spurgin 50 page rule (see the TGC course on ART OF READING). Over all some really fine reads. 1. SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD. Excellent, taut. 2. LIFE OF PI, very enjoyable and educational. 3. WATCHMEN, what an interesting choice! Who would dream a graphic novel had so much to offer. 4. MASTER AND THE MARGARITA. Don't even know how to describe this. But certainly worth the read. 5,ANGELS IN AMERICA. Sure it has a political agenda; but no denying it's creativity. 6.SLOUCHING TOWARD BETHLEHEM, a collections of articles from the sixties. Interesting. 7.THE BOOK THIEF, a melancholy treasure. Must reading for all. I found the other books much less rewarding. Stil kudos to Dr. Voth for the choices, and his excellent analysis.
Date published: 2013-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Has led me to some excellent books Professor Voth's lectures have led me to purchase and read some of the books he chose, and I (and my book club members) are very happy with these selections. Can't wait to read more on the list, maybe the whole list. The lectures really get you excited about the books. After reading the books, the lectures are worth listening to again to help you pick up things you may have missed.
Date published: 2012-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Roadmap for Avid Readers/Writers Prof. Voth is one of my favorite Great Courses' presenters. This course introduced me to books I would, most likely, have overlooked. I've now added "Dead Souls" and "The Book Thief" to my completed list. I wish Voth would continue this series...or even dissect some of the classics that I have given up on...such as "One Hundred Years of Solitude." Victoria Ceretto (Slotto)
Date published: 2012-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Completely Engaging Just for the sheer joy of listening, this is probably my favorite Great Course so far (out of about 20). Prof. Voth brings the books he describes to life, giving just enough plot to engage us and just enough theory to enlighten us. Of the 12 books discussed, none of which I had previously read, I have purchased 8 and of those, already finished 2. If the purpose of this series of lectures is to reawaken a desire to read literature with both passion and joy, it has succeeded in spades. The first 7 books are discussed with reference to specific Great Books but by the last 5 books, Voth throws the Canon aside and urges us to read these works for their own intrinsic value. He should have done the same with the first group -- the parallels to specific works is superfluous. As Voth brings home in each and every lecture, each book stands on its own as a great work. To paraphrase an old cliche, if Prof. Voth described the phone book, I would be inspired to start reading it immediately. More importantly, as the very last lecture implies, with Prof. Voth's guidance, I would also probably find reading it worthwhile.
Date published: 2011-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Surprising Content This course is a great lesson in some of the lesser known great works of literature. Professor Voth gives an excellent synopsis of each work, then explains some of the author's techniques and compares the lesser known, usually lighter, work with a heaver conical work. After each lecture you will know enough about each work to discuss it, and have the desire to read it.
Date published: 2011-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really makes you stop to think about “Great” First off, I’ve got to say that I really liked this course a lot. It’s given me a good deal to reflect on as far as what exactly constitutes a great read. My reading habits mostly fall into the Great Books category, a lot of nonfiction, and the occasional mystery/thriller. So, my interest in these lectures was the expectation for a crash course on contemporary classics. That’s what I got. In only 12 lectures, Professor Voth includes quite a few different genres, too. My first go through, I was ready to write a review and give it 4 stars because a couple of the books were unknown to me and the plots didn’t initially grab me (Angels in America & The House on Mango Street). But I listened a second time more thoughtfully, and even a third time to some favorite lectures (Down and Out in Paris and London, Slouching towards Bethlehem, The Master and Margarita, The Book Thief, Watchmen, & Life of Pi). Admittedly, my first listening was mostly surface listening, picking up plot summaries and some commentary, but I really didn’t give it the attention it deserved. I didn’t seriously consider any “big ideas” they might contain. It’s worth mentioning that I had read only three of the books, was generally familiar with a few others, and the rest I knew nothing about at all. It was those unknowns that gave me pause to question how deep the course was. It wasn’t until the lecture on Le Carre that I stopped to think about the nature of Great Books and the Canon of Western Literature. What makes a great book? I think it’s a universal that great books 1) can be read repeatedly, 2) have no boundary of relevance as far as place and time, and 3) provide insight about great ideas, ideas about truth/wisdom, life/death, good/evil, religion, politics, government, courage in the face of adversity, etc. When you keep in mind these type of qualifications for the controversial nature of “great” (please do insert your own in place of mine) and listen to Professor Voth, I think you find that these books are not really lightweight snack foods (those we can leave to Dan Brown and Robert Ludlum). In light of this course, you’ve got to admit that here are some questionable volumes that would just collect dust on our shelves or serve as paper weights if they hadn’t been designated Great Books. And Herman Melville wasn’t appreciated in his day, so it just may be that years from now, one of these alternate books just might become a Great Book in its own right. And what if Plato or Shakespeare had written The Watchmen? Would it now be a Great Book? Finally, the Guidebook is one of the better guidebooks around. There are some good discussion questions about each book. I’m motivated to get several of these books and then refer back to the course lectures.
Date published: 2011-11-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 'McBooks' -- The Wrong Side of the Tracks? I like extreme creativity, and this course pretty much delivers. Dr. Voth, a talented teacher, lifts us out of our familiar box of Great Literature and shows us the other side of the tracks: the also-rans, the not quite so great literature, but still great reading, thrilling stories, and engaging themes. Deconstruction was lurking in the background, but never really brought forward. Voth emphasizes story over substance, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this is our culture: it’s now okay to read for entertainment, and to read lesser works, the ‘McBooks’ of the industrial age. The segue music between the lectures was outstanding. I found his analyses of P. D. James somewhat vapid and mechanical, but Voth rescues this particular lecture with several superb quotes. The graphic novel, “Watchmen,” was a curious and interesting lecture, but just too thin for my personal taste. ‘Who’s watching the Watchmen?’ I would answer, ‘Who cares?’ Voth’s recap of the ‘Life of Pi’ was excellent. I had avoided this book mostly because it was a runaway bestseller. Now I might read it. I also added Didion’s ‘Slouching’ to my list. Voth concludes, it seems, by implying that there is no wrong or right side of the tracks in literature. If any work has a good story, and you keep turning pages, and you can find truths about life and being human without having to endure the ‘chore’ of reading the dense and heavy classics, well, what’s wrong with that? If all literature can be analyzed using the same tools, then why not jump into the literary ocean? Yet I can’t help wondering if these McBooks are, after all, like fast food -- too often it’s not fast, and it’s rarely real food.
Date published: 2011-10-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Out of the Shadows... Like most folks interested in literature, I have, over the years, towed the party-line as to which were the must-read works. And most are indeed splendid gifts to humanity. In this course, Professor Voth opens our eyes to other wonderful books that seem perenially over-shadowed and not quite able to find a sunny patch for themselves. I have not read the majority of these works, but will certainly put them on my Literary bucket-list. I'm sure much vigorous debate can be expected on the choices made by Professor Voth, but this is secondary. Foremost is that we are now un-blinkered, and can reflect on whether the store-brand is of equal quality with the national brand. We join the conversation.
Date published: 2011-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Innovative idea about little known books Very cool idea. Find some well written books, and present them as an alternative to 'The Western Canon'. I enjoyed the books the professor chose as well. Only about a third of them have I heard of, and I had not read any of them. So i was glad to be introduced to them. The professor has an engaging delivery, and speaks at a good, quick pace. (I'm biased towards fast talkers.) My one gripe about the content was the professor gave a 'Cliff Notes' version of about half of the books. I prefer him to talk about the major themes and innovations of these novels, and not spend much time giving summaries of the books like "The book starts out with this event, then moves to this event...". For example, his review of "Angels in America" spent too much time discussing the actual play. Contrast that to his presentation of Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London", where he talks about how Orwell created the book, how it was his first novel. In the Orwell presentation, he doesn't spend a lot of time on the content, assuming you'll read it yourself. I had just listened to the course "Great American Bestsellers", and felt the professor did a superb job of discussing the events about the book, both historical and political. Overall, an interesting course, one I'll followup with by reading Didion's "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" and getting my 18 yr old daughter "The House on Mango Street" by Cisneros.
Date published: 2011-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Skeptic’s “Very Good” Books AUDIO DOWNLOAD 12 LECTURES When I saw the title, I smiled and thought, this course should be fun. I imagined 24 or 36 lectures of alternate works throughout the centuries. Then I read the description and realized the course was not quite what I thought, but it still intrigued me, and with only 12 lectures, I thought why not. There is good news and bad news. THE GOOD NEWS 1) This is not another boring, sanctimonious attack on Western Civilization and the “dead white males” who have written its “great” books. (How these people think the ancient Greeks are white beats me. And it’s always fun to watch them squirm when asked to name the black African who wrote one of the Britannica’s classic 54 great books.) 2) The recommended books are indeed very good, although not quite great. You will likely see some here you have not read and you will be encouraged to read them. 3) Prof. Voth on audio is excellent, with an easygoing manner and intelligent insights. 4) The course as an audio download is quite a bargain when on sale. This course is well worth that price, and thus deserves 4 stars. I reserve 5 stars for courses I know after first listening I will listen to again. This course does not achieve that status, but is still worth one listen (and is thus very good, but not great). THE BAD NEWS The course does not live up to its title. None of the books mentioned in the course achieve the level of “Great” although they do achieve the level of “Very Good” and are worth every reader’s time. All but one are 20th or even 21st century works, which raises the question, Do we have the distance necessary to claim these as “Great”? In my view, the Great Books are Great because they are great mountains to climb. The training necessary to climb these peaks, and the struggle to sustain the climb to achieve new and higher vistas, has proven value to those who make the journey. (Who look back on those who criticize but do not climb, and laugh.) Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Plato are the Everests, the K2s, and the Denalis of books. When one engages and struggles with them, slowly at first but more rapidly with effort, one achieves profound pleasures, and the texts are able to offer those pleasures at greater and greater levels as they are read repeatedly over a lifetime. And one experiences the strengthening of sublime artistic muscles, vistas, and syntheses that does not occur with lessor reads. Prof. Voth fails to make this point about Great Books (although he seems to understand the idea to some extent) and commits the rather transparent fallacy of equating merely very good books with Great Books simply because he wants to elevate some more recent works. And thus offers us high hills and low mountains for the truly Great ones. For example, in lecture one, Prof. Voth would have us read Gogol’s Dead Souls rather than Tolstoy’s War and Peace, as if the idea of a Great Book is one that we have the strength to carry (in the age of Kindles and iPads) and can be easily read on vacation. Dead Souls is very good, but it is not Great. Gogol does not achieve what Tolstoy does, especially on rereading. It’s kind of like Jazz. You have to experience it to understand, but somehow Tolstoy can launch the reader into a sublime artistic experience and philosophical synthesis at a level not achieved by Gogol. And even though I have not yet read all of Prof. Voth’s recommendations (and those seven of the twelve I have not read are now on my list), these lectures do not provide enough evidence that his “replacement” very good books achieve great sublimity. By the end of the lectures, I got a distinct feeling that this course should have been called “More Recent Books I Think You’ll Have a Great Time Reading.” So with that caveat: Fours Stars Recommended as Very Good
Date published: 2011-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sweet little course An alternative to those snooty Western Civ courses that we are used to from the great courses, this course makes you want to go out and actually read and experience these books
Date published: 2011-10-04
  • y_2020, m_7, d_14, h_15
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.10
  • cp_2, bvpage2n
  • co_hasreviews, tv_6, tr_36
  • loc_en_US, sid_2112, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.0
  • CLOUD, getContent, 79.62ms

Questions & Answers

Customers Who Bought This Course Also Bought