Wisdom of History

Course No. 4360
Professor J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
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Course No. 4360
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Course Overview

Do the lessons passed down to us by history, lessons whose origins may lie hundreds, even thousands, of years in the past, still have value for us today? Is Santayana's oft-repeated saying, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" merely a way to offer lip service to history as a teacher—or can we learn from it? And if we can, what is it that we should be learning?

Professor J. Rufus Fears believes that not only can we learn from history—we must. In The Wisdom of History, his newest course for The Teaching Company, he draws on decades of experience as a world-renowned scholar and classical historian to examine the patterns of history. Ignoring them, by choice or because we've never learned to see them, is to risk becoming their prisoner, repeating the mistakes that have toppled leaders, nations, and empires throughout time.

In this personal reflection on history, Professor Fears has taken on the challenge of extracting the past's lessons in ways that speak to us today, showing us how the experience of ancient empires like those of Rome and Persia have much to teach us about the risks and responsibilities of being a superpower. He shows how the study of those who left their impact on an earlier world—Caesar Augustus or Genghis Khan, George Washington or Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi or Josef Stalin—can equip us to make responsible choices as nations, citizens, or individuals.

You may not agree with everything Professor Fears says history teaches us—for example, that the desire for freedom and democracy is not shared by everyone and never has been—but that is fine with him, even desirable. For example, here's what he writes about the accompanying course bibliography:

"I have followed Lord Acton's dictum that it is the mark of an uneducated person to read books he or she agrees with. The educated person reads books he or she disagrees with. Thus I have frequently recommended books that disagree with me because these are the ones we find most stimulating."

The challenge Professor Fears poses, to seek such stimulation and examine history closely, is especially pertinent during the "ahistorical age" he says we live in—an era when too many people are willing to invest in a "dangerous delusion" that "science, technology, the global economy, and the information superhighway all make us immune to the lessons of history," and that "in an age of global economy, war and tyranny will become things of the past."

A Profound Challenge

This delusion, Professor Fears says, has become more dangerous in light of recent history.

"The terrorist attack on our country was a watershed for American history. 9/11 presented the United States with a challenge as profound as the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II. The Wisdom of History was conceived in my conviction that if America and its leaders are to meet that challenge, then we must learn and apply the lessons of history."

Because it addresses enduring issues that have contemporary relevance, this course is perhaps even more timely than any current headline. It offers a relevant context for understanding the post-9/11 world Professor Fears says has transformed our country and influenced his own intellectual growth; a world in which the Middle East plays—as it does in this course—a recurrent and crucial part.

Like Professor Fears's five previous courses—A History of Freedom, Famous Greeks, Famous Romans, Churchill, and Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your LifeThe Wisdom of History is taught with passionate conviction and love of subject.

For those who have already enjoyed one or more courses by Professor Fears, The Wisdom of History makes an ideal companion piece. And for those new to Dr. Fears, this course is ideal as an introduction to the work of a scholar whose mastery of his subject and ability to present it with clarity and spirit has been repeatedly honored by his peers and students.

Professor Fears has extraordinary skills as both teacher and scholar. He has received 24 university and national teaching awards; he was named three times by University of Oklahoma students as Professor of the Year, and once as Most Inspiring Professor.

Vivid Narratives from a Superb Storyteller

Professor Fears creates vivid narratives of people and events that continue to reverberate in your mind long after you've paused a lecture to think about what you've just heard. This skill has helped make his courses among our most popular, and it is on frequent display in these lectures.

But in a panoramic exploration that ranges from the ancient Greeks and Hebrews to the history of this nation, and in his unflinching and perceptive portraits of those who shaped our world for better and worse, Professor Fears supplies something more than just another telling of history, no matter how engrossing.

By filtering history through his personal perspective—and inviting us to take seriously the effort to distill laws or lessons from the past—he is determined to teach us to see history from a fresh perspective that both evokes the past and speaks to the present. The result is a course that teaches us, by example, how to learn from history. We can add what we learn to the storehouse of hard-won wisdom each of us have already built up to make our own decisions, both privately and as citizens or public leaders.

Some of History's most Provocative Themes

What sorts of themes does Professor Fears invite us to consider? He uses an intimate portrait of Winston Churchill, a man who understood history deeply and wisely, to tell us that:

  • Despite the importance of doing so, we do not learn from history.
  • Science and technology cannot immunize us from history's lessons.
  • Freedom, which Americans believe is longed for by people worldwide, is not a globally shared value. By contrast, desire for power, whether wielded as a despot, or as a benevolent empire or superpower, is a universal value.
  • Known as the cradle of civilization, the Middle East has also been the graveyard of empires, no matter what their intention, as the Romans and so many others have learned.
  • America will experience the same ultimate destiny as the memorable democracies, republics, and superpowers of the past.
  • Religion and spirituality—and the lust for power—are the most profound motivators in history.
  • Nations and empires rise and fall not because of anonymous social and economic forces but because of decisions made by individuals.
  • A true statesman possesses four qualities: a bedrock of principles, a moral compass, a vision, and the ability to build consensus to achieve that vision.

Professor Fears also declares that the United States, because of its unique foundation in freedom and the power it wields through science and technology, "might still be able to provide lessons and leadership to guide the world into a new age of prosperity—if Americans are willing to learn from the past." We are not free from the lessons of history, but we can learn from those lessons and make our decisions based on what we learn.

Although most of us will never achieve the knowledge and understanding of history wielded by a man like Churchill, the end of this course indeed brings us to the same position in which Professor Fears placed him at its beginning—armed with a historical perspective that can, if we choose to heed its wisdom, help guide our lives and choices for the future.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Why We Study History
    We define the wisdom of history as the ability to think historically, that is, to use the lessons of the past to make decisions in the present, and to plan for the future—as Winston Churchill did in preparing for and executing his destiny as a statesman. x
  • 2
    World War I and the Lessons of History
    This lecture asks why the last century—unequalled in advancements in technology, science, education, and knowledge—is also unequalled in the destructiveness of its wars, the scale of its human suffering, and the savagery of its tyrannies. x
  • 3
    Hitler's Rise and the Lessons of History
    Churchill called World War II "the unnecessary war." The existence of Adolf Hitler is a pre-eminent example of the lessons history tries to teach us. This lecture looks at how the failure of Woodrow Wilson and the generation of politicians after World War I demonstrate the consequences of ignoring those lessons. x
  • 4
    World War II and the Lessons of History
    Winston Churchill understood that Stalin was a tyrant as evil as Hitler, and that Communism was as evil as National Socialism. But as he attempted to heed history's lessons and prevent the Allies from repeating and compounding the mistakes made after World War I, his warnings were ignored. x
  • 5
    Is Freedom a Universal Value?
    Freedom consists of three separate ideals. Those ideals—national, political, and individual—of freedom have achieved a unique balance in the United States, the result of a likewise unique confluence of historical currents. But history teaches that such a balance is not universal, and that failure to understand this lesson can have dire consequences. x
  • 6
    Birth of Civilization in the Middle East
    America's foreign policy has long been based on the belief that freedom is a universal value. But the history of what is now known as the Middle East shows that nations, like individuals, frequently choose the perceived security of despotism to the responsibilities of freedom, with great civilizations—ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, for example—rising and falling with no concept of freedom. x
  • 7
    The Trojan War and the Middle East
    The power vacuum created by the collapse of the Hittite and Egyptian empires led to the most famous war of antiquity, which demonstrates for us that a balance of power is a fragile and dangerous mechanism for maintaining peace. x
  • 8
    Ancient Israel and the Middle East
    The Old Testament, our earliest example of historical writing, has in the book of Samuel profound lessons for us today. The story of King David teaches that there is a profound moral dimension to history and that private and public morality cannot be separated. x
  • 9
    Ancient Greece and the Middle East
    Herodotus composed his Histories of the war between Persia and Greece in an effort to explain the ways of the gods to men, seeking to understand through history and its moral dimensions why nations rise and fall. He found his explanation in the concept of hybris, the outrageous abuse of power that leads nations and individuals to disaster. x
  • 10
    Athenian Democracy and Empire
    Athenian democracy rested on values fundamentally identical to American democracy. It teaches us that empire and democratic freedom are compatible, that democracies do not necessarily make peaceful neighbors, and that wars undertaken to spread democratic values can end in defeat and disaster. x
  • 11
    The Destiny of the Athenian Democracy
    America shares with ancient Athens a fundamental conviction that it is the duty of the strong to come to the aid of the weak, with corollary beliefs in pre-emptive war, often with the expectation of being welcomed as a liberator. The experiences of ancient Athens suggest that these are dangerous delusions. x
  • 12
    Alexander the Great and the Middle East
    Alexander was uniquely successful in his ability to solve the problem of the Middle East. He ruled not by imposing Greek ideals but by becoming a Middle Easterner, accepting the ethnic and religious diversity of the Middle East and its long tradition of absolute rule. x
  • 13
    The Roman Republic as Superpower
    History teaches that it is very difficult to be a superpower with a constitution designed for a small city-state. Rome was ultimately forced to choose whether to keep the freedoms of a republic or to remain a superpower. Its choice determined the future politics of Europe and the Middle East to this day. x
  • 14
    Rome of the Caesars as Superpower
    The Roman Empire did far more than the Roman Republic to advance the cause of individual freedom. It offered a model of how to achieve peace and prosperity over a large geographical area while securing individual rights, ethnic autonomy, and local political freedom. x
  • 15
    Rome and the Middle East
    The Middle East supplies a key to understanding the history of Rome. Rome's attempts to bring stability, peace, and Roman political values to Judea illustrate why the Romans found a solution to the problems of the Middle East so intractable. x
  • 16
    Why the Roman Empire Fell
    Since the time Rome was declining and falling, historians, moralists, and countless others have tried to explain why. In addition to threats from Germanic tribes, much of the explanation lies in Rome's involvement in the Middle East and the cycle of nation building, annexation, and terrorism that followed. Failure to solve these problems reduced the Roman Empire to a relic. x
  • 17
    In an important fashion, Christianity was a triumph of the religious values of the Middle East over the traditions of Greece and Rome. The rise of Christianity and Islam, within the context of the Roman Empire, illustrates the power of religion as a motivating force in history. x
  • 18
    Christianity and Islam have much in common. Yet from the beginning of Islam in the 7th century they have been locked in conflict. The Byzantine Empire and the Crusades demonstrate enduring lessons about the Middle East as the graveyard of empires. x
  • 19
    The Ottoman Empire and Turkey
    Mustapha Kemal, known to history as Ataturk, is the most remarkable and successful statesman produced by the modern Middle East. His creation of a unified Turkey built on a foundation of secularism and ethnic nationalism is a most instructive example of how to create a nation-state in the Middle East that is based on European political and cultural values. x
  • 20
    The Spanish Empire and Latin America
    Despite its proximity to the United States, its vast resources, and its industrious population, Latin America has never developed enduring institutions of democracy. Instead, it has often given us examples of civil war and despotism. The history of Latin America shakes the assumption that democracy in one country will spread to neighboring countries. x
  • 21
    Napoleon's Liberal Empire
    Napoleon saw himself as a combination of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, but his attempts to transform Europe as a benevolent despot failed. His career attests to both the enduring lesson of hybris and the danger of pre-emptive wars in the name of liberal and democratic ideals. x
  • 22
    The British Empire in India
    The British believed they were combining liberty and empire, but, for many of their subjects, Britain was simply an example of the lust for power as a motivating force of history. The British experience in India illustrated the power of other forces—ideas and religion—to shape history. Who could have imagined a frail Indian barrister could, without violence, bring such an empire to its knees? x
  • 23
    Russia and Empire
    In both 20th-century Russia and China, democratic revolutions would end in savage tyrannies. The wisdom of history teaches us that this is not an accident, but the predictable result of the historical development of both countries. x
  • 24
    China and Empire
    Civilization rose in China independently from the birth of civilization in the Middle East. But like the Middle East, China throughout its history has chosen despotism over freedom, with Confucius's notion—of order flowing from above—as an ideal that persists, producing despotism even out of a revolution aimed at establishing democracy. x
  • 25
    The Empire of Genghis Khan
    Genghis Khan is one of history's bloodiest conquerors, yet modern historians see him as a statesman who brought a new era of achievement to regions he conquered. His life and legacy teach the lesson of the lust for power—and its ambiguous consequences. x
  • 26
    Britain's Legacy of Freedom
    This lecture considers the heritage of freedom that developed in England and was passed on to America, where it merged with four other crucial historical currents of freedom—the Old Testament, Greece and Rome, Christianity, and the U.S. frontier. x
  • 27
    George Washington as Statesman
    Since Herodotus and Thucydides, the question has been asked: In a time of crisis, can a democracy bring forth leaders superior to those produced by autocracy? The short answer is "yes," as is the longer one, with this lecture offering the first of two examples from our nation's history. x
  • 28
    Thomas Jefferson as Statesman
    Napoleon believed himself destined to establish a new Roman Empire, but it was his democratic contemporary, a man of far different moral character, whose decision to purchase the Louisiana Territory created an empire far larger, more enduring, and more noble than anything Napoleon imagined. x
  • 29
    America's Empire of Liberty—Lewis and Clark
    Americans are reluctant to describe this country as an empire, but the United States is one of the most successful imperial nations in history. This lecture explores the consequences of Jefferson's foresight in not only accomplishing the Louisiana Purchase—the largest expansion of territory ever made by purchase and negotiation—but in choosing the ideal men to lead the expedition to explore those new lands. x
  • 30
    America and Slavery
    The United States was founded in the self-evident truth that "all men are created equal." However, slavery was recognized by the Constitution as the law of the land. Ultimately, only the Civil War could resolve Americans' understanding of the fundamental meaning of freedom. x
  • 31
    Abraham Lincoln as Statesman
    At the beginning of the Civil War, many in Europe and America believed that the decay of democracy was embodied in the choice of a backwoods solicitor to guide his nation. Instead, Lincoln's presidency provided the ultimate testimony to the ability of democracy to produce leaders in a time of crisis. x
  • 32
    The United States and Empire
    With the end of the Civil War, the once-more-United States entered the stage of world politics, making it clear to the powers of Europe that this young nation, despite its recent internal conflicts, was not going to fade away. But as America began its appearance on that stage, could it reconcile its values as a democracy with its actions as a superpower? x
  • 33
    Franklin Roosevelt as Statesman
    During World War II, the rule of totalitarian governments extended from Spain to Vladivostok. Yet democracy was able to triumph. As was the case with Britain and Winston Churchill, the United States was able to produce, in Franklin Roosevelt, a wartime leader with few equals in history. x
  • 34
    A Superpower at the Crossroads
    Harry Truman believed that America was chosen to bring freedom to the world and that to achieve this, America must be a superpower. In the process, the United States entered into the legacy of the empires of Europe and Asia—in the Middle East, Indo-China, and Korea. The consequences are still with us. x
  • 35
    The Wisdom of History and the Citizen
    The wisdom of history has lessons for each of us, both as citizens and as private individuals. The Founders of our country were successful as statesmen because they thought historically and understood that history is the most important discipline for citizens of a free republic. x
  • 36
    The Wisdom of History and You
    We look at what each one of us in our personal lives can take away from history—which can be described without trivialization as one great self-help book, more valuable than all the guides that fill the shelves in airport bookstores—and discover perhaps its greatest lesson. x

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Your professor

J. Rufus Fears

About Your Professor

J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
Dr. J. Rufus Fears was David Ross Boyd Professor of Classics at the University of Oklahoma, where he held the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty. He also served as David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Before joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, Professor Fears was Professor of History and...
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Wisdom of History is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 150.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Big disappointment! This is the one course that the Teaching Company produces that I have found to be poorly prepped, internally inconsistent and somewhat patronizing in presentation. I have purchased and enjoyed dozens of the Teaching Company courses, listening to several many times over. This one I could not stand to complete the first time I tried. Professor Fears seems to think that we need to be told what people meant to say, interpreting sources simplistically and solely to support his theme. Unfortunately, he is inconsistent in what he presents, occasionally contradicting himself. His general assertion is that "people make history," while at other times he asserts that one cannot successfully oppose the "wave of the future." Mostly, though, I objected to the manner in which he seemed to suggest that his listeners/viewers were not quite capable of forming their own opinions about the topics and themes he presents. I don't purchase college-level courses to be told what I should think about things. I buy them so that I can become more knowledgeable and thus better able to form my own conclusions. Sorry I purchased this product.
Date published: 2014-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Greatness of Professor J. Rufus Fears This course by Professor Fears has had a profound impact on me. That’s because Professor Fears made every lecture personal by explaining how the subject matter directly relates to you the listener and with how you will conduct the rest of your life, both personally and as a citizen, by keeping in mind the lessons of history. I did not come upon the Teaching Company courses by Professor Fears until after his passing in 2012. This fact has left me with a feeling of great sadness because he was the kind of person whom you would like to have personally known and befriended. The only way I could think of an appropriate way to express my feelings on the death of Professor Fears was to quote “The Phaedo” of Plato, where Phaedo, the beloved disciple of Socrates, and narrator of the dialogue, says of Socrates on his death: “Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend; concerning whom I may truly say, that of all the men of his time whom I have known, he was the wisest and justest and best.” (Translated from Attic Greek by Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893).
Date published: 2014-06-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A Simplistic View of History Professor Fears is a good story teller. However, his "lessons of history" are presented without any criteria regarding how they were chosen. Apparently, when things work out badly for the historical figure in question, s/he "failed to learn the lessons of history." In fact, history contains many, many potential lessons. Which ones are we to learn from? Other than to expound on his own choices, Professor Fears doesn't say. Why, for example, should Neville Chamberlain have learned "not to appease tyrants" instead of "war is hell" when appeasing Hitler (in Czechoslovakia) might have avoided repeating the unmitigated disaster of WW I, which imposed enormous costs, in blood and treasure, on Europe. I ask rhetorically, isn't there a lesson in the devastation of WW I? Furthermore, his lessons often seem to contradict one another. For example, at various points in the lecture series, he claims that democracies can never be successful empires? Really? The U.S.? The U.K.? His answer seems to be to define them out of the category of empires. No fair. All in all, this set of "history lessons" can only appeal to those who don't think deeply about history.
Date published: 2014-03-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Unique Prof's Intriguing if Questionable Thesis George Santayana. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Dr. Fears is the kind of professor students remember: A bit quirky with wonderful mannerisms, distinctive tonal patterns, and a certain smugness that is, frankly, quite charming. Our group of 10 or so retired folks who meet every Tuesday for a Great Course session was saddened when we learned of Prof. Fears death. A real loss to the "faculty" at The Great Courses. The "Wisdom of History" was an effort by Dr. Fears to take five of his courses and draw the fundamental lessons of each into a single program professing to unify the wisdom that historical experience imparts- in other words, he sought to give homage to the underlining expectation expressed in Santayana's oft repeat idea. Dr. Fears thesis is this: 1) Nations, like individuals, tend to move into one of two tracks oriented toward freedom or security. 2) Those who have chosen freedom tend to embrace democracy. 3) Those who have chosen security tend to embrace autocracy. The course goes on to draw examples of this from global history. Generally Dr. Fears sees the Middle East, China, Russia, and Latin America as seats of autocracy, and Europe and North America as seats of democracy. It is an intriguing thesis. It is also a bit too neat. Fears rolls a procrustean bed into the lecture room and then sets out his often arbitrary standard to which exact conformity in historical events is forced. NOW---- that IS what the course promises to do - to create a governing principle that is applicable across human history. SO-- anyone using this course should know that many historians would have significant problems with this as it tends to so smooth out the hills and valleys, the twists and turns in historical experience as to remove any realistic understanding of complex cause and effect. BUT- if the person watching this series has background in historical study or pulls in sources that provide it, and if the person brings a healthy skepticism to the series...then the course is wonderful. We have all had professors who seemed out to upset us, confuse us, challenge us, outrage us especially in the pursuit of objective standards. That is what Fears did. We meet for a little over an hour. 30 minutes for the video, 30 minutes for discussion. We often went over 30 minutes with fierce arguments raging. It was not uncommon for people to bring in copies of articles the next week that either contradicted or supported Fears' lesson from the previous week. For example: Dr. Fears claims that the American Revolution, the Civil War, WW II and the Cold War were confrontations between two opposing world views in which democracy proved superior to dictatorships in producing leaders worth of the challenge. It is a uniquely American perspective; a platform built on the concept of American Exceptionalism. That alone evokes a huge response- either in praise or condemnation. We heard a lot from both sides. Bottom line: Fears is above all, in this course, a great argument starter AND that is great fun and great for learning if civil discourse (even robust civil discourse) governs the experience.
Date published: 2014-02-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Don't Buy This If You Have "History of Freedom" This is an audio review. You should know that Professor Fear’s specifically states in the lectures that these are the lessons of history for America. I had previously listened to Professor Fear’s series on “The History of Freedom”, which I rated 5 stars. Unfortunately, this series had a lot of the same material and lessons, which is why I wouldn’t recommend it. However if you have not already listed to “The History of Freedom”, you might think this is a fine course. Each lecture could be a stand alone lesson, and he does a nice job of tying them together thematically. However, if a given topic is new to you, I think you will find 30 minutes is not enough to get much of an understanding of that historical event. If you are familiar with the topic, I think you will find there is not much new in the 30 minute lecture. Overall, I found the series to be storytelling with a lot of fluff that was not always to the point of what the lesson in wisdom was supposed to be. It often was too vague and repetitive. I really like Professor Fears and his other courses (the one on Churchill is fantastic), but this one was unnecessary for me.
Date published: 2013-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Where are we going now? Professor Fears takes you into a journey through space and time in the history of ideas, ideals and hubris. He has the faculty of retelling history as if it was a story, with characters and facts whose purpose is to make an impact in your life. His magnificent way of putting the puzzle together makes an indelible mark in your memory as you start discovering that he’s talking about you and the possibilities you have to contribute to the present and the future of human kind. The purpose of this course is not so much to memorize dates and names, but to make an impact in the way you perceive yourself as a contributor to history. I learned deeply of how superficial we humans are when making decisions that might change the direction of our destiny and those of others.
Date published: 2013-11-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lessons of History This type of course is well suited to Dr. Fear's style. His presentation of historic themes and how they relate to modern events is interesting. The concept of "hubris" and arrogance and how they relate to the rise and fall of empires is something I never considered and it gave me a new perspective. The Middle East as the birthplace of empires and "where empires go to die" are ideas certainly relevant in today's turbulent world. I would have loved to have had a conversation with Dr. Fears about these issues and questions, but will have to be content to listen to his lectures. One of his best courses.
Date published: 2013-10-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Bedtime Stories The title of this course was intriguing and very appealing. Mr. Fears certainly has impressive credentials but the actual content of the course was appallingly simplistic, little more than a series of bedtime stories - better suited to children than college. Fears rarely sites the historical basis for the information he imparts nor does he refer to the work/opinions of other scholars. It's as if he just "knows" everything. I've purchased more than 15 Teaching Company courses and this is the only one that I've ever had to ask for my money back. I'm surprised that Fears has other courses but don't plan on buying any of them.
Date published: 2013-08-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from History as moral instruction This course is both interesting and somewhat frustrating: Professor Fears puts forth a strong thesis in the first lecture, wraps it up with some moral conclusions in lectures 35 and 36. Meanwhile, in the 33 intervening lectures, he sets out to prove his thesis by telling the story through his of his understanding of history. This course seems to have a two-fold purpose: (1) to prove the thesis that Professor Fears lays out in the first lecture – that the ten “laws of history” he identifies have their basis in – no pun intended – history. (2) The second purpose is for the individual – that the listener can get moral and life-enhancing instruction by the study and elucidation of history. Warning: Professor Fears is unabashedly speaking to America. This history is important to him because it can help “our country”. Additionally, you should know that he is a “great man” theorist. He states that history is made by individual men and women making choices and is not made by impersonal forces acting upon us. This can get tiresome when comparing to great “statesmen” like Winston Churchill to mere “politicians” like Neville Chamberlain or Clement Attlee. It seems that a historian ignores at his or her peril such “impersonal forces” as the Black Death in the late Middle Ages or the Industrial Revolution in the shaping the 19th century. I can recommend this course with reservations noted above for the following reason: very few courses have such a bold purpose. Most courses seem to be designed merely to give us facts and educate us. Professor Fears does not give a balanced approach to history, but also it's not entirely biased either. His passion for what he is teaching comes through, but I cannot help feeling I’m not getting the whole story. I have the video version of this course. There are no visual aids to justify the use of video – get the audio download or the CDs.
Date published: 2013-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Required reading Replace all history textbooks with courses like this and there will be more interest in history. Highly recommended for all history fans, students and those wishing to enter politics.
Date published: 2012-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly recommended I think Dr. Fears has a unique and rare ability to present a subject that captures and holds ones attention. I have purchased 25 or 30 Teaching Company courses and this is one of my favorites. I go back to it frequently. If you are a student of history you cannot go wrong in this course or having Dr. Fears as an instructor.
Date published: 2012-10-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Great Storyteller Professor Fears is a great storyteller. In this 36 lecture course he presents selected aspects of world history in somewhat of a story-type format – sometimes with his own versions of imagined dialogue! He is a very engaging speaker and readily holds your attention. Professor Fears presents broad principles of history and reinforces his belief in their truth through a variety of examples throughout world history. This method is quite effective in demonstrating his theses but can be subject to selection bias. He has the opportunity to pick and choose his historical settings, and he often concentrates on very narrow aspects of each historical period to prove his points. At times, he seems to make a complex situation a bit simpler than it really is and give little attention to alternate interpretations of the facts. Each of these lectures could serve as an introductory lecture to another entire course, many such courses which are already offered by the Teaching Company. For example, one might want to supplement Professor Fears’ analysis of WW 1 and WW2 with the course of Professor Nye – Must History Repeat the Great Conflicts of This Century? Professor Nye takes the same topic deeper than Professor Fears, often into historical analysis of these wars and the policy implications. Professor Fears’ lecture on the Spanish Empire and Latin America could be supplemented through further study of the course by Professor Ruiz – The Other 1492: Ferdinand, Isabella and the Making of an Empire and the course of Professor Eakin – Conquest of the Americas. Both courses provide much richer detail and explain some complexities of the Spanish conquest of America which Professor Fears does not cover. I enjoyed this course. Many of the guiding historical principles of Professor Fears are amply supported. He motivated me to seek more information on each of these topics. His style is as if you were listening to a grand historical entertainer. He draws you in to the subject and the 30 minutes are gone before you know it. He is a great teacher primarily through his means to inspire you to seek a greater understanding of each historical topic.
Date published: 2012-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wisdom comes with these Lectures! My first foray into the Great Courses with this course has made me a fan for life. I wish I had Dr. Fears has my history professor since my formative schooling has begun. I am of the opinion every middle, high and college student should watch this course. An exhilarating, passionate, and invigorating speaker, the professor delivers a concise yet extremely profound peace of work. The focus is in the forest and not the trees. His lectures represent a paradigm shift from the usual pedantic deliveries of history lessons. This is a must. It will bequeath the listener with a perspective that promotes understanding and pride in the formation of the US. Especially, in these dark days of extreme bipartisanship. Thank you Dr. Fears
Date published: 2012-09-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A paradigm shifting course you'll always remember Professor Fears is a "love him or hate him" kind of lecturer with TGC. He garners many "5 star ratings" and "1 star ratings" with few in the middle. (All of them deserved.) Why? He's very unabashed about his views of right and wrong, and isn't concerned with being balanced. His examples are often glamorized or simplistic, which makes him less scholarly than other TGC professors. >>That said<<, this course changed the way I think about freedom, history, politics, great statesmen. He has an astute and interesting paradigm which he effectively reiterates and defends. More than any other course, I finished it with a sense of "the big picture of history." I am very grateful for that and will remember this course even when I've forgotten all of the others 40 years from now. Because this course is not "scholarly," it may really frustrate those seeking to learn new information. However, this is an excellent course for customers young and old who like good storytelling. It would inspire budding young historians and political scientists, while providing an older generation with a way to view the history they've learned an experienced in their lives.
Date published: 2012-07-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great lecturer but mixed content quality I have just finished Professor Fears’ course on “The Wisdom of History”, and have mixed feelings. Some of the lessons he advocates are very interesting and thought provoking. Professor Fears speaks well and tells a story very well, so watching the lectures was a pleasure. That said, I had trouble connecting the lessons of history that he drew with the content of the lectures. I also found his selection of the parts of history to recount to be quite artibrary. And the final lecture was more of a sermon with lots of advice on conducting your life (with which I do not disagree) which, however, seemed utterly unconnected with the rest of the course. Strange. Finally, Professor Fears clearly has a point of view throughout the course – perhaps historians always do, I’m not a historian – which is clearly conservative and religious. So be warned. If this kind of thing bothers you, this course is not for you. If you can let it roll off you, then his talent for story-telling and speaking can provide you with hours of entertaining listening.
Date published: 2012-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 'History is a nightmare...,' ..writes James Joyce, 'from which I am trying to awake.' Professor Fears is (awake), and calling to all those who have ears to hear. How many, will listen, I wonder; though I really don't want to know. Americans Wake! or a future generation may be lamenting, and our ememies dancing, at America's wake, and this must not happen.
Date published: 2012-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It Delivers What Title Indicates, and It's Fears Professor Fears’ lectures tend to elicit strongly worded reviews one way or the other: either you're a fan or you're not it seems. One thing that should not be a surprise to anyone, though, is what you get with Dr. Fears. He's a great storyteller, he gives you a broad overview, and he interprets literature and history through what is definitely out of favor in today's post-modern, social deconstructionist academy (dare I extend that to the U.S. in general): great individuals who shape human history through an emphasis on what some would consider outmoded values. He also has a high opinion of America's Founding Fathers and considers hubris to be about the worse moral failing one can engage in. A quick scan of his lessons of history will give you a good idea about the flavor of this course and about the way Dr. Fears thinks in general: 1. We do not learn from history. 2. Science and technology do not make us immune from the laws of history. 3. Freedom is not a universal value. 4. Power is the universal value. 5. The Middle East is the crucible of conflict and the graveyard of empires [and this lesson was, to me, the most profound and accurate—just look at history]. 6. The United States shares the destinies of the great democracies, the republics, and the superpowers of the past. 7. Along with the lust for power, religion and spirituality are the most profound motivators in human history. 8. Great nations rise and fall because of human decisions made by individual leaders. 9. The statesman is distinguished from a mere politician by four qualities: a bedrock of principles, a moral compass, a vision, and the ability to create consensus to achieve that vision. 10. Throughout its history, the United States has charted a unique role in history [this is the one that seems to bother most people—Fears thinks that, although the U. S. shares the destinies of other empires and superpowers, the United States is nonetheless unique, has charted a unique path, and may not meet the same fate as other superpowers and empires in the past]. He weaves these themes throughout a course that is not always chronological; he starts with World War I, Hitler, and World War II before focusing on the question of whether freedom is a universal value. From there, he jumps into the birth of civilization, and then the course flows more or less chronologically from that point. Please keep in mind that I'm not a historical scholar, so I don't study the discipline for a living. Maybe someone who does could reasonably point out inaccuracies in Professor Fears’ re-telling of history. All I know is that this is the most interesting and inspiring history I've ever been exposed to. I would have added a history major to my English degree in college if I would have been exposed to more professors like this. I chuckled at the reviewer who wrote that these lectures were "subjective history." Really? As opposed to completely objective history? That exists? Just consider the re-telling of the American story: We have Paul Johnson's A History of the American People versus Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States (plus, a whole bunch in between). Not agreeing with a person’s viewpoint is one thing; using the "subjective history" argument is another—and seems disingenuous. My strongest endorsement for this course comes from the following: (1) it motivated me to purchase other history programs from the Teaching Company (to my wife's chagrin); (2) it inspired me to further consider my vocation or calling in life (sorry, I'm a Lutheran), with a concern toward how what I do affects others, and (3) it motivated me to get on the treadmill more often because I couldn't wait to watch the next lecture. I just can't find much bad to say about any program I've purchased and watched so far from the Teaching Company. And that includes this one. Get it; I think you'll enjoy it, and if not, you can always send it back.
Date published: 2012-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A five star Teacher & Course This is the 5th course that I have taken with Prof Fears, this course like the others was well worth the time! Prof Fears knows how to command a classroom, something few teachers understand, his wisdom and breadth of knowledge is amazing. Prof Fears takes you from historical event to historical event, then mixes the great books, then infuses the biographies of the great men and the great woman down through the ages. By doing so Prof Fears makes history come alive... this is the testimony of a truly great teacher. I look forward to the next Teaching Company course with Prof. Fears.
Date published: 2011-12-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not his best I doubt Dr Fears has a bigger fan than I. I have seen all his courses, except the new one on Lessons of Myth. And have rated all his courses, to this point a strong 5 stars. This course thought lacks his usual energy: the material is also redundant in regards some of his other works. Having said that, it is still a very good course. I'm so used to Dr. Fears being great, that just good is a let down.
Date published: 2011-11-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting, but subjective view of history! The Wisdom of History course carries a terrific theme that educates and enlightens students about empires, history, power, and freedom. As usual, Professor Fears conducted the class with grace and clarity. This course has transformed him from a great storyteller into soothsayer and a Prometheus of the Teaching Company who predicts the future based on the lessons from the past. Unfortunately, intentional or not, Professor Fears allowed his personal political bias toward certain groups or regions to contaminate his objective reporting of history, therefore, tainting his predictive ability. In addition, his interesting but slanted political views that he attempted to subtly promote backfired, because he failed to address the root causes induced by the Machiavellian policies that were employed by the dominating powers to keep the proles divided, subdued, and enslaved. What could’ve been an enthralling topic about empires and about lessons from the past, turned into a prejudiced view that polluted the process and undergirded the listener’s disbelief in history.
Date published: 2011-10-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I love it but "caveat emptor" I join all those who have said that you either love Prof. Fears' lectures or you hate them. I would also join those who say you should hear the Churchill series first. He is a great storyteller, and he is indeed sermonizing. If you are reasonably knowledgeable and sophisticated about history, then I think you can get a lot out of what he has to say. You have to be able to know when to take him literally and when to understand that he is oversimplifying or perhaps even stretching a little bit to make a point -- usually a point worth making and thinking about that would be difficult to make clearly without oversimplification, but that you should not swallow whole in its literal form. On the surface he seems unsubtle but I think he is very subtle -- but you have to be sophisticated enough to follow him with your eyes open. I would say that this course is an interpretation of history for people who already know a lot of history. This course is not a place to *learn* history, it is a place to think about history and what one thoughtful man thinks it might be telling us about ourselves today.
Date published: 2011-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Course is a Seminar, not a Survey The Course is a Seminar, not a Survey so of course it is biased. That is what historians are supposed to do when assessing historical topics. They get paid to make historical arguments and that is what Professor Fears is doing here. In a survey course, it is important for the teacher to be objective to simply teach the material (Allitt is the best in those regards) . In seminar like courses at the grad school level, the professor and students discuss historical topics and argue history from different points of view (I am a grad school student). So, I have no problem with him being subjective in his opinions that freedom is not a universal value, that leaders cause the fall of empires and that the Middle East in the graveyard of empires even if I do not completely believe 100% of what he is saying and that's ok. Historians disagree all the time. I do not understand some of the criticism of Fears. It is true that either you will like him or hate him. I would suggest taking the Churchill class first (as someone else has already suggested) to determine if Fears is for you. He is not my favorite, but I find him different and i admire his teaching style even if this class tends to jump all over the board chronologically (he can do that in a seminar course but I wish he didn't) and he likes to pronounce "ideas" as "iders" Some have said Fears is all about American imperialism and exceptionalism. Exceptionalism yes but his lectures are full of warnings about American foreign policy and he is trying to show through the wisdom of history how dangerous our policy is. As a Libertarian, I concur. As far as religion goes, his lectures are like sermons because they are powerful. He is not like an Evangelical like I've heard some critics say because he gives exceptional praise to the teachings of other religions (especially Islam) and he calls Jesus a great teacher like Buddah, Socrates and Muhammad. Evangelicals do not consider Jesus a great teacher but the messiah and Son of God. He does show, however, practical historical wisdom from sources like the bible in this course and he even distinguishes between biblical history and "real" history as he puts it on more than one occasion (like the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.), so I do not understand why people say he is pushing his religious views on people just because he talks about it. Overall, this is a good course and an escape from the typcial TC course, which I'm still a big fan of. I believe the man has good things to say even if I don't agree with him on some key points like some of the people he considers great statesmen and that social-economic forces do not play much of a role in the decline of empires.
Date published: 2011-10-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Horrible Someone shoud explain to Professor Fears the difference between theology and history, because he seemingly thinks the actions of God and the sins of Man explain major historical events. In addition, the lectures were not linear, content rambled and he jumped around historical time periods and events in a confusing manner. We were using this course for homeschooling, and it took effort to pull a coherent thread out of the lectures, and hard work to find how his stories matched the point he said he was making. When we had to keep going to the internet to find out what really happened in the events he ascribed to God, plus create a logical lesson out of his ramblings, I realized it was not worth the effort. We returned and got another course we are much happier with.
Date published: 2011-10-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from More preacher than historian "Professor" Fears several times pronounces that civilizations rise or fall depending on how closely their leaders follow what he says are "God's laws". I don't find that approach particularly illuminating.
Date published: 2011-10-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Provocative and entertaining, but is it history? This is one of the most difficult courses to review objectively, because almost nothing in these lectures is presented objectively. Make no mistake, there are very good reasons this course is listed under the Philosophy section rather than History. Other reviewers have likened these lectures to sermons, and that's as good a word as I can find to describe some of them; the intermingling of historical facts with myths and stories from Scripture would certainly support this. Rather than starting with the historical record and making conclusions, Dr. Fears essentially presents his complex thesis on the natural history of empires, and attacks the notion that human nature has changed over the past 5000 years. If there's a subtext to these talks, it's that Dr. Fears thinks very little of America's foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, and agrees with the America-as-Rome analogies that have been put forth in the last few years. That being said, I consider the course a strong value for two reasons. First, Dr. Fears is a great lecturer possessing a phenomenal amount of knowledge. In some instances, such as the early lectures on the World Wars, he speaks with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer, which I suspect turns a lot of people off. Most of his stories are told wonderfully, however, and he does a great job of bringing historical figures to life. Secondly, there's an awful lot of history in these lectures, presented in a digestible way. People with backgrounds in history might take exception to Dr. Fears' style or opinions, but those of us who never took history after high school get an entertaining, sweeping view of world history from classical times to the present. It's these thought-provoking insights that make history so satisfying to explore, but nevertheless out of reach for those with established careers. In an ideal world, I would love to be a student in Dr. Fears' classroom, because his style almost begs him to be challenged. Since that's not very likely, I can give his course an easy recommendation. Prospective buyers need to be cautioned, however, that this is not a "pure" history course
Date published: 2011-08-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Annoying and Depressing Fears' presentation is not only biased, opinionated and judgmental, as several other reviewers have noted; it is also appallingly negative and pessimistic. After listening to less than a third of the lectures and one too many smugly-delivered stories about Man's inhumanity to Man, I decided that collecting on The Teaching Company's lifetime guarantee was a viable alternative to suicide.
Date published: 2011-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting... I found this course very enjoyable to experience. I especially enjoyed the way Prof. Fears suggested "Imagine yourself on a sunny day back in 18xx, in (town) listening to...." to put yourself into the scene and the culture of the time as you listened to the story unfold - and the discussion of the various aspects of wisdom of history that was either remembered or forgotten at that time.... Very enjoyable and interesting - makes me wonder how much our current government might learn from listening to this series...
Date published: 2011-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Don't be too quick to judge. Rufus knows a lot, but causation and correlation make bad company.
Date published: 2011-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Greatest Courses I've Taken Professor Fears is the second most engaging professor I have ever encountered. And his grasp of history is second to none. I have recommended this course to several people, all of whom have told me how beneficial to their understanding of the what history has to tell us, and how critical paying attention to that wisdom of history is. I have actually been through the course twice, learning a great deal each time. It is sad that all our politicians and military leaders, particularly those inside the beltway, are not required to both take this course and then pass an extensive exam on what it's telling them. In fact, I would recommend all world leaders take this course.
Date published: 2011-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting, well-presented course I think you either like Prof. Fears or you don't. As it happens, I do. Prof. Fears has identified nine lessons of history, which he relates in the first lecture. He then proceeds to march through the history of western civilization, explaining how these nine lessons are in evidence in numerous historical contexts. He takes strong positions and freely expresses his personal opinions -- some may find his certitude off-putting, but others will likely enjoy his conclusions (and his certainty). While there is room to disagree as to Prof. Fears' style and conclusions, I think all can agree that he is a great storyteller - he adds a sense of drama that often is lacking in college lectures. To those who have taken courses by Prof. Fears, I would say that this is more of the same - if you like him, you'll like this course. If you don't, you won't. To those who haven't yet been introduced to Prof. Fears, I would recommend taking his short, 12-lecture Churchill course to assess whether you like Prof. Fears' style and approach. If you do, I think you will enjoy the Wisdom of History.
Date published: 2011-02-05
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