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Publisher's Summary

The construction of the great pyramids of Egypt, the development of democracy in ancient Greece, the glories of ancient Rome - these stories are familiar to students of history. But what about the rest of the world? How do the histories of China and Japan, or Russia, India, and the remote territories of Sub-Saharan Africa and South America fit in with commonly known accounts of Western traditions?
Learn the rest of the story with these 36 riveting lectures that survey the expanse of human development and civilization across the globe. From the invention of agriculture in the Neolithic era to the urbanized, technologically sophisticated world of the 21st century, you'll apprehend "the big picture" of world history. You'll examine and compare the peoples, cultures, and nations of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas to understand how, throughout history, peoples all over the world have connected and interacted, traded goods and technology, and conquered and learned from each other.
As you travel around the world and through time, Professor Stearns provides surprising insights that will overturn many of your assumptions about history. For instance, you'll see how the invention of agriculture brought with it a number of drawbacks, such as a new inequality between men and women and greater exposure to epidemic diseases. Fascinating episodes like these will give you a deep appreciation for the human experience as it was lived throughout the centuries.
©2007 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2007 The Great Courses
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Customer Reviews

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By Tad Davis on 12-05-13


In the beginning of this course, Peter Stearns goes to great lengths to define what he means by World History, and talks about it as a recent development. But haven't we been studying World History all our lives? Not really, he argues. What we were doing is Western Civilization, treating it as the only part of World History that mattered. What he's doing here is showing the Other Side of the Story, and this particular way of doing World History IS a new thing.

Inevitably, there's some imbalance in the approach. He tries to keep Western Europe and North America in the picture with a lesson here and there, but his main focus is on East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. The perspective he brings is truly global: Rome and Western Europe may have been in tatters, he says, but during that same period China and East Asia were thriving, so let's talk about what THEY were up to.

Inevitably, he glosses over some events, even some that would illustrate the issues he's discussing. For example, one of the lessons deals at length with slavery and its abolition. In the course of the lesson, he touches on the North American abolitionist movement and the difficulties faced by freed slaves in the latter part of the 19th century; but he never mentions the American Civil War. This isn't just chauvinism on my part. Nearly a million people died in that war, and the war's chief aim was the destruction of the South's slave-based economy. What could be more relevant to the point at hand?

It should also be noted that this is not a narrative history; it's more of a sociological and economic history. There's a lot of emphasis on trade, and not so much on the Great Men (and Women) who ruled the countries engaged in that trade.

Stearns has blocked out broad periods of time: the great river civilizations, prior to 1000 BCE; the Classsical period, from 1000 BCE to 500 CE; the Post-Classical period, to 1450 CE; the Early Modern period, to 1750 CE; the "long 19th century," up to the beginning of the First World War; and everything else since then. Within each of these periods, his treatment is more often thematic or geographical than chronological. He'll have lessons on Revolution, for example, or Gender Relations, or Globalization; and mixed in with these will be lessons that focus on Latin America or China.

Personally, I would prefer a juicier narrative. But Stearns is well-informed on all the topics he discusses, and he always has a packet of unusual facts, comparisons, or connections up his sleeve. (Who got most of the silver from the New World? If you said Spain, you'd be wrong: it was China. Understanding how that came about is one of the pleasures to be had from the course.)

Stearns has an unusual way of speaking that took some getting used to. Many of his sentences consist of lists - each item in the list ending with a rising inflection, like a question. Eventually I settled into the rhythm. The fact hat his lists are consistently interesting and well-organized helps.

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31 of 32 people found this review helpful

By Justin on 08-20-13

Great Learning

What did you like best about this story?

It was enlightening to close one's eye's and picture the story of world history in the mind. It allowed for a greater depth of understand over such a vast period of time.

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5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

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By Ibrahim955 on 09-26-16

This is not a brief history of the world

Would you try another book written by The Great Courses or narrated by Professor Peter N. Stearns?

I would still read and listen to The Great Courses books BUT NOT any book by the author

What could The Great Courses have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

To start, he should have written and narrated a proper history with names of rulers and dates, then started to give his unfounded theories

What didn’t you like about Professor Peter N. Stearns’s performance?

He was overbearing in forcing his false theories on the listener. All his chosen examples were biased and do not reflect the other opinion

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from A Brief History of the World?

Practically I would have asked him to re-write the whole book

Any additional comments?

He should either include history in his book or change its title into (exhaustive biased theories on human history)

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

By Andyjn on 12-31-15


This is a history of trends and inter relationships rather than events and the big names. I found it a very enjoyable look at the history of the world from a global viewpoint.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

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By supermum on 02-10-16

Great start to learning history

The only problem with this course is how it makes me want to know more about so many other parts of history that are only just touched on in the course. This is my second one going for a third ... just have too choose.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

By Stan on 12-08-16

World history thematic success

I liked this course. I like history and the broad brush strokes by way of theme spanning cultures and eras was an interesting approach.

I don't know precisely when these lectures were written, but late 2016 offers some interesting additional hindsight.

Stearns' performance is good. His voice is clear and easy to listen to.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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