A Brief History of the World : The Great Courses: Modern History

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Peter N. Stearns
  • Series: The Great Courses: Modern History
  • 19 hrs and 1 mins
  • Lecture

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.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful


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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- Tad Davis

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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- Justin

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-08-2013
  • Publisher: The Great Courses