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For me this was one of those 'Can't put it down' epic audio titles. What's more I feel a better person for having listened to it.
Overall, very informative, thought provoking and truly entertaining. I've learned loads and am now looking for more history titles of comparable quality.
It's massive in scope and is truly global in that it manages to weave in all the major civilisations of antiquity. I'd say he's best on Mediterranean and European cultures. At least the coverage of these cultures seems more detailed. It seems to me a Westerner's perspective. However, there's some good stuff on China, India and the Americas. I found it gave me a good introduction to these other cultures.
It's very easy to turn history into a dry collection of facts and dates. This lecture series strikes a good balance between facts and colourful anecdotes character examinations and other diversions. For example, there is a wonderful section on the mind boggling and downright weird Spartans. I couldn't stop laughing as he talked about them. But at the same time, I learned all about a culture that up until a couple of weeks ago, for me had been little more than the name of an ancient group of war-like people who'd once fought the Persians.
His presentation style is really good - full of enthusiasm, wonder and humour. For me he spoke at just the right pace, too. Unlike many other titles, even history - I found this very easy to listen to whilst on the treadmill, walking or doing household chores.
I'm going to listen to this again in a month or two. Can't recommend it highly enough, it's a really excellent listen.
37 of 37 people found this review helpful
Of all the Great Courses I've listened to so far, I've liked this one best, and not just for professor Aldrete's pleasant voice. I loved how he manages to discuss thousands of years in 24 hours, always going for the big picture, with some nice stories thrown in. He really shows how urban civilisation got started the world over, in the Middle East and China first, then in the Mediterranean and India. It is true that those interested in the Americas and (especially) Africa and Oceania will be disappointed, but at least Aldrete explains why he chose to pay so much attention to Eurasia: it was Europe that would eventually dominate the world, on the basis of ideologies and technologies many of which came from the Middle East and China.
The course is not without its flaws. Other reviewers have commented that the western alphabets were derived from hieroglyphics, not cuneiform (correct); that Egypt was not such an arid place when civilisation began there (don't know, but I suppose it's true); and I'm sure there's more. However, I also feel strongly that is nit-picking - not when you're a script expert or egyptologist, but for the rest of us. To put it bluntly: it doesn't matter to the main story.
And as for the person who found the course 'too much about manly deeds': that's not quite true. There is quite a bit about art, religion and economy in the course. And after all, the manly deeds (including those by the odd empress or queen) have in many ways shaped history.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful
In the last couple of decades there has been a welcome shift from world histories shaped on the Sumer-Greece-Rome narrative that focuses on the foundations of European history towards giving equal weight to the other great centers of world civilization. This course nods in that direction but is still hugely weighted to the old European focus.
Of the 48 lectures, fully half are either solely or mainly about ancient Greece or Rome. Although other major civilizations are covered, they receive far less attention. For instance, when setting up a series of comparisons between classical Rome and Han China, Prof. Aldrete spends 5 straight lectures on Roman history and just one on the Han. Greek literature and sculpture each get a full lecture. Not only does no other artistic tradition get similar treatment but the discussion makes no mention of, for instance, the fruitful interaction between Hellenistic and Indian sculpture. The entire history of Islamic civilization gets one lecture, the same as European monasticism or the Peloponnesian War, which are of minimal global significance. The whole of the Americas get three lectures - the same as the life and legacy of Alexander the Great.
This weighting aside, each lecture is interesting and well delivered. Aldrete is an engaging speaker. Even some of his debatable priorities, such as spending half an audio lecture describing Moche pottery, are overcome with his enthusiastic delivery. One some issues, particularly Roman history, he is a bit inclined to take the sources at face value, for instance with a long discussion of mad Emperors, but he covers the ground well.
But that still leaves many areas with frustratingly limited coverage. Despite the course covering the period to 800 CE, India get no mention after Asoka, who died in the 3rd century BCE. The artistic achievements of anyone but the Greeks (and Moche potters!) get very little discussion. The Persian empire, one of the greatest of all time, get no dedicated lecture; nor do the Israelites, although the development of Christianity in Rome gets lengthy treatment. I could go on.
I see many have enjoyed these lectures, and that's great. They are fun and informative. But for a genuinely global perspective you'll have to look elsewhere.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
Any additional comments?
I've bought one audiobook a month from Audible for several years and this has to be in the top 3. If you're like me you've got an interest in the ancient world but wanted an overview before getting to know one civilisation better than the rest. This isn't just a whistle-stop tour, Prof Aldrete takes time to explain everything at exactly the right pace, weave the stories that make up history together smoothly and remain entertaining at all times.
Unlike some non-fiction, you don't have to concentrate on every word, the delivery is not too fast and not too heavy going. I find myself repeating interesting facts about the Indus Valley or Sparta when talking to friends and family, that I seem to have picked up without realising. It's not just the big things like the Pyramids and the Great Wall, but lots of small anecdotes about archaeologists and quirky historical figures. I genuinely look forward to getting in the car to listen to another instalment.
He's also very balanced. Often Western books can be somewhat Euro-centric but I genuinely feel I'm getting a world perspective here. And it's not simply a chronology of what happened when, but the significance of events is discussed, and the importance of ideas. For example a wonderful chapter focussed on the influence of a period in time when Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster and the Ionian Rationalists were all spreading their knowledge with the world. You really get a sense of an exciting time in history.
If I had one criticism, it is that the good Prof overuses the word 'literally' to a criminal degree. He uses it correctly, but way too much. He literally says it dozens of times per lecture. But that's literally the only down side. It has literally been one of the best audiobooks I've heard. Go buy it!
5 of 5 people found this review helpful