Interpreting the 20th Century: The Struggle Over Democracy : The Great Courses: Modern History

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Pamela Radcliff
  • Series: The Great Courses: Modern History
  • 24 hrs and 24 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

Consider the intense and rapid changes that transformed the political, social, and economic struggles of the world during the 20th century: the first flight and space flight, the Manhattan Project and the welfare state, Nietzsche and Freud, the Great Depression and inflation, moving pictures and home computers, the Cold War and terrorism - and war and peace.
These 48 comprehensive lectures examine this extraordinary history and provide a multidisciplinary understanding of how the modern world came to be and how democracy has emerged as a political ideal, although the parameters of a truly democratic world order are still being vigorously contested. You'll see how the 20th century can be read as a history of ideas, and how those ideas both influenced events and were in turn influenced by them to shape today's world.
Professor Radcliff not only distills political and economic trends from a century of world history, but she explains them with clarity, drawing on other disciplines as necessary to make key points come alive. She defines the perspective of this course as including what she calls the "Enlightenment Project" - the adoption of liberal, democratic, rationalist principles in much of the world - while emphasizing the unresolved nature of the struggle for democracy.
As you move chronologically through the century, you'll explore a range of ideas in depth, including the "crisis of meaning" unleashed by World War I, the different approaches of Fascism and Communism to organizing and mobilizing masses, and how art provided a window into the psychological forces swirling through public life. Detailed case studies also bring history's ideas alive.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Philosophical differences aside, well worth it!

There are several warnings I would give to someone considering this investment in time. This is a course of 48 lectures delivered by a professor who is relatively monotone and does not convey warmth or enthusiasm the way most people do. I felt that I got used to the way she uses tone and I got over it. If you can't do monotone, you should consider whether this course is for you. Very long course, but commensurate with scope. Despite the length, the topics are treated at a high level. Most readers will find a percentage of lectures that they feel they know better than the professor. You may find her viewpoint in some lectures to be a bit naive, very liberal, or flat out wrong. If this puts you off and you are a conservative or libertarian, you may have difficulty finishing the course. Personally I found the perspective and the focus on "democracy" to be incredibly interesting. She is unabashedly focused on the struggle for democracy even though we find democracy to be in quite a bit of trouble recently, and our founders were not very sanguine about the future of democracy and thus designed a republic. Democracy may not fit in all places, and it may at the end of the day not be the correct system to manage the affairs of human beings, but I think most alternative anchors for a course of the 20th century would fail miserably. Like it or not most in the US believe in the living constitution as well as the Tocquevillian tumble towards equality in all things. Conservatives and libertarians who can accept democracy as an anchor should be able to enjoy and gain insight into how liberals view the 20th century. The broad scope is reflected in the lectures. I would recommend that you Google great courses pamela radcliff 20th century and look at the lecture list. Most non-expert history buffs will find alot here that they will enjoy. Highly recommended. Will challenge your perspective and help you understand better the liberal viewpoint. There was also a PDF course guidebook that I found while googling. I actually believe these guidebooks are essential for many of these courses. Not essential for this one as she sticks to her notes which are very related to the guidebook. If you find the guidebook it may also help you decide if this course is for you.
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- Lance

Refreshingly Global, Wonderfully Interpretive

This is an excellent history course for a number of reasons. The first is that it makes an attempt at global coverage, which is rare. We hear about Asian and African and South American countries that are often ignored in Western-centric modern histories. Another is that it is interpretive -- not merely stating facts but identifying larger themes and tendencies as well. It also tackles social and cultural events and changes of the century, giving a history of ideas, not merely politics -- and the 20th century is a time when ideas were very powerful. Finally its nice to hear a woman's perspective on the 20th century; there seem to be very few female lecturers on history in the Great Courses' repertoire, which may be representative of the field writ large, but is nonetheless disappointing from such a great company.

As far as performance goes, Radcliff -- just like all the other Great Courses people -- is a professor and not an orator, but she has a fine, NPR-ish voice that makes for very decent listening. Someone else pointed out that she says "in other words" (or its equivalents) a lot, which she does -- but the re-wording that follows always helps to elucidate the point, so I can't consider it a fault.
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- Christopher

Book Details

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