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Publisher's Summary

What is Western civilization? According to Professor Noble, it is "much more than human and political geography," encompassing myriad forms of political and institutional structures - from monarchies to participatory republics - and its own traditions of political discourse. It involves choices about who gets to participate in any given society and the ways in which societies have resolved the tension between individual self-interest and the common good.
Within this series of 48 lectures, you'll discover the many ways in which Western civilization has addressed those questions, from its first stirrings in the great river valleys of Iraq and Egypt in 3000 B.C to the beginning of the 17th century and the dawn of the modern world. Your learning will cover vast amounts of territory and thousands of years, beginning in the ancient Near East and moving to Greece and then Rome. You'll explore ancient empires, including those of Persia, Alexander the Great, and Rome.
You'll watch as western Europe gradually expands, both physically and culturally. And you'll examine the globalizations of Western civilization with the Portuguese and Spanish voyages of exploration and discovery.
This broad and panoramic series, ripe with the telling detail on which history can turn, will help you pull an enormous sweep of history together into one coherent - though by no means closed - framework as you watch history develop under the influence of such critical factors as ecology and environment, geography, and climate; government and economics; technology; religion; work and leisure; philosophy; literature; art and architecture; and virtues, values, and aesthetics.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2002 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2002 The Great Courses
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Mike Keith on 08-08-16

Highly recommended

Where does The Foundations of Western Civilization rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

top 10
I loved the material but a history major may already know all this stuff.
I will proceed directly to Vol 2.

Who was your favorite character and why?


What about Professor Thomas F. X. Noble’s performance did you like?

This is the weakness. The Prof is a good lecturer but his dynamic range is large so the audio volume varies greatly making it at times a difficult listen in the car. I frequently needed to replay sections that had fallen to a near whisper.
A *dynamic range compressor* add-on to the audible app would be a great idea! This same problem appears in many other recordings.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?


Any additional comments?

I thoroughly enjoyed this.

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20 of 20 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars
By Tommy D'Angelo on 03-05-17

Not Engaging or Very Interesting

What disappointed you about The Foundations of Western Civilization?

I really wanted to like this course. I am a big history buff and this course covers so much history both in relation to time and place. But I just could not get into it. The professor’s general style was just not a hit with me and the following became increasingly annoying: his voice would fluctuate from high to low, his humor just wasn’t effective, he would talk fast, and I didn’t get the sense he was teaching as much as he was having a discussion.

It felt like the professor did not spend enough time “pulling it all together”. He only lightly touched on why certain civilizations like the ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, Persians, etc. are considered “western civilization”. A lot of times I was left wondering why certain peoples or topics were included in such a course or what defines the “western tradition”. While a huge expanse of history was covered there was almost no time spent on what the foundations were or how one would define "western civilization".

Lectures 25-26 finally felt like he was hitting his stride and connecting with me so I went back and re-listened to the previous 24 lectures thinking maybe I should give him another chance with an open mind. Alas I had the same reaction to his lectures and just didn't find much that was interesting in them. Here are the lectures I did find enjoyable:

18 (Roman expansion)
25-26 (Roman crisis and the Barbarian "problem")
30 (Byzantium)
31 (Barbarian kingdoms of Europe)
36-37 (political formations of European countries in medieval times)

However, your experience may be better. For those of you willing to give it a shot here are the basics: time period covered is generally between 3000 B.C. to A.D. 1600. Here are some of the general topics covered:

• Civilization begins at Sumer
• Ancient Egypt
• Ancient Hebrews
• Assyrians
• Neo-Babylonians & the Medes
• Persia
• Ancient Geeks
• Macedonia’s Hellenistic conquests
• Roman Republic and Empire
• Christianity and the church
• Islam
• Byzantine Empire
• Barbarian (Germanic, Celtic, Slavic) kingdoms of Europe
• The Franks under Carolingian rule
• England and France
• Germany and other European countries in the medieval period
• The Renaissance
• The Reformation

I am going to listen to Professor Harl's "Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor" course hoping it engages me and succeeds where this course fails. I really wish The Great Courses would do a course on medieval Europe focusing on the formation of current states like France, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Poland, etc. I know there are some courses on 1600 Europe onward but I'd be interested in a course on political history of the major countries prior to that time period.

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29 of 30 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By First Impressions on 09-21-16

Loved it - I'll be ordering more

If this book wasn’t for you, who do you think might enjoy it more?

It's a series of 48 lectures, covering over 5000 years of history. I think it was well suited to me because I have some background knowledge of most of the period. But I'm not an expert, I still learned a lot and it helped connect everything together. If you are fresh to the subject don't be put off - just take it more slowly, perhaps repeat a lecture that you didn't connect with the first time.

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

I was disappointed that it ended at 1600 (Early Modern Period). I would have liked it to continue beyond that. I will move on to "Foundations of Western Civilization II", but it's with a different lecturer. Perhaps that lecturer will be as good. Some people would prefer homework, visual material, study certificates etc. Not something I would want/need - but everyone will have to decide themselves.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

I thought Thomas Noble was excellent. He has his mannerisms, of course (asides, chortles, pauses) - perhaps that would bother some people. I found it added charm. It felt like I had a personal guide through history, not some Wiki-bot. I am considering getting his "Late Antiquity: Crisis and Transformation" series.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

A couple of feelings (1) I wish I'd had this overview when I was growing up. When studying more detailed history I would be better able to put everything in context. (2) This series shows that it is possible to creditably cover over 5000 years in 48 short lectures. A complement to, rather than a replacement for, serious study of more focused history.

Any additional comments?

I didn't know if a lengthy lecture series would be for me, but decided it was worth a gamble. It turns out that it suits me very well - indeed, I'm amazed - a whole new method of learning has opened up. This hasn't replaced my reading of books, but it supplements them nicely.

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Andy Allison on 02-17-15

Well told and very interesting

If you're interested in history but never had the time to study it, curious about the Greeks, Romans, the church and just how Europe came to be how it is? If you kind of know the famous names and event and phrases but not really in any great detail or context then you'll love this relatively unbiased appraisal of western history. Brilliantly told and engaging.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Amazon Customer on 01-22-14

History for the Non-Historian

If you could sum up The Foundations of Western Civilization in three words, what would they be?

History for the Non-Historian

Who was your favorite character and why?

Not really applicable, but my favourite characters are all the players involved in the rise and fall of the Roman Republic.

What about Professor Thomas F. X. Noble’s performance did you like?

Wonderful, compelling speaker who is able to convey his knowledge and passion of all that he speaks about.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Not really laugh or cry, but definitely engaged. I listened mostly in the car, and would drive the long way to work and home to fit in more listening time.

Any additional comments?

The preparation of the material is to be commended - it would have been no small task to condense thousands of years into this course, and I think he struck the perfect balance between history/culture/people/wars. I really loved the emphasis on important philosophers and poets, of which I know very little.

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7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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