The Foundations of Western Civilization : The Great Courses: Civilization & Culture

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Thomas F. X. Noble
  • Series: The Great Courses: Civilization & Culture
  • 24 hrs and 54 mins
  • Lecture

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

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?

n/a


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?

n/a


Any additional comments?

I thoroughly enjoyed this.

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- Mike Keith

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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- Tommy D'Angelo

Book Details

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