Where do we come from? How did our ancestors settle this planet? How did the great historic civilizations of the world develop? How does a past so shadowy that it has to be painstakingly reconstructed from fragmentary, largely unwritten records nonetheless make us who and what we are?
These 36 lectures bring you the answers that the latest scientific and archaeological research and theorizing suggest about human origins, how populations developed, and the ways in which civilizations spread throughout the globe. It's a narrative of the story of human origins and the many ties that still bind us deeply to the world before writing. And it's a world tour of prehistory with profound links to who we are and how we live today.
Woven through this narrative is a set of pervasive themes: emerging human biological and cultural diversity (as well as our remarkable similarities across surprising expanses of time and space); the impact of human adaptations to climatic and environmental change; and the importance of seeing prehistory not merely as a chronicle of archaeological sites and artifacts, but of people behaving with the extraordinary intellectual, spiritual, and emotional dynamism that distinguish the human. Among the corners of our mysterious past you'll explore: human prehistory from Australopithecus africanus through Homo habilis and Homo erectus; the beginnings of agriculture and animal domestication; theories behind the appearance of urban civilization and overall attributes of preindustrial civilizations; the maritime trading revolutions in Africa, India, and Southeast Asia; and much more.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.
©2003 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2003 The Great Courses
This is a good whistle-stop tour of world prehistory. The narrator stumbles occasionally but his enthusiasm comes across well and he holds attention. A couple of assertions (such as 'We know that modern humans did not interbreed with Neanderthals') now thought to be false, beg the question of what else is out of date now but I don't think that detracts too much from the purpose of the course: to give a general overview.
One other bugbear. Some of the pronunciations of Chinese words were bizarrely wrong. It does seem a shame that the pronunciations weren't looked up beforehand but again, this isn't a big deal in what is essentially a big picture course.
Gets a bit repetitive towards the end, once the author gets "out of Africa" the story changes very little from region to region. Part of me thinks the narrative would have been tighter if he had narrowed down to one region.
Honestly the story just gets too complex at the end, jumping from region to region.
But then again this is a semi-academic course, not a story. It's job is to educate first and entertain second.
Thankfully the start is fantastic! The lecturer manages to cram home the key points in a very short space of time, build up a number of key themes AND make you think about the achievements of our ancestors differently.
"Great Conceptually But Becoming Dated"
Although this is a course rather than a book, I would recommend it with reservation.
On the upside, it paints human history in broad strokes and provides significant food for thought regarding what impacted early human development. On the flip side recent data is making some very significant points obsolete. The professor asserts that humans and Neanderthals did not interbreed, that Neanderthals did not produce art or have higher reasoning on par with homo sapiens sapiens. In 2003 when this course was first given this might have been the prevailing belief. Modern DNA research now shows that most of humanity outside of Africa is likely to have some Neanderthal DNA in our genetic make-up. Additionally, Neanderthals have been shown to make clothes, and use pigments at least for application on their body if not to create art on cave walls. Although there is still much to decipher and the final verdict is still out on how similar these two branches of humanity's tree were, the professors absolute statements regarding Neanderthals ring a bit hollow now with the passage of time coupled with recent developments. Still a good course overall.
Concise. Despite reservations noted above, he still seems quite knowledgeable and has a great deal to offer.
Yes. I went out and read more on the subject. Very interesting.
"Dull delivery, some interesting facts."
First, I am a college professor, so it pains me to give this lecture series anything but the highest praise. But I feel like they pick people who don't get the basic need for storytelling in the lecture format, and instead go with people with a professorial flair in the delivery. This lecture is the third in this series that I have attempted to plod through, and I am stopping at hour 7 even though the subject is of great interest to me. It may just be me, but I find nothing particularly compelling about this lecture- it's just okay. Most of the time I realize that even if I am listening intently, most of the information is just deserting me and I am needing to go back and listen again, as my mind seems to be completely uninterested in what Professor Fagan is saying. This lecture may work well in a room where you can see his gestures and visual aids, but in this format I find that I am retaining little and enjoying less.
"Excellent!!! A Must Listen for Interested Readers"
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this series. It is one of the best Great Courses I have listened to so far. For those who may not be familiar, the Great courses are a series of lectures by distinguished professors, not necessarily an audiobook per se.
This would be an excellent introduction for most into the topics of Prehistory and the first civilizations. I enjoy learning about history and have more prior knowledge than many would going into this book, but I still learned a great deal and think it would be appropriate for most who are interested in learning more. I was skeptical at first about cramming both topics listed in the title into a single series, but, to my joy and astonishment, the lecturer managed to fit both topics in and still manage to be thorough, detailed, and comprehensive in a relative sense. The series goes from discussion of man's earliest ancestors, through archaic humans and neanderthals, to modern humans, and then covers the development of the earliest civilizations all over the world, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, Europe, India, Africa, China, and the Americas. Roughly half of the course covers prehistory and half of it covers the first civilizations, but, believe me, you will leave this course feeling that you have had a thorough introduction to both. The professor is very knowledgeable, articulate, and organized and he proceeds through the material in a roughly chronological manner. The material may be dry for some who aren't used to historical content, but I think the professor did a good job of keeping you engaged with the material and making it comprehensible.
Just as an inside joke to those who have already listened to this, two unforgettable phrases you will hear time and time again are, "We don't really know," and "How did they do this?"
If you are at all interested in the topic, I can't recommend this more. My guess is that you won't be disappointed.
"Information is dated - Performance is attrocious"
I enjoy the subject of ancient history and the rise of early civilizations, and so I picked up this course as soon as I saw it. While the information is decent, it's strangely focused on odd areas and theories of the lecturer, and overly broad in generalities of civilian life and politics of the age. Also make sure you examine the syllabus and that it's to your interests, as a lot of the course is concerned with pre-homo sapien species.
The performance is not good. The pacing is terrible. To the point that I had to speed it up by 50% just to keep from being frustrated by multi-second pauses between words. In addition, the lecturer make every sentence sound dramatically important which is frustrating beyond your imagining. He also uses the words, "flamboyant" and "extremely" waaaay too often and usually inappropriately. Lastly, he mispronounces words strangely. Usually this includes common words and a lay person could pick up on the error, but when it comes to things like the first recorded military clash, the Battle of Kadesh (Kah-desh), and he says the Battle of (Kav-ish), it makes a significant impact on understanding and later research. These seem like little things, but after about 20 hours it starts to drive you insane.
As for accuracy, this is too old to be taken as common thought. For example, the lecturer says repeatedly that Neanderthals could not have bred with homo sapiens - that it's genetically and physically impossible. We've known for years that humans who left Africa certainly did breed with Neanderthals, and that up to 20% of non-African human DNA is Neanderthal. Beyond that, at least 20% of Neanderthal DNA exists spread among humans. Further, Devisonian (not a group even mentioned in the course) DNA has also been linked to modern humans, along with other archaic subgroup. I'm afraid that while my limited understanding may catch big things like this - what have I missed?
I would recommend that audible publish and updated version of this book, put a BIG asterisk next to this title, or remove the book from their library. The fact is that you're getting a university level course as Great Courses promises, but it's a 20th century education.
"Very comprehensive but necessarily shallow overview of millions of years"
This is a good jumping off point to decide what prehistoric topics interest you most. He covers all major prehistoric civilizations worldwide, up to the 20th century in select cases. Some societies with writing were explored such as various Mesopotamian cities and Egypt. I didn't know that Incan god-kings were all expected to accumulate their own wealth with new conquests instead of inheriting everything. I was particularly interested in the earliest farming villages and less ostentatious societies that aren't often highlighted.
"Should listen before any other history lesson"
This is a crash course on human history narrated by a man who should teach and narrate everything. The man has an English accent, which is good by itself for listening. He also rolls his r's occasionally and in odd places, annoying from most people but when he does it, it is scintillating. Then Dr. Fagan has a slight lisp some places, and then a hard core lisp other places. Individually, these can be annoying sounds, but in the same way that Morgan Freeman ' s face is beautiful even though it is comprised of average attributes, all of Dr. Fagan's vocal "flaws" come together to create an oratory sensation.
Put this together with a fascinating subject matter by a man who passionately cares about his subject and you become engrossed yourself. Please pay this man lots of money to read his own books, I could listen to him speak forever.
"Better than Sapians"
Yes. The subject matter is fascinating, and the professor does a great job. His passion for the product comes through in every lecture. He is obviously an expert in the subject.
He made a lot of mistakes, which gave it a live course feel. It was very listenable.
I wish there was more about metal development in the Americas. The anthropogenic global warming comments were needed in the lectures as much as an accordian player. What made the lectures real is the reliance on science. Then to move from a lecture about pre-history to a lecture about his politics was a distraction.
"A Lot of Ground to Cover"
Realizing that this was an overview course, it is still a huge amount of history to cover. Two things have stuck with me since I finished listening to these lectures. The first was Dr. Fagan's speaking. His voice was theatrical and almost Shakespearean. However, he pronounces some words in ways that seem tortured. Even though I have figured out what he means, it is almost impossible to say it the way he does. The word "Controversy," for example, is pronounced something like "Contravesee." It is not a British thing, but a Professor Garland thing. The other point that actually bothered me more was the lack of support, especially in the later lectures, for all the great material he was offering. Again, I realize that his was an overview set of lectures, but it would have been nice to have more information to support his perspective. Just the opposite of Dr. Castor, who tended to give almost too much historical support.
"Another Great Course!!"
My husband and I learned so much from this course. The history of religion, government, and society in the First Civilizations is fascinating and enlightening and also added to our understanding of how our current world view was shaped.
"Lecturer Should stop teaching"
The tone of the narrator throughout the lectures sounded to me as though he would rather be doing anything other than giving the lectures. Also, some of the comments he made during the series gave me the impression that he thought his audience was too stupid to understand what he was saying.
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