At just over 5,000 years old, writing is actually a relatively recent invention. It has become so central to the way we communicate and live, however, that it often seems as if writing has always existed.
But the question remains: Who invented writing, and why?
In these 24 fascinating lectures, you'll trace the remarkable saga of the invention and evolution of "visible speech," from its earliest origins to its future in the digital age. Your guide is an accomplished professor and epigrapher who whisks you around the globe to explore how an array of sophisticated writing systems developed, then were adopted and adapted by surrounding cultures.
Along the way, you'll visit the great early civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, Japan, and the Americas, and you'll see how deciphering ancient scripts is a little like cracking secret codes - only far more difficult.
You'll be spellbound as you hear accounts of the breathtaking moments when the decipherment of ancient scripts broke centuries of silence. And you'll marvel at fascinating objects once shrouded in mystery, including the iconic Rosetta stone.
Writing and Civilization offers the chance to not only discover the history of ancient writing systems, but also the rare opportunity to actually hear those scripts read aloud and to learn the meaning of their messages hidden in plain sight.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.
©2013 The Great Courses (P)2013 The Teaching Company, LLC
Any audiobook which has me choosing to listen to it rather than Radio 4 when I'm driving must be good.
Initially the information given was more along the lines of what I'd already heard and half remembered or sometimes what seemed obvious once explained; but more and more the course took me into unfamiliar territory, yet remained easy to listen to.
It certainly also swept away some preconceptions that I had about Mayan and Aztec scripts which I gphad not particularly thought about, but had not realised were so developed.
I would say the one draw back is that although there is a PDF which can be downloaded with the book this must be the audio track of a video course. There are a number of references in later sections where it is clear Zender is showing something, for example he spoke of different styles of copying Mayan script, but we only have the final version in the pdf. This should should not put off those who have a general interest in the subject as he gives a good verbal description, but might be more of a problem to someone who is listening as part of a formal study programme. This is the only reason I've marked it down slightly.
"A Spellbinding survey of writing systems"
It has happened more than once that I had to consider either buying the ‘Audible’ audio version of a ‘Great Courses’ course or the downloadable video version of the same course. What was I thinking not buying this a course on writing in video format with an accompanying .pdf guide!? The content of Prof Marc Zender’s ‘Writing and Civilization: From Ancient Worlds to Modernity’ is so gripping, it left me spellbound. (That said, I do have a thorough background in Semitic and Classical Languages… but he was able to broaden my understanding of writing systems.)
He takes the listener through a journey of writing signs and systems in 24 lectures which are intricately connected and completely mesmerising! I think this course is probably one of the best structured courses I have listened yet. Starting with the basic concept of writing, dispelling myths surrounding Futhark (the runic alphabet), he proceeds to more difficult scripts such as that of the Chinese. Subsequently the listener is introduced to the decipherment of different ancient writing systems, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, Cuneiform and later on Mayan hieroglyphs. By comparing the properties of different systems of writing, he is able to illustrate some fascinating universal aspects of writing. (He convincingly argues and illustrates that writing systems were invented at different times in different places, but also that some peoples borrowed their writings from others.) Prof Zender discusses failed attempts of decipherment, the reasons thereto, as wells as invented scripts and languages such as those of JRR Tolkien.
This course is a highly accessible as well as an excellent overview of writing over the ages. It is presented professionally. Yet I refrain from giving it 5 stars under ‘story’ and overall because not being able to see the examples that Prof Zender used, kept me an outsider to complete insights. While I do understand that Audible does not provide the accompanying .pdf guide to any of ‘The Great Courses’ not being able to follow the Mayan or Egyptian hieroglyphic examples in the course felt utterly frustrating. I believe that a shortened .pdf file without all the contents of the regular guide could be made available to give the listener the best value for his/her money.
All said, ‘Writing and Civilization: From Ancient Worlds to Modernity’ is a brilliant course, splendidly arranged, highly engaging, well presented and highly relevant for anyone interested in languages and its writing systems.
"Another Wonderful Course!"
I enjoy listening to Audible's The Great Courses series of books. This one started out slow... lot's of background information... but the narrator is excellent and at the 30% mark, I was hooked!
There are so many interesting facts and so much information about how languages and writing styles came and went, and I would have enjoyed this much more if there had been lecture handouts with graphs and images, but still all in all a great course/lecture.
The one thing that shocked me was learning that The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy proposed in 2009, and now adopted by 45 of the United States, does not mandate cursive instruction. Only keyboarding is required.
So, what happens when/if there's a time, generations from now, when something happens - like a solar flare - that shuts down electrical grids and there are no keyboards to type on? How will people communicate? Also, think about what that means. Cursive is a dying art form, and someday your grand-kids will be asking you to show them what writing looks like.
Definitely in the top 20.
Fascinating detail about how writing systems from all over the world and their commonalities and differences
"Not recommended on Audible"
If you aren't familiar with the Great Courses series, you might not be aware that they are developed originally as video recordings of lectures. However, only the audio portion of the lectures is available through Audible. For many courses, this is not a large issue as each course comes with a pdf supplement that usually provides missing visual aids referenced in the lectures. Unfortunately, in Writing and Civilization a great deal of the visual aids referenced in the lectures are not provided in the pdf supplement. In particular the lectures on the decipherment of Egyptian Hierogplyphs, Cuniform, and Mayan Hieroglyphs are almost useless. The meaning of Prof. Zender's excellent descriptions is completely lost since it is impossible to see the examples that he refers to during these lectures. If you are interested in this subject, I recommend avoiding this course on Audible and purchasing the DVDs through the Great Courses website instead.
"Reduced from very good to mediocre by a lack of course notes"
In the latter part of the audible book professor Zender uses course notes to explain script detail. The lack of said notes makes this part of the audio book frustrating to listen to.
"One of the best great courses"
I've listened to around thirty great courses series from audible now and this is one of the best. The information density is quite high, and the professor weaves an engaging series of narrative history on decipherment along with linguistics. I found its execution very similar in style to the set on ancient Egypt. The lack of visible slides (such as a grid of symbols or an inscription that's being described) is an issue because they are referenced frequently, but not a deal breaker.
"Delightful and dense introduction to linguistics"
The enthusiasm! Our prof is enthusiastic when he talks about Linear A and Linear B; I'd have said it couldn't be done.
There is a lot of information in this course, and all cheerful and charming. I expect to listen to it again. The Great Courses company has a lot of material on linguistics, and I think this was a fortunate first, since I mean to hear more of them.
An illuminating survey of the history and mechanics of writing. Spans millennia and continents but nevertheless offers enough detail and real-world examples to make the broader analysis accessible. You'll be surprised at how much you didn't know about writing, and how much of what you knew was wrong.
"Boringly named - totally mindblowing"
History buffs need to buy this book. It will change your view on so many things.
"Great but incomplete"
It may seem odd that I gave the performance and story five stars but only three for the overall rating. Let me explain. The material is fascinating, and the lecture by Professor Zender is top-notch. However, there is one large flaw in the audio presentation: the supplemental pdf does not contain the visual material referenced in the audio. Yes, the lecturer makes specific references to things that are obviously there to see in the video version of the course, but for some reason, none of that is included in the pdf.
That said, I still feel like the course is very much worth taking. Even missing the references, I found myself absorbed and interested all along, which is a credit to Professor Zender and the material covered.
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