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Chris

  • 26
  • reviews
  • 81
  • helpful votes
  • 26
  • ratings
  • Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion

  • By: Bill Messenger, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Bill Messenger
  • Length: 5 hrs and 59 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 47
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 41
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 41

Jazz is a uniquely American art form, one of America's great contributions to not only musical culture, but world culture, with each generation of musicians applying new levels of creativity that take the music in unexpected directions that defy definition, category, and stagnation.

Now you can learn the basics and history of this intoxicating genre in an eight-lecture series that is as free-flowing and original as the art form itself.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • A nice introduction but needs more content

  • By Chris on 03-07-17

A nice introduction but needs more content

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-07-17

This course covers various styles of jazz as it developed from the late 19th century until the mid to late twentieth century.

Starting from ragtime, the professor discusses the development of African music into an American art form in an interesting and clearly well informed manner. I have a couple of issues with the course which is why I've given three stars but it's really more like a 3.5 star course.

Firstly, the level of detail in the theory is very uneven. In some cases we get really detailed descriptions of what to listen for in a certain style of jazz. In others, words like Dorean mode and modulation seem to get thrown in without much preface. I've done a fair amount of musical theory and in the last lecture I pretty much lost track of what was being said.

I will say that the quality definitely decreases as you move forwards. The negatives below really only apply as the course progresses.

Secondly, the professor seems to assume we already know many jazz artists names and songs going into the course. The reason I chose to listen to this course was to learn who I should listen to and what to listen out for. But we don't get much help in that regard (except in the early sessions) - he throws names around and we just have to assume they are relevant to the topic at hand but there is little introduction or narrative about who they are or how they fit in to the topic at hand.

Finally, the final lecture definitely needed to be spread out over several lectures. After covering maybe one style of jazz a lecture, we suddenly have four or five in one go and there's little chance to understand how they all relate to each other.


This course was a let down to me and I hope they do a second edition that does the topic justice. If you are really into the topic this might be worth your while, but I'm going to get a book on the history of jazz and read that instead (along with some records...).

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • The Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Rise of Nations

  • By: Andrew C. Fix, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Andrew C. Fix
  • Length: 24 hrs and 17 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 51
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 48
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 47

Between 1348 and 1715, western Europe was fraught with turmoil, beset by the Black Plague, numerous and bitter religious wars, and frequent political revolutions and upheavals. Yet the Europe that emerged from this was vastly different from the Europe that entered it. By the start of the 18th century, Europe had been revitalized and reborn in a radical break with the past that would have untold ramifications for human civilization.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Well, despite myself, I loved it

  • By David on 03-10-16

Detailed and Fascinating

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 14-11-16

This course covers (loosely) Western European history from the 14th-16th century. The central theme of the course is the reformation and the birth of protestantism and the fallout from this.

The first section of the course deals with a brief overview of the medieval period and the state the continent was in at the start of the renaissance. The renaissance lectures were like a scaled down version of the Great Courses on the Italian renaissance so I would suggest following up with that if you find it interesting. These lectures deal with humanism and are important for understanding the context of the reformation.

The main bulk of the course is the reformation. This means that some time is spent on the history of the Catholic church and the papacy, before going on to the various protestant sects that emerge around the continent. This is amazing stuff, well written and detailed without ever being dull. The descriptions of both the theology and the religious wars that follow are interesting and equally well laid out. There was no dull theology at all, all of the theology was kept simple and relevant.

A couple of times the course spends a few lectures on each of the major protestant European powers and how the reformation affected them. This was good but did not really live up to the 'birth of nations' in the title. If you want an understanding of the development of the theory of the nation state this course will leave you wanting.

The final section deals with the scientific revolution. This was a real change of pace but still fascinating and well worth knowing. It feels like it should probably have been a separate course and made longer though.

The lecturer is great, the writing is great, the content is great. Wholeheartedly recommend.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Peoples and Cultures of the World

  • By: Edward Fischer, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Edward Fischer
  • Length: 12 hrs and 8 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 27
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 21
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 21

As the “science of humanity,” anthropology can help us understand virtually anything about ourselves, from our political and economic systems, to why we get married, to how we decide to buy a particular bottle of wine. This 24-lecture course reveals the extraordinary power of anthropology - and its subspecialty, cultural anthropology - as a tool to understand the world’s varied human societies, including our own.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Interesting introduction but too diffuse

  • By Chris on 29-09-16

Interesting introduction but too diffuse

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 29-09-16

This course introduces the four main fields of anthropology - physical, cultural, linguistic and archaeological - before focussing on cultural anthropology for the majority of the lectures.

Topics covered include rites of passage, organisational structures of societies and systems of exchange (gift giving, market economies etc.). The professor takes several societies to which he returns repeatedly - some tribal like the Yanomami and some more familiar like modern Americans - and discusses them with respect to the kinds of anthropological theories that have been developed.

The first two thirds is very interesting, introducing concepts which were completely new to me and well worth learning about. Some of these were quite horrible - rituals in the rites of passage lecture stick out as being particularly disgusting - but always discussed with maturity and explained with reference to cultural models. I think there are important lessons in these lectures for anyone interested in human societies and how varied humans are.

The final third shifts focus substantially to how large societies and their economic systems impact smaller societies. I found this a bit out of nowhere, I certainly did not expect lectures on Marxist theory in an anthropology course (perhaps thats just my ignorance of the subject showing...) and I would really have preferred more lectures just on different cultures and how varied they can be. The final few lectures on how people integrate other cultures into their own just felt a bit wasted - the lecturer was more interested in telling us about how the Japanese integrate McDonalds into their culture by cutting up burgers than he was in telling us why they feel the need to cut up burgers and not eat with their hands.

It's a shame, I'm giving a three stars because I could have just stopped listening after the first two thirds and it would have been a better course. However, the first two thirds are really worth your time.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • The Industrial Revolution

  • By: Patrick N. Allitt, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Patrick N. Allitt
  • Length: 18 hrs and 11 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 70
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 64
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 64

From electric lights to automobiles to the appliances that make our lives easier at work and at home, we owe so much of our world to the Industrial Revolution. In this course, The Great Courses partners with the Smithsonian - one of the world's most storied and exceptional educational institutions - to examine the extraordinary events of this period and uncover the far-reaching impact of this incredible revolution.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • really enjoyed this, though I want expecting to!

  • By Olly Buxton on 11-12-16

Fascinating and detailed account

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-07-16

This course covers nearly two hundred years of development in technology, society and living standards. With such a huge topic I was expecting to either get not enough detail, or too much concentration on minor topics. I was wrong on both accounts.

The lecturer manages to find the perfect balance between the technical achievements themselves and their impact on people's lives. Starting with agriculture, the prof. discusses how small improvements in farming techniques and tools led to huge increases in productivity.

These ideas of tool making soon were turned on other areas, such as textile manufacturing. The course really takes off when the discussion turns to transport. The impact of first the canals and soon after the railways on life in Britain is astounding. The lecturer paints the picture vividly of how different life became in the wake of these achievements.

The course also covers industrial progress in the USA which I knew nothing about and was very interested about. Automobiles and planes both get their own lectures, and are extremely interesting topics.

My favourite parts of the course were when the lecturer discussed worker's rights and the impacts on the environment of the revolution. It is an amazing history that everyone should know about as it is so relevant to us. From working hours to weekends, everything was forged by a long battle against some pretty horrible bosses in factories. The lecturer really manages to bring this alive.

Overall I would say this course is fantastic and definitely worth a listen. What could have been a dry topic is covered in a very interesting and enthralling way.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • SPQR

  • A History of Ancient Rome
  • By: Mary Beard
  • Narrated by: Phyllida Nash
  • Length: 18 hrs and 30 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,534
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,388
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,370

Ancient Rome matters. Its history of empire, conquest, cruelty and excess is something against which we still judge ourselves. Its myths and stories - from Romulus and Remus to the rape of Lucretia - still strike a chord with us. And its debates about citizenship, security and the rights of the individual still influence our own debates on civil liberty today. SPQR is a new look at Roman history from one of the world's foremost classicists.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Interesting and erudite

  • By Mr. D on 01-12-15

A bit dry and academic, but interesting

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
2 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 23-06-16

I picked this up because I know Mary Beard has a good reputation for her work on TV, and I have an interest in Roman history. This book is something of an oddity in terms of history, it does not really follow chronologically through the Roman empire but rather drops in on bits of the history deemed interesting.

My first criticism is that much of the sexier stuff is left out. If you are already knowledgeable about Roman history, you will notice lots of stories that have been ignored, and those that are discussed are usually only brought up to disprove. Mary Beard is a historian, and this book is written from that perspective. She is far more interested in explaining Roman financial systems and the evidence used to deduce its structure than telling you about evil mother-in-laws with imperial ambitions. This is subjective but I enjoy the tall tales, even if you make it clear they are probably not true.

My second criticism is that the narrator does not do the writing justice. Her voice does not convey enough emotion to draw you in and I found myself wishing for just a bit more vim.

The topics covered are very interesting. For example, the experience of women at different times in the empire, what the life of the poor citizen would have been like and so on. I would definitely recommend this to someone who already has a good knowledge of Roman history, and for example could name 5 emperors without any effort. Otherwise, go elsewhere first and come back if you are still interested.

  • Future Crimes

  • A Journey to the Dark Side of Technology - and How to Survive It
  • By: Marc Goodman
  • Narrated by: Marc Goodman, Robertson Dean
  • Length: 20 hrs and 8 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 198
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 178
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 175

The New York Times best seller. Technological advances have benefited our world in immeasurable ways, but there is an ominous flipside. Criminals are often the earliest and most innovative adopters of technology, and modern times have led to modern crimes. Today's criminals are stealing identities, draining online bank accounts, and wiping out computer servers.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Thought provoking

  • By John Thurman on 24-08-15

Fascinating and often disturbing

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-05-16

This book is an in depth look at the current state of cyber-security and technological crime more generally, followed by a view into the future of these topics. The author is an (ex?) police officer who is clearly an expert on the topic and has thoroughly researched the material - very little cybercrime related topics remain untouched.

The first half (ish) of the book is taken up with what the state of the art is. This is terrifying and sometimes depressing as the author reels off vulnerability after vulnerability, crime after crime and (in many ways worse) violations by companies and states of people's privacy. I have to say that if you are interested in this topic you will probably know a fair amount of this already, but to have it collected in one place is great and also it's only once you hear it all together that you realise the scale of the challenge facing us.

The second half of the book is the "Future" from the title. Starting with the implications of the Internet of Things, and then moving as far afield as synthetic biology, the author starts to look at what these technologies will do to crime moving forward. This section was interesting for sure, but given that it is essentially futurology a lot of it came off as just science fiction. Of course, how could anyone know? Either way, I was left very much hopeful that people in the right positions of power are paying attention because there is some seriously scary stuff around the corner!

Thoroughly enjoyable, very nasty to contemplate some of it but has left me satisfied for sure.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • A History of Eastern Europe

  • By: Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius
  • Length: 12 hrs and 4 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 115
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 104
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 102

Eastern Europe has long been thought of as the "Other Europe", a region rife with political upheaval, shifting national borders, an astonishing variety of ethnic diversity, and relative isolation from the centers of power in the West. It has also been, and continues to be, pivotal in the course of world events. A History of Eastern Europe offers a sweeping 1,000-year tour with a particular focus on the region's modern history.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Insight into an often overlooked part of the world

  • By Thomas on 20-11-15

Interesting and well written, but lacking

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-03-16

This course covers a millennium (ish) of Eastern European history. Given the wide spread of both time and geography this includes, it's unsurprising how quickly the pace moves and how little details can be covered.

Some of the most interesting lectures were ones in which the prof. discussed the emergence of the stereotype of eastern Europe, and how this propaganda was spread and used by great powers to carve up the nations involved.

Unfortunately, I think this course fails in one striking way. In trying to show how Eastern Europe has been maligned as just a sideshow to the great power battles over and around it, the course spends a lot of time discussing the world wars and the soviet times. Of course, these are hugely important periods in the development of all the Eastern European nations, but the course covers only the relatively well known bits of history and I think people wanting to learn about Eastern Europe will not be wanting a rehash of Stalinism and the cold war.

I think this course would be better served with being split up and different areas of eastern Europe being discussed on their own. It is clear that Polish (and Lithuanian) history alone deserves a 24 lecture course. You can feel yourself being rushed passed a lot of interesting history - I think the fall of Yugoslavia is covered in about fifteen minutes!

Nevertheless, this course deserves a listen and is very well written. The lecturer is engaging and the content is interesting. I would recommend to those who know nothing about the subject, but otherwise go elsewhere.

  • Understanding Japan

  • A Cultural History
  • By: Mark J. Ravina, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Mark J. Ravina
  • Length: 12 hrs
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 185
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 171
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 168

In an exciting partnership with the Smithsonian, The Great Courses presents these 24 lectures that offer an unforgettable tour of Japanese life and culture. Professor Ravina, with the expert collaboration of the Smithsonian's historians, brings you a grand portrait of Japan.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Fascinating Introduction, Well Worth It

  • By Chris on 26-10-15

Fascinating Introduction, Well Worth It

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 26-10-15

This course covers Japanese culture and history for the past 1500 (ish) years. It is very different to the other Great Courses history courses in that it mixes historical lectures with those about Japanese culture. I hope they do many more in this format as it is gives a very good overview of the country, without getting bogged down in too many details.

The two themes of the course are globalisation and isolation, and how these have combined to create Japan's unique culture, cuisine and history. The history lectures will sometimes cover up to 200 years in one lecture, so if you want detailed accounts of major events you should go elsewhere. I found the history very approachable and interesting, and I will certainly be following up with other lecture courses to fill in the gaps.

As for the culture lectures these are interspersed throughout the history lectures so that when they occur you have the full historical context needed in order to understand the importance and relevance of the cultural movements. The topics covered include Shintoism, Buddhism, theatre, poetry and family life. All of these are introduced and discussed in historical context and with a discussion of how they impacted the culture.

My favourite of these culture lectures was certainly that on cinema, specifically on the work of Ozu and Kurosawa. This meshed very well with the themes of globalisation and isolation as these two film makers exemplify these contrasting aspects of Japanese culture.


I wholeheartedly recommend this course and hope they extend the format to other countries!

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • The Fall and Rise of China

  • By: Richard Baum, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Richard Baum
  • Length: 24 hrs and 8 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 169
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 150
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 149

For most of its 5,000-year existence, China has been the largest, most populous, wealthiest, and mightiest nation on Earth. And for us as Westerners, it is essential to understand where China has been in order to anticipate its future. These 36 eye-opening lectures deliver a comprehensive political and historical overview of one of the most fascinating and complex countries in world history.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Fascinating but speedy look at a century of China

  • By Chris on 03-10-15

Fascinating but speedy look at a century of China

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-10-15

Starting in the middle of the 19th Century and finishing in about 2009, this course covers a great deal of history in a relatively short number of hours.

The first third or so of the course deals with the decline and collapse of imperial China, and the civil wars that followed - the founding of the People's Republic and the Republic and the battle for control of mainland China.

Then the story picks up Mao, his rise to power and his eventual domination of the Communist Party in China. The course goes into great detail about Mao's policies and the heartbreaking and horrific effects they sometimes had. The second third of the course centres on Mao and on important events like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution which is absolutely fascinating.

The last piece of the course covers Deng Xiaoping reforms and how China has radically changed since Mao's death. This is the most relevant to understanding modern China and I learnt a great deal from it.

The lecturer is clearly one of the most knowledgable people on the subject in the world, and googling his name confirms this. His lecture style is rather more like telling a story than explaining history, and this does tend towards slight oversimplifications that are not necessarily obvious to a lay audience (like me). However, I believe this course examines the topics in an unbiased and informed way and deserves praise for it.

The one downside to this course is that the lecturer is clearly more interested in the communist history than the imperial history, and so the first third feels extremely rushed. I think the course would've worked better split into two, and giving the fall of imperial China the time it deserves.

Otherwise, this is a fantastic course, and well worth listening to for anyone who isn't already an expert on modern Chinese history.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Great Ideas of Classical Physics

  • By: Steven Pollock, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Steven Pollock
  • Length: 12 hrs and 14 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 40
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 38
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 38

Classical physics is about how things move, why they move, and how they work. It's about making sense of motion, gravity, light, heat, sound, electricity, and magnetism, and seeing how these phenomena interweave to create the rich tapestry of everyday experience. It is, in short, the hidden order of the universe.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Fascinating Overview of 300 years of Physics

  • By Chris on 20-09-15

Fascinating Overview of 300 years of Physics

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 20-09-15

This course covers about 250 years of physical theory and experiments, starting from Newtonian mechanics and ending with the beginnings of the quantum and relativistic revolutions. It does so in an engaging and insightful way, without concentrating too much on the mathematics, rather looking at simple everyday examples and easy to understand experiments.

The lecturer is clearly very talented at bringing complex ideas down to a level understandable by the non-scientist and he has chosen some of the most interesting scientific ideas to discuss.

I learned a great deal from this course, and the stuff I knew before was definitely getting rusty. My favourite bit was certainly the explanation of Maxwell's equations, and the connection between electromagnetism and light.

This course is extremely enjoyable and I thoroughly recommend it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful