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The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World

Narrated by: Robert Garland
Length: 24 hrs and 28 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (364 ratings)

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Editor reviews

Captivating and informative, The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World is narrated by Professor Robert Garland in association with The Great Courses. This book gives an entirely original perspective on history, told through the eyes of the ordinary citizen living in the vast and influential ancient empires that once ruled. Professor Garland narrates these historical audiobook lectures vividly. He brings to life the finer and fascinating details of ordinary life for the ordinary person during this time. In order to understand cultures and behaviours in today’s societies, knowledge of those from the past is essential. Available now from Audible.

Summary

Look beyond the abstract dates and figures, kings and queens, and battles and wars that make up so many historical accounts. Over the course of 48 richly detailed lectures, Professor Garland covers the breadth and depth of human history from the perspective of the so-called ordinary people, from its earliest beginnings through the Middle Ages.

The past truly comes alive as you take a series of imaginative leaps into the world of history's anonymous citizens, people such as a Greek soldier marching into battle in the front row of a phalanx; an Egyptian woman putting on makeup before attending an evening party with her husband; a Greek citizen relaxing at a drinking party with the likes of Socrates; a Roman slave captured in war and sent to work in the mines; and a Celtic monk scurrying away with the Book of Kells during a Viking invasion.

Put yourself in the sandals of ordinary people and discover what it was like to be among history's 99%. What did these everyday people do for a living? What was their home like? What did they eat? What did they wear? What did they do to relax? What were their beliefs about marriage? Religion? The afterlife?

This extraordinary journey takes you across space and time in an effort to be another person - someone with whom you might not think you have anything at all in common - and come away with an incredible sense of interconnectedness. You'll see the range of possibilities of what it means to be human, making this a journey very much worth taking.

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

©2012 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2012 The Great Courses

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  • JL
  • United Kingdom
  • 09-10-13

Nearest thing to time travel available

Would you consider the audio edition of The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World to be better than the print version?

Superb, loved his Greece and Rome, bought this and couldn't get enough. A natural story teller just brings the lives of ordinary people to life. Just relax and let Professor Robert Garland read the narrative to you. Got to be even better than reading it for yourself.

What did you like best about this story?

Ancient Rome

Which character – as performed by Professor Robert Garland – was your favourite?

The leader of the Roman bandits which he did with an east end accent like Fagan from Oliver Twist or an English pirate.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Infant mortality in the ancient and medieval world 25-30%. Starvation of the children left behind after their family were wiped out by the plague and having to beg in the streets. Throwing ones relative onto a passing plague cart from an upstairs window which for a deeply religious people must have been terrible, but they had no choice.

Any additional comments?

At 53 years of age I want to go to university and study history under Professor Garland. Along with the Time Travellers Guide to Medieval England and the Time Travellers Guide to Tudor England by Ian Mortimer this is a must for those that wish to learn about history from the viewpoint of ordinary people. Works such as these have taken a long time to appear, but now they they have I hope there is more to come.

17 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • richard
  • IPSWICH, United Kingdom
  • 07-10-13

A great Listen. plenty of it. Slight repetition.

Entertaining and informative. Well presented by the prof. who sounds a bit of a stereotype, but his enthusiasm is evident and his empathy for ancient lives is clear.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Well worth the listening

What did you like most about The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World?

It informed about ordinary people through many cultures.

What about Professor Robert Garland’s performance did you like?

Very well researched and read. Obviously interested in his subject and puts it across in an interesting and accessible way.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Excellent empathic history

Excellent narration with extraordinary breadth of research and insight into the other side of historical life across the classical and medieval periods. Wonderful example of empathic social history done with wit, intelligent charm and compassion.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • JOHN
  • County Cork, Ireland
  • 01-02-14

Brilliant Trip Back In Time

This was one of the best audiobooks I've purchased. The 48 30-minute lectures give a fascinating glimpse of what life was like for ordinary people in ancient and medieval times. The lectures are informed by a wealth of learning but are never stuffy or dry. On the contrary, they are very well written and are delivered in an excellent speaking voice by Professor Garland who brings the people "on the other side of history" brilliantly to life. Another reviewer has said that they are the nearest we'll get to a a trip by time-machine and that captures the essence of the lectures: as Prof Garland speaks we are back there with those ordinary people, sharing their hopes and fears and marveling how they coped without basic things we take for granted - medicine that is effective, spectacles to correct our vision, and so forth. Highly recommended.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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like stepping back in time....

very good but doesn't half go on a bit... all good though, just like stepping back in time ;-)

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Fairly superficial skim through (western) history

This starts off discussing daily life in the ancient world - although limited to the 'standard' civilisations traditionally covered in a western centered, English-speaking curriculum - ie Egypt, Greece, Rome, with only the briefest of mentions of any other civilisations.
I'd say if you have very little knowledge of these societies then you should find plenty here to interest you. But if you have already read any basic introductions then there will be little new here.
Unfortunately after finishing with Rome he then moves on to a very fast skim through Roman Britain, Anglo Saxon England, Vikings, Norman England and then 14th Century England. Most of this could hardly be considered 'ancient' history, and indeed it's such a rapid overview that there's really no insight into daily life either. I became pretty annoyed by the end at how western- centric, Anglo-centric it all became - having purchased a course on the ancient world, I found myself listening to the Audible equivalent of an Usborne book of English history.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Interesting

Conveniently, the 30 min lectures were just as long as my commute, and each commute is that much better when you are encouraged to image you're a Roman soldier or a medieval knight.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Interesting if a bit anglocentric

I found the course much more interesting at the start. The more modern the more we seemed restricted to England and my interest disappeared.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A Captivating Journey!

It was an adventure to be sure and one that has kindled a new desire to know more about history, society and the human condition.

The narrator is easy to listen to becuase he loves his job which brings you into the story without much struggle.

I managed to listen all the way through doing a bit every day and highly recommend. I'll certainly resist a lecture or two.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark
  • 21-08-13

Tantalizing time trip

This lecture series spans 24 hours of listening time, covering thousands of years of human history and prehistory. Although it is a lecture series, it isn’t at all stuffy or boring. In fact it is an enthralling, gripping and moving story of how our ancestors used to live their daily lives. The author focuses on what he calls the ‘other side’ of history, looking at the way ordinary people, rather than the ruling classes, lived their lives. He paints vivid pictures of the daily challenges facing early humans, Neanderthals, hunter-gatherers, the first farmers, the first citizens of Mesopotamia, the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. He then moves to Britain to describe the Roman occupation, and the Anglo-Saxon period, finishing with the Norman invasion and the mediaeval era.

Themes that arise and recur many times across this immense span of history and prehistory include: the prevalence of slavery; the low social status of women and the hazardous nature of childbirth; the ever-present threat of violent death and appalling injury; short life expectancy; the constant discomfort caused by lice, worms, tooth decay, arthritis and gastroenteritis, and the smell of bad breath, body odour and faeces which would have filled the air in most of these societies most of the time. The immense power of religion was another force controlling the lives our ancestors to a depressing extent.

For each period of history the narrator focuses on a few different roles within the society in question. For example, in the Roman period you would learn what it was like to go into battle as a legionary, or to be a criminal facing the hideous ordeal of crucifixion, or an elderly man who can’t afford to retire and must work until he drops, living on the top floor of a rickety high rise Roman apartment block, with no sanitation and the constant risk of being burned alive in a fire.

I was never bored for a moment as the narrator transported me back through history and into the shoes, or sandals, of my ancestors. I wholeheartedly recommend this talking book.

281 of 290 people found this review helpful

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  • Em
  • 13-05-17

A lot of inaccurate info in here

Had I not just listened to the fantastic set of lectures by John Hawks (The Rise of Humans: Great Scientific Debates) which was so fascinating it had me reading the original research papers and some anthro textbooks, then I probably wouldn't have realized what HUGE liberties Robert Garland takes with the facts in the early chapters of this book.

For instance he tells us that scientists believe the famous partial skeleton Lucy is female only because she's short. He talks emotionally about how the ancient Laetoli footprints were made by a male walking with his arm placed protectively around a female and thus represent the earliest proof of pair bonding. He says the withered arm found on a distant human ancestor was proof that those hominids felt love for each other. He dismisses decades of DNA analysis of Neanderthals and the Human Genome Project by saying it's probably not right. But none of those stories is even close to being scientifically accurate, and in one case the 'scientist' Garland cites as the originator of the information is not a scientist at all, but travel writer Bill Bryson.

To hear decades of scientific research twisted into something completely inaccurate because it made for a better story really made me uneasy and untrusting of this man's categorical statements. So as the book went on I kept fact checking him and yep, time and time again he sacrificed accuracy for showmanship. He tells a good yarn, it's just not always true. Early human ancestry is clearly not his specialty era. I know he's a specialist in greek and roman history so I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt in those areas, but there is no excuse for what I've heard so far - this is meant to be an educational lecture, given by someone who has taken the time to research the facts and create an interesting narrative around them, not historical fiction with liberties taken to make a smoother story.

Also he's got a hefty speech impediment that occasionally disappears for a word and then comes back. If it was consistent my brain would have tuned it out after a short while, but it comes and goes and so it was hard to filter out as I waited to see what his next S would sound like. And the way he emphasizes minor words was also distracting. I kept getting the impression he was putting on a show, playing with projecting his voice, emphasizing words for creative effect, rather than really trying to communicate. The entire thing was weirdly performance based, from the loose treatment of scientific fact to the audio, and really doesn't belong in the 'lecture/education' category.

271 of 282 people found this review helpful

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  • tony mancill
  • 28-02-15

Uneven and often annoying

It may be a matter of mismatched expectations and presentation, but this course ranks near the of the 60+ Great Courses I have purchased over the years. Much of the material is presented in the 2nd person, which I understand is for effect, but it didn't work at all for me. Professor Garland frequently tells "us" how we feel about the things that have happened to us, often using a mixture of sentimentality and deadpan sarcasm that I found confusing and distracting. Frequently these quips attempted to be critical of bias, but often fell flat and seemed to further illuminate the inherent bias in the course. Furthermore, he doesn't miss an opportunity to interject first-person stories about his own experiences and feelings, which could be awkward and were largely or completely irrelevant.

But if I had to pick a single criticism, it would be that so much of the material is unsubstantiated during the presentation. Even if it is based on historical fact, I found myself constantly questioning whether the author might have simply invented a narrative to bridge gaps in the archeological record. Some of the "substantiated" references are to myths and legends, but without noting that these stories may well be hyperbole and/or symbolic in nature. On what basis should we interpret them as facts that reflection the nature of daily life? A far better treatment of this sort of source material is found in Professor Kenneth W. Harl's course "The Vikings." That course together with Dorsey Armstrong's "The Medieval World" were much more informative and authoritative for the periods and populations they cover.

So, your mileage may vary, but I found this to be perhaps the least enjoyable set of lectures from the Great Courses in my library. It seemed more like historical fiction than history.

20 of 20 people found this review helpful

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  • Beth Case
  • 23-07-13

History of the everyday person

What made the experience of listening to The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World the most enjoyable?

He really brings to life the experiences of the everyday person in history, not just the rich or famous or influential.

What other book might you compare The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World to and why?

I haven't read or listened to anything that compares to this.

What about Professor Robert Garland’s performance did you like?

He is entertaining, not dull or monotone.

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

Average Joe Throughout History

64 of 67 people found this review helpful

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  • Stephen
  • 29-08-13

The long view of Western history

The serious student of Western history will probably not learn anything terribly revealing from this course, but it provides an excellent context and perspective on the subject. The focus is on daily life of common people, though it provides an overall survey of life among the wealthy as well, in order to fill out the picture.

The lectures are clearly understandable in terms of the material presented and the performance is magnificent. Professor Garland speaks with real passion and emotion that helps one develop a clear image of the message. Most importantly, Professor Garland's analysis is conducted in the context of the times, rather than the context of some modern ideology.

It was a joy to listen to.

23 of 24 people found this review helpful

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  • Candace
  • 01-08-13

Just what I was looking for

Would you listen to The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World again? Why?

Yes, It's a great chronological history and would be great to reference again and again.

What did you like best about this story?

I loved that it gives the human aspect of history. It puts a face to history that is not usually done and enable's you to swim through it. You can imagine what it must have really been like to be a housewife in ancient Egypt or a soldier in the roman army.

Which character – as performed by Professor Robert Garland – was your favorite?

He didn't do any character voices. He's definitely a professor. His tone is quite matter of fact but not boring. He does interject some humor and make it relatable. I felt like I was in a very relaxed lecture hall.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

It's too lengthy and you wouldn't be able to absorb it all in one sitting.

Any additional comments?

I love that audible is offering these courses. I can't wait to try another one when I am finished with this one.

31 of 33 people found this review helpful

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  • Jacobus
  • 28-05-14

Climb through the ‘looking-glass’

Focussing on Everyman throughout history, Dr. Robert Garland, Roy D. and Margaret B. Wooster Professor of the Classics at Colgate University, USA, attempts to put you, the listener, in the everyday sandals of different people of the Ancient World. Cladding the listener with the respective identities of a Palaeolithic human (1 lecture), a Mesopotamian (1 lecture), an Egyptian (4 lectures), a Greek (11 lectures), a Roman (11 lectures), the different ancestors of the British (4 lectures) and that of a Medieval person (7 lectures), he confronts you with the lives of ordinary humans. This is probably the reason why the material presented is so interesting.

The comparisons with our own day and age makes it fascinating. Dr. Garland is a tour guide that takes you through the proverbial looking-glass to show you the other side of history. This metaphor he uses in various way throughout the course hence he is able to bind 48 30 minute lectures together in a whole. I admire the way he carefully compiled and structured the course. He kept me with him even though I am not British or American. (I was acutely aware of his Western bias during the course. It is probably also the reason for its popularity.)

Throughout the lectures, Dr. Garland was engaging. I didn’t count any ‘uhm’ or ‘ah.’ The course is highly polished and tremendously informative. So if you are interested in history or just everyday life, recline at this table the cuisine is ready to be enjoyed.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Becky Popenoe
  • 13-02-14

Erudition, Elegance, Entertainment

Other than about five merely 4-star minutes on what medieval knights wore in one of the later lectures, I can find little to fault with this Great Course. Robert Garland makes the past come alive in colorful, carefully chosen, elegant prose. One shouldn't let oneself be fooled by a posh British accent, but let's face it - it doesn't hurt. Nor does Garland's dry humor. He describes the ancient Egyptians, for example, as wearing a lot of "bling", and notes that while the Norman invasion brought to the English language words for cooked cow and pig, i.e. "beef" and "pork", the frenchified Norsemen neglected to teach the Brits how to cook and left them to eat appalling food for another thousand years.

Surrounding these lighter moments is endlessly fascinating information about how people lived, such as that Rome was full of five-story apartment buildings. Who knew? And that the ancient Egyptians were such a conservative society that only experts can tell the age of paintings they made 500 years apart -- so little did their art change over time. I also came away with a rather different impression of Ancient Greece than I went into the course with, thanks to Garland's detailed descriptions of the separation of the sexes and the way slavery worked. In many ways Ancient Greece reminded me more, in the end, of the Arab world where I have lived, than of modern Western democracies.

Some might bristle a bit at the slight academic leftist bent to some of the lectures, with their focus on the poor, the slaves, women, the everyman. This is, however, the point of the course, after all, and once you get past the occasional sense that someone's been hanging out a bit too long with the sociology department the information conveyed is all fascinating, not least the nuanced descriptions of how slavery worked in the ancient world (also reminiscent of how slavery still works in remote areas of the Sahel and Maghreb).

One insight I found provocative was that there was what Garland calls a lack of a social conscience in the ancient world. It occurred to no one, apparently, that slavery was in any way wrong, or that the sexes or even all men were deserving of equal rights. Given the many modern-seeming sentiments -- about love, virtue, self-discipline, ambition, etc.-- that Garland describes among the ancients, it's surprising that none of the many great thinkers of these early civilizations came up with at least the idea that no kinds of humans were, deep down, better than any others, or deserving of the status of chattel. (Of course then Jesus came along and had these ideas to some extent, and he was a product of that world.)

Another thing I liked about this course was that just when you were thinking, "Really? How can we know that?" about one or another factoid, Garland would explain the source of the information, without every burdening the lecture with too much referencing. And again, just when you would start thinking, "Really? Did they really say that or think that? Am I supposed to just take your word for it?" he would pull out the perfect quotation from an ancient source, giving credence yet again to the sense he delivers so elegantly throughout, that these people really were not so different, in the end, from ourselves.

96 of 105 people found this review helpful

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  • Doug
  • 23-01-14

All Hail To The Ninety and Nine

What did you love best about The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World?

A fascinating affirmation of familiar life down through the ages.

Who was your favorite character and why?

The breadth of this work is so wide as to make it difficult to pick just one favorite character, but the story of an Egyptian couple going out on the town sticks in my mind.

Have you listened to any of Professor Robert Garland’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

While I have not listened to other works by Professor Garland, I can say that it is delightful to hear his voice, his presence in the topics he addresses that goes beyond tonal quality, replete with a sense of humor one might imagine he was in a mode of self-entertainment while assembling much of his material.

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

"So you think you have it rough?!"

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Sheri
  • 17-09-13

Entertaining and Facinating

What did you love best about The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World?

This book will take you into the lives of common people. Professor Garland is down to earth and well spoken and adds a touch of humor. I loved this. My all time favorite audio book.

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

Yes....both. And I am so very grateful to live in this era. Our ancestors had it very tough.

Any additional comments?

You will find many of your own beliefs and customs are rooted a long way back in history. I highly recommend this book even if you are not a history buff.

27 of 30 people found this review helpful