What I learned in 2017 from The Teaching Company’s Great Courses

As I’ve said before, I have a 22-40 minute morning commute to work (the longer time often due to absolutely no reason at all except … drivers.)gettyimages-55743523_1472835076262_5913880_ver1-0

I used to listen to NPR, then classical music, but after stepping up my audio learning in 2016, last year I continued listening to lectures from The Teaching Company. Quite a few of them, as it has turned out:


I started  Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Literature’s Most Fantastic Works in 2016, finishing it in January. Prof. Eric Rabkin’s survey is extensive. I really had no idea how Freudian Grimms’ et al fairy tales were/are. Fantasy literature is deeper than many think.

ancient egyptThe History of Ancient Egypt (Prof. Bob Brier) is a loooong series (48 lectures), but then, the Egyptian history was quite long. Every pharaoh, kingdom, intermediate period is here, plus a few bonus lectures on subjects such as mummification. Thoroughly fascinating.

I tried History of Ancient Rome right after Egypt, but as it was also 48 lectures I decided to set it aside for a later date (after two lectures). Typing now makes me think I’ll put it back on the short list soon.

I gave up on art of debateThe Art of Debate – Prof. Jarrod Atchison after five lectures. Turns out I have little interest in formal debate… as in Harvard vs. Yale with rules and formats and a host of other nuances.

As with many niche interests, it is a little weird to the outsiders – but oh so engaging to the enthusiasts! I, however, am not an enthusiast and I very much doubt I’ll come back to that one.

theory of evolutionThe Theory of Evolution – A History of Controversy – Prof. Edward Larson. There was not much new material here for me; just minutia about the history of the controversies in the 19th and 20th centuries. Still, the series had a lot of information for those who have not made a study of evolution, and is a good refresher for those who have.

How Jesus Became GodI’d read Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God, and thought it excellent as he is a true historian (who actually reads the ancient languages of the texts which no longer survive) who cited his research and conclusions extensively. When I heard about the Great Courses lectures, I decided to listen to his series on the subject. Recommended for anyone interested, and more for those who don’t want to read his text.

For my professional engineer license renewal each year I have to have one hour of continuing education devoted to ethics. Last year, I listened to six hours of the late Prof. Edward Beiser’s 1994 Ethics and Public Policy. Despite the potential for excessively dry material, the lectures were fun, if dated, but he was quite the card.

IslamJudaismHaving already listened to the lectures on Hinduism and Buddhism, I continued my survey of The Great Courses Great World Religions with Islam – Prof. John Esposito, and Judaism – Prof. Isaiah Gafni (the next two lectures in between them, though.)

The Islam lecture focused less on the history and more on the modern impacts (largely political), whereas the Judaism lectures examined history, culture, evolving branches of the religion. Someday I’ll check out the Christianity series to see if it has anything I don’t already know, but not just yet…I have too many others I want to get to.

Prof. J. Dennis Huston’s Detective Fiction : The Killer, the Detective, and Their World is another older, no longer available – not even listed in their catalog- offering (from 1993), and I found it quite intriguing. Huston exposed me to elements of a genre I tend to not read. In addition to a survey of the genre as a whole, he talked specifically about several classics – taught, I guess, in many university courses as… well…classics – that I mentally marked to tackle someday. But didn’t. (Hammett, Christie, Chandler, etc.) Still, I listened to another series later in the year on a broader covering, which did prompt me to read at least one Christie…more on that later.

Argumentation - the Study of Effective ReasoningI started Prof. Davis Zarefsky’s Argumentation – the Study of Effective Reasoning but set it aside to be picked up later (I hope) because I lost interest in the early lectures on rhetoric. I find I have little patience for formal logic and argument, though I eat up critical thinking.

How You Decide…which is why I switched to How You Decide: The Science of Human Decision Making – Prof. Ryan Hamilton, and then Tools of ThinkingTools of Thinking: Understanding the World Through Experience and Reason – Prof. James Hall.

How You Decide looks at both the physiological and mental aspects of decision making and was highly engaging. Tools of Thinking delved more into that less-than-optimal-interest-for-me formal logic, but not as pedantic as Argumentation was, so I worked through it. Both were a good close out for 2017.

…except…I started another in late December… the teaser? The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction. I took a break and didn’t finish those 36 lectures until the end of January, so that will be on next year’s recap!

Never stop learning, folks. Never stop.

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