I suppose a topic as large as The History of the English Language is too large to thoroughly cover in a mere twelve hours for this The Great Courses tI suppose a topic as large as The History of the English Language is too large to thoroughly cover in a mere twelve hours for this The Great Courses title left me somewhat disappointed, most likely because I could not help but compare it to Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English miniseries I saw on The History Channel years ago. Unfortunately Dr. Seth Lerer is no Melvyn Bragg and The Great Courses is not the BBC.
The course is broken into three main parts, the roots of English and Old English, Middle English and Modern English, and finally American English and the modern study of linguistics. My main disappointments were with the first and last sections.
In the first section Dr. Lerer goes over the Indo-european roots of English and spends a couple of lectures playing word games to show how one could find words with Indo-european only this or that letter is different. In my opinion he spent far too much time giving examples and far to little explanation as to how we know this. The whole set of rules and examples he give are almost presented as axioms and little beyond “because I told you so” is provided for explanation.
Similarly the last section with the discussion on linguistics is light on explanation and comes across like the executive summary from a “For Dummies” book.
The entire course would have benefited from less exposure to these ideas and more exposure to where words and other ideas entered the English language during colonialism. This is the one major area where the TV documentary excels over these courses.
The middle section of the course provides an excellent summary of the major events in English such as the first poem, the tri-lingual state of post Norman England, regional dialects, the great vowel shift, Chaucer and Shakespeare, and American English with particular attention paid to the development and growth of African-American patterns of speech. Throughout the course he focuses primarily on literature mentioning authors such as Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milkin, Twain, Melville, Frederick Douglass, and Salman Rushdie.
Completely missing from the course is any discussion on the impacts to the language of radio, television, and only a very cursory discussion of how English is something like a lingua franca for diplomacy, trade, and aviation limiting his discussion primarily to India.
Unlike many of the lecturers from other The Great Courses lecture series I’ve listened to Lerer’s presentation is slow, flat, and somewhat boring, event when sped up by 30%.
Despite its many flaws, I highly recommend this course for anyone interested in the English language. And if you get a chance, find the BBC documentary mentioned above to fill in the gaps. ...more
I have listened to many The Great Courses over the years and I have always been impressed with their quality and how the topic is covered in depth. OnI have listened to many The Great Courses over the years and I have always been impressed with their quality and how the topic is covered in depth. One thing that many of these professors manage to achieve is to generate a narrative framework upon which their lectures hang, even for topics such as Particle Physics or Great Ideas of Philosophy. Unfortunately, this course focuses primarily on the causes, impacts, and results of the war without giving a chronological outline of the major events of the war. Major battles are mentioned but placing those battles in some sort of timeline is absent or at best not the primary focus.
Dr. Liulevicius’s presentation and lecturing style is very good and up to the high standards one can expect from The Great Courses.
I recommend this course for anyone who wants to know a bit more about WWI’s context and impacts but look elsewhere if you want a narrative of the war along the lines of Tuchman’s excellent The Guns of August.
An excellent companion to this course is the Imperial War Museum’s Voices of the First World War podcast....more
After reading The Guns of August I had very high expectations for The March of Folly. My expectations were perhaps too high as this book left me wantiAfter reading The Guns of August I had very high expectations for The March of Folly. My expectations were perhaps too high as this book left me wanting more. Unlike The Guns of August which takes a narrative form The March of Folly reads more like a thesis with carefully selected evidence presented to support it. While I found her arguments well reasoned I could not shake the feeling that much of the evidence was carefully selected to prove her points while counter evidence was left out.
The March of Folly is an attempt to create a precise definition of “folly” in rulership and the consequences of that folly. In short, “folly” as defined by Tuchman is the pursuit by rulers towards aims that are counter to their best interest. However she places on this relatively simple definition a series of qualifiers and exemptions as to muddy the waters. For example, she exempts solitary autocratic rulers from folly because she wants the term to mainly apply to systemic problems of rulership. As another example, it can only be folly if another reasonable alternative choice is available yet the counter productive choice is made.
To make her argument, Tuchman presents four case studies from widely disparate eras of history: The Trojan’s bringing the horse into the city, the reins of the late 15th to early 16th century popes that resulted in the Protestant reformation, the British actions that lead to the American Revolution, and the U. S. politics and policies that resulted in the Vietnam War. Additional examples are referenced throughout the book as well. In each of these case studies she presents a narrative that highlights the folly, as she defines it, and ultimately blames the resultant calamity solely on the folly. If only those Trojans had listened to Laocoon the city would not have fallen. If only the popes had agreed to reform the Church and cut back on their excesses the Protestant split would not have occurred. If only the British had refrained from wooden headed pursuit of policies that could only drive the colonists to revolution. If only the American presidents and their staff had listened to advisors who from the beginning questioned the importance of Vietnam and our ability to win there.
As Tuchman proceeds through the case studies, the arguments regarding the nature of the folly and its consequences become more nuanced and complicated which leads me to conclude that, similar to how The Guns of August was an excuse to write the story of the Goeben, the Vietnam case study is the real purpose of the book. It is this section where the case for folly, though clearly presented, is much more complicated and relies heavily on the examples from the previous sections. It is this section as well where her sometimes acerbic style devolves into outright name calling, at one point calling Strom Thurmond a “neanderthal.” For me, this growing trend in the book towards name calling took away from her argument rather than added to it. ...more
I just couldn't get into it. The book is funny enough but I could not get a feel for any of the characters. I found myself counting down the pages toI just couldn't get into it. The book is funny enough but I could not get a feel for any of the characters. I found myself counting down the pages to the end....more
A fascinating book that misses out on some opportunities. 1177 B.C. is an argument in book form as to the cause of the fall of the interconnected civiA fascinating book that misses out on some opportunities. 1177 B.C. is an argument in book form as to the cause of the fall of the interconnected civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Late Bronze Age. The bulk of the book presents the archaeological and historical evidence for economic and social interconnections of the civilizations of that time including the Egyptians, Hittites, Minoans, Mycenaeans, Babylonians, etc. Once the author establishes the high degree of interconnections he presents the evidence that most of these civilizations, kingdoms, and empires collapsed. Next the author presents several theories about the cause of the collapse, some natural like climate change, and others man made like the invasion of the mysterious Sea Peoples. Finally, the author presents his theory for the collapse.
Where this book excels is reinforcing how much interaction there was between the late bronze age civilizations. He also does a good job of driving home exactly how long ago this was. While the pyramids at Giza are over 1000 years old at this point, the Trojan War takes place during this period, the first mention of Israel as a people appears, classical Greek civilization is several hundred years away, and the Roman empire is around 1000 years away. The book also does a good job of keeping the material presented accessible to people who are not experts in bronze age archaeology which gives the impression that the book is intended for a non-academic audience.
However, I believe the author missed an opportunity to make the book more entertaining. Much too much time is spent going over the many inscriptions and clay tablets, their provenance, and their contents and consequently less time is spent on the story. Consequently the book reads like a thesis or dissertation rather than a book for a popular audience. Perhaps that was deliberate but the book is not advertised as an academic publication. If the author had taken the approach of presenting the material as a narrative rather than as an argument the material would have been even more accessible and entertaining. A good example of a book that uses this approach is The Punic Wars by Goldsworthy.
Despite my middling rating I would recommend this book to anyone interested in ancient history.
This epic novel set in 11th century England has sat on my to read list for years, intimidating me with its length and subject matter. At the very surfThis epic novel set in 11th century England has sat on my to read list for years, intimidating me with its length and subject matter. At the very surface it is a novel about the building of a cathedral but that is just an excuse to tell the story of a few key families over the course of a generation. This focus on characters and their relationships is ultimately what rescues what could have been a boring story about architecture and creates an epic which brings to mind some of the best writings from authors like James Michener.
The plot revolves around a relatively small collection of characters and their families and Follett sets the characters up along an almost Manichean good versus evil dividing line. On the good side there is Brother Philip, a Benedictine monk and prior, Tom Builder and his family, Ellen and Jack Jackson, outlaws, and Aliena and Richard the children of Earl Bartholomew. On the evil side there is the Hamleigh family, Bishop Waleran Bigod, and Alfred Builder.
This all good verses all evil opposition between these opposing factions is one of my two primary complaints about the novel. William Hamleigh is one of the most foul, evil, irredeemable characters I’ve encountered in literature in a long time and Brother Philip is one of the most moral, kind, and good and this extreme dichotomy took away from the believableness of those characters and ultimately the plot of the novel over all. It also took away some of the suspense of the novel because one could always guess what actions each character might take. Finally, it impeded the character development of all of the major characters. Only Aliena and Jack Jackson exhibit any real character growth over the course of the novel. Except for some relatively radical shifts that mostly happen off screen, the rest of the characters are the basically the same throughout the entire novel.
The second major complaint I have about the novel is how repetitive and formulaic the plot is presented. Each part of the book follows the same story arch with a character from the good side wanting to accomplish something for the betterment of themselves or Kingsbridge, Hamleigh or Bishop Waleran scheming against them resulting in a conflict and ultimate resolution. By part five and part six of the novel there is no doubt about what will happen or the ultimate outcome.
Despite these major flaws I still give The Pillars of the Earth four stars. This is because Follett’s writing style is just descriptive enough to immerse the reader into the world of 11th century Kingsbridge without becoming a burden on the reader. Even though it becomes repetitious, Follett’s ability to construct and pace the plot of each section and of the novel overall kept me on the edge of my seat and wanting to read on without falling my feeling like a driven horse being wipped on like I do when I read an author like Dan Brown.
I highly recommend this novel to all readers who enjoy epic family stories from authors like Michener and Clavel, readers who enjoy reading historical fiction, and readers who enjoy epic fantasy from authors like Tolkien and Jordan. The Pillars of the Earth blends elements of all of these types of novels beautifully....more