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Publisher's Summary

The construction of the great pyramids of Egypt, the development of democracy in ancient Greece, the glories of ancient Rome - these stories are familiar to students of history. But what about the rest of the world? How do the histories of China and Japan, or Russia, India, and the remote territories of Sub-Saharan Africa and South America fit in with commonly known accounts of Western traditions?

Learn the rest of the story with these 36 riveting lectures that survey the expanse of human development and civilization across the globe. From the invention of agriculture in the Neolithic era to the urbanized, technologically sophisticated world of the 21st century, you'll apprehend "the big picture" of world history. You'll examine and compare the peoples, cultures, and nations of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas to understand how, throughout history, peoples all over the world have connected and interacted, traded goods and technology, and conquered and learned from each other.

As you travel around the world and through time, Professor Stearns provides surprising insights that will overturn many of your assumptions about history. For instance, you'll see how the invention of agriculture brought with it a number of drawbacks, such as a new inequality between men and women and greater exposure to epidemic diseases. Fascinating episodes like these will give you a deep appreciation for the human experience as it was lived throughout the centuries.

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

©2007 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2007 The Great Courses

What listeners say about A Brief History of the World

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

World History should be mandatory. great course

Amazing course. Puts history and current events in a new context. Couldn't recommend this course more.  #Audible1

6 people found this helpful

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A must listen to understand our world

Professor Stearns has done an excellent job of sharing a descriptive yet succinct understanding of the history of the world as we know it. This audibook should be made essentially learning for everyone for the balanced and objective way of presenting facts as well as sharing varied opinions of various historians.

4 people found this helpful

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not well organized

he tends to jump around a lot between cultures and time periods which prevents the reader from really getting into things.

3 people found this helpful

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Great Summary of the World

This book provided a greater understanding of different past cultures/histories and how they still have an impact to the present day. Well worth the 19 hours in listening.

2 people found this helpful

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Competent, concise, no wasted words, brilliant!

The history of the entire world is a vast topic, but this presenter made it very interesting. He was clearly familiar with all the side-trails down which researchers could disappear, but kept bringing us back to the focus of the course on the big, overall picture. How to detect patterns and trajectories! There were no wasted words! This was brilliantly done! If you are skeptical that such a course could even be possible, try it... you will really like it!

1 person found this helpful

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  • A
  • 2022-02-22

not what I expected

this came as a free download which in the end turned out to be good. it was not like I expected in that I hoped it would be discussing what happened in the past. it is more of the teacher discussing general concepts and themes of different historical periods. he jumps around between cultures a lot and really does not talk about what specifically occurred. also I found his style of lecturing to be pretty dry. I'm not going to invest any more time in this one.

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All Around Fantastic

Who knew one could have a favorite historian?
Great content, audio quality and delivery.

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  • Tad Davis
  • 2013-12-05

Global

In the beginning of this course, Peter Stearns goes to great lengths to define what he means by World History, and talks about it as a recent development. But haven't we been studying World History all our lives? Not really, he argues. What we were doing is Western Civilization, treating it as the only part of World History that mattered. What he's doing here is showing the Other Side of the Story, and this particular way of doing World History IS a new thing.

Inevitably, there's some imbalance in the approach. He tries to keep Western Europe and North America in the picture with a lesson here and there, but his main focus is on East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. The perspective he brings is truly global: Rome and Western Europe may have been in tatters, he says, but during that same period China and East Asia were thriving, so let's talk about what THEY were up to.

Inevitably, he glosses over some events, even some that would illustrate the issues he's discussing. For example, one of the lessons deals at length with slavery and its abolition. In the course of the lesson, he touches on the North American abolitionist movement and the difficulties faced by freed slaves in the latter part of the 19th century; but he never mentions the American Civil War. This isn't just chauvinism on my part. Nearly a million people died in that war, and the war's chief aim was the destruction of the South's slave-based economy. What could be more relevant to the point at hand?

It should also be noted that this is not a narrative history; it's more of a sociological and economic history. There's a lot of emphasis on trade, and not so much on the Great Men (and Women) who ruled the countries engaged in that trade.

Stearns has blocked out broad periods of time: the great river civilizations, prior to 1000 BCE; the Classsical period, from 1000 BCE to 500 CE; the Post-Classical period, to 1450 CE; the Early Modern period, to 1750 CE; the "long 19th century," up to the beginning of the First World War; and everything else since then. Within each of these periods, his treatment is more often thematic or geographical than chronological. He'll have lessons on Revolution, for example, or Gender Relations, or Globalization; and mixed in with these will be lessons that focus on Latin America or China.

Personally, I would prefer a juicier narrative. But Stearns is well-informed on all the topics he discusses, and he always has a packet of unusual facts, comparisons, or connections up his sleeve. (Who got most of the silver from the New World? If you said Spain, you'd be wrong: it was China. Understanding how that came about is one of the pleasures to be had from the course.)

Stearns has an unusual way of speaking that took some getting used to. Many of his sentences consist of lists - each item in the list ending with a rising inflection, like a question. Eventually I settled into the rhythm. The fact hat his lists are consistently interesting and well-organized helps.

39 people found this helpful

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  • Alex
  • 2015-09-16

A course on how to teach a world history course

It took me until near the end to realize that this isn't so much a brief history of the world, but a framework for how to organize your own course in teaching world history. Much of these lectures focuses on justifying the inclusion of certain material in a world history course as opposed to simply teaching the material outright. The actual history was interesting, but would have easily fit in a 6 hour lecture series. I do not recommend this to anyone hoping to lay a foundation for their own history knowledge as I was, although it's probably great for those who have a good foundation in world history and are on a career path toward a world history teacher or professor.

17 people found this helpful

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  • Justin
  • 2013-08-20

Great Learning

What did you like best about this story?

It was enlightening to close one's eye's and picture the story of world history in the mind. It allowed for a greater depth of understand over such a vast period of time.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Michael
  • 2014-02-11

History at 30,000 feet

This is a quite academic and high level lectures on world history which tries to treat all countries equally, but ends up covering everything from such a high level as to separate the history from the humanity. This breaks up history into periods with clear themes and historical theoretical models are proposed and argued. There are virtually no readings from original texts, no quotes of historical figures, and very few specific examples of historical activity to bring the history being discussed to life. There was very little actual analysis of why things happened the way they did. There were tiny references to Germs, Guns and Steel and the like, but so superficial as to be almost funny. I like history a lot, but this kind of history leaves me cold. For me the best history is a thoughtful non-auto biography, the next best is a thoughtful treatment of an event or movement or time of change, less good are chronological histories of a country, this history was of everything (which became largely a history of nothing).

There were a few moments of interest, but far too few. The lecturer makes many references to “quite interesting” stories, people and events, but does not waste any time on these interesting things, instead he must continue to describe the very broad thrusts of history (of course giving equal time to every culture and every country an award for effort). I really like alternative histories and histories from non-western perspectives, but I want history that is rich with ideas and art and action and sweat and blood and greed and passion with quotes and poetry, art and science, examples and quantities.

I find “Uh”, “OK”, and “Alright” thrown in audio books really quite annoying. Each of these ‘OK” and “Alrights” seemed to me to say “there, I have finished that section, not great, but let’s move on.”

This is not really bad, just really not my thing. It reminds me of any average college world history class needed to meet the general-ed requirement. I did finish it, and it did not put me to sleep, but I certainly would not recommend it or listen to it again.

17 people found this helpful

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  • James M.
  • 2019-09-15

particularly particularly particularly...

If you love reading terms of service, privacy policies, and other legal disclaimers, you'll love this book. Otherwise, this guy will inspire you towards an early demise. I will be seeking a refund.

4 people found this helpful

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  • LEB
  • 2017-04-23

Nope.

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

More history. Less commentary. A lot less commentary.

What was most disappointing about The Great Courses’s story?

There wasn't a story. Just Professor Peter Stearns's thought about the story.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Synesthë
  • 2015-04-25

This was great!

Very interesting. I love the great courses. I majored in history in college, but even though this wasn't any new information for me I still found the lectures very interesting and enjoyable. Great for anyone with no background in history or for someone who wants a brief refresher.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Tommy D'Angelo
  • 2018-08-24

A Different Type of History Course

I had alot of reservations about this course after seeing one of the lowest average review ratings for any of the Great Courses. But a course encompassing all of world history was something that intrigued me enough to give it a shot (even if going in I knew it wouldn't be able to go into much detail).

I am glad I didn't let the negative reviews stop me. I can certainly see the shortcomings that would prompt one to provide a poor review but on the whole I did not think this was a bad course at all and certainly not deserving of a 3.3 average rating.

I thought it offered an innovative approach to studying world history. Instead of discussing one civilization in one full lecture followed by the next civilization in the next lecture (typical of other history courses in general and Great Courses in particular) this course's approach truly involved a synchronistic comparison of multiple civilizations or religions that were contemporaries of one another....all in the same lecture. I thought this was one of the main (only) negatives of one of my all-time favorite courses: "History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective". It was excellent in covering any given specific empire but often did not provide perspective of what else was going on in the world at that time (contemporary empires would be discussed in the next lecture but the full picture of world affairs at a specific time was lost).

This approach allows one to truly get a history of social interactions, connectedness, conflicts, and trade/economies in humanity's time on earth.

He focuses discussion on political, economic, cultural, and social trends in these defined world history periods:
o Classical period (1000 BC to 500 AD)
o Post Classical period (500-1450)
o Early Modern period (1450-1750)
o The Long Century (1750-1914)
o The Contemporary Period (1914-present)

Highlights for me included lecture 9 on the collapse of the classical empires and lecture 14 on Japan, Russia, Southeast Asia, and Western Europe imitating more developed societies in the post classical period.

While I give the approach and identification of general themes an A, unfortunately, the delivery leaves alot to be desired and I think this is where the poor reviews come in.

While Professor Stearns certainly brings some interesting discussions to the table, the fact of the matter is his teaching style is simply not very engaging or full of much personality which means when there are lectures that do not involve a topic that is interesting to me, it is hard for him to keep me engaged or draw me in. I hate judging a professor by whether he/she makes things interesting or not but the reality is this stuff matters in assessing my feelings on a course. Learning is the mission here but so is a desire to be entertained in a way so as to make an 18 hour journey worth my time. He just doesn't bring things to life.

Professor Stearns goes out of his way to talk up non-western civilizations and talk down western civilizations especially in the early going. While I understand a World History approach is not supposed to be slanted towards western civilization specifically, he goes overboard resulting in the pendulum swinging way too far the other way.

He especially seems to consider ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and western Europe as inferior in just about every way to China or India to the point it seems to pain him to say anything good about them or when he does he qualifies it such as calling it “dumb luck” or never failing to remind us that the west "stole" certain innovations from China and used them for their own purposes---yet there is no acknowledging their adaptiveness. In trying to provide a balanced view he does the opposite and one is left wondering when a balanced view of the west will be provided.

How many times does he have to remind us this is not a western civilization course? We get it. We're adults. Tell us once. We don't need the qualification/warning multiple times. I think we can appreciate a lecture or discussion without him needing to remind us time and time again that there are other parts of the world than just the west.

He obviously uses the word “obviously” so many obvious times, even when the point he is making is not necessarily obvious, that I am obviously annoyed!

There are better history courses out there: "Big History" excels in discussing world history pre-agriculture and "History of the Ancient World" will provide much more details of civilizations/bring things to life but for what this course sets out to do (identify greater historical trends across time periods by comparing contemporary civilizations) I have to admit it does indeed succeed and is a very solid, good course.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Todd Storkersen
  • 2017-02-23

More Commentary than Instruction

I would not recommend this course as an introduction to world history; it functions more as a presentation of the discourse that takes place in formulating world history as a discipline. If you approach it for what it is, it's great and you won't be disappointed.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Trusted Anonymous
  • 2017-02-21

An Informative Macro Review of World History.

An interesting and educational macro review of World History and the development of civilizations.

It does have a subtle leftist perspective that completely glosses over Islam's dark side but it's not too unbearable in that regard.

2 people found this helpful