The Great Courses: Enjoyable Lectures at Your Fingertips

Could you go back to school again and sit through lectures? My answer would be yes, provided the classroom was nearby, and there were no tests. In these busy times when we’re often multitasking, The Great Courses offer a ‘great’ way to learn while doing other things. My time for listening to books is when I drive. I have a long enough commute that I can listen to a good chunk of an audiobook before I switch off the engine. This series offers audio lectures by academics on a wide selection of subjects. If you like history, there is The American Revolution. If you’re interested in language, try The History of the English Language. For philosophy lovers, there is Masters of Greek Thought. If you’re into medicine, listen to Understanding Genetics. And if you like politics, check out Cycles of Political Thought.

For literature enthusiasts, there is The English Novel in two parts. Dr. Timothy Spurgin focuses on English novels of the 18th and 19th century. He defines the concept of the novel as a relationship of the individual with the world around him. The distinction of the English novel, using the example of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, is that the protagonist finds personal and professional fulfillment in the end whereas in the French novel, such as Balzac’s Lost Illusions, the protagonist is destroyed by his quest for fortune. Listeners will also learn terms used to describe different genres of novels such as ‘epistolary novel’ which is a novel written in letters such as Pamela by Samuel Richardson, a ‘novel of manners’ such as Jane Austen’s novels and ‘stream of consciousness narrations’ such as Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.  

Great American Bestsellers is another interesting literary find. Professor Peter Conn talks about how a book becomes a best seller (there is no sure formula but there are some patterns) and the different factors that contribute to it. He includes among others the first book published in the English speaking world in 1640, The Bay Psalm Book, as well as The Last of the Mohicans, Ragged Dick, House of Mirth, The Maltese Falcon, The Grapes of Wrath, and Catch-22 among others. He also talks about recent bestselling authors such as John Grisham, Tom Clancyand Danielle Steel.

The Great Courses offer DVD versions of some subjects. Two good examples are How to Listen to and Understand Great Music and Victorian Britain. All items, audio versions and DVDs have an accompanying course guidebook which lets you go back and read bits that you may have missed.

So, if you enjoy learning, check out The Great Courses at your local library.

-Aliya Parvez, Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library

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