Teaching Company Tapes and CDs: Reviews
The Teaching Company offers a variety of
educational tapes. There are audio and video tapes and now CDs.
These tapes are relatively expensive, but they're definitely
worth what you pay for them. Some of the lectures are the best I've every heard
-- even with my 15 years of higher education at some of the nation's top
universities (University of Virginia, George Washington University Medical
School), and being on the faculty of one of the country's top emergency medicine
If you've ever had to drive long hours in your car, and tried various
techniques to stay awake, including leaving the windows open so you freeze,
listening to loud music, taking back roads that take more attention, or even
pinching yourself, rejoice!. Get some good
teaching company tapes, and your worries are over. I can't believe I'd say
this, but the Great Ideas of Philosophy tapes were so engrossing that I
could drive for hours in the middle of the night wide awake, sans caffeine.
I know it sounds like BS, but it's true.
In general, their tapes are very, very good. But there are some
variations in the quality, and I thought I'd provide an independent although
idiosyncratic review of the ones I've listened to. Don't ask me for
recommendations about others, this is all I've listened to.
- A++ Music tapes by Robert Greenberg. Buy them
all, right now. This guy is the best lecturer I've ever heard, bar none. His
knowledge of music is encyclopedic, and his selection of material and his
delivery are organized, spontaneous, and relevant and related to other
disciplines such as the history and politics of the period discussed.
One of my degrees is in music -- I wish any of my professors had
been this good! My wife, who says "I don't get music" loves the tapes.
She says that she maybe gets some of the music (I think she gets more than she
thinks) but loves the history, sociology, politics and such that he throws in
His tapes thus far include:
How to Understand and Listen To Great Music
the Great Masters series, thus far: Haydn,
Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, Tschaikovsky, Stravinsky,
Robert and Clara Schumann, Shostakovich.
How to Listen to and Understand Opera
The Symphonies of Beethoven
Bach and the High Baroque
- A+ Psychology and Philosophy tapes by Daniel
Robinson. As soon as you listen to the Greenberg music tapes, buy these.
Robinson is also a world-class lecturer, and also better than any of my
university professors. The only reason he doesn't get an A+ is that he
has to compete with Greenberg. I found his upper-class, nose-in-the-air
delivery a bit offputting at first, but after one or two tapes I realized that
he's not putting on airs, he really is a confirmed upper-class intellectual
and he lectures at both Georgetown and at Cambridge. He can't help himself.
[Warning: major digression.]
I consider myself a confirmed intellectual, too, and share many of the
characteristics of other intellectuals, such as paying no attention to mass
culture such as current popular music, spectator sports, and the like.
Nonetheless, I have the advantage of not being upper class. And I have
to teach people with a great variety of backgrounds. And as an
ER doc, not to mention an ER doc in Pittsburgh, it's important to be able to
communicate with people in language they can understand. I did get in
trouble once when someone overheard me yelling at a homeless drug addict with
a bad infection, who was planning to leave the ED rather than be admitted --
and probably would die on the street somewhere. I thought it was necessary to
communicate in language he would understand, so I was screaming at him "You
m***-f***ing idiot, do you have any idea what's going to happen
if you leave here right now? This infection is going to get into your
f***ing brain, and your f***ing spinal cord, and if you don't die, you know
what's going to happen? You're going to turn into a g****** f******
vegetable and spend the rest of your miserable f****** life with tubes in every
f****** orifice you have!!! And you will never f***ing get high again!
Is that what you want?" And after this, he agreed to stay in the
hospital for IV antibiotics for two days, and didn't die or turn into a
vegetable, at least, not right away. I did have to apologize to several
people who were offended by this, but I still maintain that what I had done
was necessary, and even professional in the highest sense. Which is why
Bob Greenberg gets a slightly higher grade than Daniel Robinson, if you follow.
[end of digression]
However, Robinson's knowledge of psychology and philosophy are impeccable, and
he is able to present complex ideas in an organized, understandable manner,
hour after hour after hour, in the most engrossing and relevant manner.
Highly recommended. His tapes include:
The Great Ideas of Psychology
The Great Ideas of Philosophy
- A+ Elizabeth VanDiver: The
Iliad of Homer, The Odyssey of Homer, The Aeneid of Virgil, Classical
- A+ Seth Lerer: The History
of the English Language, The Life and Works of
Geoffrey Chaucer, and The Life and Works of John Milton.
Outstanding lecturer, engrossing tapes. I had wanted to learn more about
the history of English and bought a couple of books to read. This outshines
them all by far, and besides, you can hear what earlier dialects sound
like. Buy them all.
- A+ Jeremy McInerey:
Ancient Greek Civilization, Alexander the Great and the
- A Garrett Fagan: The
History of Ancient Rome
- A Darren Staloff, Louis Masur, and James
Shinton: A History of the United States
- B+ Thomas Childers, World
War II: A Military and Social History
- B Darren Staloff:
Thomas Jefferson, American Visionary
- C Rufus Fears, The History
of Freedom. Professor Fears starts with a sometimes hesitant and slightly
stiff lecture style (not bad by the standards of any university, though
suffers by comparison with the superstars above), but improves as the course
goes on. Some of this is his particular style, which owes somewhat to the
southern ecclesiastical oratorial style, emphasizing flowing language and
rhetorical persuasion over delivery of content. But Professor Fears seems to
have an agenda behind all his lectures, beyond providing us with information
and allowing us to make our own conclusions. For instance, when
paraphrasing Socrates, he keeps talking about Socrates' relation with "God"
whereas Socrates was really much more talking specifically about Apollo.
Yes, this may be an attempt to "make Socrates relevant to the current
generation" but come on, Socrates wasn't anywhere close to a monotheist, he
was either a polytheist or nontheist depending on who you believe.
Constant references to Socrates relationship with God (as opposed to just one
of the gods, or all of the gods) makes Fears sound like a Christian apologist
making Socrates out as a good Christian. This really makes one
suspicious of Fears' motives in his teaching, and interferes with the "willing
suspension of disbelief" and trust that a lecturer needs to be effective.
This distrust of Fear's accuracy continues throughout the courses, where he
reveals himself, with few exceptions, to be a proponent of Protestant
Christian conservatism. That wouldn't be so bad if he were honest about it.
But he concentrates on making a good story. Better lecturers will show all
sides and then persuade you why his interpretation is the best one. For
instance, he talks about "Communism" as if all communist countries were cast
in the Soviet Leninist mold -- he approves of resistance to the Vietnam war as
an example of conscience against a colonialist policy the U.S. inherited from
France and the U.K., but neglects the early attempts of the Chinese communists
to align with the U.S, only to be rebuffed, or of the indigenous nature of the
Northern Vietnamese communist regime. Nonethless, there is much to learn
in this course. Worth buying as long as you understand that you'll be
listening to someone with a strong ideological agenda to push on you.
- D Bonnie Wheeler, King
Arthur and Chivalry. Don't buy these tapes. C. P. Snow
could have used these tapes as a bad example in writing The Two Cultures.
This is someone from the literary tradition who doesn't know
how to connect with the scientific tradition. Professor Wheeler is a great speaker.
And she knows the literature of King Arthur inside and out. Well, inside
but not out. One of the reasons Bob Greenberg gets an A++ is that he
relates the history of music to all sorts of things outside the history of
music: history in general, politics, culture, even science from time to
time. But Professor Wheeler either doesn't know much about the real
archeology, sociology, anthropology, geography, or science of Arthurian times,
or doesn't want to tell us about them. Yes, she throws in a tidbit here
and there, but not enough to satisfy, or to even convince one she is either
interested in or knows anything outside literature.