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May 19, 2009

New Teaching Company Sale

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The sale that the Teaching Company is currently running is a particularly attractive one.

Of the many bargains that beckon, I'd especially love to try out The Physics of History, How the Earth Works, Biology, A History of Mathematics, Chaos, and Understanding Genetics.

The new course that I've already pulled the trigger on, though, is The Conservative Tradition. Great topic, of course. Though conservatism has a vast and impressive pedigree, the only version of it that too many people encounter is what they see on Fox News. Hey, world: Edmund Burke and Michael Oakeshott aren't just enormously impressive and enlightening writers and thinkers, they might even disapprove of Glenn Beck.

The course is being delivered by a great lecturer too -- Patrick Allitt, one of my fave Teaching Company profs. I've been through two of Allitt's series and I loved them both; read about 'em here and here. Fabulously smart, articulate, knowledgeable and articulate, Allitt also has a delightful manner: amused, admiring, gentle, and enthusiastic. A stuffy pedant he ain't.

Sigh: Sophisticated yet accessible ... It's one of my very favorite combos.

(I wrote back here about how much I've gotten out of wrestling with the history of rightie thought. Back here you can find links to all three parts of an interview I did with the brilliant traditionalist conservative Jim Kalb. Buy Jim's mind-opening book here. BTW and FWIW: Although I'm certainly interested, respectful, and sympathetic, I'm by no means a conservative. I co-write X-rated fiction, I live downtown, I move among gays, artists, and performers, and I spend most of my "thinking about politics" time wishing the world's Primarily Political People would go away and die, or at least shut up.)

Among the on-sale courses are a few that I've listened to and can recommend:

  • Buddhism by Malcolm David Eckel. A first-class survey by a winning and enthusiastic prof. (I say this, by the way, as someone who has been through dozens of intros-to-Buddhism.) Eckel has clearly gotten a lot out of Buddhism himself, and he delivers his material in an inspired way, mixing up straightforward history, explanations of the content of Buddhism, Buddhist legends and lore, and a little bit of storytelling of his own. It's an approach that might well go awry, but Eckel keeps matters moving forward, and the approach pays off, shedding mucho worthwhile extra light on the topic. He has a burly-yet-boyish energy that I enjoyed spending time with too.

  • Religions of the Axial Age by Mark Muesse. Back in this posting I was hard on Muesse's Hinduism lecture series. (Short version: I found it informative but dry.) I had no such quibbles with this course, though, which is a real beauty. Was I unfair in my judgment of "Hinduism"? Or is Muesse one of those profs who shines when he gets a chance to do big-picture, compare-and-contrast presentations? In any case, I found "Religions of the Axial Age" not just supremely informative but enchanting. (The Axial Age, by the way, is the period from about 800 B.C. to around 200 B.C. when humankind started thinking Big Thoughts, and when many of the world's lasting religions were born. So this course is a survey of the early history of such phenomena as Jainism, Judaism, etc. If you want a nice intro to Zoroastrianism, I can't imagine a better one than what Muesse delivers.) While never losing perspective, Muesse -- like Eckel -- is unapologetically responsive to the poetry and spell of the spiritual traditions he's presenting. Personality-wise, he's a southerner with a mild, patient, and sweet-natured-but-not-treacly manner. It's a moving as well as an instructive course.

  • Thinking About Capitalism by Jerry Z. Muller. (The course isn't on sale by itself, but you can buy it cheaply as part of a set.) I'm currently nearing the end this series, and it has been first-class listening all the way. It's a level-headed, informative survey of what thinkers and observers over the centuries have made of this strange beast called capitalism. Muller (whose thoughtful bio of Adam Smith and whose anthology of conservative thought I've also read and enjoyed) paints the main picture with pleasingly bold strokes, but he includes a lot in the way of nuance as well. It can't be easy scaling and structuring a survey like this, but Muller does it without strain. He has the fulfilled scholar's passion for conveying knowledge, and he presents the material as an ongoing, open-ended conversation between interesting minds. No one gets in the last word, while many people contribute observations, ideas, and analyses that are worth paying attention to. Muller's manner and accent are fun as well. He's earnest and scholarly without being ponderous or pedantic. He's also a Brooklyn-sounding intellectual nebbish -- "doody" for "duty" -- who might be Woody Allen's more sober younger brother.

For those who haven't yet dealt with them: The Teaching Company is a pretty incredible resource. I've listened to a few TeachCo duds (this one, this one) as well as a number of just-OK-to-pretty-good series (this one, this one). But the quantity of gems they've produced has been remarkable. What a batting average!

Some Teaching Company profs who I'm crazy about: Timothy Taylor on economics; a phenomenal Western-classical-music guy, Robert Greenberg; early-and-classical-history scholar Kenneth Harl; Enlightenment specialist (and free-speech hero) Alan Charles Kors. Thomas F.X. Noble's Foundations of Western Civilization is a fab example of the course we all should have taken as college freshman.

The Teaching Company is a classy outfit too. If you're unhappy with a lecture series, they'll send you a refund. If you lose or break a disc, they'll send you a replacement pronto for a minimal fee. By the way: If money's a concern, buy a Teaching Company course only when it comes on sale. On-sale prices can be as little as 1/3 the usual, and all Teaching Company courses are put on sale at some point during the year. It's worth keeping track of the ones that interest you.

A recent TeachCo discovery for me: Buying a series not as a CD set or as an audiotape set, but as a download. I was a bit apprehensive about going the download route but now I'm a convert. I get to save a few bucks; my already-groaning bookshelves are grateful; and the TeachCo's buying-and-downloading process works smoothly. If I can handle the challenge, you probably can too.

For other suggestions and pans (from visitors as well as from me), type "Teaching Company" into the Search box in the left-hand column of the blog. I'm always eager to hear TeachCo recommendations and pans from visitors.



posted by Michael at May 19, 2009


Although I'm certainly interested, respectful, and sympathetic, I'm by no means a conservative. I co-write X-rated fiction, I live downtown, I move among gays, artists, and performers, and I spend most of my "thinking about politics" time wishing the world's Primarily Political People would go away and die, or at least shut up.

You should consider becoming a racist. Racism -- or "racialism," if you prefer -- allows you to cut through all the crap to the stuff that really matters. After all, I doubt many of those fags, artistes and performers you "move among" are notably racially distant, ie a "hispanic" who looks like he could have been a French colonel in WWI isn't exactly pushing the boundaries of diversity.

Posted by: silver on May 20, 2009 2:49 PM

MB, have you checked out Academic Earth? Some great (and FREE) video lectures by profs from some Ivy and non-Ivy schools. I just started Introduction to Ancient Greek History. Fun stuff. I listen at work, ignoring the video as it's just a guy behind a lectern anyway.

Posted by: JV on May 20, 2009 3:47 PM

"I'm by no means a conservative."

Ah, I remember when I was like that too. During political discussions with friends (all liberals) I was quick to reassure them that I was a *libertarian*, not a conservative. Being conservative was beyond the pale. With time, I daringly graduated to calling myself a "conservative liberatarian".

Eventually I realized that libertarianism provides no moral foundation for preserving my people's identity or culture. Libertarians assume that culture and race are just interchangeable, neutral concepts and that any random group of human beings is going to be as capable of and interested in maintaining a Western-style society that protects property rights as any other. That is baloney.

So I admitted to myself that my beliefs are best characterized as "conservative": I wish to conserve what my American ancestors built and who we are as a people. I think traditional America needs very little in the way of improvement, and what it needs can be done very slowly and with much careful and deliberate consideration.

So I'm no longer hesitant to just go ahead and say it: I'm a conservative.

Posted by: Mark on May 20, 2009 4:23 PM

i just bought the 'fundamentals of music' download.
thanks for the post!

Posted by: WW on May 20, 2009 7:28 PM

So I'm no longer hesitant to just go ahead and say it: I'm a conservative.

I prefer "reactionary", or, better yet, "ultrareactionary". I mean, who wants to conserve the rot our culture has become?

i just bought the 'fundamentals of music' download.
thanks for the post!

For "fundamentals", they sure sell it funny-- sul tasto? Glissandi?

A good candidate for audiobook treatment in this category would be Lawrence Abbott's The Listener's Book on Harmony, the clearest and most literary explication of the subject I've ever seen. (E.g., modulation is "the art of musical voyaging.") The examples are short, sweet and to the point, but unless you're quick with 5- and 7-note chords on the piano, or can buttonhole someone who is, they may be too much of a bother. (Which is why modern mass-market harmony guides come with a CD!)

Unfortunately, Mr Abbott's book came out in 1941, so he is probably unavailable for the recording.

Posted by: Reg C├Žsar on May 21, 2009 12:50 AM

they might even disapprove of Glenn Beck.

Et tu, Michael Blowhard? Have you actually seen Glenn Beck? He's the most paleo sympathetic guy on TV, which is why they've ginned up the two-minutes hate against him.

Posted by: jalsjdf on May 21, 2009 4:41 AM

I believe one of the Blowhards mentioned Kenneth Harl a while ago, I second any one of his lectures. My wife likes him a lot too, she always says, "Why weren't our college professors as good as this guy!"

William Kloss is excellent also, he has several art history lectures. Those are good when you want something above the level of mindless television, but not quite the intellectual level of Kenneth Harl, where you have to concentrate. With Kloss, you get background on the art works, and can just view the pictures and get an appreciation for them.

NY Public Library has many of these lectures available, but keep it quiet!

Posted by: Wade Nichols on May 21, 2009 8:37 AM

I just listened to Prof. Vejas Liulevicius's Teaching Company course on World War I and cannot recommend it highly enough. Professor L. knows his subject inside and out and is an outstanding lecturer. In addition, the material is critical to understanding current events.

Posted by: Jonathan on May 21, 2009 9:45 AM

I'm listening to Kagan's Intro Greece right now, I'm almost done with it. Don't be discouraged if you don't like the 2nd and 3rd (or so) lectures that much. They are drier and more disconnected than the rest of the course.

Posted by: Eric Johnson on May 21, 2009 5:40 PM

Michael, I'm going to blow your mind now. The Houston Public Library was discarding the cassette versions of their Teaching Company series. I bought about 20 or 30 complete courses, all for about $1 each!

speaking of Patrick Allitt, check out his great memoir I'm the Teacher and You're the Student. One of the most enjoyable things I've read.

I looked briefly at the Teaching Company site right now. Wow, their selection is amazing!

Posted by: Robert Nagle on May 22, 2009 3:31 PM

I've been a big fan of The Teaching Company's lecture series for a while. My favorite prof is probably Elizabeth Vandiver, who covers the ancient Greek literature, tragedy, and mythology courses.

As someone mentioned above, most of the local libraries here have some of their courses available to check out, which has been great in listening to courses I probably wouldn't consider buying.

Posted by: ken on May 27, 2009 12:00 PM

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