Jan 20

MagnessHolyLandHoly Land Revealed, taught by Jodi Magness, Teaching Company video ★★
In anticipation of a return to the Holy Land, I purchased this video. I was quite apprehensive, as the Teaching Company has a tendency for any series under the category of “religion” to be taught by liberal professors. Jodi was not only hyper-liberal, but also did not offer what the title suggests would be the topic. It would have been better titled as Holy Land archaeology or Holy Land history rather than Holy Land revealed. I assumed that she would delve into the Holy Land itself, discussing the geography, cities, archaeological digs, etc., but ordered in a historical fashion. Instead, the main video was not of the land itself, but of her in the classroom teaching. She was placed on a large square rug that, like a good obedient puppy, she never leaves save for one time, where she got her right foot about ⅔ the way over the edge of the carpet. I wondered if the Teaching Company had a hidden cattle prod that shocked her back onto the rug at that point.
Magness offers the richness of an archaeologist that has frequently dug in Israel. She spends an entire talk on her dig that revealed the toilet habits of the Qumram community (?), and much related to the Roman Masada ramp, which actually was quite interesting. Much of her talk oriented more around history than the land itself, which did not seem to be the topic suggested by the title of this lecture series.
Magness shows herself as a typical liberal, in that she easily holds extra-biblical materials, such as the writings of Josephus, as more credible than Scripture itself. She seems to delight whenever archaeology might suggest something contrary to Scripture, such as the dating of Herod’s slaughter of the children, or timing of the fall of Jericho. Sadly, she is unwilling to explore the controversy in these areas, but presents things as cut and dried. She is a perfect example of claiming that her scientific quest is “open-minded” and yet is hell-bent on proving a hypothesis, let all of the evidence be damned. Scripture over time has proven itself irrefutably infallible, about the only thing that one can safely hang their hat on, regardless of the storms and assaults of man. Archaeological evidence is highly subjective, the theories for interpretation of the data are constantly changing, and the evidence is often contradictory, leading to strange and obtuse theories to explain away the contradictions.
I learned some history in this presentation. I also learned a few interesting facts about the “land” itself. It wasn’t a totally worthless series, though it did not offer what the title and lecture subjects suggested that it would cover.

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Apr 10

AndrewWilsonMasters of War: History’s Greatest Strategic Thinkers, taught by Andrew Wilson, The Teaching Company ★★★★
The Art of War, Andrew Wilson, The Teaching Company ★★★
These are two series on war strategy taught by Andrew Wilson. The first series provides a chronological account of the most influential thinkers on war strategy, including Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Machiavelli, Napoleon, Jomini, Mahan, Corbett, and others. Wilson first defines what he means by strategy, and compares that to the often confused  tactics. He allows one to see how thinking about war, including when to conduct a war, the expected outcomes of the war and what one expects to accomplish by war, when it is best to not engage in war, how to pick your enemies, how to play your friends, etc. all have evolved, and involve the greater spectrum of what we view as war strategy.
The Art of War is a more thorough summary of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. This additional six lectures to the above 24 lectures, including 2 on Sun Tzu, include little in addition of great value except to the most curious.

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Feb 02

BriwaThe Everyday Gourmet: Making Healthy Food Taste Great, by Bill Briwa and Connie Gutterson of the Culinary Institute of America, The Teaching Company ★★★★★
Perhaps you noticed that we already reviewed a Teaching Company Video series with Bill Briwa. That series was 24 lectures long, whereas this one is only six lectures long. Bill is an awesome instructor, and with the help of the Culinary Insitute nutritionist fills us in as to how a gourmet chef actually manages to cook gourmet food at home while keeping it completely healthy. The series was enjoyable to watch, and Betsy found the series most inspiring. Briwa spends much time in discussing how different grains can be incorporated into the diet, and how to plan left-overs (planned-overs) for cooking successive meals. Thus, a grain like barley can be cooked and then incorporated into various different schemes. Though a few of his productions did not look terribly appealing, for the most part, the meals appeared to be most savory, and not the bland horrid taste that someone would expect from something really healthy. The series also comes with a hard-bound cookbook to make it easy to begin various healthy menus immediately.

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Jan 24

The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking, by Bill Briwa (DVD, The Teaching Company) ★★★★★
The Everyday Gourmet: Baking Pastries and Desserts, by Steven Durfee (DVD, The Teaching Company) ★★★★★
These are two separate series offered by the Teaching Company, but because of their similarity, I’ll be reviewing them together. Briwa also did a short series on healthy cooking, which will be briefly reviewed later. Both chefs are prize-winning in their fields, and both teach at the Culinary Institute of America. Both series comes with accompanying hard-bound texts with the exact recipes for what is being cooked. Both are very well done, with clear teaching and superb examples of various dishes discussed. Watching these DVDs makes you want to get into the kitchen and attempt some of the recipes, realizing that a few of them can be a little bit tricky. They’ll have to be tried out on ourselves before we invite guests and then serve them something that flops. The only reason I would have liked to have given each of the series a few less stars is that they were way too short. I hope that Briwa and Durfee would be able to produce a lengthier version of this set that is more comprehensive of the styles of cooking and types of dishes that could be made in a normal home. There was great entertainment in watching these videos, but hopefully you dear reader won’t be tortured by our first experiments in gourmet cooking.

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Aug 30

Everyday Guide to Wine ★★
Everyday Guide to Spirits and Cocktails ★★★★★ – both by Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan
These two courses are sold separately from the Teaching Company, but can be purchased as a single set. The two courses differ vastly in their style and character, leading to two divergent ratings, even though taught by the same person.
In the Everyday Guide to Wine Jennifer S-B introduces herself, and spends at least one lecture justifying her qualifications for teaching a wine course. She was superb at taking one through the necessary formalities of a wine tasting, and the basics for determining the quality of wines. She then marches from region to region, introducing and sampling the various wines. One is left with a reasonably good idea why certain wines from various regions tend to be more prized, and thus (often) more expensive. I disliked two things about the course. The first was Jennifer’s continual self-referential comments. I really didn’t care that JSB was classified as a master wine-taster, and could detect scents of olive or asphalt or burnt American Oak in her wine.  Secondly, I found it to be totally gross that she always spit out the wine. If wine appreciation means spitting out wine and not drinking it, then I’ll stick with beer. All in all, the course failed to enhance my appreciation for wine, and I instead gave most of my wine away, so that I could focus on gaining a better appreciation for beer.
The other course on spirits and cocktails was a much different course. JSB really didn’t talk much of herself, and she focused on the various spirits that are available, with good overviews of the nature and origin of the various spirits. She also had a number of expert bartenders demonstrate the preparation of various cocktails. All in all, this course was fun to watch, and enhanced the appreciation for the various distilled spirits that one might imbibe.

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May 21

The Art of Public Speaking, by John Hale ★★
The Art of Public Speaking is a 12 – 1/2 hour series produced by the Teaching Company, using one of their regular lecturers, an archeologist John Hale. Hale’s style is to call up  noteworthy public speeches throughout history, showing how they were effective as public speeches. Hale selects a specific theme for each lecture, and will use a historical example followed by other historical examples reflective of the same theme to drive his point home. Much of his advice is sound and worth considering when speaking in public. My only gripe with the lecture series is that he tends to use choice speeches as soap boxes. Thus, there was the lectures on speaking in public, plus the under current of socio-philosophical ideology. I suppose Hale didn’t intend that, but it still comes out strong.

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Apr 23

Classics of Russian Literature, by Irwin Weill (Teaching Company) ★★★★
I originally started to listen to this series several years ago, and found it to be somewhat boring. I made it through about 4 lectures. Recently, I devoted myself to reading Dostoevsky, and returned to this series. Having read some Russian literature, Weill began to make sense, and I found the series to be considerably more enjoyable. Weill’s attention is definitely directed toward Pushkin, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy. He spends several lectures apiece on 20th century writers, though Solzhenitzen is given only one lecture. Many of the 20th century authors were quite appealing after Weill’s discussion, but the particular book or play was either unavailable on Amazon.com or moderately expensive, and not available for Kindle. This was a touch frustrating. In all, Weill presents an appealing presentation for delving in the Russian Literature, and an excellent summary for the person versed in the Russian author.

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Dec 23

How the Earth Works, by Michael Wysession (Teaching Company Series) ★★★
This teaching company series, taught by a Geophysicist, discusses the mechanisms and processes that make the earth the way it is. Wysession is able to interlay the various processes, whether they be geologic, biologic, or astronomic, in discussing what gives us our world. The lecture series can be divided into three parts, with a grading on each part…
I. Plate Tectonics – 5 stars – the longest part of the course, it also is the best part of the course, taught where Wysession is most expert. Details of how the continents were created, how plate tectonic theory was developed, how earthquakes and volcanoes occur, are all discussed in popular lay terms that can be understood by anybody.
II. The Weather – 3 stars – though the weather is an important process in molding the earth, another Teaching Company course on Meteorology has done a far superior job of detailing how weather is formed, and the processes that lead to our climate and living conditions.
III. Biology and “My Soapbox” – 1 star – Wysession adequately discusses the role of biological organisms in helping to form the earth. He does a far worse job of playing biologist. Much of the last lectures of the course are more a soapbox on various subjects such as climate change, humans elsewhere in the universe, and the destiny of man, which would have best been left out of the course. Many of the last lectures have no relation to discussing how the earth works, but rather create a dummy pulpit for Wysession. I do credit Wysession for maintaining a sense of scientific uncertainty about matters such as climate change, and he doesn’t become preachy like Algore.
The course could be improved in many ways. Most importantly, I wish Wysession would have spent a few lectures discussing in depth the mechanisms for studying earth. He could have better discussed the various instrumentation for “sounding” the depths of earth. He could have given us more detailed explanations of land formations that help us understand the world we see, to allow us to engage in the process of being junior geologists. I would have been interested in having a rough feel as to how a geophysicist mathematically models things like earthquakes.
Wysession is an excellent teacher and adequately uses props and visuals to get his point across. This is a series worth watching, though the final lectures would be best deleted or changed as mentioned above to get the discussion back to the intended topic for the course.

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Oct 23

War and World History (The Teaching Company Series), by Jonathan Roth ★★★
This series looks at world history from the perspective of how war affected that history. Roth shows possibly by this lecture series that multiple other factors, such as religion, politics, and chance seem to affect the occurrence of war as much as vice versa. Thus, Roth delves at length how economy, culture and nationalism has affected the occurrence of war in the last several hundred years. Though he spent some time speaking of the development of war technology, it was rather minimal considering the topic. Also, I had hoped for more discussion on the style of conducting war, strategies, and how geography affected the nature of war, and the development of war in world history.

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Jun 08

Fall and Rise of China, taught by Richard Baum (Teaching Company) ?????
This is one of the best Teaching Company series that I’ve heard in a long time. Prof. Baum was quite compelling in his presentation, and maintained a competent discussion mixed with a large volume of personal experience to be not only informative but also enjoyable to listen to. I personally appreciate Baum’s teaching style, though he does demand full attention, since he typically does NOT repeat what he’s said. I especially appreciated how Dr. Baum maintained neutral political stances in his discussions–he did not use his lecture stand as a bully pulpit to push down his personal ideology. Yet, few professors in my recent memory (from the Teaching Company) has sparked such interest in the topic at hand. A day did not go by when I was seeking further information from the internet, and even better, from close friends who grew up in mainland China and could not only confirm but expand on the professor’s statements. Prof. Baum offers several introductory lectures to provide a background history of the West’s involvement with China in the 1800’s, leading to the rise of anti-western sentiment and the emergence of Mao Zedong. Baum follows through the life of Mao to his death, with China emerging from its backwater status to be a leading economic and social force in the world. These lectures are a beautiful complement to another excellent Teaching Company series “From Yao to Mao: 5000 years of Chinese History”. Regardless of one’s view of China, it remains a people that are rising on the world scene, and there is no better way to mentally fit China into the grand scheme of things than through this set of lectures.

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