January 29, 2011
THE OTHER DAY, READER JASON WHITWORTH ASKED: “For those of us that were in school in the late 80’s/early 90’s and never had a Western Civ course, can you or your readers recommend one?”
I published that, the recommendations poured in, and of course I got too busy to properly digest them. But now here are some.
An anonymous reader emails: “Try The Rise of The West – W H McNeill…”
Rev. Todd Hester emails: “Glenn, Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation is forty years old now, but peerless in my estimation. Clark was an avowed humanist and anti-Marxist, and it showed. I was an English major in the early nineties; it was the basis for my humanities coursework, and was still deeply relevant. I suspect it is more so now.”
Prof. Stephen Clark writes: “In response to Mr. Whitworth, let me bang the drum for Jacques Barzun’s, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present. A life’s worth of scholarship has been distilled in this work. Beautifully written, Barzun takes you on a grand 500 year tour of the Western world that will leave you in awe of all that has preceded you, but also in awe of a model of classical scholarship that Barzun represents.” I read that, and it’s excellent.
Linda Seebach emails: “Columbia’s course was called Contemporary Civilization, and Amazon has a number of used copies at reasonable prices (new are ~ $85). I took a version at Gettysburg in the late ’50s, but I don’t think that was ever commercially published. Also links to reading list, study guides online, for instance at http://www.wikicu.com/Contemporary_Civilization.”
Reader Dwight Green writes: “I saw the request one emailer made for Western Civ classes. There are many online courses available now at sites like Academic Earth (http://academicearth.org/) or Open culture (http://www.openculture.com/). There really is a burgeoning online industry for courses that I’m happy to see. For those that feel overwhelmed at taking courses, their best bet may be exploring the flourishing world of book blogging. Anyone interested, even casually, in reading is sure to find several that fits their tastes and style. For example, I’m currently working my way through Thucydides and posting my thoughts on it…it’s a challenging read but so well worth it.”
Josh Mandir sends: “I think a good start on Western Civilization is the book Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hanson. It covers 9 battles in world history from the Battle of Salamis to the Vietnam War, describing the unique properties of Western Civilization. I learned more about Western Civilization (and, really, history overall) than I did in college.”
Reader William Berry emails: “In response to reader Jason Whitworth’s query about a course in Western Civ for one who missed out on it the first time around, I would suggest the seminar reading list at St. John’s College, available at this link . There is Western civilization, laid out in all its glory. St. John’s is the best college most people have never heard of, where the humanities still flourish. Our eldest son is a student there now, and loves it. But if you can’t go there, the next best thing is to work through the readings on your own.”
Claudia Brown writes: “Your reader who’s looking for a Western Civilization course might consider purchasing the textbooks to the Providence College (Rhode Island) two-year Civ core. Two of my kids went to Providence, and we were really impressed with the course. During various campus visits we met other parents who had themselves attended Providence, and looked back on the Civ course as one of the best they ever took, regardless of what they ended up majoring in or what profession they pursued. (You don’t declare a major at Providence until late in Sophomore year — that’s a good sign.) Even without a course, I’m sure the readings textbook would be valuable.”
Andrew Morriss writes: “The Teaching Company has many, many marvelous courses on the essentials of western civilization. Prof. Rufus Fears’ courses on Rome are spectacular – he’s got a great voice! The best ‘why we got rich’ book is Deidre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Dignity – fabulous, well written, erudite, etc. Basically: don’t kill entrepreneurs and be nice to them and your society will prosper. It is the only explanation that fits the data. Her web page is here, and her website has the book for downloading, reviews (including mine), etc.”
Speaking of how-we-got-rich, the classic is Nathan Rosenberg’s How The West Grew Rich. Many readers recommended this.
Reader Will Danford recommends Roots Of Freedom: A Primer On Modern Liberty. “It was written (by my dad – sorry) for college students, but it was adapted from lectures delivered via Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty before the wall fell. It’s a concise summary of the Western political tradition.” Nothing wrong with plugging your dad’s work.
Reader Jonathan Good recommends this video series on the Western Tradition.
And, of course, if you’re in a big hurry, there’s always Andrew Klavan’s video history of Western culture in 2 1/2 minutes.