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Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your Life

Study some of the most essential writings in history—books that have shaped the minds of great individuals who, in turn, have shaped the world.
Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your Life is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 184.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not Dr. Fears best I am a big fan of Dr.Fears courses and have watched most. But sadly I found this one disappointing. I expected more info on the content of the books and instead mostly heard his philosophy on the moral teachings which was very repetitive. Also each lesson recapped the prior one(s) and so it felt like "filler" with 15 minutes of content stretched to fill 30.
Date published: 2023-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History from arthur to tudors I have several great courses which I enjoy watching at my own speed and pace
Date published: 2022-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Books that have made History: Books that can chang A profound and personally challenging course. Exceptional, compelling presentaton.
Date published: 2022-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Books that have made history: books that can This is my favorite or all the Great Courses I have purchased. Dr. Fear's ability to captivate my attention with his story telling, opened my mind to great historical writings that I previously thought irrelevant to my life and times. His words are respectful of all man's major religions, and reveals man's historical journey to understand God and how we should live. In todays liberal educational system, Dr. Fear's course is rare and true.
Date published: 2022-05-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My Favorite Course The Professor is a master storyteller. He has tremendous enthusiasm.
Date published: 2021-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great head fake! This course was not at all what I had anticipated, but I am delighted with what I got. Prof. Fears is a preacher wrapped in the robe of a philosopher. While I was expecting a content-heavy treatment of every book (and, not looking forward to the work that would entail), I was treated to a life lesson instead. Dr. Fears made it very clear just how each book should color the personal theology and philosophy of life, so as to lead a life well lived. I can pick and choose what books I want to explore further, and ignore the detail of those which Dr. Fears already sufficiently explained. All in all it was a great experience. I would,however, caution learners who espect a comprehensive analysis of the Books to go to other programs for their needs.
Date published: 2021-10-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bools that have made history I am enjoying this course but so far only watched a fraction of it. The professor is obviously someone who believes in God, also has a respect for the Koran. This could be worrying for some.
Date published: 2021-10-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Vintage Prof. Fears. I'm about halfway through this course but sometimes it is at that point that one can write their best review. I've titled this "Vintage Prof. Fears" because in a fundamental way it is identical to the one or two other courses of his I've taken. He has a well deserved reputation for being an engaging lecturer, but his main characteristic, to which he is "absolutely" wed, is the incontrovertible existence of absolute right and wrong. Insisting on this and trying to convince the student of this is his unrelenting intent. And despite his erudition and the nearly universal agreement in the world on this point, in fact it clearly defines the limit of his knowledge. That is the ultimate reach of his knowledge, and his mind seemingly cannot enter into other spheres of possibility. He apparently does not know of, or simply has no regard for something like Buddhism or any system in which there is no soul and no divine being and no afterlife. He apparently cannot conceive of the reality that there is no such thing as right and wrong, that they are inventions of the human mind. So one watches his lectures in this course with a bit of tedium, since they are really an academically sophisticated presentation, in the garb of great books in history, of common Western spiritual belief that we've all heard since birth. Thus my three star rating. Ratings depend on the context in which the course is viewed. If viewed in conventional terms the course probably qualifies for a 4 or 5 star rating. But if viewed in much more expansive terms and context (actually there is no comparative degree...) the lectures are childish. If one wants to learn history or historical literature, these lectures can be valuable, but if one wants to learn more about "truth" (that he so emphasizes in the lecture Plato and Phaedo and apparently has disregarded in his own life), which requires entering strange new worlds and abandoning all that one has been taught, they are not going to find it here.
Date published: 2021-10-25
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What makes a written work eternal—its message still so fundamental to the way we live that it continues to speak to us, hundreds or thousands of years distant from the lifetime of its author? Professor J. Rufus Fears presents his choices of some of the most essential writings in history—works that shaped the minds of great individuals and offer an extraordinary gift of wisdom. This course focuses on intellectual history and ethics and what the ideas in each great work can mean in your life today.


J. Rufus Fears

We are no wiser than the Athenians of the 5th century B.C., no wiser than Sophocles for our science of today has shown us the overwhelming power of genes, of DNA.


University of Oklahoma

Dr. J. Rufus Fears was David Ross Boyd Professor of Classics at the University of Oklahoma, where he held the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty. He also served as David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Before joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, Professor Fears was Professor of History and Distinguished Faculty Research Lecturer at Indiana University, and Professor of Classical Studies at Boston University. An acclaimed teacher and scholar with more than 25 awards for teaching excellence, Professor Fears was chosen Professor of the Year on three occasions by students at the University of Oklahoma. His other accolades included the Medal for Excellence in College and University Teaching from the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, the University Continuing Education Association (UCEA) Great Plains Region Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the UCEA's National Award for Teaching Excellence. Professor Fears's books and monographs include The Cult of Jupiter and Roman Imperial Ideology and The Theology of Victory at Rome. He edited a three-volume edition of Selected Writings of Lord Acton. His discussions of the Great Books have appeared in newspapers across the country and have aired on national television and radio programs. Professor Fears passed away in October 2012.

By This Professor

The World Was Never the Same: Events That Changed History
The Wisdom of History
Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your Life
Life Lessons from the Great Myths
Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your Life


Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison

01: Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison

This lecture uses the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who sacrificed his life to fight totalitarianism, to illustrate a great book's most important attribute—its ability to speak to you as an individual and help shape the ideals by which you live your life.

31 min
Homer, Iliad

02: Homer, Iliad

We discuss the "Iliad"'s role as one of the most deeply religious books ever composed, an enduring statement of the living tradition of polytheism and a profound effort to understand the meaning of life.

31 min
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

03: Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Though written to himself, this Roman emperor's great work has proven an enduring legacy, a reflection of an ethical life as applicable today as it was almost 2,000 years ago and a monument to self-sufficient wisdom.

30 min
Bhagavad Gita

04: Bhagavad Gita

Composed in the same period as the "Iliad," the "Bhagavad Gita" is regarded as the supreme creation of Sanskrit literature. Though an epic statement of polytheism, it proclaims truth as an all-encompassing, single, divine power.

30 min
Book of Exodus

05: Book of Exodus

The most influential religious book ever composed, the Book of Exodus has shaped three great living religious traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—in its proclamation of a single, all-powerful God.

30 min
Gospel of Mark

06: Gospel of Mark

Each of the Gospels presents a portrait of Jesus differing in emphasis. Mark, drawn from the firsthand account of Peter, is the most concise and dramatic. Its Jesus is both prophet and philosopher, testifying to his search for wisdom by his trial and death.

31 min

07: Koran

We examine the sacred book that holds for Muslims the same place that the words of Jesus do for Christians, the words of the book itself held as the revelation of God to humankind.

31 min

08: Gilgamesh

The question of fate or destiny is at the core of the earliest literary work to come down to us, the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, composed in the 3rd millennium B.C. in what is now Iraq.

30 min

09: Beowulf

Gilgamesh proclaims a heroic ideal: We are fated to die, but in the meantime, let us strive to be as great as possible. This same message is the theme of the first great work of English literature, the 8th-century Anglo-Saxon epic, Beowulf.

30 min
Book of Job

10: Book of Job

If God is good, why does evil exist? The Book of Job is the most enduring attempt to answer that question, a profound disquisition on the ultimate mystery of God and the frailty of any human attempt to understand the divine.

31 min
Aeschylus, Oresteia

11: Aeschylus, Oresteia

The three plays of the Oresteia rank with the Oedipus of Sophocles as the greatest of Greek tragedies, a story of murder, revenge, duty, and divine intervention that raises in stark form the dilemma of free will.

30 min
Euripides, Bacchae

12: Euripides, Bacchae

For the great Athenian tragedians, it is moral blindness that leads to hybris (also hubris) and ruin. Pentheus in the Bacchae of Euripides exemplifies those who believe themselves wise but are, in fact, fatally ignorant.

31 min
Plato, Phaedo

13: Plato, Phaedo

Fifth-century Greece sees the development of a more profound concept of the immortality of the soul. For Socrates, the belief in such an immortal soul was the ultimate question, as portrayed by Plato in the Phaedo.

30 min
Dante, The Divine Comedy

14: Dante, The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy is the supreme summary of the thought of medieval Europe, ranking with the Aeneid of Vergil as one of the most influential epic poems ever composed and key to shaping the Italian language as it is spoken today.

30 min
Shakespeare, Othello, the Moor of Venice

15: Shakespeare, Othello, the Moor of Venice

The ancient Greeks and Romans did not have a figure comparable to Satan or the devil. To them, evil came in the form of human actions. In Renaissance England, this same idea was portrayed magnificently in Othello.

30 min
Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

16: Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

Aeschylus, like the other great Greek tragedians, believes that we gain wisdom from those who suffered on a titanic stage—in this case, the great rebel Prometheus, who defied the will of Zeus to benefit humanity.

30 min
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

17: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's book stands as a massive indictment of the evil of Joseph Stalin and of the Communist system, portraying with chilling insight the role of ordinary people in carrying out this evil.

31 min
Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

18: Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Like Othello, Julius Caesar was written at the height of Shakespeare's creative talents. Its theme is honor and duty, the duty of a man to resist evil by violence and murder if necessary.

31 min
George Orwell, 1984

19: George Orwell, 1984

In his novel 1984, George Orwell raises the pertinent and disturbing question of whether any individual can resist the modern power of the state, brilliantly illuminating the logical consequences of subordinating the individual to anonymous social and economic forces.

30 min
Vergil, Aeneid

20: Vergil, Aeneid

We examine Virgil's epic as both a work of literature and as a powerful and influential statement of the necessity of war in a just cause and the moral value of duty.

31 min
Pericles, Oration; Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

21: Pericles, Oration; Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

Two great democratic statesmen used the occasion of a public funeral for the war dead to proclaim democracy an absolute good. Separated by almost 2,500 years, these two funeral orations represent the most profound statements of the necessity of just wars.

30 min
Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

22: Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

Published in 1928, the best novel about war ever written gave voice to the feeling that nothing was worth another war, paving the way for appeasement policies in both Britain and France that in fact made another and even more horrible war inevitable.

31 min
Confucius, The Analects

23: Confucius, The Analects

Few intellectual figures in history have so influenced a civilization as Confucius, the teacher whose wisdom guided the intellectual, political, and ethical life of China for more than two millennia.

31 min
Machiavelli, The Prince

24: Machiavelli, The Prince

Confucius taught the art of government as it should be; Machiavelli as it really is. Written in 1513, The Prince might be called the handbook of modern politics and foreign policy, just as useful now as it was then for anyone interesting in gaining and keeping power.

30 min
Plato, Republic

25: Plato, Republic

Plato's Republic might be called the greatest book on politics, education, and justice ever written. As The Divine Comedy embodies the values of the Middle Ages and the Aeneid those of Rome, the Republic embodies the ideals and values of classical Greece.

31 min
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

26: John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

Published in 1859, John Stuart Mill's On Liberty is the classic statement of the liberal ideal of democratic government and social justice. For Mill, government exists to serve the individual, and individual liberty is the end of government, not a means to an end.

30 min
Sir Thomas Malory, Morte d'Arthur

27: Sir Thomas Malory, Morte d'Arthur

Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur captures the passion, consequences, and contradictions of romantic and spiritual love. One of the first great works of English prose, it summarizes the civilization of medieval chivalry in its ideal form.

30 min
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Part 1

28: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Part 1

Goethe ranks with Shakespeare and Dante as one of the three supreme geniuses of European literature, comparable to Homer and Vergil. In the first part of Faust, Goethe grapples with the implications of attaining knowledge at any cost.

30 min
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Part 2

29: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Part 2

The question of the role of beauty and cultural standards is one that every thoughtful person must decide on his or her own terms. We explore these themes against the backdrop of the moral growth and ultimate redemption of Dr. Faust.

31 min
Henry David Thoreau, Walden

30: Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Thoreau, the most American of thinkers, is an unabashed Romantic in exploring the relationship of Man to the natural world. Walden is the journal of his recovery of self-meaning and independence by his return to nature.

30 min
Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

31: Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is the greatest history written in the English language. Here, we look at Gibbon and his history as a statement of "a philosophical historian," who searches the past for laws to guide us in the future.

30 min
Lord Acton, The History of Freedom

32: Lord Acton, The History of Freedom

Though Acton never wrote his planned history of liberty, he left behind, in numerous essays and unpublished notes, a legacy of historical thought that remains a message of supreme importance to us today.

30 min
Cicero, On Moral Duties (De Officiis)

33: Cicero, On Moral Duties (De Officiis)

On Moral Duties is one of the most influential works on education ever written, directly contradicting the view that might makes right and making clear that an immoral act can never be expedient.

31 min
Gandhi, An Autobiography

34: Gandhi, An Autobiography

By drawing on the traditions of Indian thought and reading the Bhagavad Gita daily, Gandhi makes his own path, focusing his entire life on a search for truth and teaching us that there are many roads to wisdom and victory.

31 min
Churchill, My Early Life; Painting as a Pastime; WWII

35: Churchill, My Early Life; Painting as a Pastime; WWII

Churchill might well be called the greatest figure in the 20th century. We look at three books by this Nobel Prize–winning author and find wisdom to guide us in drawing fundamental lessons for our own lives.

31 min
Lessons from the Great Books

36: Lessons from the Great Books

We review the lessons of the course and our definition of what makes a great book—a definition as true and vital today as it was in the age of Socrates and Cicero.

31 min