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European History and European Lives: 1715 to 1914

Gain appreciation for the great, transforming themes embodied by the key figures who populate this fascinating march of biographies through two centuries of the grand drama of European history.
European History and European Lives: 1715 to 1914 is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 92.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Course An excellent course covering nearly all of the most influential Europeans within the period in question. Conspicuous by their absence are Voltaire, Paine, Mill and Freud. Perhaps a follow-up course by this professor could be provided at some point.
Date published: 2024-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bravo! Excellent Companion to a Traditional Course This delightful and entertaining course is a great supplement to a more traditional, time line narrative course. I have almost all the Great Courses covering Europe during this period, but I learned something more from every one of these lectures, and it left me wanting more. It's certain I will listen to it again. So once you have gone through one or more of the courses by Childers, Bucholz, Bartlett, Desan, or Weiner, I recommend this one highly.
Date published: 2023-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent experiment Steinberg has pulled off something quite masterful – explaining major trends of history through short biographical sketches. Steinberg does a superb job of capturing interesting aspects of his subject’s lives and personalities while relating them to crucial cross-currents of the age. You will learn something new even about the subjects you know well.
Date published: 2023-02-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ammunition For Thinkers The Scope of this 2003 course states: “education…does not mean ‘stuffing the mind'" but rather "drawing out our awareness.” Steinberg's goal is “to use individual lives to explain great historical transformations”. Since we cannot know what “what happens next…we have a useful moment of self-doubt..." about what we can't know. “That touch of humility...that openness...that we might be wrong...are the signs of a" and is sorely lacking today. Lecture 1 (=L1) adds: “What most people going to happen turns out to be wrong." Steinberg’s then shows how history is distorted by the writer viewpoint. His penetrating observations answer questions that remain after taking other courses. The course is far too massive to review in a short essay but a few examples are useful. The audio is more than adequate. The 254-page Guidebook is excellent. (Lecture 2 = L2): while the Roman Catholic Church preserved Roman civic inheritance, Christ's " ‘The last shall be first'...planted a ticking bomb at the base of every European authority". Christ message of hope was referring to the afterlife while humanity’s temporal hopes frequently fall violently short. This contrasts well with L2’s: Augustus the Strong whose maxim was "Splendor makes news!” and Louis XIV's “'I am the state'…already wrong in 1700" as the structure of authority was changing. Absolutism was dying: in L3 we see that the corrupt Walpole stabilized turbulent Britain yet was bound to defend political enemies when the 1720 South Sea Bubble exploded. Human work ethic and Enlightenment atheism failed Frederick the Great of Prussia’s rational autocracy (L4). His amazing work ethic was stymied by a state that evaded absolute control. “No human being…can avoid the paradoxes built into our mortality": a saying that we’d be well to consider as the U.S. undergoes similar Federal bravado today. In contrast, our founding Fathers saw rationality as “a device for analyzing reality…James Madison’s views...(start) with human fallibility.” L5 on Rousseau’s "The Social Contract" questions pure democracy: “How can the citizen be free if his…will is subjected to the will of the majority?" "What if the general will is wrong…are there limits on…sovereign general will?" The Founding Fathers 1787 constitution “…was designed to prevent democracy”, though our schools promote it. L8 on David Hume examines Enlightenment assumptions including the partially true “natural reason” and the questionable: “Human beings are naturally good". Inevitable progress is a function of enlightened thinking, and "human nature is fundamentally uniform". Hume lacked the Great Course “Chaos" on complexity theory. Worse than Hume was Hobbs whose gloomy, authoritarian philosophy was the first mechanistic study of man. His great idea: “that it was impossible to know more than mental (images)" admitted that "the 'thing itself' cannot be known' " a principle too often forgotten even while scientific opinion is continuously revised. The remaining chapters become increasingly powerful and relevant. For example, he has questions about (L17) Wollestonecraft’s “identity of the equal system" because it "runs into the reality of human difference, variety, complexity, and connectedness”. He questions: “What if women and men actually think differently? Have different instincts in dealing with the world?" L19 questions: "Do conservatives, who have a low view of human nature, make better statesmen than liberals?” L21 on Goya was amazing. The origins of nationalism start with L22 reminds us that the modern states “were built by 3 conservatives, not Romantic radicals: Lincoln, Camillo Benso (Italy) and Bismark. The violent patchwork of French politics is discussed over many chapters. The Catholic Pius IX concept of Papal “Infallibility” (L26) is shown to be a political invention capable of waging "war on the modern state" uniting him with the atheist and romantic irrationalist Richard Wagner (L27) against liberal capitalism! L28 on Marxism portrays it as a “secular religion", a manifestation of the non-cyclicity of history, and “progress towards uniformity". Marxism totally misses complexity theory and Steinberg ends up showing how Marxism was applicable only to industrial uniformity. Despite all this, he praises Marxism as “the most brilliant, comprehensive theory of 'everything' – the only unconvincing concept in the course. His chapter on Pasteur (L33) is brilliantly vibrant for those of us trained in science. The contrast between Darwin’s increasing anxiety as death approached and Pasteur's death with a crucifix in his hand was notable. L34 on presented Tolstoy as a playboy turned serious writer. Tolstoy’s self-imposed eccentricity, complaints about his wife of 40 years who bore him 13 children, and lonely death in a train station made Tolstoy seem a talented, spoiled hippie who suffered the usual ignominious end. L36’s Lloyd George's debt laden national welfare programs deserve contrast with the brilliant Inca "miete" system described the Great Course “Lost Worlds of S. America by Barnhart”.
Date published: 2023-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great buy As usual the professor teaching the class is excellent. I have only watched 4 classes so far but I find this a very interesting way to approach history. I did have some technical problems with the first DVD and it was quickly replaced at no cost to me. I do miss getting the classes on CD so I can listen to them in my car.
Date published: 2022-09-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great course presented too rapidly This professor is brilliant & really knows his subject material. But like a few other courses I have taken from The Great Courses, he is basically giving a one hour lecture in a span of 30 minutes. He goes so fast, especially in quoting concurrent books of a given time period that one does not have time to digest what he is trying to get across. He reads these far too quickly, almost stumbling on the words. This would be a great course if the professor would just slow down!
Date published: 2021-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So Many Surprises and Brilliant Insights This course far outstripped my expectations. The breadth of the content is amazing, covering the arts, science, philosophy, politics and business, going far beyond traditional history approaches. The best part was the socio-cultural background he provided in almost every lecture, which was fascinating and unexpected. For example, in the lecture on CPE Bach, he compared the career factors for CPE and his father JS, showing how CPE Bach worked in an era featuring the beginning of a market for art among the middle class, whereas previously patronage from a wealthy person, the state or the church had been necessary. Likewise in the lecture on Boswell and Johnson in England, he explained how the invention of copyright made possible the career of author. Another outstanding lecture concerned the Rothschilds, which described both the reasons for church and state anti-Semitism and the canny strategy of Nathan Rothschild to exploit the advantage Jews had in finance because of that anti-Semitism to use his sons as financial beachheads around the world. Other memorable lectures were on Charles Darwin, George Eliot, David Hume and Richard Wagner. I found the lectures on political figures much less compelling than those on science, philosophy, business and the arts. The professor spent a little too much time on various pet theories related to some of the historical figures - for example, trying to demonstrate in his lecture on Frederick the Great that it's impossible to successfully be an absolute ruler. At the end of an otherwise excellent lecture on the eminent feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, he went off on a horrible tangent about how we need to remember essential differences between men and women - which undermined the extent to which he actually understood what she was all about. The professor speaks perfectly fine - no complaints on that score. Overall, the course gets my highest recommendation.
Date published: 2021-02-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from european history and european lives:1715-1914 Professor Steinberg is a learned historian and well versed in his subject. However: He is lacking in enthusiasm He simply reads his lecture He constantly does quotes-these support his point-but they detract from his lecture
Date published: 2020-09-21
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In this innovative, biographical series, Professor Jonathan Steinberg will allow you to develop a new comprehension of the living context of history. You will appreciate the great, transforming themes embodied by the 35 key figures who populate this fascinating march of biographies through two centuries of the grand drama of European history.


Jonathan Steinberg

Nothing I have done has reached so many people as my European History and European Lives: 1715 to 1914. A long-distance truck driver e-mailed me that he listened to the biographies as he drove. Bismarck on Route 66!


University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Jonathan Steinberg is the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Modern European History at the University of Pennsylvania. He completed his undergraduate work at Harvard University. He earned his Ph.D. from Cambridge University and served for 30 years as University Lecturer in European History, Fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and Vice-Master. Professor Steinberg served as an expert witness in the Commonwealth of Australia War Crimes prosecution and was also appointed to the Historical Commission of the Deutsche Bank A.G. Frankfurt am Mein to examine bank activity under the Nazis. Professor Steinberg is the author of Yesterday's Deterrent: Tirpitz and the Birth of the German Battle Fleet, Why Switzerland?, and All or Nothing: The Axis and the Holocaust. His reviews have appeared in The London Review of Books, The Evening Standard, The Financial Times, and The Times Literary Supplement. Professor Steinberg has written many radio and TV documentaries, including the BBC Radio Four's salute to the U.S. Constitution, Secure in their Persons. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of Franklin College in Lugano, Switzerland, and the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets.

History as a

01: History as a "Soft" Science

This lecture is a road map to the period in which the world of Europe becomes like our own and a new "self" set in a new social reality, becomes the dominant actor.

32 min
Augustus the Strong—Princely Consumption

02: Augustus the Strong—Princely Consumption

The life of the Duke of Saxony and King of Poland is far from unique among the rulers of his time and is a way to understand the lost world of "old regime" Europe.

30 min
Robert Walpole—Politics of Corruption

03: Robert Walpole—Politics of Corruption

England's first modern prime minister belongs to an aristocratic, premodern social order. Yet his shrewd, corrupt, and comfortable administration clearly offers a look at our own world beginning to take shape.

30 min
Frederick the Great—Absolute Absolutist

04: Frederick the Great—Absolute Absolutist

This monarch's 46 years of rule embody the principle of rational autocracy and reveal its limitations, for no ruler, no matter how brilliant, can avoid the paradoxes built into mortality and human nature.

30 min
Jean-Jacques Rousseau—A Modern Self

05: Jean-Jacques Rousseau—A Modern Self

Novelist, philosopher, and political theorist, this major figure of the Enlightenment is the first representative of what becomes our modern sense of self.

47 min
Samuel Johnson—The

06: Samuel Johnson—The "Harmless Drudge"

The most famous literary figure of 18th-century England is himself the subject of the greatest biography in the English language, and represents a new stage in the evolution of modern communications: the emergence of mass media and the public sphere.

30 min
Maria Theresa—Mother of the Empire

07: Maria Theresa—Mother of the Empire

Ruler over a complex of states and territories, but forbidden by gender to claim her title as Holy Roman Empress, this remarkable woman raises for the first time in this course the "Austrian problem" that would dominate European politics from 1740 to 1914.

30 min
David Hume—The Cheerful Skeptic

08: David Hume—The Cheerful Skeptic

Now widely regarded as the greatest philosopher of knowledge, Hume's publication of "A Treatise of Human Nature" in 1739 applies the experimental method to ideas and demolishes all the existing rules of thought.

30 min
C.P.E. Bach—Selling the Arts

09: C.P.E. Bach—Selling the Arts

The most distinguished son of J.S. Bach develops an expressive style far different from that of his father and spearheads the emergence of art as a commodity, suddenly available to a new middle-class public.

30 min
Catherine the Great—Russian Reformer

10: Catherine the Great—Russian Reformer

Seeking to Westernize Russia, Catherine's astonishing successes and equally clamorous failures illustrate the dilemma of striving for her nation's modernity while preserving its soul.

30 min
Joseph II—The Rational Emperor

11: Joseph II—The Rational Emperor

Maria Theresa's son is the champion of rule by pure reason, but his attempt to impose rationality unleashes history's law of unintended consequences and spotlights the inherent dilemma of enlightened despotism.

30 min
Goethe—The Artist as Work of Art

12: Goethe—The Artist as Work of Art

The first bourgeois artist to become a megastar, Goethe is to Germany what Shakespeare is to England; his unleashing of romanticism causes an entire generation to reframe its values.

30 min
Adam Smith—The Wealth of Nations

13: Adam Smith—The Wealth of Nations

A Scottish moral philosopher discovers the nature of modern capitalist markets and the division of labor but sets limits that his champions overlook to this day.

30 min
Marie Antoinette—Queen Beheaded

14: Marie Antoinette—Queen Beheaded

A young queen's notorious reputation for pleasure and extravagance comes to symbolize the blindness of the old regime in the face of the need for change.

30 min
Edmund Burke—The New Conservatism

15: Edmund Burke—The New Conservatism

Rising to high office on the strength of intellect alone, this extraordinary man pens "Reflections on the Revolution in France" and invents modern conservative thought.

30 min
Robespierre—The Democrat as Terrorist

16: Robespierre—The Democrat as Terrorist

Terror becomes a modern political concept as this provincial French lawyer's attempt to force people to be free, virtuous, and happy leads to the execution of 40,000 "enemies of the people" and, ultimately, himself.

30 min
Mary Wollstonecraft—The Rights of Women

17: Mary Wollstonecraft—The Rights of Women

Her eventual death after childbirth makes biology her destiny in the most terrible way, but not until the career of this "first feminist" launches a debate whose impact is still felt.

30 min
Napoleon—The Revolutionary Emperor

18: Napoleon—The Revolutionary Emperor

The most important life covered in this course represents the implementation throughout Europe by force of the principles of the French Revolution, but reduced and contained in the interests of political order.

30 min
Metternich—The Spider and the Web

19: Metternich—The Spider and the Web

A genius at persuasion makes Metternich Napoleon's greatest adversary (not on the battlefield but over the lacquered tables of diplomacy) as he attempts to restore the balance of power in Europe after 1815.

30 min
N.M. Rothschild—Financier to the World

20: N.M. Rothschild—Financier to the World

The "English" Rothschild provides the financial foundation for Britain's victory over France, but the problem of emancipated Jews as symbols of capitalism and change also helps create modern anti-Semitism.

30 min
Goya—The Painter as Social Critic

21: Goya—The Painter as Social Critic

Goya's uncompromising portrait of his times represents a starting point for 19th-century culture, exploiting the new romantic cult of genius to exert influence beyond art's conventional boundaries.

31 min
Giuseppe Mazzini—Idealist of the Nation

22: Giuseppe Mazzini—Idealist of the Nation

Combining Romanticism with Nationalism, Mazzini creates an explosive mixture that fails to create the mass movement he envisions, even though his ideal of an "Italian people" ultimately becomes reality.

30 min
George Eliot—A Scandalous Woman

23: George Eliot—A Scandalous Woman

The "greatest English novelist" scandalizes her own generation as both a "professional woman" and as a person "living in sin" reflecting in her great work, "Middlemarch," - the changes through which she is living.

30 min
The Irish Starve—The Great Famine

24: The Irish Starve—The Great Famine

This collective biography of a starving people reflects both the limits of 19th-century liberalism and the problems of population growth, disease, and subsistence.

30 min
Napoleon III—The Empire of the Boulevards

25: Napoleon III—The Empire of the Boulevards

Obsessed with his uncle's legacy, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte tries to end the instability of French politics by restoring the first Napoleon's system in the "land of revolutions."

30 min
Pius IX—The Infallible Pope

26: Pius IX—The Infallible Pope

The most important pope of the 19th century declares war on the modern secular state and enunciates the doctrine of papal infallibility, setting the terms of the Church's struggle to adapt to the modern world.

30 min
Richard Wagner—Revolution in Music

27: Richard Wagner—Revolution in Music

The first prophet of the new irrationality and the cult of art seeks to redefine art as an alternative to conventional religion.

30 min
Marx and Engels—The Perfect Collaboration

28: Marx and Engels—The Perfect Collaboration

Two dramatically different men nevertheless form a perfect working relationship, and their lifelong collaboration alters the course of history.

30 min
Otto von Bismarck—Blood and Iron

29: Otto von Bismarck—Blood and Iron

Germany is reunified, without destroying the old absolutist state, by a diplomatic realist whose character is very different from the image handed down by history.

30 min
Charles Darwin—Origin of Species

30: Charles Darwin—Origin of Species

Though arriving at Cambridge to study for the ministry, Darwin creates still another crisis in faith, creating the new theory of evolution and almost single-handedly destroying the old account of creation.

30 min
Queen Victoria—

31: Queen Victoria— "We are not amused"

Giving her name to an entire era, this remarkable queen makes the British monarchy the popular symbol of the middle classes while becoming the catalyst by which the British political system transforms itself.

30 min
Friedrich Krupp—The New Plutocracy

32: Friedrich Krupp—The New Plutocracy

Monarchy, feudalism, technology, capitalism, the new sexuality, and the mass press all combine in this family story of a huge industrial concern torn by contradictory forces of modernity and autocracy.

30 min
Louis Pasteur—Modern Laboratory Science

33: Louis Pasteur—Modern Laboratory Science

A French chemist and pioneer microbiologist changes the way we live in this examination of scientific creativity and the structures developed by 19th-century society to make scientific work possible.

30 min
Count Leo Tolstoy—Lord and Serf

34: Count Leo Tolstoy—Lord and Serf

The struggle of Russia to retain its soul while modernizing resurfaces in the story of a privileged aristocrat whose inner journey brings him to a real-life ending far different from its beginnings.

30 min
Alfred Dreyfus—First Act in the Holocaust

35: Alfred Dreyfus—First Act in the Holocaust

The false accusation of a Jewish French officer is both the last act of the French Revolution of 1789 and the first act of the tragedy that will lead to the Holocaust.

30 min
David Lloyd George—Champion of the Poor

36: David Lloyd George—Champion of the Poor

The youngest character in our series is also one of the most extraordinary, breaking the power of the House of Lords, introducing social security, and creating the modern welfare state.

31 min