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The Wisdom of History

Take a close look at the patterns of history and deduce lessons on how to succeed as a civilization in this insightful course by a professor hailed for his teaching abilities.

Wisdom of History is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 164.
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Rated 1 out of 5 by from Weird one 3. "Ancient Egyptians choose to become subservient to a tyrant". If your choice is extinction or a king, go with a king. It's not much of a choice. Also, what kind of political system did they have before unification? If it was just a bunch of smaller tyrants, then having just one is a clear improvement. The whole "no word, no concept" is strange to me, plenty of things have no english word for it, but concept exist. Schadenfreude , Zeitgeist.
Date published: 2024-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Wisdom of History A very enjoyable interpretation of human history from its origins to the present day. The descriptions of the warped personalities of dictators throughout the ages very, very topical.
Date published: 2022-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wisdom of History I've started this course and it is quality. Is there anybody like the late Professor J. Rufus Fears who can entertain and inform us about our western heritage? Remember what he has to say about hubris and overextension of empires. He always brings clarity to the complexities.
Date published: 2022-05-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful and useful lectures on history This series of lectures is an absolutely fascinating series of lectures. The course is a few years old but the lessons are still relevant, in fact probably more relevant in 2022 that a few years ago. The lecture style is one of storytelling, beautiful to listen to and, just worth listening to for the stories I listened to the whole set of lectures in less than a week and loved every minute of it. Most of the leactures are relevant everywhere, only towards the end of the lectures the focus is more and more on US history, which is not as relevant for non US people. However, overall on of the best courses I watched. I think this leacture willbe a tru classic and is highly recommended.
Date published: 2022-04-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Controversian and enjoyable I've been half through the audio book and enjoying it exactly because it is controversial, as many other reviewer have pointed. We need not more archeological dating, but more creative thinking and evaluation of the human aspects of history. If you listen to the Chapter 10, at the 5.00 hr mark you will get goose-bumps: is he speaking from beyond the grave about the current war in Ukraine?
Date published: 2022-04-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from no stars whenever anyone uses the words "good" or "evil" to describe people, or groups of people, they've lost their objectivity, their lectures become propaganda, sermons, diatribes - I couldn't make it past the fourth lecture
Date published: 2022-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I love this course I find myself remembering the lessons and quoting Prof Fears often.
Date published: 2021-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from MY FAVORITE COURSE And I own over 100 in DVD. I given this one to two people as a gift. Professor Fears is great!
Date published: 2021-12-27
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Professor J. Rufus Fears believes not only can we learn from history—we must. In this course, he draws on decades of experience as a world-renowned scholar and classical historian to examine the patterns of history. Ignoring them, by choice or because we've never learned to see them, is to risk becoming their prisoner, doomed to repeat the mistakes that have toppled leaders, nations, and empires throughout time.


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
The Wisdom of History


Why We Study History

01: Why We Study History

We define the wisdom of history as the ability to think historically, that is, to use the lessons of the past to make decisions in the present, and to plan for the future—as Winston Churchill did in preparing for and executing his destiny as a statesman.

31 min
World War I and the Lessons of History

02: World War I and the Lessons of History

This lecture asks why the last century—unequalled in advancements in technology, science, education, and knowledge—is also unequalled in the destructiveness of its wars, the scale of its human suffering, and the savagery of its tyrannies.

30 min
Hitler's Rise and the Lessons of History

03: Hitler's Rise and the Lessons of History

Churchill called World War II "the unnecessary war." The existence of Adolf Hitler is a pre-eminent example of the lessons history tries to teach us. This lecture looks at how the failure of Woodrow Wilson and the generation of politicians after World War I demonstrate the consequences of ignoring those lessons.

30 min
World War II and the Lessons of History

04: World War II and the Lessons of History

Winston Churchill understood that Stalin was a tyrant as evil as Hitler, and that Communism was as evil as National Socialism. But as he attempted to heed history's lessons and prevent the Allies from repeating and compounding the mistakes made after World War I, his warnings were ignored.

30 min
Is Freedom a Universal Value?

05: Is Freedom a Universal Value?

Freedom consists of three separate ideals. Those ideals—national, political, and individual—of freedom have achieved a unique balance in the United States, the result of a likewise unique confluence of historical currents. But history teaches that such a balance is not universal, and that failure to understand this lesson can have dire consequences.

30 min
Birth of Civilization in the Middle East

06: Birth of Civilization in the Middle East

America's foreign policy has long been based on the belief that freedom is a universal value. But the history of what is now known as the Middle East shows that nations, like individuals, frequently choose the perceived security of despotism to the responsibilities of freedom, with great civilizations—ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, for example—rising and falling with no concept of freedom.

30 min
The Trojan War and the Middle East

07: The Trojan War and the Middle East

The power vacuum created by the collapse of the Hittite and Egyptian empires led to the most famous war of antiquity, which demonstrates for us that a balance of power is a fragile and dangerous mechanism for maintaining peace.

30 min
Ancient Israel and the Middle East

08: Ancient Israel and the Middle East

The Old Testament, our earliest example of historical writing, has in the book of Samuel profound lessons for us today. The story of King David teaches that there is a profound moral dimension to history and that private and public morality cannot be separated.

30 min
Ancient Greece and the Middle East

09: Ancient Greece and the Middle East

Herodotus composed his Histories of the war between Persia and Greece in an effort to explain the ways of the gods to men, seeking to understand through history and its moral dimensions why nations rise and fall. He found his explanation in the concept of hybris, the outrageous abuse of power that leads nations and individuals to disaster.

30 min
Athenian Democracy and Empire

10: Athenian Democracy and Empire

Athenian democracy rested on values fundamentally identical to American democracy. It teaches us that empire and democratic freedom are compatible, that democracies do not necessarily make peaceful neighbors, and that wars undertaken to spread democratic values can end in defeat and disaster.

30 min
The Destiny of the Athenian Democracy

11: The Destiny of the Athenian Democracy

America shares with ancient Athens a fundamental conviction that it is the duty of the strong to come to the aid of the weak, with corollary beliefs in pre-emptive war, often with the expectation of being welcomed as a liberator. The experiences of ancient Athens suggest that these are dangerous delusions.

30 min
Alexander the Great and the Middle East

12: Alexander the Great and the Middle East

Alexander was uniquely successful in his ability to solve the problem of the Middle East. He ruled not by imposing Greek ideals but by becoming a Middle Easterner, accepting the ethnic and religious diversity of the Middle East and its long tradition of absolute rule.

30 min
The Roman Republic as Superpower

13: The Roman Republic as Superpower

History teaches that it is very difficult to be a superpower with a constitution designed for a small city-state. Rome was ultimately forced to choose whether to keep the freedoms of a republic or to remain a superpower. Its choice determined the future politics of Europe and the Middle East to this day.

31 min
Rome of the Caesars as Superpower

14: Rome of the Caesars as Superpower

The Roman Empire did far more than the Roman Republic to advance the cause of individual freedom. It offered a model of how to achieve peace and prosperity over a large geographical area while securing individual rights, ethnic autonomy, and local political freedom.

30 min
Rome and the Middle East

15: Rome and the Middle East

The Middle East supplies a key to understanding the history of Rome. Rome's attempts to bring stability, peace, and Roman political values to Judea illustrate why the Romans found a solution to the problems of the Middle East so intractable.

30 min
Why the Roman Empire Fell

16: Why the Roman Empire Fell

Since the time Rome was declining and falling, historians, moralists, and countless others have tried to explain why. In addition to threats from Germanic tribes, much of the explanation lies in Rome's involvement in the Middle East and the cycle of nation building, annexation, and terrorism that followed. Failure to solve these problems reduced the Roman Empire to a relic.

30 min

17: Christianity

In an important fashion, Christianity was a triumph of the religious values of the Middle East over the traditions of Greece and Rome. The rise of Christianity and Islam, within the context of the Roman Empire, illustrates the power of religion as a motivating force in history.

30 min

18: Islam

Christianity and Islam have much in common. Yet from the beginning of Islam in the 7th century they have been locked in conflict. The Byzantine Empire and the Crusades demonstrate enduring lessons about the Middle East as the graveyard of empires.

30 min
The Ottoman Empire and Turkey

19: The Ottoman Empire and Turkey

Mustapha Kemal, known to history as Ataturk, is the most remarkable and successful statesman produced by the modern Middle East. His creation of a unified Turkey built on a foundation of secularism and ethnic nationalism is a most instructive example of how to create a nation-state in the Middle East that is based on European political and cultural values.

30 min
The Spanish Empire and Latin America

20: The Spanish Empire and Latin America

Despite its proximity to the United States, its vast resources, and its industrious population, Latin America has never developed enduring institutions of democracy. Instead, it has often given us examples of civil war and despotism. The history of Latin America shakes the assumption that democracy in one country will spread to neighboring countries.

30 min
Napoleon's Liberal Empire

21: Napoleon's Liberal Empire

Napoleon saw himself as a combination of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, but his attempts to transform Europe as a benevolent despot failed. His career attests to both the enduring lesson of hybris and the danger of pre-emptive wars in the name of liberal and democratic ideals.

30 min
The British Empire in India

22: The British Empire in India

The British believed they were combining liberty and empire, but, for many of their subjects, Britain was simply an example of the lust for power as a motivating force of history. The British experience in India illustrated the power of other forces—ideas and religion—to shape history. Who could have imagined a frail Indian barrister could, without violence, bring such an empire to its knees?

30 min
Russia and Empire

23: Russia and Empire

In both 20th-century Russia and China, democratic revolutions would end in savage tyrannies. The wisdom of history teaches us that this is not an accident, but the predictable result of the historical development of both countries.

30 min
China and Empire

24: China and Empire

Civilization rose in China independently from the birth of civilization in the Middle East. But like the Middle East, China throughout its history has chosen despotism over freedom, with Confucius's notion—of order flowing from above—as an ideal that persists, producing despotism even out of a revolution aimed at establishing democracy.

31 min
The Empire of Genghis Khan

25: The Empire of Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan is one of history's bloodiest conquerors, yet modern historians see him as a statesman who brought a new era of achievement to regions he conquered. His life and legacy teach the lesson of the lust for power—and its ambiguous consequences.

31 min
Britain's Legacy of Freedom

26: Britain's Legacy of Freedom

This lecture considers the heritage of freedom that developed in England and was passed on to America, where it merged with four other crucial historical currents of freedom—the Old Testament, Greece and Rome, Christianity, and the U.S. frontier.

30 min
George Washington as Statesman

27: George Washington as Statesman

Since Herodotus and Thucydides, the question has been asked: In a time of crisis, can a democracy bring forth leaders superior to those produced by autocracy? The short answer is "yes," as is the longer one, with this lecture offering the first of two examples from our nation's history.

31 min
Thomas Jefferson as Statesman

28: Thomas Jefferson as Statesman

Napoleon believed himself destined to establish a new Roman Empire, but it was his democratic contemporary, a man of far different moral character, whose decision to purchase the Louisiana Territory created an empire far larger, more enduring, and more noble than anything Napoleon imagined.

30 min
America's Empire of Liberty—Lewis and Clark

29: America's Empire of Liberty—Lewis and Clark

Americans are reluctant to describe this country as an empire, but the United States is one of the most successful imperial nations in history. This lecture explores the consequences of Jefferson's foresight in not only accomplishing the Louisiana Purchase—the largest expansion of territory ever made by purchase and negotiation—but in choosing the ideal men to lead the expedition to explore those new lands.

30 min
America and Slavery

30: America and Slavery

The United States was founded in the self-evident truth that "all men are created equal." However, slavery was recognized by the Constitution as the law of the land. Ultimately, only the Civil War could resolve Americans' understanding of the fundamental meaning of freedom.

30 min
Abraham Lincoln as Statesman

31: Abraham Lincoln as Statesman

At the beginning of the Civil War, many in Europe and America believed that the decay of democracy was embodied in the choice of a backwoods solicitor to guide his nation. Instead, Lincoln's presidency provided the ultimate testimony to the ability of democracy to produce leaders in a time of crisis.

31 min
The United States and Empire

32: The United States and Empire

With the end of the Civil War, the once-more-United States entered the stage of world politics, making it clear to the powers of Europe that this young nation, despite its recent internal conflicts, was not going to fade away. But as America began its appearance on that stage, could it reconcile its values as a democracy with its actions as a superpower?

30 min
Franklin Roosevelt as Statesman

33: Franklin Roosevelt as Statesman

During World War II, the rule of totalitarian governments extended from Spain to Vladivostok. Yet democracy was able to triumph. As was the case with Britain and Winston Churchill, the United States was able to produce, in Franklin Roosevelt, a wartime leader with few equals in history.

30 min
A Superpower at the Crossroads

34: A Superpower at the Crossroads

Harry Truman believed that America was chosen to bring freedom to the world and that to achieve this, America must be a superpower. In the process, the United States entered into the legacy of the empires of Europe and Asia—in the Middle East, Indo-China, and Korea. The consequences are still with us.

30 min
The Wisdom of History and the Citizen

35: The Wisdom of History and the Citizen

The wisdom of history has lessons for each of us, both as citizens and as private individuals. The Founders of our country were successful as statesmen because they thought historically and understood that history is the most important discipline for citizens of a free republic.

30 min
The Wisdom of History and You

36: The Wisdom of History and You

We look at what each one of us in our personal lives can take away from history—which can be described without trivialization as one great self-help book, more valuable than all the guides that fill the shelves in airport bookstores—and discover perhaps its greatest lesson.

32 min