Great Courses Reviews — Living Math

Review of Great Courses our family has enjoyed

On the LivingMathForum list, a request was made to provide feedback on lecture series produced by the Great Courses (formerly The Teaching Company Here is a list of series I either own or have used and feedback. 

These are only my personal opinions, your mileage may (greatly) vary! 

I BUY ONLY WHEN THEY ARE ON SALE and if I can, I preview from a library first (search for “Great Courses” when looking for these in library catalogs). Most if not all series do go on sale (50 to 70% off) at some point during the year, so I do not recommend you pay full price for any of them unless you are desperate.  I generally obtained video for math and science topics, audio for the rest.


Joy of Thinking: The Beauty and Power of Classical Mathematical Ideas
(24 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) Taught by Edward B. Burger, Michael Starbird

One of my favorites. You’ll never see math the same way. Broad age range appeal. Skip lecture 1 and don’t be discouraged by the lecture on Fermat’s Theorem, just move on and enjoy the rest of the series. I kind of like Burger’s style better than Starbird’s, but that may be his ponytail talking ;o) They have produced a textbook based on the same course: Heart of Mathematics

Economics, 3rd Edition, by Professor Timothy Taylor

I LOVE this series. I am currently using it as the spine for an economics co-op class I’m teaching, and the kids (11th/12th graders) find the lectures very understandable. We supplement with other resources, but the basics are covered. Basically more of a conceptual, vs. mathematical approach, which I figure they will get if they take the course in college. He does recommend texts / resources that go well with the course.

America and the New Global Economy, by Professor Timothy Taylor

Another favorite of mine, great as a follow up to Economics. Taylor goes through the global economy, country by country, region by region. Fascinating series for me. Also highly accessible to high schoolers.

Mathematics, Philosophy, and the Real World Taught by Judith V. Grabiner

I am half way through this and enjoying it immensely. Accessible to high school, I am using some of these in a statistics co-op class I am teaching.

Queen of the Sciences: History of Mathematics Taught by David M. Bressoud

I have studied so much math history, so this did not add much to my understanding. But for someone who does not have the time to read a lot on the topic, this is a great tour through the history of mathematics at an adult level.

What Are the Chances? Probability Made Clear by Michael Starbird

Nice presentation of probability with many demonstrations. My 6th grader was able to understand much of this, and several years later still remembers some of the demonstrations of probability laws.

Change and Motion: Calculus Made Clear (24 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) Taught by Michael Starbird

Not EXACTLY clear, but much clearer in my mind. Nice story intro to calculus through its history.

High School Level—Algebra I * (30 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) Taught by Monica Neagoy

Heavy on graphing, you’ll need a TI-83 or similar graphing calculator. Includes history and applied math. Some feel this is an accelerated Algebra I course and I tend to agree. The lecturer can be an asset or liability depending on how you like her presentation – I like it, but others have found it irritating. She does a lot of illustrations with manipulatives. One whole lesson is devoted to learning how to use a graphing calculator.

* I am not as fond of GC new Algebra 1 series, which is much more traditional. 


High School Level—Algebra II (30 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) Taught by Murray H. Siegel

The first 13 to 14 lectures are review of Algebra I topics. May not be such a bad idea, I appreciated his clear, concise and rather quick run through of these ideas. Anything known very solidly can be skipped. I like the lecturer, although he is quite different from Monica Neagoy.


High School Level—Geometry (30 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) Taught by James Noggle

I found it a wonderful adult review of geometry and supplement for an older child wishing to study geometry formally. The teacher isn’t scintillating, but he is clear, concise and organized in his presentation. It includes plenty of proof with applied geometry. We used the series along with a class, it would also work as a supplement to a textbook. There’s a workbook, but it may not be enough on a standalone basis.


Legacies of Great Economists

(10 lectures, 45 minutes/lecture) Taught by Timothy Taylor

Very good lecturer, great intro to economics through learning about the lives of the pioneers of the science


Business Statistics

(16 lectures, 45 minutes/lecture)  Taught by George T. Geis

I  returned this. I tried to view it several times, and it makes me fall asleep. The material is very solid, but I have to think it could be presented more interestingly. Oh well.


My Favorite Universe
(12 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) Taught by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Really engaging lecturer! Allows for a broader age range – my 9 to 10 y/olds could get into a lot of what he talked about. Mainstream science approach to origins of the universe. 

The Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology by John J. Renton
I viewed this course with my son from ages 11-12, and look forward to going through it again with my daughter (12) this fall. Get the DVD version for sure.

Earth’s Changing Climate Taught by Richard Wolfson
Very good presentation of the science of climate, and why there is is a scientific concensus that the earth is warming. Not sensationalist, however, and presents informative information on how the risks of certain events happening are calculated. Wolfson does a good job of not making this a soapbox, presenting the science on its own, and putting both the extreme alarmists and naysayers into perspective.

History of Science: Antiquity to 1700
(36 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) Taught by Lawrence M. Principe
Good information. Lecturer could be a bit more animated, but he isn’t bad. Great supplement to a math and science history course.  Audio format works with this one.

Physics in Your Life

(36 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) Taught by Richard Wolfson

If you are studying physics, it has to be a very good supplement. If you already like physics, it’s great. My son at 10 went through the entire series and very often would excitedly call me over to view the demonstrations. Physics is not my forte, so I did find my attention wandering when he talked too long about theory, but I’m sure it’s better than reading a physics textbook! DVD version is only way to go.


Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy

(12 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture)  Taught by Edward J. Larson

Whether you believe in evolution or not, and to whatever degree, this is an informative resource on the history of how the theory developed. I found the tone respectful of differing viewpoints, even if the lecturer disagreed, and fairly presented. 


Understanding the Human Body: An Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology

(32 lectures, 45 minutes/lecture) Taught by Anthony Goodman

I found the lecturer a bit pedantic, but my biology-loving 12 y/old was enrapt. So I sat through a lot more than I otherwise would have. Yep, I learned a lot, and that’s the point, right?

History of Freedom  (36 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) Taught by J. Rufus Fears

I LOVE this series. It prompted me to do a lot of reading on my own. There is much in the series that relates to education and how the kind of education we have as a society affects our freedom. I have used lectures in this series in a high school government co-op class, and found many good resources in the recommendations. If you like to study through original sources, this provides a lot of context and information to gain a deeper understanding of how our legacy of freedom was passed on to the US.

Civil Liberties and the Bill of Rights Taught by John E. Finn

Excellent series! Again, I used much of this material in a high school government class. Finn does a great job of presenting issues with about as little bias as I could imagine one could have on this subject, navigating one through difficult topics such as right to die, abortion and affirmative action while allowing you to have your own opinion. I learned so much from going through this series, along with the History of Freedom, possibly the best series for me personally.

Both high school history courses, World History, Fertile Crescent to the American Revolution, and Early American History, Native Americans to the Forty-Niners, have been viewed by my kids as young as 10. The format of the teacher dressing up as a character for each time period / region is engaging to my kids. If using for high school, it would be supplementary. I’ve used it as our middle school history spine, supplemented with other reading, documentaries and activities.

Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition, 3rd Edition

(84 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture)  Taught by Jeremy Adams, Phillip Cary, Dennis Dalton, Kathleen M. Higgins, Robert H. Kane, Douglas Kellner, Alan Charles Kors, Louis Markos, Mark Risjord, Jeremy Shearmur, Robert Solomon, Darren Staloff

Excellent series. I don’t have time to fully review it, but if you have wanted to dig into a Great Books set and don’t know where to start, this will introduce you to the minds and works of individuals that have influenced Western society.

World War II: A Military and Social History (30 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) 
History of Hitler’s Empire, 2nd Edition (12 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture)

Both of these are taught by Thomas Childers. I thought these series were outstanding, and my husband did too.  The video format is essential. I bought both as a bundled set on sale.

Other 1492: Ferdinand, Isabella, and the Making of an Empire  (12 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) Taught by Teofilo F. Ruiz

I had high hopes for this one, but the lecturer’s accent is so pronounced I had a hard time following. I returned it. 


High School Level—Early American History: Native Americans through the Forty-Niners (30 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) Taught by Linwood Thompson

Fun series! Mr. Thompson does each lecture dressed up and speaking in first person as if he were a famous individual from the time period he is covering.


Plato, Socrates, and the Dialogues (16 lectures, 45 minutes/lecture) Taught by Michael Sugrue

I REALLY like this series. The lecturer is very eloquent and fun to listen to. He may be a bit fast-talking for some people. There is a constant emphasis on how useful mathematics has been to the Socratic dialogues, and the role of mathematics in Plato’s works.


Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning
(24 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) Taught by David Zarefsky Fits with a study of Plato, Soctratic dialogue and rhetoric well. A friend of mine thought it was boring :o). It kind of is, but I did learn a lot from it.

Introduction to Greek Philosophy

(24 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) Taught by David Roochnik

I like philosophy, so I enjoyed much of this series. The lecturer isn’t as good as some of the others in terms of style, so if the subject puts you to sleep, the series may also. I found it very interesting.


Thomas Jefferson: American Visionary

(12 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture)  Taught by Darren Staloff

It was okay. I learned things about Thomas Jefferson I never knew, but the lecturer could have been more interesting in his presentation. I had audio format, not sure if video would have helped.


American Religious History

(24 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) Taught by Patrick N. Allitt

Interesting and generally respectful in tone to religious beliefs.


Iliad of Homer/Odyssey of Homer (Set)  (24 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) 

Aeneid of Virgil (12 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture)  Taught by Elizabeth Vandiver

Herodotus: The Father of History (24 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture)  Taught by Elizabeth Vandiver

I LOVED all of these these series. by Elizabeth Vandiver I will listen to any series by Elizabeth Vandiver. Makes me want to be a classicist and inspired me to tackle classical language study.

Famous Greeks and Famous Romans

(Each series is 24 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) Taught by J. Rufus Fears

Loved them, great supplement to reading Plutarch


Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies

(36 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture)  Taught by Peter Saccio

Nice insights, historical and cultural background, modern sigificance and relevance. I enjoyed this series very much.


Life and Writings of C. S. Lewis

(12 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture) Taught by Louis Markos

Nice series, the lecturer obviously enjoys C. S. Lewis who is one of my favorite writers


Reviews of Video Learning Materials – The Teaching Company

(See also list of math video resources recommended by the LivingMathForum here)