Big History: The Teaching Company


Yesterday afternoon, after I delivered a Sunday program at a church in Savannah, GA, one of the attendees asked, "When is this perspective going to be available as a college course?" I excitedly told him, "It already is. Get David Christian's Big History course from The Teaching Company website. There's no better articulation of the arrow of cosmic complexity in existence. It's the best of the best!"

For a decade and a half, The Teaching Company has made available to the public (via DVD, CD, and audiotape) college-level courses taught by some of the best professors in the world. Connie and I have watched or listened to quite a few of these courses over the years, and we have loved them all. But none more so than the program we are listening to now: Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity, taught by David Christian, author of Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. The book is very good, and I recommend it. But the course is an absolute must!

One of my favorite quotes from Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams' excellent book, The View From the Center of the Universe, is this:

Without a meaningful, believable story that explains the world we actually live in, people have no idea how to think about the big picture. And without a big picture, we are very small people.

IMHO, no one paints the big picture—the grand epic of cosmic, Earth, biological, and human history—more elegantly than David Christian.

Here's what The Teaching Company's top contributor (the highest ranked reviewer on their site) had to say:

Christian was a pioneer of big history, and is still a leader in the field, if not THE leader. TTC and its customers are therefore incredibly fortunate to have gotten Christian to develop this course.

The scope of the course is sweeping and comprehensive. Christian literally presents a history of the universe, both natural and human, from the big bang right up to present, and even ends with potential scenarios for the future. In the process, the student is exposed not only to history on the grandest possible scale (which is the scale at which everyone should first be exposed to history), but he also imparts basic knowledge in areas such as cosmology, physics, chemistry, biology, human evolution and anthropology, technology, etc.

As a lecturer, suffice it say that Christian is superb, and 48 lectures (each 30 minutes long) is perhaps a perfect length for this subject -- long enough to synthesize a vast amount of material, but well short of overload.

It would be a gross understatement to say that I highly recommend this course.

I wholeheartedly agree with this reviewer. If you only do one thing for yourself in 2009, watch or listen to this course!

Since I know David Christian personally (he was a participant in the first Evolutionary Salon that I organized a few years ago, on Evolutionary Directionality), I sent him an email this morning to tell him how much Connie and I are enjoying listening to his artful teaching. Here's part of his response:

Michael, I’m so glad you liked the Teaching Company course. It’s been much more successful than I expected. Bill Gates contacted me to say he loved it!