The Teaching Company (Also Known as Great Courses)

A while back I was writing about something -- the Civil War I think -- and I mentioned that I had been lucky enough to have James McPherson as a professor.  I remember a comment on the post that said something like "yes, yes we know, you went to Princeton."  I certainly was lucky, and that school contributed a lot to what I am.  But as far as attributing sh*t I know to a source, Princeton is in at least second place.   By far the greatest source of what I know about history, art, music and even about the sciences comes from the Teaching Company.  And that is available to all of you, no SAT required.

I just checked my account and I have taken 71 courses from them, including 54 history courses**.  I think I have taken, for example, pretty much all the courses on this list in a Tyler Cowen post.  I began my journey taking courses on things that had always interested me but I knew a fair amount about already, such as the history of Ancient Rome or the Civil War or WWII.  But the most fun I have had has been taking courses on periods I knew little about -- such as Daileader's great histories of the Middle Ages or the History of China.  And I have had the most fun taking courses on things I knew NOTHING about, such as the history of India, of pre-Columbian American civilization, and of nomadic civilizations of Asia.

The key thing to remember is:  never pay rack rate.  Everything goes on sale from time to time.  Today until midnight, for example, they are having a 70% off sale on a subset of their stuff.  You can still get cd's and dvd's if you want but I used to get the digital download for my iPod and increasingly just stream the audio from an android app and stream the video from their Roku app.


** My family thinks I am weird because I listen to these courses as I run and work out (instead of music).  But it turns out this was not nearly as weird as when I have done Pimmsleur language courses while I am running.  If you want to really take your mind off your running, try to diagram a sentence in your head to figure out which of freaking German article you should be using.  Also, it creates a nice reputation around the neighborhood for eccentricity if you babble in foreign languages as you run.


  1. esoxlucius:

    I don't spend a lot of time in the comments section anymore but I did see the comment
    "yes, yes we know, you went to Princeton"

    I thought it was a jerk thing to say.

  2. Mercury:

    I love Teaching Company and wish I had more courses under my belt. I've been listening to them since the 80s, back in the cassette tape days...along with books on tape before it was semi-cool. Some novels, like John le Carré spy thrillers and PG Wodehouse, are WAY BETTER on audio than reading them. I do a lot of property maintenance and listing-while-you-work increases productivity and enjoyment if you have to perform any activity that isn't too dangerous or requires sharp-focus brain power, like painting, landscaping tasks...or driving.

    I've never owned any of these and have relied almost solely on New England libraries and inter-library loan. Ripping 12 CDs to mp3 is a pain but still worth it. I must say that I miss the ease and simplicity of stop/play/FF/RW on a tape playing boombox when listening to audio narration. Fiddling with your damn phone or mp3 player if you have to stop and start often is a pain...

    Pro Tip: The best (of many) audio version of 'The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy' quartet is the abridged version that Stephen Moore narrated (with sound effects!) for audio cassette in the 80s. It never officially made it to digital but here it is.
    Read the essay, follow the link....

  3. David:

    You can also get a lot of their courses on Audible. If you get them through an Audible subscription, they are a steal.

  4. Solomon Foster:

    Funny, I went looking for the Douglas Adams read audiobooks two weeks ago with no luck. (Well, other than traces of an old torrent that didn't have any obvious way to use it other than signing up for some shady website, which seemed a dodgy idea.) I have a hard time seeing how these recordings become unavailable in the digital age -- I would have shelled out good money to get a copy of the version read by Adams himself, which I remember fondly from the 1990s, and it would be next to free to offer them for sale if one had the rights to it.

    I will say that the current Stephen Fry version of the audiobooks is quite nice, and contra what your link there says, the original BBC radio plays are quite fun too, if a weird proto-version of the story.

    Pro Tip: There's a Python script called youtube-dl that's quite good at downloading files from SoundCloud...

  5. Bill Shugg:

    I've taken a lot of the Great Courses. Last year I found out about the Great Courses Plus subscription service and have stopped buying the individual courses and gone with that. Unlimited access to hundreds of courses (more are added every month) for an annual fee of less than $200.00. They have Apple TV and Roku apps as well as IOS and Android apps for phones and tablets. Love it.

  6. smilerz:

    I have 50-60 of them on Audible as well - (where you can frequently get them for $5 a pop).

    If you haven't tried the linguistic courses by John McWhorter give them a shot. It was a subject I had little interest in, but have learned a ton. The lecture on addiction (The Addictive Brain) is fascinating as well.

  7. DanSmith:

    I've also become a Great Courses fan. If you have a Roku device you can stream the courses you've purchased in addition to getting a DVD.