Monday, January 13, 2014

Mysteries of the Microscopic World - a The Great Courses err.. course

Course cover I can't emphasize enough how cool the video courses from The Teaching CompanyThe Great Courses are. They are in the format of a university course, but no one is there to take notes so the pace of presentation is natural, it is all recorded on video. No black or white boards, either, as the visualizations of what the presenter is saying are added later via computer. Most courses have from 10 to 40 lectures, all in an easy to understand language, but no trace of the ridiculous tricks and populist stupidities in TV documentaries.

This course - Mysteries of the Microscopic World, presented by Bruce E. Fleury - in particular is very interesting, as it discusses microorganisms in relation to human culture. Especially interesting are lectures 11 to 13, discussing the hideous pandemic of 1918, of which nobody seems to be talking or making heroic movies about or even remember, even if it killed from 50 to 100 million people. In comparison, first world war killed a measly 8.5 million. Why is that? Is it as Dr. Fleury suggests, that the pandemic was a horrible and completely unstoppable phenomenon from which no one felt they had escaped or in face of which there were no heroes? I find this almost as disgusting as the disease itself, that people would only want to document their triumphs.

Anyway, for an old guy, Bruce is a funny man. He is very eloquent and not at all boring, despite his fears. The course goes from explaining what microorganisms are, how they evolved, the perpetual arms race against other organisms, including us, how they influenced history and even how they were used in biological warfare, AIDS and even allergies, all in 24 lectures. I think a lot of information in this course is something unlikely for you to have accidentally overheard or to have been exposed to, therefore of high quality.

As an additional bonus, you get to understand not only the evolution of medicine, but of all the quack snake oil ideas that are periodically emerging in "naive populations", truly epidemics in their own right, and even the source of some of the most common sayings and symbols. For example the symbol of medicine has little to do with the wisdom of snakes, but more with the procedure to remove nematode worms from someone's flesh by wrapping them slowly around a stick.

All in all a wonderful course, created and presented by a guy who is clearly adverse to bullshit and who has read and has worked quite a bit to make it. Give it a try!


Nancyppw said...

Thank you for your review! I am thinking about ordering this course and your review was very helpful to me.