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Legacy: The Origins of Civilization
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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
Historian Michael Wood leads viewers on a dramatically filmed excursion through different civilizations. Live footage of locations and peoples enlighten the beginnings of 6 civilizations (by the narrator's definition "life in cities"). The writer pushes a main theme of tolerance, a need for the worlds cultures to coexist, and suggests through the study of past civilizations, perhaps peaceful existence can happen. Not a lecture format, but engaging at a university level.

A dynamic depiction, based on a well documented presentation, at a level not for children but the intellectual. Woods uses a well educated vocabulary to explain the earliest 6 civilizations of the world, and how they continue to play a vital role in the people, politics, society, economy, and religions of every continent. "LEGACY" offers an intellectual approach to understanding diverse groups of peoples through an in-depth look at historical facts. Educational rather than entertaining. Scholarly, not documentary. yet the film footage is as delightful as a travelogue. It points to civilizations with similar developments though independently achieved.

DETAILS:
1 IRAQ
Bible verse suggests it the cradle of the human race with accounts of Nineveh, Babylon & perhaps even Edin or the Garden of Eden. Home of Abraham, father of 3 religions. Uruk: 1st city began as a religious center. This civilization first invented the school, world map, astronomy, wheel, literature (ark story), writing, plow, and time set in divisions of 60.
2 INDIA
Sanskrit: oldest living language is from here, with it's now 850 million population amid a caste system and a violent heritage. A civilization with a tradition of rejecting materialism, often invaded, and the episode finishes with the British colonial plundering of this civilization.
3 CHINA
The last of great civilizations to develop, 1000 years after IRAQ, was "sustained by virtue, ritual, & reverence for ancestors." A sign called "wen" (writing) on 'dragon bones' was the beginning of that word. Confucius & traditions surrounding him return today, lie TAo (path) & India's Buddha. China crated the 1st great cuisine, plus inventing gunpowder, stern rudders, magnetic compass, paper maps, and printing.
4 EGYPT
A civilization that drew its existence from the greatest river (Nile) of the world (600 mile x 6 mile wide). An optimistic group crating the world's first state. Funeral monuments: Pyramids-a Greek given name, rulers elevated to God-like status, a practice yet seen all over the earth. Ideas of eternal life and resurrection began here but without damnation. Egypt gave us paper (papyrus), sailboats, and irrigation.
5 CENTRAL AMERICA
Maya & Aztec peoples invented writing independently. Pyramids were built which rival Egypt. A civilization based on time & nature being sovereign even to bloody sacrificial human death. Zero "0" was conceptualized here.
6 EUROPE-WEST
The 1st peoples to spread their civilization across the whole planet. Although great value came from their civilization it also was at great violent costs. Greeks drew from other civilizations and created democracy-put politics into the hands of citizens--"politismo" or civilization as they saw it. Eventually a possessive, property-based individualism, late marriage, small family, and free-market culture dominated, yet today.

DVD set includes subtitles, very helpful not only for the hearing impaired but for the names and many words spoken. Also, a bonus of "When Giants Walked the Earth" gives profiles of Axial Age thinkers (Zoroaster, Isaiah, Buddha, Mahavira, Confucius, Laozi, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Homer, & Thucydides). An included booklet is helpful with a synopsis of each episode, maps, questions to ponder, and other informational bits.

Along these same educational lines, if you like "Legacy", you will probably enjoy seeing "Edge of Existence" and "The Shape of the World", both sets put out by the same Athena DVD supplier.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2010
This is one of the best historical documentaries I have seen. It ties together historical facts with religious and social myths from 6 cultures and links them all together with modern trends. The unique characteristics of each civilization are explored and then that information is expanded as the civilizations look outward and tried to integrate with others. The parallels between the rise and fall of the ancient cultures are very nicely laid out and integrated with modern worries (over-consumption and war) without being overly idealistic or seeming to preach.

The vocabulary, tone and presentation are basically like a great university level lecture. If you have seen other disks by Wood this one is more like In Search of the Trojan War and less like some of his travelogue work. Overall, this disk reminds me a lot of Bettany Hughes when she is at her best or the historical work of Susan Wise Bauer The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome. Like both of those authors, this set of disks tells interesting stories as well as reporting the historical record.

Another important point is that technically these disks are absolutely excellent. The landscape cinematography and footage of current festivals are consistently great. The sound-track and music are perfectly mastered and blend seamlessly into the narration. The recording of the narrator is nearly flawless (the sound quality in a couple spots in Egypt is not good).

In summary, this is a great engaging mixture of history and storytelling which sounds good and looks fantastic.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2010
There is an awful lot of awful lots of ancient history stuff out there. This is the best I have ever come across.

I am not a scholar of ancient history, but I do pursue understanding of many facets of our world, our cultures, our histories. This is an amazing work. Truly.

(1) Presentation: In the "world of presenters" we see primarily two extremes. One is the "Attenborough school" in which the presenter works to put life into the material by wrenching each possible emphasis out of whole being. Sometimes it is even painful to watch Attenborough, almost as if he is in excrutiating pain as he talks. The results, however unnatural, are often engaging. Good presenters in this model can make even bad material enjoyable. It can be fun to watch and thus makes some otherwise dry material useful for learning and not just dozing.

The other extreme in presentation can be represented by Ken Burns. In this style the presenter seems to be intentionally boring. Each sentence ends on a down emphasis, there are many strategic halts and pauses, the presenter may even seem to be sleepwalking through the piece. When done well, this puts the focus on the rich material, often delivering deeply emotive works; the understatement allows for a far richer display of emotional punch to the material--not everything is "golly well gee whiz, whaddya know!"

Michael Woods is a skilled presenter, whether by training or personality. His presentation interests and carries the viewer into a place that is close to the material, but is not "sold out" so far you aren't sure whether you are being sold something. He is also a writer, which explains much of his ability to pull out the detail necessary to a solid understanding of the topic--as opposed to either "just a fun time" or "distanced into boredom." He will not bore--he utilizes great eye contact, and use of emphasis facial features as well as a vocal pattern that is varied and interesting to present his material in a way that is always engaging.

(2) Accuracy of material: Few of us are truly competent to have much of an opinion about the historical accuracy of these presentations: Much of the appeal is that we don't already know much about the areas covered, and much of what we think we know is just plain wrong. As in "World History by Hollywood" wrong. I can say that his presentations work internally and what I do know of outside sources, externally.

While those in the "Attenborough school" are known for sweeping overstatements which, while they might make the material more interesting, often don't hold up to even a quick reality check. For example, in several places in the Blue Planet series Attenborough makes statements such as "until now scientists believed that all life was directly tied to the sun's energy. . ." yet in other places in that same series we hear "scientists have been studying this ecosystem for decades, and the potential of life not only existing, but thriving as we find here may be the key to understanding the genesis of life on earth." We know life exists both in deep caves and in the deep ocean abyss and making statements to the contrary in the very same series speaks to a certain carelessness about facts. This is an unfortunate outcome, for the advantage of the documentary over the fiction is a grounding in facts as we know them.

(How many things on the earth "can be clearly visible from space?" Isn't everything on the surface of the earth visible from space? Isn't it just a matter of magnification, to see unexpected detail that makes the critical difference? So why is this criterion even credible? Why do we keep being informed of the same bit of trivia, except to tap into the "Guinness book" sort of hype? One man eating a sausage is not particularly interesting; a man eating more sausages than anyone else on earth has a different sort of interest. . .)

Michael Wood's presentations are internally consistent. He doesn't make a claim in one episode that he counters with another claim in the next. (Although he does seem to be playing a bit with word-games when it comes to "biggest and best city in the world" candidates across the likes of Babylon, Alexandria, and the cities of the Ganges and Yellow Rivers (India and China) and across Central America. It takes a bit of a stretch to find in his scripts the sort of all-out "lay person excitement" that is the source of some presenters.

(3) Attitude of the presenter to audience. Stemming from these first two items, it is obviously a difficult thing to come off as both the authority figure (so you will be believed by the audience) and as a colleague (rather than a superior intellect lecturing you on simple things). One of the things that make David Attenborough such a skilled presenter and such an easy watch is his ability to "be real" without presumption. He is much more like a favorite and somewhat eccentric uncle than a university lecturer.

Even in some of the most difficult tasks for a presenter: to interact on-camera in a believable way with people who are not only entirely amateurs in front of the camera, but in a way that glosses over this discomfort. When I watch Michael Woods asking a group of local officials, through an interpretor, "did any of your fathers work on that expedition"? The question and the answers feel real. He never belittles his screen-companions, even in subtle ways, a trick that more competitive presenters seem to find so difficult to avoid. Though he is a true academic with academic credentials, Michael Wood is able to stand with non-English speakers as equals, not as a new (intellectual) colonial master. I am surprised at the degree this works to make his material even more effective.

(4) The scope of his material. Again, here Michael Woods excels. Even though he dives head first into a truly huge cauldron: Such as "Ancient Cultures of China" he regularly succeeds in keeping the focus on his main points, tying these into the presentation, rather than letting the awe-inspiring breadth and depth of the subjects swamp the presentation. This makes him fun to follow.

By his disciplined work to keep the presentation focused even while acknowledging just how much is still "out there" he succeeds in leaving the viewer with a feel that this was a worthwhile investment of time and energy, that when the last credits roll we have pushed out our own horizons of understanding, even though it was fun!

Michael Wood's ability to keep bringing the power of each scene back to his central story makes it easier to follow his travels across unknown times and cultures. We are confident in his ability to serve as guide, to always bring us back out of the secret underground caves into an understanding of why these particular caves are such a big deal.

(5) Finally, his choice of material presented works. He ties together the influences of various ancient cultures together in a way that helps us understand why certain qualities are useful guides as we learn more about these birth-cultures of our world. In one of the most striking examples, his presentation of the Maya of Central America helped me better understand why these ancient people in Egypt, India, China and Central America all ended up with massive public architectural features, and why so many built pyramids.

The thing that I probably appreciate most about the presentations of Michael Woods is just this: I watch each episode over and over and find that the questions he touches do matter not only in the way I understand ancient civilizations, but also how I understand my own place in the vast scale. I find myself drifting back to an intriguing trend across cultures, or a similarity I did not understand.

For example, most know that the Aztecs were a people swollen on human sacrifice. Lots of presentations emphasize the wholescale bloodiness of the entire culture. Yet Michael Woods is the first to lead me to understand--if only with a glimpse so far--why it is the similarities between and not the far more obvious dissimilarities of the peoples of the ancient Chinese and Central Americas that help me understand how a people as refined and advanced as the Aztec could be so tied to the world around them. How it might be the dedication to a world view that does no put human beings on the very top of the most important pyramids of consideration that makes them understandable in the 21st Century, and why similar cultural qualities would lead to such divergent outcomes.

And while this is roiling around in my head I have to ask, "if these influences showed up in each of these ancient cultures, then what should we expect to learn about ourselves"--we are, after all, descended from these cultures.

This series is an amazing investment, well worth the price. If you care at all about understanding people and why we end up pursuing some destructive course of action time and time again, this series will feed you. If you love the richness of seeing a book made of palm tree leaves--the actual book!--brought back to China from India, and why this hunger and the decisions the rulers made to cancel further ocean expeditions of the great Chinese Admiral are linked, and why they led to the Opium wars that destroyed much of what was the splendor of ancient China, this is for you!

Yet, if you like the sight of exotic landscapes, of ordinary people doing ordinary things--like eating outside at the oldest restaurant in the world--you will love this series.

Michael Woods has managed to capture the lively essence of the presentation style that has made Sir David Attenborough a world-wide icon while applying an intellectual curiosity running much deeper than a surprising camera shot all in material he deeply understands. Ultimately, what is not to like?!

Get this series. You will watch it time and time again, each time asking yourself "why has it been so long since I've watched this?"
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2011
This series gives us a sampling of the customs, beliefs, world-views of all major civilizations of the world in 5 episodes, and then follows the late rise of the western civilization (which now dominates the world) and points how it takes from the pre-existing civilizations, and how it creates its own value system. I found this series absolutely amazing. If you are human, watch it!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2011
This is a great documentary from charismatic historian Michael Wood. Watched and recorded this series on VHS when it was first broadcasted on PBS in 1991. Borrowed from a local library and watched it again when it was on DVD by Ambrose in 2002, and again on DVD by Athena in 2010. Michael Wood gave an excellent historical perspective of the legacy left by six ancient great civilizations for modern nations as they enter the 21st century, so as to avoid the pitfall that led to the demise of these ancient societies. Those who don't learn from lessons of history are bound to repeat it.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2005
I found this series of documentaries to be well presented, thought provoking, and enlightening. Recommended viewing to anyone who wants to expand their knowledge of the world and its cultures. You come away feeling proud of human achievements and with a true sense that an open mind about our fellow man is both practical and the only way in which to develop. A truly international historical and cultural guide, well scripted and very enjoyable.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
If you are on the fence about getting this set because of the 1 star reviews here on amazon, then this review is for you. Just read through the 1-stars for yourself and you'll see a common theme and, in a nutshell, this is what they all are saying: "Of course this is on PBS; it's liberal. Michael Wood is biased because he made Christianity look bad. And he's a liberal."

I'm not even going to address individual reviews. They're not even worth the time. I'm going to lump them all together in the same "stupid" category and just say what these people really wanted: a flattering view of their own religions. Instead, they got a program about history.

Don't let the biased reviewers sway you on this set. If you can, watch an episode on PBS or a streaming service to see just how "politically biased" Michael Wood is for yourself. Seriously, what a joke of an accusation. And read some of the other 5-star reviews. This is a series worthy of any collection.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
This pbs series made in the 80s will explain why we are where we are in the world today.It shows how the western world got to where it is.It is a valuable tool in understanding world civilizations and their cultures.I think if world leaders would have watched this series we might not be at war.People need to understand the great differances in cultures.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Michael Wood's presentations are always excellent and this one is one of his best. Wood's illustrations and explanations are fair and balanced, but with a marked humanistic tone (which bothers me not at all). His enthusiasm and joy at learning something new is downright infectious. I recommend this highly.
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on May 11, 2014
great......it should be in all schools in the U. S. of A for every student to see over and over
barry
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