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For good or for bad, "Mankind: The Story Of All Of Us" is the quintessential History Channel miniseries. In twelve episodes that span the globe, the show has broad ambitions that sometimes provide interesting facts and sometimes merely spectacle. It's a glitzy effort that is loaded with dramatic recreations and CGI effects and oftentimes seems content to be more entertainment oriented than educational. As actual history, one can't really hope to boil down the rise of civilization across the world to a mere 9 hours (without commercials) but "Mankind" gives it a go with intermittent success. This is not a text book lesson or a college course, though, if you're looking for a classic presentation. This is an ADD whirlwind across various cultures and time frames hitting on subjects both vital and somewhat arbitrary. The episodes don't slow down for an in-depth analysis of any particular topic, but race across time jamming as much content as possible into each segment. Its focus, by its own description, is on "Big History."

Made by the creative forces behind the successful series "America: The Story of Us," this new docu-series is stretched across 12 distinct episodes and 3 discs (in both Blu-ray format or DVD) for a total of nine hours and twelve minutes. The Bonus Features include a random selection of additional footage, but nothing in these choices added much value content for me. The show, however, does look terrific in the hi-def Blu-ray transfer which makes the most of the recreations (which get bolder and more battle-centric as the series progresses).

The episodes are as follows (each approximately 46 minutes): (1) Inventors, (2) Iron Men, (3) Empires, (4) Warriors, (5) Plague, (6) Survivors, (7) New World, (8) Treasure, (9) Pioneers, (10) Revolutions, (11) Speed, and (12) New Frontiers.

If you are familiar with contemporary History Channel programming, you are more apt to know what to expect with "Mankind: The Story Of All Of Us." Sensationalized and over-the-top, the program can present even the most mundane topic in an overheated manner. From an intro that has a mummy opening its eyes (a dubious choice) to early episodes that set tasks like iron smelting to an electronic dance beat and slow motion video, it's all about the presentation. And as the opportunity to create bigger and more violent dramatic recreations becomes available, the show never hesitates to plunge right in. If you watch the History Channel, this undoubtedly won't surprise you. If, however, you are completely unfamiliar with the History series format, I might suggest sampling an episode before making the full investment. My guess, this will either really appeal to you or it will really not.

Josh Brolin does the heavy lifting as the narrator, really emphasizing the importance of each new development. He virtually gasps with breathy anticipation as each new subject is ever more riveting than the last! The show's expert commentators vary in credentials, but seem camera ready and eager to participate in the spectacle as well. They include military expert Richard Machowitz (Deadliest Warrier), Dr. Mehmet Oz, Ian Morris and Patrick Hunt (of Stanford), celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, writer Sam Sheridan, Brian Williams (from NBC) and Jason Meigs (Popular Mechanics).

In the end, "Mankind: The Story Of All Of Us" is easy enough to enjoy as an entertainment program. But I don't know that it fully succeeds at its proposed goals. You want pure science and history, this isn't it. You want a glossy and well made intro to topics that might be of further interest to you, this might be an effective overview. What you get out of this one is directly proportional to what your expectations are going in. Overall, about 3 1/2 stars for me. KGHarris, 12/12.
1414 comments|163 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on December 6, 2012
I am a middle school history teacher so I purchased this to show my students. So far we have only watched about the Stone Age but my students BEGGED me to leave it on! They can't wait until we get to Egypt to watch more. I have several students who have been less than enthusiastic about history so when I hear those students leaving to go home & saying they're going to go home to watch the History Channel, and come back the next day actually having done it...very encouraging :)
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on December 20, 2012
Let me start by writing that this series was considerably better than I thought it would be. It is a big challenge to create a series of this scope without making major mistakes. And the creators have managed that.
First let me pay tribute to Josh Brolin's excellent narration. Working from an excellent script, he combined the right balance of gravitas and breathless awe in describing the man's greatest achievements. Peter Coyote and David McCullogh have always been my benchmarks for big-scale documentary narrations, and Brolin easily matches them.
Second: The pacing and editing was well done over all these hours of material. I especially liked the zeroing in on specific people ( some of whom even I, as an historian, was unaware of), to bring this vast story down to a manageable scale.
Third: The program bravely emphasized the paramount importance of war in the development of human 'progress'. I was continually amazed at the courage of the producers in making this very clear despite our anti-military, poltically correct era.
Fourth an most important: The producers overall selected the right events and people to tell the story of mankind. I have some disagreements, like where was the Renaissance?? Incredibly it received virtually no mention. But given the thousands of years to be covered, not everything could be tackled. I was not particuarily impressed with the resident 'experts' that punctuated the narration. None of them were of sufficient renown for such a vast undertaking as this program. Contrast that with the recent 'The Men Who Built America' program, where a veritable whos-who of American tycoons showed up for pithy observations.

Summary: This program well deserves a place in your DVD collection and should be required viewing in High School history classes.
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on December 11, 2012
As an AP art history teacher, this series helps my students "see" the progression of time and allows them visual references to help place artifacts they have studied into their rightful place in history. Watching the Viking burial scene and recalling the artifacts from the Sutton Hoo ship brings it all together better than reading Beowulf. I've enjoyed it and look forward to having for my classes on sub days, or to wrap up segments before exams.
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on December 22, 2012
I am so surprised at these negative reviews. I am not a historian, but I do have a great love for travel and history. I think that the illustration brought to life my memories from high school and college history classes. Of course you can't properly tell the entire story of mankind within 9 hours of video but for me, I became interested in researching topics that I wanted to learn more about on my own. I only wish that this mini series could have lasted a couple of seasons to dig a little deeper. But overall I think that's the point of this series: to get the average person to be more interested in the history of our world, and for me, it worked. It was fun, full of action, and I can't wait to purchase the DVDs!
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on December 5, 2012
This tries to cover a lot of ground in a short time, obviously, but as a way to get kids in particular to think history is exciting and interesting I think it's pretty good. Not a complete source of info, but a great jumping-off point.

I teach history to 5th Graders and have kids of my own, so I watch these shows with an eye to what I know will engross children. How often do you hear kids say, "Oh, boy!" when you tell them it's time for history?? These kinds of shows (and a great teacher) bring this stuff to life.

"Empires Pt. 1" features Jesus, St. Paul, and an overview of the Roman Empire. This was one of the highlights of the series, with great storytelling and exciting visuals of the scale and scope of Rome.
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on December 19, 2012
This is a tough one to rate, since 95% of the series deserves a 5+ star, but the bad parts were REALLY bad. In particular I was so annoyed by their choice of "experts" to add commentary throughout the series that an otherwise great series gets 3 stars. Brian Williams was the worst. A man blessed with good looks, paid millions of dollars a year to read a teleprompter to deliver the evening news, is now an expert on all aspects of the history of the world. I was waiting for the History Channel to turn to Sarah Palin for her knowledge of the ice age and Elizabeth Warren for her first hand experience with American Indians.

Apparently this annoys a lot of people, since it was the basis of the South Park spoof on the History Channel. In that episode of the cartoon comedy, fourth grader Stan Marsh was interviewed ("Dr. Stan Marsh") by the History Channel for his expertise on the role that space aliens played in the first Thanksgiving.

A Feb 14, 2015 update: Brian Williams can now add disgraced liar to his resume.
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on November 17, 2012
This first episode does a good job of piecing together early human history in a chronology that logically flows from one event/invention/discovery to another. It does make some obvious educated guesses, but educated guesses are necessary in history, especially when there are few written records of the time. This first episode provides a good, quick and summarized illustration of the early events of human life and how we came to be a people from a mere animal species.

The only flaw is that it seems, at times, that the progression of this history moves too fast, without an explanation of other civilizations (such as the Mayans, Aztecs, Chinese). It seems that a lot of things are ignored or bypassed for the sake of making the episode an hour or less. Do not expect a detailed explanation of human history, but a good and entertaining summary that could precede more detailed research with other sources.
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on February 12, 2013
I read several of the reviews and saw much of the series before purchase. In context I understand some of the criticism of hyped history, however some of that criticism does come off as a bit elitist and pedantic. I liken it to advising one not to visit South Africa unless they have at least 2 years to properly absorb the culture and nuances of the history. The series is a thumbnail sketch and may well ignite interest to delve further into certain subject matter.

The producers needed to capture a balance between plodding historical advance and entertainment. It is not per se a pure documentary and as such, living in the luxury of no need of commercial success. The question is simple; is the viewer better served with or without this material being available. I believe on the whole it is a positive production even with its light approach. We'll call it the Kenny G of jazz. Perhaps one will eventually find Coltrane once set upon the path.

That all said, the series is still of better quality than 98% of what people view on a daily basis.
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on December 20, 2014
I don't see the logic of NOT using historians, anthropologists, etc., to explain these concepts. The "experts" used were only offering opinions, just one notch up from man-on-the-street input, in my opinion. For someone with no knowledge of the subject matter, I guess this might be a useful approach, but for me, with great interest but still only a layman's knowledge, it was disappointing.
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