Great Books (TV program)

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Great Books
Created byWalter Cronkite
StarringDonald Sutherland
Country of originUSA
Running time60 minutes
Original networkThe Learning Channel, Discovery Channel, Discovery World
Original releaseSeptember 8, 1993 –
June 20, 2006

Great Books was an hour-long documentary and biography program that aired on The Learning Channel. The series was a project co-created by Walter Cronkite and former child actor Jonathan Ward under a deal they had with their company Cronkite-Ward, The Discovery Channel, and The Learning Channel. Premiering on September 8, 1993 to coincide with International Literacy Day, the series took in-depth looks at some of literature's greatest fiction and nonfiction books, along with the authors who created them. Most of the narration was provided by Donald Sutherland.

Episodes feature insights from historians, scholars, novelists, artists, writers, and filmmakers who were directly influenced by the books showcased and discussed.

List of episodes[edit]

Title Original air date Producer Narrator Short summary Commentators
Le Morte d'Arthur September 8, 1993 Dale Minor Donald Sutherland How the theme of hero worship grew from tales of King Arthur in Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur. Included: comments from filmmaker George Lucas on how the Star Wars films evolved from the book. George Lucas, John Cullen Murphy, Geoffrey Ashe
Frankenstein September 8, 1993 Jonathan Ward Donald Sutherland How Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein reflects concerns about the consequences of scientific experimentation. Anne Rice, Anne K. Mellor, Marilyn Butler, Betty T. Bennett, Forrest J Ackerman.
Origin of Species September 8, 1993 Martin Killeen Donald Sutherland Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection has provoked acclaim and debate since it was detailed in his Origin of Species in 1859. Explore the book that revolutionized science and culture. The program examines evolutionary theory from its beginnings with Jean Baptiste Lamarck, the famous Scopes Monkey trial, and how political leaders such as Adolf Hitler have twisted Darwinian theory and used it for their own purposes. Richard Dawkins, Ernst Mayr, James Moore, Jerry Falwell, John Maynard Smith, John Durant, Rebeecca Cann, Dr. Harold Neu, and Dr. Randolph Nesse.
Alice in Wonderland June 4, 1994 Eugenie Vink Donald Sutherland Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, is examined. Included: state-of-the-art computer animation, reenactments and puppets illustrate the story. Grace Slick, Morton N. Cohen, Edward Wakeling, Selwyn Goodacre, Donald Rackin.
War of the Worlds June 11, 1994 Dale Minor Donald Sutherland A look at H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds. Also: a discussion of the author's life by two of his biographers, David Smith and Michael Coren. Leonard Nimoy, Michael Coren, Brian Aldiss, David C. Smith, Michael Foote, Howard Koch.
The Art of War June 18, 1994 Dale Minor Donald Sutherland Sun-tzu's The Art of War, a 4th-century treatise on war and strategy, and its impact on contemporary politics and business. William Westmoreland, Võ Nguyên Giáp, Asher Edelman, Chin Ning Chu, Arthur Waldron.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn September 3, 1994 Dale Minor Donald Sutherland Mark Twain's masterpiece grapples with one of the most powerful themes in American history—slavery. This video explores parallels between the events of the book and actual historical events. Victor Doyno, Justin Kaplan, Nat Hentoff.
The Odyssey September 14, 1996 Karen Thomas Donald Sutherland Take a look at the Greek myths and The Odyssey's lessons of morality. Scholars and critics discuss the impact of The Odyssey on Western literature, as well as the now-familiar heroic traits first seen in Homer's characters. Jim Lovell, Irene Papas.
The Republic (Plato) September 14, 1996 Jan Albert Donald Sutherland The Republic has intrigued, provoked, appalled, and inspired readers since it was written in Athens 2,500 years ago. Its author, Plato, has been called the father of philosophy, the first fascist, a revolutionary, and the original idealist. The questions Plato first posed in this book of ideas address conflicts people continue to grapple with today. Michael Savage, William Bennett, Joseph Brodsky, Thomas Pangle, Martha Nussbaum, Alexander Nehamas, Bonnie Kent.
The Scarlet Letter September 14, 1996 Eugenie Vink Donald Sutherland Learn how the story of Hester Prynne's adulterous relationship with a young minister blows wide open the conflict between private truth and public appearances, the choice between sin and salvation, and the definition of moral versus good. Nina Baym, Roland Joffé, Lawrence Buell, Carol Karlsen, Charles Hambrick Stowe.
Moby Dick September 14, 1996 Judith Dwan Hallet Donald Sutherland Herman Melville's Moby Dick was published in 1851 to little acclaim. His great novel exploring the themes of good and evil, racial intolerance, and man's relationship to nature was so offensive to contemporary readers that they refused to buy it. Discover how Melville's experiences as a young seaman influenced his story, and how Moby Dick itself influenced scores of American writers. Richard Ellis, Ray Bradbury, John Bryant, Elizabeth Schultz, Hershel Parker, Laurie Robertson-Lorant, Mary K. Bercaw Edwards, M. Thomas Inge.
The Prince September 14, 1996 Dale Minor Donald Sutherland A look at "The Prince," Machiavelli's treatise on the inglorious nature of government, which made the author's name synonymous with political manipulation. Henry Kissinger, Hanna Holborn Gray, Roger Masters, Gary Hart, Robert Hariman, and Mark Musa.
Native Son September 15, 1996 Dale Minor Donald Sutherland An introduction to author Richard Wright and to the story told in his literary portrait of racism in America, Native Son. Authors and scholars discuss the two murders and the symbolism behind the fate that white lawyer Bigger meets when he is thrown in jail. John Edgar Wideman, Keneth Kinnamon, Maryemma Graham, Margaret Walker, Cedric Robinson, Remi Dreyfus, and Michel Fabre.
Gulliver's Travels September 15, 1996 Jenny Durrin Donald Sutherland Jonathan Swift's satirical masterwork Gulliver's Travels is much more than a children's classic. Seventeenth-century England was a country ripe with social ironies, and Swift plucked them all, placing them in a story alive with narrative drive. Discover the inner and outer worlds of Swift and how his prickly prose remains on target today. Pat Oliphant, Mark Russell, Anthony Clare, Victor Griffin, and Roger Law.
Catch-22 September 15, 1996 Ray Farkas Donald Sutherland Interviews with the author, dramatizations of the plot, and comments from World War II veterans reveal the turbulent times that sparked Joseph Heller's creative genius when writing this great antiwar novel. Joseph Heller, Bill Mauldin, Alan Arkin, Mike Nichols, Art Buchwald.
Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams September 15, 1996 Eugenie Vink Donald Sutherland Using a unique series of dream sequence reenactments based on Freud's revolutionary book, experts and artists escort viewers down the road of the unconscious and into a deeper understanding of the inner life of humans. Peter Swales, Peter D. Kramer, Barbara P. Jones, and Robert Altman.
Don Quixote June 28, 1997 Denise Schrier Cetta Donald Sutherland Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote out of a spirit of disillusionment. Yet, the novel lives on as a testament to hope and imagination. Scholars and critics discuss the significance of this important work. Mario Cuomo, Curtis Sliwa, Carlos Fuentes.
Great Expectations June 28, 1997 Dale Minor Donald Sutherland Documentary on Charles Dickens' Great Expectations tells the story of the book, its creator, its hero, its fans and its interpreters. To tell the story of the novel, freshly dramatized scenes are interwoven with footage from several movie versions as well as an on-the-set look at director Alfonso Cuaron's version released in August 1997. The special also focuses on the city of London which Dickens describes so vividly. John Irving, Ethan Hawke, Alfonso Cuarón, Douglas Broyles, Michael Slater, Dr. David Parker, Linda Hooper, and George Newlin.
The Great Gatsby September 13, 1997 Elena Mannes Donald Sutherland F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby focuses on how the American dream may be unattainable, as seen through Jay Gatsby's desire for Daisy Buchanan. Fitzgerald and his character Gatsby have similar family backgrounds and love lives. The extravagance and imagery portrayed in The Great Gatsby has been the basis for advertising campaigns, and the novel's popularity has inspired several film adaptations. Richard Lehan, Karal Ann Marling, Jackson R. Bryer, Sam Waterston, Henry Allen, Alfred Kazin, George Garrett, Richard Bausch, and Tobias Wolff.
Walden September 13, 1997 Ginny Durrin Donald Sutherland Documentary explores Henry David Thoreau's masterpiece Walden, in which he describes in depth the two years he spent living in a hut by Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, and emphasized the importance of simplicity and spirituality over materialism. His work inspired people like F.D. Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatmas Gandhi. The special uses dramatic re-enactments, interviews with experts and those who live by Thoreau's ideals to bring Walden to life. Robert D. Richardson, Thomas Blanding, Richard Lebeaux, Elizabeth Hall Witherell, Vidor Jorgensen, Jack Borden, Michael Kellet, Ray Gerke, Cecile Andrews,
Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems September 14, 1997 Dale Minor Donald Sutherland Perhaps the most visionary and controversial book of its time. Galileo asserted that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Egotistical visionary against bullheaded pope. Owen Gingerich, Maurice A. Finocchiaro, George Coyne, Charles Curran.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest September 12, 1998 Dale Minor Donald Sutherland Follow along as author and 1960s counterculture guru Ken Kesey reads dramatic sequences, bringing such inimitable characters as Randall P. McMurphy and Nurse Ratched to life. Ken Kesey, Jann S. Wenner, John Clark Pratt, Miloš Forman, Dr. Frank Pittman, Ken Babbs, Louise Fletcher, Wavy Gravy, and Saul Zaentz
The Naked and the Dead September 13, 1998 Lucky Severson Donald Sutherland A dissection of The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer's post-World War II novel about an American platoon on a Japanese-held island in the Pacific. Included: interviews with the author and with director Oliver Stone, who paid homage to the book in his film Platoon. Norman Mailer, Oliver Stone, Terry Teachout, Robert F. Lucid, Eugene Sledge, Sam Tanenhaus.
Lord of the Flies February 13, 1999 Vicki Warren Donald Sutherland An examination of William Golding's 1954 novel Lord of the Flies, about schoolboys run amok on a desert island. Patrick Reilly and Peter Green.
The Red Badge of Courage February 13, 1999 Nancy LeBrun Donald Sutherland A century ago, a 22-year-old named Stephen Crane wrote one of the greatest books ever about the Civil War.[citation needed] This video examines the mind of Crane, and analyzes the classic tale of a young man in the midst of a horrifying, bloody conflict. By bringing to light the fears young people have when moving out into a cold world, Crane's story is able to touch each new generation.[citation needed] Morley Safer, Bruce Gudmundsson
All Quiet on the Western Front May 15, 1999 Dale Minor Donald Sutherland The great anti-war novel All Quiet on the Western Front takes a look at World War I and the horrors of industrialized warfare. Scholars and critics discuss the impact of this novel and war veterans describe the thoughts and emotions of battle. Thomas Thornton, Philip Caputo, Professor Brian Murdoch, Professor Jay Winter, Bernd Huppauf, and Julie Gilbert
Heart of Darkness August 21, 1999 Dale Minor Donald Sutherland Published in 1902, Heart of Darkness revealed a pattern of exploitation, corruption, and casual brutality that was to occur again and again over the rest of the 20th century. In this program, parallels are drawn between Joseph Conrad's harrowing novella and the Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now. Includes clips from Apocalypse Now and Turner Network Television's Heart of Darkness. John Milius, Adam Hochschild, Norman Sherry, Laurence Davies, Martin Sheen and Homi K. Bhabha.
Dracula August 22, 1999 Trish Mitchell Donald Sutherland Documentary that examines Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. An Irish writer, Stoker claimed that the idea for "Dracula" came to him in a nightmare but literary scholars believe the roots for his work can be found in Eastern European folklore. James Hart, screenwriter for the feature film Bram Stoker's Dracula, offers reasons for the novels popularity and Stoker's biographer, Barbara Belford, gives insight into the man who composed it. David J. Skal, James V. Hart, Leonard Wolf, Nina Auerbach, Barbara Belford.
Pride and Prejudice September 3, 1999 Linda Duvoisin Donald Sutherland Documentary about Jane Austen's romantic novel Pride and Prejudice. Originally published in 1813, the original version of the novel was written in 1796–1797 under the title "First Impressions," and was probably in the form of an exchange of letters. Director Nora Ephron talks about what makes the book one of the timeless romances, and Helen Fielding, the author of Bridget Jones's Diary, discusses how the concept of scandal has changed the way we live and love. Nora Ephron, Helen Fielding, Fay Weldon, Edith Lank, and Roger Rosenblatt.
Madame Bovary February 19, 2000 Dale Minor Donald Sutherland Gustave Flaubert's celebrated novel of obsessive ardor undergoes a dazzling retrofit for the screen, courtesy of French neurosis-master Claude Chabrol. The basic story (a woman's selfish quest for happiness ends up obliterating all she holds dear) may be the same, but Chabrol's talent for biting through to the dark marrow of passion makes this a startling experience, even for people familiar with the source material or the numerous other cinematic adaptations. Dominick LaCapra, Erica Jong, Ann-Louise Shapiro, Dalma Heyn, Victor Brombert, and Éric Le Calvez.
Crime and Punishment June 10, 2000 Marijo Dowd & Foster Wiley Donald Sutherland Swayed by early-19th-century notions of "the great man," Raskolnikov believes that humanity is a weakness heroes discard; he will test himself and his philosophy by killing an old, miserly pawnbroker. Filmed in St. Petersburg and narrated by Donald Sutherland, this program explores Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky's classic examination of evil's intellectual appeal and its moral repercussions. Dramatic reenactments and location footage - even of the actual room Dostoevsky chose for his protagonist - bring the book to life. Olga Meerson, Harold Bloom, Michael Dirda, Dmitry Dostoyevsky, Edward Wasiolek, Boris Tikhomirov.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X June 11, 2000 Lynn Doughtery Donald Sutherland Get to know the man once deemed the "angriest black man in America". Alex Haley narrates Malcolm X's story of racism in America. Interviews, photos, and archival footage trace Malcolm X's roots on the streets to him becoming one of the most outspoken and charismatic leaders ever. Michael Eric Dyson, Marita Golden, George W. Haley, Ossie Davis, Mike Wallace, Attallah Shabazz.
The Grapes of Wrath September 17, 2000 Dale Minor Donald Sutherland Documentary about John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath. No book captures the desperation faced by American farmers in the 1930s better than The Grapes of Wrath.[citation needed] Steinbeck encapsulates this wrenching time in American history by following his main characters, the Joads, as they flee the devastation of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl with dreams of a better life in California. The program expands the scope of the novel to reveal how characters like the Joads would have fit into the larger picture of American history. Using famous photographs by Dorothea Lange and the music of Woody Guthrie, as well as clips from the 1940 feature film, the program adds images and music to the understanding of the book and the period. Arlo Guthrie, Susan Shillinglam, Studs Terkel, Gerald Haslam, James J. Rawl, Thom Steinbeck, Robert Demott, Elaine Steinbeck.
Nineteen Eighty Four October 11, 2000 Ned Judge Nick McArdle & Donald Sutherland A documentary about George Orwell's novel 1984, about the imagined totalitarian society of Oceania. The program puts the novel in historical and social context and draws on clips from the 1984 film starring John Hurt as anti-hero Winston Smith, who falls in love as rebellion against his job rewriting history. Margaret Drabble, Bernard Crick, David Brin, Ray Kurzweil.
Les Misérables December 24, 2000 Marijo Dowd & Foster Wiley Uma Thurman Documentary about Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables. Victor Hugo's 1862 masterpiece not only reflects his intense concern with penal reform, but it more broadly captures the burdens of the poor and working class—a "first" in popular literature—in the guise of a gripping human drama. The novel tells the epic story of Jean Valjean, a good man condemned to hard labor for petty theft, and his tormented attempts to regain freedom and dignity in the shadow of the merciless legal system. The program explores Hugo's prolific artistry and political activism. Victor Brombert, Graham Robb, Anthony Papa, Mary Brosnahan.
The Jungle February 17, 2001 Dale Minor James Belushi Upton Sinclair's groundbreaking exposé of Chicago's meatpacking industry is a horror story of unsanitary conditions, food poisoning, and child labor abuse. Learn what led Sinclair into this turn-of-the-century urban "jungle" and how his book prompted Congress to pass the first food-safety laws. James R. Barrett, Jeremy Rifkin, Carol Tucker Foreman, Sara Lilygren, William Bloodworth, Nancy Donley, and Rev. Jim Lewis.
The Right Stuff May 18, 2001 Dale Minor Fred Ward Tom Wolfe wanted to know what "makes a man willing to sit up on top of an enormous Roman candle. . . and wait for someone to light the fuse?" In his groundbreaking book The Right Stuff, his subjects were the Mercury astronauts who became caught up in America's feverish space race, and were hurled into space not really knowing if they would ever come back. Their quiet courage made them national heroes, but the truth of their private lives was carefully hidden. Wolfe's style of New Journalism allowed him to craft a rich text which captured the facts, while including his own emotional reaction to the situation. Wolfe also broke conventions by showing the astronauts as they really were, flaws and all. But by removing the halos that America had placed upon their heads, Wolfe revealed how truly extraordinary these men were. Tom Wolfe, John Logsdon, Chuck Yeager, Walter Cronkite, William McKeen, Gordon Cooper, and Sergei Khrushchev
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea August 11, 2001 Dale Minor Roy Scheider An examination of Jules Verne's visionary 1870 novel “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” a cautionary tale of how technology can be used for warfare, and the price of colonial aggression. Included: interviews with writers and scientists. Gavin Scott, Peter Benchley, Greg Stemm, Richard Ellis, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Jean-Jules Verne, Dr. Amy Wright, Walter J. Miller, Al Charette, and Bruce Jones.
Poe Tales of Terror/Tales of Edgar Allan Poe October 30, 2001 Dale Minor Gary Oldman Explore the psychology of terror in some of Poe's most-haunting tales. Interwoven through these stories is the most tragic tale of all — that of author Edgar Allan Poe. Many of his tales resonate with themes from his own life: abandonment, sickness, and fear. Leading us through Poe's tales of terror are well-known horror writers and directors. Wes Craven, Ray Bradbury, Colin Dayan (called Joan Dayan), Gerald Kennedy, Kenneth Silverman, Poppy Z. Brite, Jeff Jerome.
The Bible: Book of Genesis December 24, 2001 Dale Minor Andre Braugher The first book of the Bible is analyzed. Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars add insights and reflect on its impact on Western civilization. Alan Dershowitz, Thomas Cahill, Jack Miles, Karen Armstrong
The Bible: Book of Exodus December 24, 2001 Dale Minor Andre Braugher An examination of the second book of the Bible, Exodus, in which themes of slavery, flight, liberation and miracles are presented. Included: the parting of the Red Sea. Alan Dershowitz, Thomas Cahill, Jack Miles, Karen Armstrong.
Inferno February 23, 2002 Dale Minor Christian Slater What are the consequences of our choices? Explore the dark side of human nature and the consequences of sin. Dante’s interpretation of the afterlife has endured as one of the most insightful and scathing reviews of humanity. This program reveals why his fourteenth-century poem has become our[who?] defining vision of hell. Robert Pinsky, William R. Cook, Ronald Herzman, Miriam Van Scott, Fr. Stephen Happel.
Wuthering Heights May 2, 2002 Dale Minor Madeleine Stowe On the cold, damp moors of England burned a love that transcended death. Emily Brontë's novel of thwarted passion and cruelty was considered immoral when it was first published. The central character, Heathcliff, became an archetype for the modern anti-hero. This program compares Heathcliff's character to Brontë's life of isolation and rejection Juliet Barker, John Plotz, Margret Russett, Edward Royle, Edward Chitham.
The Metamorphosis August 8, 2002 James Barrat Jeff Goldblum What if you woke to find yourself transformed into a giant bug? When a mild-mannered salesman turns into an insect overnight, his family reacts with dismay, recrimination, and ultimately, murder. Gregor Samsa, Kafka's protagonist, finds that alienation, family dysfunction, paranoia, and bureaucracy define life. Learn why the term "Kafkaesque" is still used to define life in the 21st century. Jeff Johnson, PHD, Kamakshi Murti, PHD, Irmgard Wagner, PHD, David Zane Mairowitz, Arnošt Lustig, Arnold Braun, Peter Rehberg, PhD, Kirk Bloodsworth.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz August 30, 2002 Dale Minor Richard Thomas As a film, it became a beloved classic overnight. As a book, the Wonderful wizard of Oz has generated controversy for a century, being deemed irreligious by some and banned by schools and libraries as subversive. With readings, movie clips, and dramatizations of many scenes, this program explores the enduring attraction of L. Frank Baum's masterpiece for children and the book's innovative illustrations by W.W. Denslow.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde November 8, 2002 Dale Minor Michael Madsen Discusses themes of good vs. evil, hypocrisy, sociopathy, and addiction in Robert Louis Stevenson's psychological thriller. Includes dramatizations of scenes from the tale and key moments in the author's life.
Arabian Nights December 5, 2002 Graham Townsley Gina Gershon This program brings The Arabian nights to life with dramatic reenactments of some of its most memorable tales. The video also explores the origins and literary influence of this classic collection of stories told along ancient trade routes. Experts, including novelist and Arabian scholar Robert Irwin, discuss the book and the colorful history of its translations by Antoine Galland and Sir Richard Burton. Robert Irwin, Zainab Bahrani, Ron Campbell, Fatema Mernissi, and Justin Frank
2001: A Space Odyssey June 20, 2006 Dale Minor William Shatner For over three years Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick crafted what Kubrick called "a myth of epic grandeur". The result was a glimpse into the future that stunned a generation. This program brings together a wealth of material on their prescient book and film, including an in-depth look at their collaboration and insights into th etechnical challenges of shooting the movie. Along with clips from the film, the program features interviews with Sir Arthur C. Clarke, commentary from Clarke biographer Neil McAleer and Kubrick biographer Vincent LoBrutto, and discussion by several noted experts on artificial intelligence and robotics. Arthur C. Clarke, Vincent LoBrutto, Neil McAleer, Rodney Brooks, Frederick I. Ordway III (as Fredrick Ordway), Joseph P. Allen (as Joe Allen), Guy Gardner, Rita Kempley, Francis Slakey, Anne Foerst, Ray Kurzweil, Steven M. Wise.


Grandes Livros premiered in 2009 and was a multi-platform release of Portuguese literature that involves a series of 12 documentaries. Each episode was a biography and documentary at 50-minutes each, narrated by Diogo Infante, actor and director of the Teatro Nacional D. Maria II. The featured episodes include: