Reviews: Crash Course

A somewhat light-hearted take on many subjects, but beware inaccuracies

Crash Course, as a whole, is an impressive and bevied series of web videos, covering a wide variety of topics, in usually 40 separate videos per broad topic, such as World History, United States History, Astronomy, Biology, Anatomy, and Economics.

The presentation is very engaging, and has a very artful use of editing and digital graphics, with only a few minor problems. This makes it fun and tends to be very accurate.

The hosts of the show, John Green and Hank Green, with a few guest hosts for a few other subjects, have their strengths and weaknesses. Hank, who tends to host hard sciences, is very knowledgeable and quite accurate, but his voice can grate, and attempts at personality or humor often feel forced.

John, by contrast, is a natural in front of the camera and in general, does a decent job at making his topics easy to understand. However, he frequently taints his narratives with his own biases, focusing on social history almost exclusively. In his two-part episode on American History in the 1960s, the Cuban Missile Crisis and JFK's assassination are each given one sentence, and the Apollo 11 moon landing isn't mentioned at all. By contrast, he spends 8 of the 12 minutes railing about social justice for minorities and women, often repeating himself. During his World History course, Western Europe during the thousand-year Middle Ages is reduced to complaining about the use of the term "Dark Ages", a brief paragraph about feudalism, and a rant about how an abbess isn't an official saint, leaving out Charlemagne and the Black Death. He somehow finds time to do a whole episode about Haitian independence, despite not being historically noteworthy.

There are other hosts for different series. "Bad Astronomer" Phil Plait teaches an astronomy course, and brings knowledge and passion in high doses. Adriene Hill's Large Ham acting talent, charm, and knowledge of practical economics play well with Jacob Clifford's theory in the Economics course. But Craig Benzine's nasally voice and wooden presentation make the Government course painful to watch.

Crash Course's graphics, and the Astronomy and Economics videos are delightful and educational. But the other hard sciences have a wooden (if intelligent) presentation, the history courses are massively biased, and don't even bother with the Government course.