This was a pretty good class. Lectures could be a bit dry but informative - i learned a lot about Russia. He was earnest and passionate about his material.
Professor Amar is an incredible teacher! After having taken CC with him I chose to take his Soviet Cinema course and couldn't be happier that I did. The films he picks are incredibly interesting and his vast (almost unsettlingly so) knowledge of soviet history and culture is actually incredible. He is an expert as well in Ukranian history and gives you interesting insights into current events. He has a quirky sense of humor so expect to be treated to the occasional Stalin joke. His perspective on grading seems to be that if you show interest and put in the time you deserve to do well. As a result everyone in his class seems relaxed and genuinely enthused by the material and does the work out of sincere interest in the course rather than out of panic that they will fail. A really nice and knowledgable professor and a very interesting course overall! I second other reviewers opinions when I say this man is a gem!
Tarik Amar is one of the best professors Iâ€™ve ever had. CC is probably the signature course of your education at Columbia and if you are lucky enough to get a superb professor, then it can be your most memorable educational experience. Prof. Amar is absolutely unmatiched in his understanding and ideas about the CC thinkers. The guy is just brilliant, displaying such an incredible breadth of knowledge as well as insight about the texts and authors that at times, itâ€™s actually scary that this man knows so much. He manages to find the perfect balance between lecturing and discussion, guiding the discussion so students can arrive at the points he wants them to get. And if that doesnâ€™t work, he will explain. Prof. Amar is also just a genuinely really nice, humble guy, with a great, dry, at times self-deprecating sense of humor. He really treats students like his equals in discussion, despite his great brilliance. Unlike many professors, heâ€™ll actually give you great advice on papers if you go to his office hours. However, he is a little different than other professors. He really narrow the class down to a focus on political philosophy, and alters the syllabus to meet this focus-especially in the second semester. Personally, I found this change beneficial, as it seemed to give the class a little more direction. Plus, some of the people he brought in (Friedrich Hayek, Raymond Aron, Hannah Arendt) were great thinkers who students may not get a chance to be exposed to, otherwise. However, if you were really looking forward to talking about Hume, this may not be the class for you. Additionally, while he is certainly not a harsh grader, Prof. Amar does have one and only one 15-page paper, which might scare people, but is actually quite doable. But overall, Prof. Amar is awesome. Take his class!
Overall, I definitely do not recommend Professor Amar's class. He is a very nice guy, but his lectures can literally put you to sleep and can be difficult to follow.Personally, I think the history of Russia and the Soviet Union is fascinating and am very interested in it, but he manages to make the subject painfully dull. There is really just no reason to waste your time in a class as mind-numbingly awful as this one when there are so many amazing professors in the history department that teach great courses with really interesting lectures.He does not take attendance, so I would recommend taking the class with a friend and that way you can switch off who has to go and take notes. If you do take the class, be very, very strategic about which TA's section you sign up for. Professor Amar does not monitor the TAs at all to ensure that grading is standard across the course, or to make sure each discussion section is more or less doing the same thing, and as a result whether or not you get a good grade is pretty much pre-determined by whichever section you are in. If Alana Hein is one of the TAs, do NOT sign up for her section. The discussions are a waste of time, and she is very unclear about what she expects from you. The class has well over 100+ pages of reading per week, and she expects you to print out a hard copy of every single reading every week (so even if you do the reading on an iPad or whatever, you still have to go kill a bunch of trees before class). She will also be overly critical of details in papers that I assure you no professor would ever take points off for. The average grade from her sections on the first short essay this semester was a B-. Also, be sure to sit closer to the front in lecture because Professor Amar has a thick accent which can be difficult to understand from the back rows.
This class is not always thrilling and I could rarely pay attention for the full two hours. Professor Amar is clearly knowledgable but is not always enthusiastic and certainly does not have a commanding presence. He also gave pop quizzes during the first semester which forced us to always do the readings fully and on time which was rather inconvenient, especially during midterms week. That said I highly recommend this class. If there is a "Contemporary Civilization Experience" it is this. Professor Amar is incredibly intelligent and has a wonderful understanding of all the works. He is also incredibly coherent and is therefore able to convey his insight to the class. However, his brilliance never stifled class discussion. He always encouraged student's to bring their own ideas forward. Instead of controlling class discussion he facilitated it so that the most important topics are discussed and instead of shutting down misguided students he encourages them, usually successfully, to reconsider their perspectives. If you do the reading and are fairly good at righting essays, you should be able to enjoy and do fairly well in this course. Certainly don't switch out and you probably won't regret switching in.
The class was interesting, but I don't know if I would recommend Amar as a professor. To begin with, he is extremely knowledgeable about Russia and the Soviet Union. He knows his material really well, never failing to answer a question. He is also very obviously passionate about what he does, and seemed to put a lot of work into making the lectures information-packed and intriguing, preparing a powerpoint of interesting pictures and telling us anecdotes. He is also very helpful when it comes to papers. Amar is approachable and will actually spend a long time talking to you about your paper if you go to office hours. He will suggest multiple paper topics, giving you a lot of guidance, and he will also suggest what the best thing to write about would be, guiding you rather than leaving you in the dark. That said, I wouldn't say he was a very good lecturer. This is possibly because he was young and not too experienced, but he almost always let us out at least 5 minutes late. He didn't seem to really know how to plan his class, resulting in his not being able to cover everything he should in lecture. He would spend an excruciatingly long amount of time on whatever his first few points were, only to confusingly rush through the last ones. I also didn't feel as if I gained any profound insight from him. He's smart and a good guy, yes, but does not take the extra step to really make you passionate about the material (as Prof. Wortman does).
Tarik is a really bright and laid back guy who has a lot to say about the authors and works in CC. He is pretty good at facilitating class discussion and didn't work us too hard. Yes, you had to do the reading to participate in class or answer any of his questions, but if you listened to what he said and had a general grasp of the material, you could do well on the midterm and final. Be sure to meet with him about your papers and really know your stuff for those because he really puts a lot of weight on the papers, even saying that it could mitigate lackluster class participation. He's a good choice for CC and you will definitely learn something from him.