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Borrowing ideas from the natural science disciplines of statistical mechanics and nonlinear dynamics, Turchin (ecology and evolutionary biology, U. of Connecticut) has formulated a science of history called cliodynamics (Clio is the muse affiliated with history). Here he applies his theory to the rise and fall of empires, illustrating his argum


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Borrowing ideas from the natural science disciplines of statistical mechanics and nonlinear dynamics, Turchin (ecology and evolutionary biology, U. of Connecticut) has formulated a science of history called cliodynamics (Clio is the muse affiliated with history). Here he applies his theory to the rise and fall of empires, illustrating his argum

30 review for War and Peace and War: The Life Cycles of Imperial Nations

  1. 5 out of 5

    Murtaza

    I'm a bit skeptical of Big History books, primarily because the world we live in today is so radically different from the cyclical political orders that existed in the past. Humans are the same, but modern technology is a social variable that we are still desperately trying to wrap our heads around. This is a book that tries to apply predictive logic to the rise and collapse of imperial systems: reviving Ibn Khaldun's concept of asabiyya, or group cohesion, and applying it to the contemporary wo I'm a bit skeptical of Big History books, primarily because the world we live in today is so radically different from the cyclical political orders that existed in the past. Humans are the same, but modern technology is a social variable that we are still desperately trying to wrap our heads around. This is a book that tries to apply predictive logic to the rise and collapse of imperial systems: reviving Ibn Khaldun's concept of asabiyya, or group cohesion, and applying it to the contemporary world. Although the world we live in today is very different from the past, I do think there is some truth to the fact that the strength of societies is tied to levels of inter-group trust and cooperation. When those things fray, collective action becomes impossible and decay of some sort inevitable. To put it another way the things that drive down social trust and reduce cohesion end up weakening society as a whole. Ethnic diversity is the popular one people like to accuse today, but in fact the most successful empires in history have had no problem integrating new ethnicities into the fold and often took great pride in this, for example the Roman, Islamic and in a more limited sense American empires. Some things that do reduce cohesion are exploding wealth inequality that sets different classes against one another and the over-production of elites who become heavily invested in waging bitter political conflicts with one another over the necessarily limited number of elite positions in society. The poor and lower middle-classes inevitably become pawns and victims of these status seekers. One of the things that increases social cohesion is the presence of outsider threats that galvanize society, usually on some kind of threatening physical frontier. Empires have often emerged along civilization borderlines, where people marked by some type of significant divide come face-to-face with one another and come to understand both their shared identities and the need for inter-group cooperation more vividly. The effectiveness of a country like Israel is less due to some sort of mystical characteristics of its people than the Darwinian social cohesion effect of living on a borderline and being under constant threat. The same goes with Palestinians, who, despite being the weaker party due to their lack of a superpower patron, have coalesced into one people rather than a disparate group of tribes living under Ottoman rule. Throughout history imperial peoples have been formed in crucibles of threat and external pressure. Religion also plays an important role as a metaphysical "social cement" that leads people to trust, cooperate and sacrifice for one another as a collective. Can we predict the rise and fall of societies based on quantitative inputs? This is the contention of the nascent field of cliodynamics that the book makes an argument for. I'm not saying its impossible but we are some ways off from that. To his credit Turchin acknowledges that such a prospect is not immediately on the horizon, although this book sort of tests the waters for some future such analysis. He is an interesting thinker and has given something to contemplate here. The United States is one society that seems to be fraying under many of the fissiparous pressures that this book identifies: with declining social trust, huge wealth gaps and the decaying appeal of the core metaphysical ideology of the nation making the prospect of cohesion for any common purpose look more and more remote. I expect that if the real fraying comes people will ignore all these structural factors and point the fingers at whoever looks different from them.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    This is a compelling read on world history, with some interesting views. Turchin develops his own theories on the rise and fall of empires, especially in the pre-modern period: empires always developed in places near a border with another group or a state that was perceived as fundamentally different and threatening, and their strength corresponded with their internal social cohesion. This are not completely original views, as he concedes, but he intertwines them and elaborates on them in his ow This is a compelling read on world history, with some interesting views. Turchin develops his own theories on the rise and fall of empires, especially in the pre-modern period: empires always developed in places near a border with another group or a state that was perceived as fundamentally different and threatening, and their strength corresponded with their internal social cohesion. This are not completely original views, as he concedes, but he intertwines them and elaborates on them in his own way. Finally, he also very much pleads for the use of theoretical models in the study of history, along his own 'Cliodynamic'-approach, that is founded on quantitative data. Very interesting, and very worthwile, but also tricky, if you ask me. See my more elaborate review on this book in my Sense-of-History-account on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show....

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rossdavidh

    Subtitle: The Rise and Fall of Empires So, as you may have heard me say before, the books I read can mostly be divided into two types: Big Idea books, and Many Small Ideas books. This one is a Big Idea book. One might say, ridiculously big. The author, born in Russia, moved to the U.S. at age 20 (his father, a dissident, was exiled), and eventually got his Ph.D. in zoology. He studied population dynamics for a time, the kind of ecology-based biology that looks at a species' role vis-a-vis its prey Subtitle: The Rise and Fall of Empires So, as you may have heard me say before, the books I read can mostly be divided into two types: Big Idea books, and Many Small Ideas books. This one is a Big Idea book. One might say, ridiculously big. The author, born in Russia, moved to the U.S. at age 20 (his father, a dissident, was exiled), and eventually got his Ph.D. in zoology. He studied population dynamics for a time, the kind of ecology-based biology that looks at a species' role vis-a-vis its prey and predators and competitors in its niche. This involved finding mathematical models and descriptions of the cycles of boom and bust which happen in populations in the natural world. Far from the "delicate balance" of popular belief, the natural worlds' populations have cycles, not quite regular usually but far from random, and in the last few decades a robust field of scientific inquiry has grown up around efforts to better understand how this works. Then, Turchin took an abrupt turn, and moved into the study of history. Well, almost; he actually moved into a field of mathematical sociobiology that he helped name as well as create: "cliodynamics". Clio, the muse of history, combined with dynamics, the study of changing systems. Turchin's objective is nothing less than an updated real-life Hari Seldon, of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. But, given what we know now of nonlinear systems, the objective is to find the "strange attractors" of historical dynamics. Given that absolute prediction of precise events far into the future is made impossible by the nonlinearity ("chaos") of the actions of humans in large groups, what CAN we say, and test empirically? This book is Turchin's first public swipe at the task, and he has gone further with it in his blog and new science journal, Cliodynamics, since the book was published. This book is a beginning, albeit an audacious one, and it begins with a theory on where empires come from, and why they decline and fall. Essentially, Turchin holds that empires rise due to "asabiya", the ability to take action cooperatively, in a coordinated fashion. As an example, he cites records from the early days of the Mongols in which armies of 100,000 could execute complex military manuevers just based on flag signals, without the many horns, drums, pipes, and bellowing sergeants necessary to get western Europeans to do the same at that time. Facing invasion, some cities (Italians in the face of Hannibal, for example) were able to act together to repel the invaders, while others (Italians in the face of late Roman Empire Germanic invasions, for example) were not. Why and how could the same genetic stock, the same culture (broadly speaking) sometimes have "asabiya", and sometimes not? The same issue of acting collectively, in a less dramatic sense, can be seen in whether or not to work together to make canals, long-distance roads, or other public infrastructure. Turchin identifies (and provides copious historical examples and counter examples for) several factors: 1) threats from "the other". For slavic Russians, this was Turkic and central Asian nomadic peoples; for colonial Americans, this was Native Americans (and as Tecumseh demonstrated, this worked both ways); for early Romans, this was the "barbarians" of Gaul, who were far more alien to them than the Etruscans or other Italian or Greek "civilized" peoples. Turchin shows evidence that empires tend to begin on the edges between peoples (nomads and farmers, for example) who have enough differences in culture and way of life that the differences between separate villages or tribes on one side of the divide seem small by comparison. 2) modest levels of inequality. Whereas his stress on the importance of defining one's identity in opposition to another culture may alienate the conventional Left, here Turchin alienates the conventional Right, by showing copious examples (ancient Rome vs. Imperial Rome, different centuries of medieval France) wherein an accumulation of wealth at the top is corrosive to the society's asabiya. The 99%, in any society, will know that the 1% is better off than they are. How great the disparity, however, will impact how much they are willing to support that society. In a clash between two armies, one of which fights for the good of the society, and the other of which fights if it cannot safely evade fighting, the former will win. 3) the ratio of elite to non-elite. In any society, some portion of the population is part of the most favored class (this includes Communist and modern American societies no less than any other). The growth rate of the elite, however, is not necessarily well correlated to the growth rate of the overall society. If the food supply in an agricultural society is running out, the elite will not starve, but the general populace may well (or at least may have fewer children). This can make an already strained society even more top-heavy, and eventually this will result in internal division (in many historical cases, resulting in intra-elite civil war such as the English War of the Roses). 4) "war begets peace begets war". People who lived through war as children, are less enamored of it as a solution to their problems as adults, especially if it was a civil war rather than a war fought on another nation's territory. This leads to a frequent alternation of war and peace generations through many periods and cultures; Turchin uses the term "fathers-and-sons cycles" for these. Whenever we look at attempts to find patterns in the chaos of history, it is equally easy to be either more easily impressed by the new theory than is warranted, or to be more skeptical. There have been many attempts before. In some sense, there is a "fathers and sons" pattern here, as well, where about every half-century scientists look again at whether they can bring order to the riot of human history, only to throw up their hands in despair after a decade or two and abjure the attempt for another generation. Perhaps this will be the latest failed attempt. There is no question, however, that we have more data available to historians (not only the written chronicles of old but also archaeological, climatalogical, etc.). We also have vastly more computing power to see if we can find patterns amidst the data. Perhaps, like predicting the weather past a one or two week window, we will not yet be able to find the way to wrap our minds around our own social selves. But then, even meteorologists have made progress in recent decades, and if we are changeable as the weather, perhaps we are also not wholly beyond the reach of human understanding. It is good to know that minds as innovative, and simultaneously disciplined, as Turchin are squaring their shoulders and charging once more unto the breach.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sense Of History

    Very interesting, but as frustrating as it is challenging! The title of this book is a bit misleading: it does indeed regularly deal with war and peace and with the rise and fall of imperia, but actually Turchin covers a much larger field and presents two theories on the entire world history. His first theory states that large empires or states have always developed in places that where near a border with another group or a state that was perceived as fundamentally different and threatening. Turc Very interesting, but as frustrating as it is challenging! The title of this book is a bit misleading: it does indeed regularly deal with war and peace and with the rise and fall of imperia, but actually Turchin covers a much larger field and presents two theories on the entire world history. His first theory states that large empires or states have always developed in places that where near a border with another group or a state that was perceived as fundamentally different and threatening. Turchin makes no secret that this view is very similar to that of Samuel Huntington and his Clash of civilizations. He prefers to use the term of 'metaethic frontier'. It is always close to such a border that new states emerge that gradually develop into large empires; it never starts in a center far away from such a border (and thus less challenged and threatened). His second theory is inspired by the 13th century Arab historian Ibn Khaldoen, namely that the power of a society, a state, or an empire, rests primarily on its internal cohesion, its ‘asabiya’ as Khaldoen describes it. Turchin illustrates this with numerous examples and is reasonably convincing on this, finding support with other social scientist, like Robert Putnam and his ‘Social Capital’-concept. The emergence of empires (imperiogenesis) and their fall (imperiopathosis) are connected with those two concepts of metaetnic frontier and asabiya: a realm arises when it is at such a boundary and can develop an intense form of internal cohesion (in response to the threat by a fundamentally different enemy), and it goes under if that border shifts (and the threat thus falls away) and / or if the cohesion crumbles (mostly due to growing inequality as a result of Malthusian cycles). In most cases, according to Turchin, this process takes about a millennium. On top of that Turchin distinguishes other cycles within that very large time frame: secular cycles, covering 2 to 4 centuries, much shorter cycles of 60 to 80 years and finally ultra-short cycles of several generations. He himself uses the image of "wheels in wheels in wheels", with which he wants to indicate that the historical reality is never simple, and there are lot of feedback loops that interfere with each other. Most of these cycles are related to the equal or unequal distribution of wealth and the fierceness of wars, be it external or civil wars. This all sounds very interesting, and Turchin illustrates it with many examples from world history, that – in general – sound rather convincing. But as you might suspect, there are some comments to make. In the first place, it is striking that almost all of his examples and models relate to agrarian, premodern societies and hardly, if at all, to more recent, industrial ones. Turchin is also aware of this himself, and tries to counter that in his final chapter by quickly bringing up some reflections on the empire of the United States, the European Union (very strange to define this as an imperium), China and even Russia. His arguments in this section are not convincing: the modern world is quite different from the premodern one, and it seems that the elements of metaethnic frontier and asabiya play a much less important role in our globalized world, where boundaries are much less defined. Turchin in this section focuses rather strongly on the meta-ethnic frontier that Islam has created in recent decades, but with that he simply repeats the weaknesses of Samuel Huntington's arguments, because, up until now there’s no asabiya to discern in the Islamic world. He also often illustrates his theories with extensive quotations from primary sources, and especially chronicles, of Roman, European-Medieval, Arab or early-Russian origin, from which he deduces all sorts of things that have to prove his theories. Of course, tish is tricky, because these chronicles are very place-, time- and person-related and offer only perspective. For this use of chronicles, Turchin was, as predicted, very heavily attacked by classical historians. In this book, Turchin also repeatedly pleads for the use of theoretical models, also in history, and specifically of Cliodynamics (his own pet child), which deals with history mainly through quantitative, statistical approaches. I must concede that his arguments for this are nuanced: he offers a nonlinear and nondeterministic approach to reality, in the sense that he also allows deviations and exceptions, and a certain role of individuals with free will, and that is to his benefit. And he is aware that these quantitative approaches are tricky. Turchin is modest enough to indicate that Cliodynamics is still in its infancy ("A lot more work needs to be done in the history of scientific maturity that was enjoyed by classical mechanics in the 18th and 19th centuries"). But at the same time he maintains that with the enormous influx of quantitative data in recent decades, much larger steps can be taken. And that may be true to some extent, but I think we are better remain critical. The fact that in his closing chapter, for example, he alludes to the possible resurrection of a great Cossack empire in southern Russia, leaves one to think. Turchin in this book builds up his theories step by step, and takes a lot of effort to illustrate, elaborate and nuance his points of view, but at times it gives a rather inconsistent impression, and it doesn't have thet compelling logic that you can find, for instance, with Jared Diamond (which for him is partly a model, but which he also renounces). In that context one more striking thing: Turchin is zoologist by training and with that he is the umpteenth non-historian who approaches history with the rough brush (Jared Diamond, Samuel Huntington, Steven Pinker are other examples). Now, I'm not saying this can't be illuminating (on the contrary, I was wowed by Pinker), but it's high time that also trained historians take their stand in this matter, because they are better than anyone else equipped with knowledge of the past and a sense for nuance and contingency of the human agency. There are some promising developments of this in the field of World/Global/Interconnected... History, but there's still a long way to go. All this does not detract from the fact that the central concepts of Turchin, the metaethnic frontier and the asabiya factor, are absolutely relevant and valuable keys to dealing with history. They should be given serious thought, but they are certainly not the only ones, and it remains important to be very careful with them, because reality, even that of the past, remains a chaotic and slippery thing. (3 stars)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Arnold

    Yet another Big History book, this one really pulled out in front of the pack for me and I think it's the best one I've read so far. First, there's no better way to make me smile than with a reference to psychohistory, from my favorite sci-fi series of all time - Turchin compares his goal of scientifying history to Asimov's famous literary conceit right there at the very beginning of the Introduction. Turchin is serious about it though, offering a semi-mathematical framework for historical analys Yet another Big History book, this one really pulled out in front of the pack for me and I think it's the best one I've read so far. First, there's no better way to make me smile than with a reference to psychohistory, from my favorite sci-fi series of all time - Turchin compares his goal of scientifying history to Asimov's famous literary conceit right there at the very beginning of the Introduction. Turchin is serious about it though, offering a semi-mathematical framework for historical analysis he calls cliodynamics, which borrows methodologically from statistical mechanics and nonlinear dynamics. In English, that means he models the rise and fall of empires using equations that treat people as groups, and also account for chaotic behavior as well. This means that there's some population genetics lurking in the background as well. There is not actually any math in this book, however; this was a prose exposition of the equations that are all in his earlier Historical Dynamics, which I haven't read. There's still plenty of rigor, though, as he subscribes fully to Paul Krugman's sentiment that "The equations and diagrams of formal economics are, more often than not, no more than the scaffolding used to help construct an intellectual edifice. Once that edifice has been built to a certain point, the scaffolding can be stripped away, leaving only plain English behind." He starts out by asking how empires form, which he calls "imperiogenesis". The list of empires/countries/peoples discussed extensively include Russia, America, Germans, Arabs, England, France, Austria-Hungary, and of course the good old Roman Empire. He doesn't include exhaustive histories of each one, just enough to make his points and tie them back to the larger argument. I would have liked more detail on the non-European empires like Persia, China, the various Indian empires, or anything in the Western Hemisphere, but I think those would only bolster his thesis. He finds that empires typically arise on what he calls a "metaethnic frontier", in other words a boundary between two relatively different cultures (cf. the "us vs them" struggles in Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations). Thus the medieval Rus, ancestors of today's Russians, found themselves assimilating other nearby tribes in a desperate effort to fend off endless raids from the Mongols, and this gradual accretion of similar proto-Russian co-ethnics gradually built the kind of egalitarian, tightly-knit society that was capable of conquering the vast steppes of Siberia. In essence the Rus as a society unconsciously "learned" the social traits - trust, intra-group fairness, self-sacrifice for the group - that it took to be a successful empire, and other groups that didn't or couldn't develop those traits got swallowed up or annihilated. This is similar to how the Romans fought off the Gauls, Phoenicians, etc by gradually assimilating similar tribes like that Samnites and so on. He calls this level of collective solidarity "asabiya" after Ibn Khaldun's usage of the term in his Muqaddimah, his own attempt at a universal history, and ties it into Alexis de Tocqueville's and Robert Putnam's ideas of social capital. Every good theory of how empires rise should also be able to explain how empires fall, and his asabiya concept seems to do a decent job of explaining "imperiopathosis" as well. Asabiya is the glue of peoples, both a measure of general social capital and trust, and the thing that makes your average dude (it's mostly guys) willing to die in some wasteland hundreds or thousands of miles away from home in order to promote the greater good. He backs this up by bringing in some game theoretic/group selectionist discussion of how societies need a critical mass of moralists and institutions to discourage free-riders and cheaters, which encourages solidarity. Something that Turchin finds over and over again in history is that incredibly successful civilizations, after having built their empires, seem to be inherently unstable and prone to decay through loss of asabiya. While this sounds as unscientific as élan vital, it can actually be quantified in some ways. Basically, in a mature empire that no longer feels compelled to expand, the number of elites starts to slowly increase, both due to lower chances of dying in wars and due to the higher reproductive rate that being rich in an agricultural society allows for. Slowly, they shift from being leaders in society to being rent-seekers, and eventually they take so much of the pie that people aren't willing to trust in the civic institutions previous generations built. Eventually, a more vigorous society on the border gets its act together (in the case of the Romans, the Germans; for the Byzantines, the Arabs), and displaces the decadence that might still be numerically and technologically superior, but can't muster the will to resist. "Paraphrasing Arnold Toynbee, great empires die not by murder, but by suicide." So asabiya can be generated through struggles and trials that bind people to each other, and it can be lost through the lack of the same unifying pressures. The differing fates of north and south Italy are discussed towards the end of the book, why north Italy, while fairly rich, still has a social capital deficit compared to countries like France or Germany, while low-trust south Italy is an "asabiya black hole", as demonstrated by the presence of groups like the Mafia. This is reflected in the very interesting fact that Italy doesn't have large public companies like other first-world nations: "The largest Italian company, Fiat, is still family owned. The typical successful Italian company is a family-owned business with perhaps a hundred employees in Milan or Bologna. They occupy a variety of niches from fashion to high-precision machinery, and they are extremely successful at what they do. But they cannot break into certain international markets because they lack the advantage of size. And they cannot grow to a large size, because the Italians, even northern ones, can cooperate only in medium-sized groups. Is this why northern Italians historically could not get beyond medium-sized states?" Religion has an interesting place in Turchin's book; while religious disputes are not necessarily meaningful in and of themselves, they're another way that groups of people use to mark "us" from "them". After reading Diarmaid MacCullough's Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, with its endless tales of violent disputes over completely arbitrary doctrinal issues like the filioque clause or if icons are kosher or whether to make the sign of the cross with two fingers or three, this seems very true to me. Turchin's ideas also interact pleasingly with a number of other Big History books I've read semi-recently. In no particular order/rhyme/reason: - He's a little dismissive of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, & Steel, saying that while the geographical determinism line of argument can explain trans-hemispherical imperial triumphs, it doesn't do a good job in the vastly more common cases where neighboring tribes with similar resources attack each other, like the Rus vs the Tatars or the French vs the English. This is true - Diamond might be able to explain the ultimate outcome, but how would that explain, for example, the asabiya-induced paralysis and chaos of the Incans after Atahualpa was captured? - He doesn't engage much with Joseph Tainter's The Collapse of Complex Societies, which is a shame, because I still think that Tainter's (admittedly somewhat simplistic) ideas about the decreasing marginal returns on civilizational complexity are un-ignorable. Tainter is more resource-deterministic than Turchin, who allows more for human initiative in the way that societies can "choose" to lose internal cohesion by becoming more inward-focused, but I would bet that there's still something to Tainter's idea that there's a certain optimal size for societies given the resources available to them. - I think Acemoglu and Robinson should have cited this book in their Why Nations Fail, because there's a lot of overlap between A&R's ideas about extractive vs inclusive institutions and what Turchin has to say about how institutions can shift between the two poles due to external pressures or the lack of them. Republican Rome was much more inclusive for the average pleb during the parts of its history where it was under threat, lost inclusion for a long period during things like the Gracchi brothers' reform attempts, and then became more inclusive again after enough elites killed each other during the Julius Caesar drama to stabilize the empire. A&R don't have a good account for how dynamic movement along the inclusive/extractive scale can be, and Turchin's asabiya measure seems to include that. - Brian Fagan's The Long Summer talked about how the migrations of primitive humans (and therefore possible tribal conflicts) were driven in part by climate shifts that alternately opened up new lands and closed off old ones. Turchin showed that climate shifts didn't have much to do with the medieval French-English wars specifically, but it would be neat to see more quantification, and if there's a climate shift threshold over which a tribe could ascend to a higher (or maybe lower) level of asabiya in its need to find new lands and resources. Given that, per Tainter, the Mayans might have succumbed to environmental changes, it's reasonable to think that climate might be an input into asabiya. Climate change in our own day might have significant effects on political stability as well. - Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature talked a lot about changes in violence. I wonder if you could correlate intra-society violence to asabiya shifts. For example, the US right after WW2 was infamously homogenous and group-centered, with low levels of crime. This changed after the Sixties, and I don't think anyone would argue that there hasn't been a relative drop in the nebulous feeling that we're one big society of Americans. Is crime a good proxy for asabiya (e.g. the Northeast is rich and low-crime relative to the South, does that mean anything?), and does the recent relative drop in violent crime rates mean the US is getting stronger asabiya-wise? - Relatedly, I've read a lot of good books on inequality recently, like Timothy Noah's The Great Divergence. The parallels between pre-Revolutionary France or ancient Rome to the modern US in terms of the power of the wealthy are numerous and disturbing, although of course only valid up to a point. Still, how would a conservative (or a liberal, for that matter) apply the implications of this book to our current economic condition? Is rising inequality destroying Americans' ability to cooperate with each other? Overall this is a really interesting book, a definite Big History champion, and is also full of great factoids. I'll close with a fascinating quote from where he talks about how medieval societies like England tried to control elite overpopulation: "Lorcin found that in commoner families males outnumbered females by 13 percent. This pattern is just what we expect in a pre-industrial society where a substantial proportion of women died in childbirth. In noble families, however, the pattern was reversed—there were only 85 males per 100 females. In other words, there were 28 percent fewer noble males than we would expect if their mortality patterns were the same as commoners... The wills studied by Lorcin allowed her to calculate that during the second half of the fourteenth century and the first half of the fifteenth, the proportions of noble girls becoming nuns were 40 and 30 percent, respectively. Only in the second half of the fifteenth century did this proportion decline to 14 percent." Okay, one more: "Destruction of the great fortunes continued under the Tudors, who had it in for their over-rich and over-mighty subjects. The first two Tudors, Henry VII and Henry VIII, employed judicial murder with great effect, systematically exterminating all potential claimants to the English throne, who also happened to be among the richest landowners. Elizabeth I crafted a gentler method—a kind of “progressive taxation” scheme. When one of her subjects became too wealthy, she invited herself to his castle along with her whole court. After some weeks of dining and wining the queen and hundreds of her followers, the unfortunate host was financially ruined for many years to come, and was too busy paying off his debts to contemplate rebellion."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gordon

    I highly recommend this book, War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires, by Peter Turchin. He's a most unusual historian, who spent the early part of his career as a biologist -- a tenured professor of biology, no less, with a focus on population ecology -- before switching about 20 years ago to history. His father was a Soviet dissident, and the whole family was kicked out of the country when Turchin (the son) was 20, and they all moved to the US. Turchin's approach to history is uniqu I highly recommend this book, War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires, by Peter Turchin. He's a most unusual historian, who spent the early part of his career as a biologist -- a tenured professor of biology, no less, with a focus on population ecology -- before switching about 20 years ago to history. His father was a Soviet dissident, and the whole family was kicked out of the country when Turchin (the son) was 20, and they all moved to the US. Turchin's approach to history is unique, in that he tries to bring a scientific approach, including the use of mathematical modelling, to the field. You don't find a whole lot of historians if any publishing in Nature and Science, but he does. The resulting historical discipline he founded is called cliodynamics -- which is not a catchy enough term to ever go viral. He really needed an Isaac Asimov to come up with a term like "psychohistory", whose core ideas in fact bear a family relationship to cliodynamics. The book above, however, is not in a mathematical vein and is apparently considered to be the most approachable of his writings. It is, however, history on a grand scale, and exceptionally well done. You'll learn more in a single paragraph of his about, say, the dynamics of the Middle East than you will in a year's worth of following news stories about the region.

  7. 5 out of 5

    David

    In this book, Turchin attempts a familiar task--trying to discern laws of history. In this particular case, Turchin generalizes about the formation, rise and fall of empires. Alisdair MacIntyre, it seems to me, proved that social science in the sense of prediction, is impossible in principle. That doesn't mean we can't discern cycles and causative factors in human history, but only that we must be very cautious about how complete and accurate our conclusions are. Turchin supplies some disclaimers. In this book, Turchin attempts a familiar task--trying to discern laws of history. In this particular case, Turchin generalizes about the formation, rise and fall of empires. Alisdair MacIntyre, it seems to me, proved that social science in the sense of prediction, is impossible in principle. That doesn't mean we can't discern cycles and causative factors in human history, but only that we must be very cautious about how complete and accurate our conclusions are. Turchin supplies some disclaimers. His basic notions are that empires arise on one side or the other of a "metaethnic frontier," say, that between the Romans and first the Celts and then the German and Hunnish barbarians to their northeast. The need to resist contributes to an increase in "asabiya," a concept gleaned from the Maghrebi scholar Ibn Khaldun--social solidarity, more or less. As inequality increases and élites become too bloated, asabiya declines and crime and civil war increase, leading to war, epidemic, and anarchy. The élite's size shrinks, and the reduced population of peons and proles improves their market position and standard of living, thus increasing asabiya. Turchin supports this theory with examples from history. The book is quite readable, and the hypotheses plausible, if not entirely new--see, e.g. the work of Spengler, Pitirim Sorokin, etc.

  8. 5 out of 5

    John Wylie

    A fascinating group selectionist take on the dynamics of the rise and fall of empires in history.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Miles

    I am the kind of person who is always seeking a set of abstract principles within which to contextualize my experience of events and information. This characteristic has often dampened my enthusiasm for the study of history, since my encounters with history books usually amount to poring over lists of occurrences with only the occasional idea or theme that ties everything together. I’m also aware that my predilection for abstraction is a potential handicap when applied to history; it can be inte I am the kind of person who is always seeking a set of abstract principles within which to contextualize my experience of events and information. This characteristic has often dampened my enthusiasm for the study of history, since my encounters with history books usually amount to poring over lists of occurrences with only the occasional idea or theme that ties everything together. I’m also aware that my predilection for abstraction is a potential handicap when applied to history; it can be intellectually dangerous to reduce the past to a mere set of rules or lessons, and this activity usually steamrolls the complexity of real life in favor of easy explanations. My ideal historian, therefore, should represent the best of both worlds––a mind steeped in the rich diversity of historical events that is also capable of distilling those events into evidence-based concepts that withstand serious scrutiny and hold up across time. I am aware of no author who accomplishes this with greater success than Peter Turchin in War and Peace and War. I consider this the single best history book I’ve read to date. Turchin is the creator of a new field of study called "Cliodynamics,” which he defines as “a new science of historical dynamics” (10). Cliodynamics is a cyclical interpretation of history that focuses on the relationship between three core types of historical cycles: asabiya cycles (this wonderful term originates from 14th-century thinker Ibn Khaldoun), secular cycles, and fathers-and-sons cycles. Out of respect for the richness of Turchin’s theory, I will quote him at length in order to demonstrate how these cycles are distinct from as well as interactive with one another: "A general theory for the rise and decline of empires we have. The crucial variable in it is the collective capacity for action, the society’s asabiya. Competition between societies leads to asabiya increase, whereas competition within a society causes its asabiya to decline. As we have seen in Part I of this book, metaethnic frontiers, where groups and civilizations clash, are the crucibles within which high-asabiya societies are forged. The almost inevitable consequence of high capacity for collective action, however, is territorial expansion that pushes the frontiers away from the center and removes the very forces that fostered high asabiya in the first place. Thus, success breeds eventual failure; the rise carries within it the seeds of the fall––peace brings war, and war brings peace. In the language of nonlinear dynamics, rise-and-fall phenomena are explained by negative feedback loops. "Decline of asabiya is not a linear process. As we now know, empires go through long––secular––cycles of alternating integrative-disintegrative phases. Within-society competition wanes during the integrative phase and waxes during the disintegrative phase. It is during disintegrative phases when the asabiya of the society takes a big hit. Furthermore, one disintegrative phase is usually not enough to completely degrade the cohesion of a high-asabiya society. It typically takes two or three secular cycles for an imperial nation to lose its capacity for concerted action. "However, even this portrayal is an oversimplification. Disintegrative phases are also not uniformly bad. Because people get fed up with constant instability and insecurity, civil warfare during an instability phase tends to skip a generation––the children of revolutionaries want to avoid disorder at any cost, but the grandchildren of revolutionaries are ready to repeat the mistakes of their grandparents all over again. As a result, disintegration phases tend to go through two or three 'fathers-and-sons' cycles before a renaissance can take hold and the society can enter a secular integrative phase. "The dynamics of imperial rise and decline, therefore, are like a mechanism with wheels within wheels within wheels. The waxing and waning of asabiya is the slowest process, taking many centuries––often a millennium––for a complete cycle. Secular cycles occur on a faster time scale. A typical imperial nation goes through two or three, and sometimes even four secular cycles during the course of its life. Finally, the disintegrative phase of each secular cycle will see two or three waves of political instability and civil warfare, separated by periods of fragile peace. The characteristic time scales, therefore, are a millennium for the asabiya cycle, 2 to 3 centuries for a secular cycle, and 40 to 60 years (two generations) for fathers-and-sons cycles. These are just orders of magnitude; there is no exact periodicity in any of these processes." (285-6) While Cliodynamics has significant implications for many areas of historical study, Turchin restricts War and Peace and War to an examination of empires, which he defines as “large, multiethnic territorial state[s] with…complex power structure[s]” (3). The vision is grand, but Turchin is careful to repeatedly point out the limitations of his arguments, and also considers alternative explanations even when he finds them unsatisfactory. Turchin’s distinct ability to lay out an ambitious and expansive theory while remaining appropriately humble is most likely a result of his interdisciplinary approach. It’s up to each reader to decide if this methodology confers special legitimacy or reveals a lack of sufficient commitment to the traditions of academic historians, but I found myself squarely in the former camp. In a daring feat of intellectual synthesis, Turchin shores up his historical research with evidence from myriad areas of science, including but not limited to evolutionary theory, economics, statistical mechanics, nonlinear dynamics, geopolitics, social psychology, demographics, chaos theory, and physics. His numerous applications of modern discoveries to historical documents and datasets is engrossing and unique compared to other historians I’ve read. As he notes more than a few times, “History is too complex for single-factor explanations” (29). War and Peace and War bears out this creed, proving itself a true marriage of modern and ancient wisdom. The basics of Cliodynamics are enough to make this book a worthwhile read for anyone, but there are many additional insights that Turchin manages to cram into this dense but digestible text. The resurrection of Khaldoun’s concept of asabiya is invaluable. Turchin acknowledges that a group’s asabiya is a “dynamic quantity” that “cannot be observed directly, but it can be measured from observable consequences” (6). This is unlikely to mollify hard-nosed evolutionary biologists seeking an ironclad mathematical model to verify or deny asabiya’s existence, but it does represent a beautiful articulation of a missing link in our evolutionary thinking that has only recently been revitalized by proponents of multilevel selection. The application of asabiya to our understanding of identity and citizenship holds tremendous potential for community building on every level of human organization. Turchin observes that “A nation with high collective solidarity can lose many battles and still prevail in the end,” but this clearly seems to hold for human groups across the board (103). This profoundly humanist idea reminds us that, while the differences between individuals and groups should never be ignored, they should also never be allowed to blot out the deeper truth that all human undertakings are inherently collective, with the best societies achieving solidarity over time by harnessing diversity’s upsides and declawing its downsides. Getting along with others isn’t just nice––it’s essential for survival. One critical aspect of asabiya that Turchin examines is how “symbolic markers––language and dialect, religion and ritualistic behaviors, race, clothing, behavioral mannerisms, hairstyles, ornaments, and tattoos” can either bring people together or keep them apart (5, emphasis his). All symbolic markers play a dual role of (1) providing a space in which solidarity can be discovered or embellished, and (2) signaling indifference or outright hostility to members of out-groups. Over time, and given sufficient survival pressures, certain markers can leap the chasm between us and them, often acquiring new powers of influence in the resolution or incitement of disputes. Another of Turchin’s fascinating findings involves the characteristics of “metaethnic frontiers”––tense borderlands that serve as make-or-break points for rising or declining empires. Turchin shows how borderlands provide a dramatic stage on which one of two basic dynamics will prevail: (1) the empire’s centralized government will bolster its most vulnerable citizens by helping them absorb or dispel “barbarians”––thereby reinforcing or expanding its capacity for asabiya––or (2) those same “barbarians” will successfully challenge the empire’s claim to fringe territory––thereby diminishing the empire’s asabiya. If this latter dynamic persists long enough, new bonds of identification and mutual understanding can arise between the empire’s disenchanted subjects and the “barbarians,” generating a new locus of asabiya that may ultimately subvert and/or rise up to destroy the empire and give birth to a new one. Turchin’s granular focus on Roman history is the main arena where he illustrates this dynamic, but he also pulls effective examples from the histories of the United States, Russia, China, the Middle East, and others. Turchin is keenly aware that empires do not rise and fall purely because of external factors. In fact, Cliodynamics argues that internal factors are often more important when an empire’s fate is decided. Central to this view are the tensions that arise between as well as within classes in any given empire. The integrative phases of secular cycles tend to be more egalitarian, with relatively equal wealth distribution and higher rates of social mobility. Disintegrative phases, by contrast, are marked by increasing inequality and intense inter- as well as intra-class competition. Turchin explains: "When rich get richer and poor get poorer, cooperation between social classes is undermined. But the same process is operating within each class. When some nobles are growing conspicuously more wealthy, while the majority of nobility is increasingly impoverished, the elites become riven by factional conflicts. Within the secular cycle, as the disintegrative phase follows the integrative one, inequality rises and falls. A life cycle of an imperial nation usually extends over the course of two, or three, or even four secular cycles. Every time the empire enters a disintegrative secular phase the asabiya of its core nation is significantly degraded. Eventually, this process of imperiopathosis reaches its terminal phase––the imperial nation loses its ability to cooperate, and the empire collapses. Most empires, therefore, fall for internal reasons." (281) Fluctuations in population and economic markets, the development of new technologies, political revolutions, and forces of nature such as climate and disease can slow down or speed up these processes, but the general trends of the secular cycle tend to reliably recur over time. While I consider War and Peace and War to be a superb book, there are a few areas where I think Turchin’s perspective is incorrect or needs augmentation. Turchin fumbles badly when it comes to the matter of physical determinism and free will, falling prey to the all-too-common conflation of randomness and freedom: "Particles at the subatomic level behave in a stochastic––completely erratic and unpredictable––manner, and modern physics has been unable to reduce their behavior to the action of deterministic laws. It is quite possible that the universe, at some very basic level, is not deterministic at all…At a lower level, quantum physics tells us that the behavior of subatomic particles cannot be predicted; that is, they have a kind of 'free will.'" (311, 317) In my view, randomness denotes the limit of humanity’s ability to make precise observational predictions, and not a fundamental breakdown of deterministic physical laws. The randomness of quantum activity is, therefore, completely compatible with determinism, even if it thwarts our predictive efforts. Randomness is not compatible, however, with free will. The fact that an outcome can’t be predicted from an external perspective does not mean any kind of “choice” or rupture in causality is happening––either at the subatomic level or any other. So, while I disagree with Turchin’s contention that people have free will, I heartily agree with him that “free will in this context is a red herring. Whether people have free will or not…has nothing to do with our ability to understand and predict historical dynamics” (317). This makes one wonder why Turchin bothered to include any discussion of free will in the first place. Turchin’s fortifications are also lacking on two other fronts, but both are errors of omission rather than misinterpretation of facts. In his final chapters, Turchin invites us to consider the implications of Cliodynamics for modern empires. It is an enlightening and generally well-framed discussion, but Turchin ignores two game-changing modern developments: artificial intelligence/automation and anthropogenic climate change. It is possible he sidesteps these topics because they represent unprecedented challenges that preclude credible prediction based on past events, or perhaps AI/automation and climate change weren’t as front and center in the mid-2000s as they are now. All of these faults are easily forgiven in the greater context of Turchin’s laudable contribution to the discipline of historical analysis. It follows that his assessment of modernity deserves our careful consideration. He claims that the era of empires is certainly not over, and makes a strong case that the United States, the European Union, and China all qualify as contemporary empires (Russia is a borderline case). Turchin is forthright regarding the possible flaws in his theories that will need correction by others, and eschews fatalism by remaining open to the possibility that humanity may one day escape the historical cycles that have dominated our story thus far. To that end, he gestures toward a host of recent developments––our move away from agrarian economies, the development of the Internet and mobile phones, and the invention of heterarchical (nonhierarchical) power structures, amongst others––that may compound or subvert the patterns of Cliodynamics. Like any great thinker, Turchin knows he is but one tiny incarnation of humanity’s intellectual potential, seeking merely to make a worthy contribution. This he has certainly achieved, and in doing so he has also illuminated each person’s mysterious but undeniable potential to do the same: "Micro actions, by most people most of the time, have no effect whatsoever on the behavior of the system as a whole––they are completely dampened out at the macro level. But sometimes an individual acts in a place and at a time where the macrosystem is extremely sensitive to small perturbations. Then a little act of a little individual can trigger an avalanche of consequences, and result in a complete change of the course of events. The childhood rhyme “For want of a nail” illustrates this idea perfectly. "This is an optimistic conclusion, because it suggests that not all individual action is doomed to be futile at the macro level of social systems. There is no excuse in not trying to be good, because even if most of such actions would probably dissipate without any lasting effect, once in a while a small action will have a large effect." (319-20) This review was originally published on my blog, words&dirt.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    I finally decided to award 5 stars. Really intriguing book. First, he references so many books I love e.g. Asimov's Foundation, Plagues and Peoples, A Distant Mirror as well as other intriguing books e.g. Guns Germs and Steel, Robert Putnam's books and D.G Fischer's Long Wave. He references many leaders of complexity science also e.g. S Strogatz and others. So, I am predisposed to Turchin's conjectures as we are on a very similar wavelength. I find it interesting that we in the West typically vie I finally decided to award 5 stars. Really intriguing book. First, he references so many books I love e.g. Asimov's Foundation, Plagues and Peoples, A Distant Mirror as well as other intriguing books e.g. Guns Germs and Steel, Robert Putnam's books and D.G Fischer's Long Wave. He references many leaders of complexity science also e.g. S Strogatz and others. So, I am predisposed to Turchin's conjectures as we are on a very similar wavelength. I find it interesting that we in the West typically view time as a linear progression (and as Americans we have historically (maybe not today, however!) view the progression as ascending while so many Russians view time as a cycle that never really progresses (Kondratieff waves, Tim Snyder's work and one of my favorite books - the strange life of Ivan Osokin. Appropriately, Turchin's major thesis proposes that the rise and fall of empires is largely determined by three interlocking cycles. While there are many variables that make precise predictions impossible, the cycles follow somewhat predictable timelines: a rise and fall of Asabiya (ie similar to Putnam's concept of social capital) of 1000 years, a secular cycle of 200 to 300 years and a 2 to 3 generation cycle of 40 to 60 years. The longest cycle of 1000 years is a result of the rise and fall of Asabiya, an Arab concept denoting 'ability to engage in collective action'. This rises from society coming together to fight some existential risk - typically war with an enemy. Over time, as the risk decreases, there is less social cohesion, internal tension and a rise in the production of 'elites' who increasing are unable to find employment. These under or unemployed disaffected elites sow dissent among the hoi polloi, making the empire vulnerable to attack ... and the cycle repeats. His evidence is a fascinating analysis of Europe (including Russia) from Rome through the enlightenment. A problem with his thesis for me, however, is that much of it seems a "just so" story that is untestable. His timeline and explanatory variables are so flexible they can fit almost any historical arc. Still, it is a very fun read and feels truthy. Turchin has recently gained popularity. This book was written in 2006 and now seems quite prescient. It is easy to use his theory as an explanation of the rise of Trump, populism, partisanship and anti-democratic furvor. So, recommended.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Carl

    Turchin begins by referring to Hari Selden, the mastermind of psychohistory in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy in describing his project, a logical cause & effect analysis of how, where, when & why great empires are born, their life cycle, and finally, their decline & fall! In a nutshell, he finds it's all about social cohesiveness. Turchin's style becomes somewhat turgid & tedious but his thesis has merit. This is worth plowing thru. Turchin begins by referring to Hari Selden, the mastermind of psychohistory in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy in describing his project, a logical cause & effect analysis of how, where, when & why great empires are born, their life cycle, and finally, their decline & fall! In a nutshell, he finds it's all about social cohesiveness. Turchin's style becomes somewhat turgid & tedious but his thesis has merit. This is worth plowing thru.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dany Vicente

    History is a spiral it always repeat itself but each time the loop is a bit different from the previous

  13. 5 out of 5

    Soham Chakraborty

    This book marks the glorious beginnings of a novel new discipline- Cliodynamics. Social Scientists might finally live up to their categorial name.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Will A

    The primary argument of the book is that powerful states arise on frontiers between different cultures or civilisations because frontiers are environments with pressures that force and select for communities that cooperate strongly in self-defence and expansion. One chapter seeks to bolster this theory by reviewing group-selection theory from evolutionary biology. This group-selection argument fails: Turchin actually skips over without explaining how a pro-social mentality can out-compete an ego The primary argument of the book is that powerful states arise on frontiers between different cultures or civilisations because frontiers are environments with pressures that force and select for communities that cooperate strongly in self-defence and expansion. One chapter seeks to bolster this theory by reviewing group-selection theory from evolutionary biology. This group-selection argument fails: Turchin actually skips over without explaining how a pro-social mentality can out-compete an egoistic mentality within a group. Steven Pinker lays out in this article what is wrong with group-selectionism: https://www.edge.org/conversation/the.... Even more relevant to this book, Pinker in that article attacks the idea that powerful societies are more cooperative, suggesting that they are usually in fact just more able to control and indoctrinate people into fighting on behalf of the ruling elite. Turchin may be right about frontiers producing powerful states, but he does not really delve as deeply as he might into the historical processes that promote state formation, relying on very general, mostly primary source histories. For this, readers will have to get stuck into the history of particular states. His secondary theory, essentially a Malthusian model of the oscillation of economic prosperity and collapse, is very interesting especially in the way he shows the opposite trends among the lower and upper classes. Again, however, the evidence adduced for the political impact of these trends is very general and under-analysed. History is complex and more argument is needed to clearly link these trends with political events. Perhaps though these weaknesses are inherent to the project of detecting deep causal trends below the multitudinous personalities and events of history.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

    This book really did not sit well with me. Turchin's argument is that history can be boiled down to the collective motivations of people as a society and that individuals do not matter. Everything that has ever happened and will ever happen has to do with our strong ties to a social unit (or social cohesion, a term he refers to as "asabiya," which is our collective social action based on our metaethnic identities which are formed when our society faces a devastating defeat.) This book was filled This book really did not sit well with me. Turchin's argument is that history can be boiled down to the collective motivations of people as a society and that individuals do not matter. Everything that has ever happened and will ever happen has to do with our strong ties to a social unit (or social cohesion, a term he refers to as "asabiya," which is our collective social action based on our metaethnic identities which are formed when our society faces a devastating defeat.) This book was filled with jargon, half-baked arguments using evidence from very specific sources that were obviously chosen to further his hypothesis. He doesn't just discard anything that disproves his theory - he completely ignores it. I'm sorry; I just hated this book. The reason I decided to major in history is because I believe that individuals DO matter. Without people, we wouldn't have history. Turchin's theories are definitely interesting, but his rigid presentation leaves me unconvinced. Instead of leaving me with much to discuss, he just leaves me with anger.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Matt Zimmerman

    I read Peter Turchin's "Historical Dynamics" around five years ago. "War and Peace and War" is billed (at least informally) as the "non-math" version. I wasn't sure if I would like this version as much since I am the rare reader that finds math arguments easier to parse than word arguments in domains (at least in which I'm comfortable). However, I enjoyed the richness of detail that Turchin weaves into his story (already cognizant of the mathematical argument working hard backstage). Whether his I read Peter Turchin's "Historical Dynamics" around five years ago. "War and Peace and War" is billed (at least informally) as the "non-math" version. I wasn't sure if I would like this version as much since I am the rare reader that finds math arguments easier to parse than word arguments in domains (at least in which I'm comfortable). However, I enjoyed the richness of detail that Turchin weaves into his story (already cognizant of the mathematical argument working hard backstage). Whether his model of historical dynamics is more useful than others is an empirical question and not thoroughly explored. However, Turchin clearly hopes to inspire others to join the fray with competing models. I am eager to revisit his earlier book with significantly more open eyes.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David

    The first chapter, introduction, essentially dismisses the idea that the thesis/purpose of this book is attainable but the author hopes that War and Peace and War will have some academic merit if nothing else. How can anyone want to waste time on such a tome if it doesn't offer some solutions to the nature of the rise and fall of empires and what this means for our collective futures...the whole point of the book? Those interested in a vaguely post-structural and cultural marxist reading of hist The first chapter, introduction, essentially dismisses the idea that the thesis/purpose of this book is attainable but the author hopes that War and Peace and War will have some academic merit if nothing else. How can anyone want to waste time on such a tome if it doesn't offer some solutions to the nature of the rise and fall of empires and what this means for our collective futures...the whole point of the book? Those interested in a vaguely post-structural and cultural marxist reading of history may find this book compelling but those looking for answers should steer clear. Rating 2 out of 5 stars.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    While it is a much more popularly oriented book, War and Peace and War is essentially a companion piece to Turchin's Secular Cycles. Where that book focused on the internal dynamics of states, this one examines the forces that drive interactions between states. For better and worse, it lacks the mathematical elegance of that book's multiple independent data sets illustrating the repetitive universality of the secular cycle, as well as the repetitive case study format. Still, it provides a compel While it is a much more popularly oriented book, War and Peace and War is essentially a companion piece to Turchin's Secular Cycles. Where that book focused on the internal dynamics of states, this one examines the forces that drive interactions between states. For better and worse, it lacks the mathematical elegance of that book's multiple independent data sets illustrating the repetitive universality of the secular cycle, as well as the repetitive case study format. Still, it provides a compelling response to one of my main open questions after reading Secular Cycles: what limits demographic cycles to the borders of historical states, or rather, what limits the borders of those states in the first place? Turchin's answer takes a certain level of petri dish ecology for granted: agrarian states feed on cereal production, and as their populations grow and borders expand, they come into contact with other states. Sometimes those interactions end in peaceful coexistence, other times in peaceful assimilation, sometimes in violent assimilation, and other times in prolonged conflict. More interesting question, and the one the book is actually about, is what forces determine where and when those outcomes occur, or rather, at what scales. Before he explicates his idea, he briefly examines and dismisses the main competing hypothesis, Jared Diamond's geographical determinism. He finds a variety of fairly basic logical flaws in the way Diamond analyzes geographical barriers, and while he doesn't discard the role of those barriers or other ecological forces, his hypothesis is primarily anthropological. The main thesis is that state size is driven by the size of what Turchin calls "meta-ethnic frontiers." One interesting implication of that is that it means empire size is to some large extent exogenous. China was united so long and so consistently because it was held together by the external pressure of steppe raiders. Both this "squabbling brothers united by a common foe" and the opposite "strong empires are made by strong-willed men leading disciplined people" explanations are popular lay historical theories, so unlike the demographic structural model, it doesn't feel like Turchin is breaking new ground. However, multilevel group selection and cultural evolution do provide more satisfying and potentially productive mechanical hypotheses than this thesis has been accompanied by before. In Turchin's theory, meta-ethnic conflict imposes a strong selective pressure on groups at the frontier, even when that frontier is not initially hostile. Cross-border trade creates economic opportunities that border communities compete to control, a form of strife that generates fewer, stronger factions better able to cooperate internally. So ironically, by incorporating cultural evolution, the materialist explanation does actually kind of come around to hinging on differences in group character, though with the important caveats that those differences in character are not genetic and are highly contingent on the external forces that created them in the first place. This is kind of a common theme across the whole book, actually. The meta-ethnic frontier idea finds some validation for Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis of American history, but without its value judgments and post hoc exceptionalism. Similarly, his consideration of Ibn Khaldun's civilizational cycles is highly laudatory, but he dismisses the notion of luxury causing enervation and degeneracy as absurd. Anyway, the meta-ethnic frontier imposes a selection pressure that creates an aggressive, internally cooperative culture that unites its neighbors. Then it either continues expanding or breaks back down into competing factions. As it spreads, it goes until it either reaches fundamental ecological boundaries (as the Mongols did in India, Japan, and central Europe) or another state capable of matching it in power and cooperative organization. Cooperation is hugely important for Turchin, much more so than power per se (although it's worth noting that this discussion really only applies within a narrow band of proportional strength; small ethnic minorities are frequently swallowed up by larger states regardless of their internal cohesion, but this doesn't really come up in the book at all). Because the Mongols were highly organized and the Russians were not, they were able to destroy each city state on its own and never face a combined force. The Romans defeated their enemies not through superior tactics or sheer strength and training but through the ability to lose many battles and sacrifice key individuals without abandoning the war. Empires become victims of their own success in two senses. By defeating their enemy, they lose the external pressure that held them together. And over a longer term, their population increases and elites proliferate to consume the resources that have been acquired, turning that bounty into a shrinking prize that can only be acquired by fighting other elites. With the force that drove cooperation vanquished and forces that drive internal strife on the rise, the state collapses back into smaller states that are in turn held together only by conflict with rivals. In a sense, ethnic conflict drives state expansion and class conflict drives collapse (as Turchin puts it, “competition between societies leads to asabiya increase, whereas competition within a society causes its asabiya to decline.”) That brings up an interesting point. Secular Cycles is all about class conflict within states, and War and Peace and War is all about ethnic conflict between states. But of course, both of those dynamics are relevant in the converse setting as well, and the weak discussion they both receive is perhaps one of the greatest oversights of the book. On one hand, you could say that this is just outside of the scope the book. But Turchin does bring up a couple of relevant examples. He frames Sparta as a unique example of a state with an internal meta-ethnic frontier, in which an enslaved race becomes the threat against which society organizes itself. But later, he uses the American South as an example of the corrosive effects of inequality on social cohesion. The disparity makes a certain amount of sense in terms of the life cycle of states Turchin has laid out, but it is less clear that internal meta-ethnic conflict and the evolution of meta-ethnic conflicts over the course of secular cycles should be so neglected. Topics for future research, I suppose. Another topic that seems ripe for further research is the definition of meta-ethnicity. It seems obvious that the difference between ethnic and meta-ethnic is highly flexible and context-contingent. Celtic tribes fight each other until Germanic tribes arrive, and later unite against Viking and Norman invasions until Normans too become part of an English whole defined against Scots and the French, etc. Turchin doesn't discuss this in detail, but implies that what matters is the relative scale of the cultural difference-- whether that means contrasts in their mode of production or simply time since their most recent common ancestor. His only specific example is steppe nomads and agrarian civilizations, who have strong ecological differences that cause conflict directly as well as implying relatively severe cultural differences. The specific mechanics that make it easier for a group to assimilate or cooperate with one group rather than another, whether they're linguistic, ecological, or more generally cultural, to my knowledge remains to be elucidated. The final big area this book raises for further research is how exactly cultural preference for cooperation expresses itself within a society over relatively long time scales. Presumably institutions, norms, and art are all permanently influenced and exert a legacy that could persist after the original selective force is gone, but it would be interesting to examine how much those effects are quantifiable in different arenas and at what timescale they operate, and just how sensitive they are to the removal of external pressure. The tough thing to understand about this book's thesis, I think, is that progress and expansion feel intuitively valuable, no matter how much we know about their negative effects. When Turchin points to Italy as an example of a so-called "asabiya black hole," a region where social cooperation has apparently been severely impeded sense the collapse of the Roman Empire, it's hard not to wonder why they haven't been able to escape that trap in the last ~1500 years. Sure, they haven't experienced contact with a cultural frontier in that time, but on some level you'd think that the possibility of economic success could exert a pull of its own. But apparently not. Which raises interesting possible implications for development economics as well. Incidentally, while this book is largely about the inverse processes as Secular Cycles, offers a pretty great popular explanation of that book's argument as well. In addition to providing a more condensed and accessible explanation of the mechanics of the cycle in general, it also offers a couple of new insights. It points out that the timescale of cycles creates an important context for events like climatic changes and territorial loss or expansion that change carrying capacity, integrating the effects of interstate conflicts on demographic structural dynamics. Most interesting to me, though, was the reframing of elite conflicts in terms of a spectrum of moral behavior. As alluded to above, one of the older explanations for state collapse was that luxury made rulers weak willed and greedy, and thus the primary driver was bad men proliferating and squabbling for petty wealth. And in its abstract form, elite overproduction is essentially that same process: men willing to sacrifice stability of the nation for their own personal gain. The addendum here is to point out that, while it is common for historical fiction and fantasy to paint those men as the villains and their opponents as the heroes, even people who organize factions explicitly aimed at punishing such greedy troublemakers are contributing to the pattern of rising unrest and potential civil war. On top of all that food for thought, Turchin provides a chapter at the beginning and at the end discussing the viability of history as a science in general. For me these are kind of preaching to the converted, but they're still pretty fun. Turchin does raise the specter of free will again, which I find a bit annoying both because I don't think it's real but also because I don't think it has a scientifically meaningful implication in this kind of science. Thankfully, his position on it is something similar: he calls it a "complete red herring [... that] has nothing to do with our ability to understand and protect historical dynamics." His reasoning is that individual actions simply can't affect the kind of historical processes cliodynamics studies, while mine is more interested in accounting for individual decisions through cultural evolution and other historical processes expressed at the individual level, though I think both apply.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kym Robinson

    I stopped reading this book. There are better books on history written that do not seek to arrogantly push a flawed grand theory of history. I will not bother rating this book as I stopped 125 pages in. on to better books.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Interesting look at how and why empires end--largely due to an erosion of the power for collective action. Learned a lot of post Rome, pre-Renaissance history that was new to me. Dragged at times, and stretched to prove the theory, but worth the effort.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Riley Haas

    This is a provocative and ambitious (and lay) summary of an attempt to create a science of history by an evolutionary biologist. It is compelling and well-written. (Though my copy isn't so well edited...) It is also flawed, which it basically must be given what he is trying to achieve. It's absolutely worth your time, but it's also likely to drive you a little crazy, if you are skeptical of attempts like this. For me, the biggest flaw in the entire argument - and, so, with the book - is Part I. I This is a provocative and ambitious (and lay) summary of an attempt to create a science of history by an evolutionary biologist. It is compelling and well-written. (Though my copy isn't so well edited...) It is also flawed, which it basically must be given what he is trying to achieve. It's absolutely worth your time, but it's also likely to drive you a little crazy, if you are skeptical of attempts like this. For me, the biggest flaw in the entire argument - and, so, with the book - is Part I. I find Part II quite compelling and Part III fairly compelling but I think the biggest issue with the theory is the claim that metaethnic frontiers cause empires. I think he does a good job of showing that metaethnic frontiers cause asabiyyah and that high asabiyyah correlates with empires but the problem is in the sample. In Part II he discusses how empires degrade. It's relatively easy to find commonalities between the various empires which have existed throughout history because of how few there were. Though Turchin doesn't discuss all of them, he discusses enough of them to suggest that his theory might be roughly correct: elite over-production and asabiyyah decline (and over-population and a few other factors) lead to eventual collapse (over many, many generations). But the sample of societies with high asabiyyah is so much higher than successful empires I remain skeptical that he has actually looked at all of them (or even a majority) and can conclude that this is the way that empires form. Basically, when he tackles the decline, it seems like he's on to something, but when he's tackling the rise, it's much less easier to believe. That's a problem for the book because he starts with the rise first. Though he is a pretty compelling writer, and he covers some unfamiliar history (to me), I still spent Part I feeling like I had picked up the wrong book. So, stick with it, the evidence for his theory gets better as the book goes on. Like any attempt to apply the hard sciences to the humanities, this theory is easily criticized. The same criticisms once leveled at, for example, Robert Putnam (someone who Turchin sites) can be leveled at Turchin: the human world is not reducible to calculations in the same way physics is. But I admire the ambition. I am skeptical about attempts like this because, deep down, I am skeptical of the quant over qual worldview. In my education I saw how quantitative analysis routinely oversimplified debates and arguments and didn't actually lead us to any better answers. And, in real life, time and again,I've seen quantitative analysis and predictions fail because of the inputs were bad. But I'm still interested in the idea and I find Turchin more humble than I supposed he would be. (Not to say he's humble, just to say he seems very sure that his initial stab at this theory will not be entirely correct, which is the correct view.) There seems like there is a lot of possibility if only more and more people take up the call to look at history this way. Especially given the state of technology, we should be more and more able to analyze massive historical datasets and detect patterns. Turchin's particular idea of how empires cycle might not be correct, but his idea that we can discover how empires cycle may indeed eventually prove correct. That, for me, is perhaps the real importance of the book: that we can possibly find nonlinear, dynamic patterns in history in the hopes of not repeating the mistakes of the past. And on that last note: if Turchin is remotely right about how empires fall we here in North America are in for a rough ride in the coming centuries. Whether or not Turchin is right about the "how", he's probably not wrong in that things are not going to get better. (I should point out that this scenario can always be averted by technological improvements.) That's something I've known for some time, at least in regards to the US, but it's still not a fun experience reading a book about historical cycles that says the country south of you is on the downswing. This is far from perfect, but it's thought-provoking and a fairly easy read given the material. (It is the popular version of his theories he's written academic books on.) It's worth checking out even if you dispute the premise, as I did.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Pacific Lee

    “Asabiya” in Arabic describes the concept of collective solidarity. Turchin’s theory centers on the idea that stress from frontier conflicts lead to internal cohesion, which leads to greater morale, to more victories in battle, and to the development of empires. I don’t think social cohesion alone, though, can explain the successes of various societies. A highly cohesive tribe somewhere can still be dominated, and may never become an empire. Also, the theory doesn’t account for the fact that bot “Asabiya” in Arabic describes the concept of collective solidarity. Turchin’s theory centers on the idea that stress from frontier conflicts lead to internal cohesion, which leads to greater morale, to more victories in battle, and to the development of empires. I don’t think social cohesion alone, though, can explain the successes of various societies. A highly cohesive tribe somewhere can still be dominated, and may never become an empire. Also, the theory doesn’t account for the fact that both sides of any border had the same “frontier.” In America, for example, why was it the case that the frontier provided greater unity among the European settlers while allowing for divisions among the natives? Along similar lines, how could the frontier have only strengthened the early Romans but not the Goths? And later, the Goths but not the Romans? Why were the Byzantines strengthened by their frontiers while Western Rome collapsed? He explains that this is because each society is on a different phase of the “secular cycle,” which is triggered by population stresses on the food supply, but then the “multi-ethnic frontier” just becomes another component for the development of empires and not the central explanation in and of itself. The idea that cooperation alone can account for the rise and fall of empires seems to miss a huge underpinning – that of energy and the resource base capable of supporting increasing degrees of complexity. He rightly criticizes people like Tainter for contemptuously dismissing “mystical” explanations that describe collective solidarity, but then seems to go to the opposite extreme emphasizing the spirit of an empire above material explanations. Asabiya, or “social capital” as Putnam puts it, is a real thing in society. It isn’t properly addressed by anthropoligists like Tainter. There is no way to really describe the phenomenon of early Roman aristocrats being the most likely to die in battle, or the first to volunteer extra taxes in crisis, without referring to something like the virtuous spirit of a society. However, the ultrasocial nature of humanity may be interesting as a partial explanation for ‘why’ societies tend to get more complex, not necessarily ‘how’. I enjoyed the application of his theory to early Romans, Goths, Franks, Muscovites, Byzantine, Spartans, modern Palestinians, etc. It was an interesting whirlwind tour throughout Europe. He correctly predicts the rise of an Islamic Caliphate in the Middle East, and the growing importance of alternative media. He points out that American asabiya has been declining since the 1960s, which is becoming increasingly palpable in everyday life. In the end, though, his ideas are kind of obvious. People under stress by an outside group tend to become more internally cooperative. Human beings have a large pro-social component, which helps further drive cohesion. Asabiya may partially contribute to the overarching narrative of human societies, but I think they fall short of being a fundamental explanation for rise and fall. I would only recommend this book if you were VERY interested in history.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Fletcher

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A fine and very interesting book that presents a theory on the rise and fall of empires. Turchin's theory is that empires (or large states in general) develop on a "metaethnic frontier". A metaethnic frontier is, to put it simply, the dividing line between what people would normally call "civilization." A classic dividing line would be the Danube River that separated the Romans from the Germanic Tribes they fought and, eventually, were defeated by. But it was the existence of this dividing line A fine and very interesting book that presents a theory on the rise and fall of empires. Turchin's theory is that empires (or large states in general) develop on a "metaethnic frontier". A metaethnic frontier is, to put it simply, the dividing line between what people would normally call "civilization." A classic dividing line would be the Danube River that separated the Romans from the Germanic Tribes they fought and, eventually, were defeated by. But it was the existence of this dividing line that turned the Germanic Tribes into functioning powers that were able to, eventually, go on the offensive and establish strong states in Roman Europe. Another classic dividing line is between Muslim Spain and Christendom. Muslim Spain was eventually overrun by Spain the 13th century, and then Spain turned around and built a massive world superpower. But what gives these states this ability? Turchin summarizes it in one word - asabiya - which is, put simply, the ability of the nation's people for collective action. Their ability to band together and meet challenges. The metaethnic frontier provides fertile ground for asabiya, as people have to band together to fight the enemy on the other side. The Spanish who were able to develop the ability to go on the offensive and defeat the Muslims had gained an identity and skills in the art of statecraft and war which they were then able to turn into a functioning nation. Of course, this is only one side of the coin. The other side is the weakening of asabiya, and the collapse of a nation's ability to act collectively. Here the book goes into some very interesting details focusing on the High Middle Ages; in particular France. I don't want to go over it into detail, but he lays out some theories on what erodes the collective spirit of the nation and turns it into, essentially, ripe picking for one with that spirit. He also frames this in terms of cycles that nations go through, and paints the entire thing, start to finish, as a series of very broad circles going down to very small ones. The broad cycles are incredibly broad; he links the dysfunction of Southern Italy today to the collapse of the Roman Republic 2100 years ago. The smaller ones are "father-and-son", where essentially countries going through a disintegrative phase will take out a temporary respite for the very reason that individuals don't want to keep doing what they are doing, at least until the next generation pops up. I really enjoyed this book. I appreciated the rich history and outlines he gave. I didn't read the "math-y" version of the book, but I think this gives a good outline of the theory and is worth reading for anyone who has ever thought about why nations do what they do and end up where they end up.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bernard M.

    Terrific analysis of the rise of empires based on their level of "asabiyya," an Arabic word roughly meaning social cohesion popularized by the famed Ibn Khaldun, the 14th century Arab scholar. Like many recent history books, the numerous historical case studies described are not given in any chronological order. I didn't see any advantage to his use of this method. Although I would consider War and Peace and War a history book, there is much "hard" science behind it. That shouldn't be surprising Terrific analysis of the rise of empires based on their level of "asabiyya," an Arabic word roughly meaning social cohesion popularized by the famed Ibn Khaldun, the 14th century Arab scholar. Like many recent history books, the numerous historical case studies described are not given in any chronological order. I didn't see any advantage to his use of this method. Although I would consider War and Peace and War a history book, there is much "hard" science behind it. That shouldn't be surprising since his approach to history is interdisciplinary (he is Professor at the University of Connecticut in the Departments of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Anthropology, and Mathematics) and he is the founder of cliodynamics . Anyone who is interested can read his more mathematical laden books on the evolution of civilizations. But no worries, this book is easily understood. For those not interested in how Russia, the example he begins with, I suppose because he was born in the former Soviet Union, got its start, or other ancient and medieval European states, check out the last chapter which examines the state of asabiyya in the United States. It relies heavily on Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Usually America's woes are attributed to tribalism, but we might also describe them as a weakening of asabiyya. Turchin actually prefers this word to English translations, a nice tribute to Ibn Khaldun. There is much to like about his approach, but in so far as he relies heavily on statistics and mathematics in general and strives to achieve a science of history, I have to wonder how rigorously his models, once they are as fully developed as possible, would actually have predictive value. Most historians wouldn't necessarily care about this, but he is obviously trying to get out of the old mold of historical writing so it is a fair question. Regardless of how "scientific" one finds his approach, there is a wealth of clearly written history about the origins of states and empires of which we don't normally read about. I highly recommend his book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lasse Birk Olesen

    SUMMARY: Asabiya, capacity for collective action or social cohesion, is the fuel of empires. Asabiya is especially created on metaethnic frontiers where groups and tribes unite to defend against a common enemy. Turchin applies his theory to the rise of the Russian empire on the metaethnic frontier with the Tatars, on the rise of the Roman empire on the metaethnic frontier with the Gauls, on the rise of the islamic caliphate on the metaethnic frontier of the Byzantine empire, on China's empire es SUMMARY: Asabiya, capacity for collective action or social cohesion, is the fuel of empires. Asabiya is especially created on metaethnic frontiers where groups and tribes unite to defend against a common enemy. Turchin applies his theory to the rise of the Russian empire on the metaethnic frontier with the Tatars, on the rise of the Roman empire on the metaethnic frontier with the Gauls, on the rise of the islamic caliphate on the metaethnic frontier of the Byzantine empire, on China's empire established on the fault line with the steppe nomads, and others. Turchin identifies three layers of cycles for empires: 1. Father-and-son cycles where grandfathers tire of fighting civil wars, but their grandsons did not experience war horrors and regain their grandfathers' war enthusiasm. 2. Secular cycles lasting two to three centuries where demographic, economic, and social structures integrate and disintegrate. 3. Rise and fall of empires consisting of 2, 3 or 4 secular cycles. Turchin suggests the development of a new science, cliodynamics, to mature the study of history through mathematical and statistical analysis of the dynamics of historical societies. He references Tolstoy's attempt to put the fighting spirit - roughly asabiya - of armies in mathematical terms. Turchin also mentions Trevor N. Dupuy's analysis of World War I and II combats to estimate fighting spirit of Britain, US, and Germany, where Germany outperformed the others. In the next chapter, Turchin examines Putnam's work on social capital. It would have been interesting to see Turchin attempt to apply more of this work and cliodynamics in general on historical and contemporary events.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sabino Ibargüengoitia

    His historical framework is very week. Pretty much the whole community of historians rejected his assertions. The idea of that empires are born in a strong and conflicted border is very simplistic for many reason. First: humans always have lived next to each other. Secondly, agricultural societies and modern societies are not equal. The US is an empire to the radical protestant ethic, respect for technical knowledge, adventurism, immigration and many other factors, not because of the cultural co His historical framework is very week. Pretty much the whole community of historians rejected his assertions. The idea of that empires are born in a strong and conflicted border is very simplistic for many reason. First: humans always have lived next to each other. Secondly, agricultural societies and modern societies are not equal. The US is an empire to the radical protestant ethic, respect for technical knowledge, adventurism, immigration and many other factors, not because of the cultural conflict with the indians. Third problem: empires are not the same across time. The Spanish Empire was born out of pure luck. And they did not exterminate the indians, but mixed with them and with blacks. The American Empire was obviously, on its earlier stage, very different, due to the fact of protestantism and lack of institutional control -which the Spaniards had- on the treatment of Indians and blacks. But now, due to the constant flux of immigrants from all countries, it is getting closer to a Latin American country by its level of miscegenation. So the historical part of this book is pretty much Samul Huntington, which is ridiculous. The Marxist part of more interesting: the idea that brutal inequality creates a lot of problems (nothing really new, although he uses a fancy Arab concept). The pure scientific part is also interesting. This "cliodynamics" is barely starting, but I´m sure that once we have more data available, we will be able to have a better idea of how societies behave... although we already do lol.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Mcneill

    Excellent, excellent explanation and account of how history works (at least the agrarian societies). Quite a number of insights. The only letdown is in using obscure neologisms instead of coining more memorable terms. The concept of the frontier, "asabiya" (the degree to which a society can cooperate), and showing how a frontier can increase or decrease this element, as well as how classical economic theory cannot account for cooperation whatsoever. Secular cycles of rise and decline and father- Excellent, excellent explanation and account of how history works (at least the agrarian societies). Quite a number of insights. The only letdown is in using obscure neologisms instead of coining more memorable terms. The concept of the frontier, "asabiya" (the degree to which a society can cooperate), and showing how a frontier can increase or decrease this element, as well as how classical economic theory cannot account for cooperation whatsoever. Secular cycles of rise and decline and father-son cycles of war and peace all account quite readily for much of history, amazingly enough. The well discussed point of modern empires being China, the US, and the EU are quite relevant. The real punch is when dealing with how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in agrarian societies and how it is based on inheritance and population growth. Inequality perpetuates and is occasionally reset (when the elite are decimated in one way or another). The most sobering element of this work is how we are now in an elite/anti-elite clash that has to play out as the government itself has become more incapable of corrective action due to the clash (the levers of government are rendered inoperable through the clash itself). Trump is a unique symptom and set of circumstances, but the underlying mechanism is there to be clearly perceived and understood for those who would read this excellent work.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Brian Engleman

    I found this book to be informative and its arguments persuasive. However, the author's odd use/abuse of syntax made it incredibly choppy to read. He also goes back to the well on his favorite words ("myriad" comes to mind, a word I love, but not one I love to see peppered all over the place) and overemphasizes his own chosen vocabulary regarding minor tweaks to existing observations and theories, which is really what the heart of his assertions comes down to. I would have rated it higher, for c I found this book to be informative and its arguments persuasive. However, the author's odd use/abuse of syntax made it incredibly choppy to read. He also goes back to the well on his favorite words ("myriad" comes to mind, a word I love, but not one I love to see peppered all over the place) and overemphasizes his own chosen vocabulary regarding minor tweaks to existing observations and theories, which is really what the heart of his assertions comes down to. I would have rated it higher, for content, if not for the fact it was so hard to read and it was hurriedly edited. This resulted in some major, glaring errors, and also some double-checking basic facts because he couldn't be bothered to check them himself. For that, I just can't bear giving it more than 3 stars, though the underlying info and arguments probably deserve more...in fact, the information and research behind his work deserved more out of Turchin than spitting out a manuscript and handing it in without some painstaking proofreading beforehand! So I lay that blame at his feet, and give him the rating he deserves as a result.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joe Q.

    An interesting book that describes Turchin's hypotheses about the formation of empires. I found it a bit plodding at times, and would have preferred a greater breadth of historical examples (to help illustrate the general principles) over the detailed presentation of a few selected examples presented here. Reading the book -- especially its final chapter -- about 14 years after its initial publication is an interesting exercise. Many of Turchin's predictions about attempted empire-building going An interesting book that describes Turchin's hypotheses about the formation of empires. I found it a bit plodding at times, and would have preferred a greater breadth of historical examples (to help illustrate the general principles) over the detailed presentation of a few selected examples presented here. Reading the book -- especially its final chapter -- about 14 years after its initial publication is an interesting exercise. Many of Turchin's predictions about attempted empire-building going on around the world seem to have been borne out (Islamic State, expansionist Russia and China). Turchin predicts the importance of communications technology in building "asabiya", even though his book predates the wide availability of smartphones by a number of years. The reader is left to contemplate today's use of social media to first build, and now undermine, the "asabiya" of existing empires (Fake News, conspiracy theories, etc.)

  30. 5 out of 5

    Da Booby

    Excellent work by Peter Turchin. Though the study takes a little more credit than it deserves for being "new" and "original" (in fact, anyone familiar with classic authors like Livy, Machiavelli, and Gibbons has heard most of these themes before) it nevertheless brings a cold, realistic look at history in a time when far too much of academia is still obsessed with idealism and ideology. One can also apply so much of it to our own time, namely the last 50 years to present. Read my full review here: h Excellent work by Peter Turchin. Though the study takes a little more credit than it deserves for being "new" and "original" (in fact, anyone familiar with classic authors like Livy, Machiavelli, and Gibbons has heard most of these themes before) it nevertheless brings a cold, realistic look at history in a time when far too much of academia is still obsessed with idealism and ideology. One can also apply so much of it to our own time, namely the last 50 years to present. Read my full review here: https://theredfootedbooby.com/2019/03...

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