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War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  631 ratings  ·  100 reviews
Like Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel, Peter Turchin in War and Peace and War uses his expertise in evolutionary biology to make a highly original argument about the rise and fall of empires. Turchin argues that the key to the formation of an empire is a society’s capacity for collective action. He demonstrates that high levels of cooperation are found where people ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published February 27th 2007 by Plume (first published August 25th 2005)
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Jul 26, 2020 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Nov 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: black
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
Dec 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: world-history
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
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
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
Neill Goltz
This is a book I need to re-read to better digest its full import.

It is outside of my previous academic comfort zone - “straight history” - because scholar/author Turchin has broken new ground by integrating the research of historical forces and developments more directly with the methodologies and mathematics previously associated with social science analysis.

(It seems he is credited with invention of the term “Clio-dynamics” to describe this approach, the usage of which I hadn’t been previousl
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.
Jan 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
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
Øivind Schøyen
Apr 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This was a very interesting dive into a very well executed attempt at turning the study historical dynamics, the dynamics of empires to be exact, scientific. I like to call this genre intellectual big wave surfing. Highly enjoyable to watch and more dangerous and tricky than it looks. Turchins 2006 book has aged well. His background in population dynamics of animals make the study extra interesting. I will read the companion book historical dynamics on the actual quantitative analysis, which I g ...more
Nov 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Re-reading this 15 years after I last did. Most of my opinions I had then I still have now, with some refinements. Though I am extremely suspicious still of applying mathematical models to the humanities (if this worked we would be able to abolish the humanities entirely and replace them with hard science and that aint happening), cliodynamics, an attempt to modernize Ibn Khaldun, is a worthy project.

The limited geographic scope of most of the models is, however, a problem. When Turchin repeats
Aug 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 10, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history, for-school
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 ...more
John Wylie
Feb 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating group selectionist take on the dynamics of the rise and fall of empires in history.
Mar 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Pedro Nobre
Apr 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
What an engaging book.

At first, I was taken aback by the author’s loud claims. In the very first chapter, he bashes Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel”, and purports to found a whole new field of historiography, while giving it a pretentious name, “Cliodynamics” (From “Clio”, the Greek muse of history), which is supposed to achieve insights so far never reached by historians, by applying the same principles of the hard sciences.

So much ambition, paired with Turchin’s informal language (Se
Dec 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
Kyle Sullivan
Oct 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
There is much to be said about this compelling theory. The author admits its faults...that humans are individually difficult to predict and societies easier to discern, that asabiya (the potential for collective action) is present but only indirectly and abstractly measured. But he also, perhaps rightly, champions the theory's potential. After all, being wrong in science, as Turchin himself writes, is still a useful enterprise.

Empires and states are about the capacity for collective action, Tur
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
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. ...more
Fearless Leader
Excellent! The hypothesis’ in this work are compelling, although I will say they side step the deeper biological aspects of historical population dynamics. Thankfully that has been partially rectified by recent works by other authors.
Apr 18, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Outstandingly written and coherently argued. The ideas contained in this book, which seek to apply non-linear scientific principles to history and human societies, are profound. I think Turchin is really onto something here.
Dany Vicente
Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
History is a spiral it always repeat itself but each time the loop is a bit different from the previous
Soham Chakraborty
Nov 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: life-changing
This book marks the glorious beginnings of a novel new discipline- Cliodynamics. Social Scientists might finally live up to their categorial name.
Thomas Devlin
Jun 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Peter Turchin is a hugely underrated intellect. And of all his books, this is probably the easiest one to digest. Definitely recommend for anyone interested in the underlying patterns of history.
Keith Akers
Aug 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If you like history, you'll eat this book up. Here is a book on the theory of history that actually adds to our knowledge of history — not this or that historical event, but a theory of how history works. Roughly, societies fail or succeed based on their degree of internal cohesion and cooperation. Author Peter Turchin calls this quality "asabiya," following the 14th century Arab thinker Ibn Khaldun. It refers, roughly, to the capacity for collective action.

Even though a lot of history is very
Spike Gomes
Apr 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Considering the level of analysis engendered by some of the commenters here, which are far more astute and well-worded than anything I could sum up as a response, I will direct folks to read them, it's a real capper to the book.

I will say this, however. If there's anything to give pause, this 2004 book is almost unnervingly prophetic for the state of affairs in the American Empire, in which whatever shreds of Asabiyah was left after the Bush and Obama regime is now completely and utterly gone, a
Will A
May 02, 2016 rated it liked it
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 ...more
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 ...more
Matt Zimmerman
Jan 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jan 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
For those who are looking for "the Big Picture" in history, this is a good book to read. Turchin is seeking laws that explain how empires arise and fall. He identifies the geography: fault lines where civilizations are in conflict. This conflict creates and rewards those that develop a strong cohesiveness and can effect concerted action. He uses the Arabic term "asabiyyah," coined by the Muslim scholar Ibn Khaldun, to describe this characteristic. Most of the book is devoted to giving historical ...more
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
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