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

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  379 ratings  ·  53 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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Jan 10, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: for-school, history
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
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
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
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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.
Oct 06, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
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.
Pacific Lee
May 19, 2020 rated it it was ok
“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
Joshua Fletcher
Jan 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lasse Birk Olesen
Apr 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...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
Joe Q.
Feb 07, 2019 added it
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
Da Booby
Mar 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
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:

N.G. Habsburg
Sep 10, 2019 is currently reading it
The book begins with an interesting description of the clash between Muscovy and the Tatars in Siberia during the 12th -- 17th centuries. He paints a vivid image of the role of Cossacks and other frontier groups in gradually pushing back against the tatars, as they build succesively stronger defence lines and the society learns to cooperate in doing so. He contrasts this with the squabbling and individualistic behaviour of the early Russian princes, who were unable to unite to defend against the ...more
Robert Fletcher
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gaming
This book should be required reading for anyone interested in history and politics.
Most history books focus on the doings of Great Men and few Great Women, and are not much bothered with the environment or the plebs. Turchin presents a systematic way to understand how those plebs shape the possibilities which the Great exploit.
Such understanding is the basis for falsifiable predictions, and possibly better times for us all.
Apr 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Amazing book which opened my eyes to my love for ancient civilizations.
The theories proposed by Turchin on why empires rise and fall made alot of sense. Asabiya being the main driving force, high asabiya creating a strong and focused nation, while low asabiya being the cause for collapse.
I enjoyed learning of all the frontier conflict and how new empires rose on these ethnic frontiers.

Am very sleepy and finished the book over a month ago so I should come back to do a new review soon.
Peter Phillips
Jun 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, academic
Full of insights but also heavy on theory. Highlights the importance of national unity and collective action in order for a nation to survive. Interesting critiques, I really hope we aren't caught in the cycles that the author describes in this book.
Apr 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Really interesting and well-argued book that is deeply depressing within the context of today. Will be looking to see if he has additional work (besides 'Ages of Discord') looking at asabiya in modern contexts. Well worth the time.
May 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: macro-history
3.6. Not bad! There’s a lot of good, also a lot of stuff that I found simplistic or uninteresting. I would love to see Turchin’s model applied in immense detail to a particular society, maybe America from the founding of the Iroquois league to Reconstruction.
Scott Richardson
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the most thought-provoking books on history that I've read in a long time.
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