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Ages of Discord

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  246 ratings  ·  55 reviews
We are on the wrong track

Seventy percent of Americans (and counting) think so. The inflation-adjusted wage of a US worker today is less than 40 years ago—but there are four times as many multimillionaires. As inequality grows, the infrastructure frays and the politics become more poisonous. Every year, more and more Americans go on shooting sprees, killing strangers and pa
Paperback, 274 pages
Published September 2016 by Beresta Books
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Oct 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: white
[review after a reread in 2020]

So, reading this book in 2014 (a preprint that he posted on his website), has ever since given me an ominous feeling about the year 2020. It's not as if Turchin actually claimed to be able to predict the precise year in which our political crisis would hit a peak, but he did say it would be around the year 2020. Occasionally I would wonder if I should try to get me and my family out of the country before 2020, but it was never really clear to me where else would be
Taylor Pearson
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
I'm a sucker for the "grand theory of everything" book genre. The downside to the genre is that all the books in it are wrong. The upside is that some of them manage to be wrong in interesting and new ways which is a pretty impressive achievement in my mind.

Ages of Discord is one such book that seeks to explain why and how recurring periods of prosperity and distress arise focusing on structual-demographic variables.

To start with what I didn't like, I kept getting a sort of vague worry about sci
Aaron Arnold
Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If anyone can claim to be making Isaac Asimov's dream of psychohistory manifest it's Turchin, who has done more work to create a truly scientific and predictive theory of macrohistorical patterns than probably anyone else. While this is of course impossible in the strictly Asimovian sense of being able to tell exactly when major crises will arise - and unlike Asimov, Turchin does not even pretend to then be able to present timely solutions via hologram - this book makes a convincing argument tha ...more
Charles Haywood
Jan 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I am skeptical of those who predict the future by looking at the past. It’s not that history follows a random walk, like the stock market. Quite the contrary—it is easy to show certain patterns in history. But predicting how and when those patterns will yield any particular result in any given society seems like astrology. Peter Turchin, however, offers a very convincing, and very well-supported, tying of patterns to data. I’m still not sure it’s not astrology, but I’m half convinced. And this i ...more
If Peter Turchin's "Ages of Discord" were a person, they would look pretty smug right now. (Maybe Turchin himself is, or at least has a right to be; I don't know, but in any event I am reviewing a book not a person.) On the basis of a demographic theory tested on premodern societies, it correctly predicts that we in 2020 are headed straight into Hell (and then inevitably back.) This is presented, with the particular and also rather smug enthusiasm that accompanies the injection of equations into ...more
Jan 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Easily amongst the best books about current global trends out there.
It gets a bit academic and detailed at times but its worth spending the time. Incredibly insightful.
The fact that it was written pre-2017 makes it all the more amazing.
Jonathan Jeckell
Brilliant thesis on factors that lead to better cooperation or rising political violence within societies. Turchin updated his model for agrarian societies and used American history as the test case. The results are very disturbing.

There's a lot of math to back up what he's saying and boils down to a set of linked cycles in what he calls "Structural-Demographic Theory." Political instability mounts as the numbers of elites in society starts to overwhelm its ability to support them. Elites (and w
Aug 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Given Peter Turchin's stated goal of bringing a scientific approach to history, it's not surprising that the progression of his historical books through different eras and regions doesn't resemble the way a historian would approach that set of topics. He made a series of hypothetical quantitative models and then set about finding data with which to test them. His first data-driven book, Secular Cycles, makes what I found to be a very satisfying case for endogenous socioeconomic mechanisms drivin ...more
[July 25, 2018]
This book uses statistics and demographics to analyze historical trends. Basically he contends that most human history follows a pattern of a period of rising amity followed by a period of rising conflict that likely results in a major war, and that those patterns are fairly regular and even predictable. The whole cycle lasts around 150-200 years, though there are more frequent 50-year spikes of unrest and retrenchment. He posits that we are currently in a period of rising conflic
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone and everyone
I'm continuing my investigation into the deteriorating socio-political situation in the United States. In this book, Peter Turchin provides more illumination than anything else I have read. I'm working on a longer review. I highly recommend the book - more than that, I urge you to read it. The more people who understand what is going on, the greater the chance we can undertake to steer the 'ship' away from the dangerous course we are on. ...more
C. Varn
Jul 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Peter Turchin's modeling of social pressures leading on various kinds of economic and political instability is impressive. Showing a clear relationship in business cycles, wealth concentration, and social attitudes on a two cycle scale does make the kinds of political and health crises we see understandable. While there is some elasticity in his definitions that can make his transhistorical comparisons a little questionable, his model of U.S. is functional and, yes, he predicted we were
Patrick Carpenter
Dec 22, 2020 rated it liked it
I skimmed parts and read others more in-depth. There are a lot of interesting ideas presented here pertaining to the causes of the American Civil War and civil strife in general which are thought provoking in these (2020) times. The third explanation of history, that it isn't Great Men or Ideas/Innovation that drive change but a series of inexorable cycles, bears consideration. But really, a cover-to-cover reading is only requisite for someone really needing to engage fully and professionally wi ...more
Nov 13, 2020 marked it as to-read
Shelves: pass, skimmed
Paul Garrett
Jan 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very different approach and analysis about the Rise and Fall of civilisations, also very technical and heavy on mathematical modelling. I still prefer the historian Carroll Quigley's book, "Evolution of Civilisations" and his theory of Seven Stages of Civilisations. ...more
Steve Greenleaf
Mar 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: human-sciences, hx
One of the oldest and most common endeavors of those who have thought about the long arc of history has been to discern the long trends—sometimes expressed as “laws”—that govern history. The earliest theorists discerned a cyclical pattern, from the earliest myth-histories to the Greeks, and then the great North Africans, St. Augustine and then Ibn-Khaldun. With the Enlightenment, the idea of unending progress arose and even the concept of an “end of history.” But in the 20th century, with the wo ...more
Oct 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
The work of Peter Turchin has been my most exciting intellectual discovery of 2019. After my mind was blown by War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires earlier this year, I was delighted to learn that Turchin has published a more recent book demonstrating how the principles of cliodynamics have played out in America. Ages of Discord is a cutting critique of American history that approaches well-known problems from unexpected angles; it’s a must-read for history buffs and anyone intere ...more
Keith Akers
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shouldn't we be able to learn from history? Shouldn't we be able to apply the same general quantitative methods that we use in other soft and hard sciences, from physics to psychology, to history as well? Shouldn't we therefore, in some limited sense at least, be able to predict where history is going?

Peter Turchin thinks so, although he sees some key limitations to his method. I'm really surprised that Peter Turchin's books and work generally haven't caught on in history circles as much as the
Alex MacMillan
May 11, 2020 rated it it was ok
I'm struggling to give this one a rating until I see whether the author's predictions about the near future come true. However, I'm fairly confident that they won't, though I'll admit I was wrong if that day ever comes. For now I'll agree with Karl Popper and Nassim Taleb that the author, an academic who received most of his training in the Soviet Union, is an unrepentant practitioner of that discredited country's faith in Marxist/Hegelian historicism. He masks his ideological faith in a predict ...more
Justin Robinson
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is the math that substantiates Nick Hanauer's claim that the pitchforks are coming (i.e., that income inequality is leading to a massive underclass of people who are angry and uncerserved, as well as an over-large group of elites who are making it worse by buying yachts and stirring up trouble politically).

For people who are not convinced that Trump, Clintonistas, and BernieBros are all growing from the same soil, this is a good book to convince you otherwise. If you don't know who Nick Han
Yanick Punter
Mar 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
I lack the mathematical skills to accurately judge Turchin's model. I enjoyed the book, it made me think of how this fits in with evolutionary psychology. I like the dryness in the book, because I'm tired of books which use their larger share of telling a story and a small part about the science. ...more
Simon Lavoie
Aug 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Societies go through secular cycle of integrative and disintegrative (age of discord) phases : prosperous and high on economic and social well-being, with a cooperative mood (a willingness to go beyond one's group narrow interest), then anxiety ridden, low on well-being and cooperation. Turchin shows how the Structural-demographic theory first championed by Jack A. Goldstone in the antic (Roman) and (French, English, Russian) medieval eras can also account for the United States's secular cycle ( ...more
Patrick J
Mar 21, 2021 rated it really liked it
I haven't the credentials in, or the knowledge of, history, politics, economics, sociology, logarithmic equations or statistics (or any of the other sciences I think are involved in unpacking the information found in this book) to be able to realistically review this book in the way many folks here already have. There are several good reviews already that break it down quite nicely, and even offer counterpoint or criticism (particularly in the area of the mushiness of the data and proxies for mi ...more
Martin Henson
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I am doing so well in 2020 in choosing my books! Another stunning choice. Having read Turchin's Ultrasociety last year, I was fairly sure this would be impressive - and it is.

It is not for the faint hearted. There are equations in this book - and some knowledge of elementary algebra, of (very) elementary calculus, and of statistics up to regression analysis, are needed to follow all the modelling. However, it is quite shocking how little mathematical modelling is actually needed to develop some
Francis Kilkenny
Mar 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
While we know that history has cycles, useful theories on what drives these cycles have been lacking. Peter Turchin’s structural-demographic theory (SDT) is the first that I have encountered that is reasonably parsimonious, matches actual data and provides predictive power. ‘Ages of Discord’ is an excellent entry into this theory. It uses the history of the United States as a very convincing case study, to both show how the theory applies to historical events and to give predictions for how thes ...more
Emilio Garcia
Apr 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The first piece of news I had about Peter Turchin was after the outrageous assault to the US Congress building on January 2021. Several newspapers put forward this obscure policy scientist who predict a high level of political instability by the year 2020 in ... 2010. The prediction was included in the book "The Ages of Discord", that of course I urgently looked for as one of my following readings. Turchin´s book has not dissapointed me. Furthermore, I strongly recommend it.

Far away from mere po
Apr 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Worthwhile reading, even if it is somewhat overbuilt and dogmatic about the value of quantitative models, and too confident about the predictive powers that these models yield. Still, Turchin builds an ominously convincing case that rising inequality and oversupply of labor is leading to the immiseration of the American population as a whole, which is having a radicalizing effect on the population at large and also driving “elite overproduction” as too many people try to escape that immiseration ...more
Diana Prentice
Dec 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is amazing! Turchin is like Hari Seldon of the “Foundation” series. He uses mathematical models to make predictions of political stability, and it’s chillingly accurate. They need to give him a Nobel Prize. READ THIS BOOK! It will open your eyes. Turchin does not give answers. He formulated his observations. The solutions to our problems may be a combination of right and left policies.

Earlier this year I read “Good Economics for Hard Times” by the 2019 Nobel Prize winners. Although I w
Tim DeRoche
Oct 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Turchin is the scholar who has gotten some press for predicting -- back in 2010 -- that the US would enter a period of civil unrest by 2010.

This book gets 5 stars not because it's incredibly well-written (it's not) or that the author's theses are correct (they might not be). But he's doing something here that is incredibly important -- looking for deep patterns in history. Most historians have abandoned this field, focusing instead on the particularities of the time and place in question.

Aug 29, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
For someone who acts so scientific and data-oriented, Turchin should probably have a better understanding of his biases and the unknowns which can't fit his models. And for someone writing about history, he should probably learn more about that subject too.

This book is a prime example of the fatal move: mistaking the model for the material. Combined with the fact that America has only, according to his analysis, gone through two "secular cycles," he should also be more cautious when predicting t
Jan 13, 2021 rated it liked it
Builds off of his book Secular Cycles, but I think this one is better if you want to learn information that you can apply more concretely with detailed examples. It basically sets forth the theory that as the population grows, the well being of the populace drops; using this theory it explains the decline of American fiscal and general well-being that began 1970s and how it affected the country's culture of fiscal exploitation.

You don't need to read Secular Cycles before or conncurent to reading
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40 likes · 2 comments
“Mathematical theory tells us that when a dynamical system has two kinds of nonlinear feedback loop with different periods, these two mechanisms are likely to interact nonlinearly and may generate erratic, unpredictable-looking behavior known as mathematical chaos (Gleick 1987).” 0 likes
“the Jívaro of South America recognize two different types of armed conflict. Wars waged against other Jívaro are essentially lengthy blood feuds, in which deaths are limited. Conflicts between neighboring tribes that “speak differently”, on the other hand, typically take the form of “wars of extermination”. Recently, I collected data on the historical incidence of genocide, focusing on the fates of populations of cities falling to a siege, or assault. The data indicate that genocide was an order of magnitude more frequent in wars between culturally very dissimilar steppe nomads and settled agriculturalists, compared with civil wars between culturally similar groups (Turchin 2011).” 0 likes
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