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Ages of Discord

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  125 ratings  ·  34 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
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Paperback, 274 pages
Published September 2016 by Beresta Books
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Average rating 4.12  · 
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Rossdavidh
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
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Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
For people interested in historical cycles but wanting something more solid than generational theory of Strauss et al. Demographic trends seen in the general population's well-being and growth of aspiring elites and competition among them may hold a key to the cycling of American history. I am a hedgehog by nature in search of a big unifying idea for history but I know enough not to fall in love with the next big idea. This book offers a good demographic model (with stats no less) to describe w ...more
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
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
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Betsy
[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
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Charles J
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
Adam
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
C. Varn
Jul 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Important

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
...more
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.
Steve Greenleaf
Mar 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: hx, human-sciences
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
Miles
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
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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
...more
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.
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
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
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Nils
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
Pat
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is not an easy read. It's like a graduate level textbook. But that being said the history, analysis and message is really compelling. Having the data and his analysis end in 2010 is really interesting to see how things have played out since then and the turmoil we are in the midst of right now on the brink of 2020. I do wish it could be written in a more easy to understand way to attract a general audience. It does give you some weird sense of hope that things have been really, really bad i ...more
Rebecca Hecking
Not bad, but not for a general reader. It is very technical with lots of data analysis, and it reads like a graduate level textbook that you have to pay very close attention to in order to understand even a little. Lots of historical analysis with less on current affairs than I expected.
David
An interesting concept about integration and disintegration in American history.

Though an interesting approach to history, statistics, it was a very dry read. Nonetheless, a compelling approach to contemporary social problems.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
K.
Nov 17, 2017 rated it liked it
I gave this book three stars because I found the thesis interesting, but am totally unfamiliar with the models he is using and was not able to see the graphs, so don't have a good way of evaluating them overall. Nonetheless, an interesting and credible proposal.
April
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.
Dan Curll
All the quant stuff does generate new insights.

A fine chance to learn how mathematics can help organize a wide range of data to give new insights. The isights about elite overpopulation causing societies to crash are very timely.
John
Apr 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a very good book. I can't add much (as it has many good reviews on here) but Turchin's theory is unique and worth a look. Seems like it is on track with the 2020s shaping up to be an unsettled decade so far.
Matthew
Jun 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Why is America coming apart at the seams? This book explains it.

Everyone in America should have read this book 5 years ago when the current crisis may have been avoided through sound policy.
Jukka Aakula
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have written a log article based on the book in Finnish language. https://sarastuslehti.com/2017/07/02/... ...more
David H Eil
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
I found this one poorly written and reasoned.
Hans Carlsson
Apr 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting theory that might explain a bit of why things are as they are these days.
Nicolas
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
History with Data

Good book to understand the past and the current situation, also a grim look at the rocky future that the 2020’s may be.
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