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The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy - What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny

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NATIONAL BESTSELLER • Discover the game-changing theory of the cycles of history and what past generations can teach us about living through times of upheaval—with deep insights into the roles that Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials have to play.
First comes a High, a period of confident expansion. Next comes an Awakening, a time of spiritual exploration and rebellion. Then comes an Unraveling, in which individualism triumphs over crumbling institutions. Last comes a Crisis—the Fourth Turning—when society passes through a great and perilous gate in history.

William Strauss and Neil Howe will change the way you see the world—and your place in it. With blazing originality, The Fourth Turning illuminates the past, explains the present, and reimagines the future. Most remarkably, it offers an utterly persuasive prophecy about how America’s past will predict what comes next.
Strauss and Howe base this vision on a provocative theory of American history. The authors look back five hundred years and uncover a distinct Modern history moves in cycles, each one lasting about the length of a long human life, each composed of four twenty-year eras—or “turnings”—that comprise history’s seasonal rhythm of growth, maturation, entropy, and rebirth. Illustrating this cycle through a brilliant analysis of the post–World War II period, The Fourth Turning offers bold predictions about how all of us can prepare, individually and collectively, for this rendezvous with destiny.

400 pages, Paperback

First published December 1, 1996

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William Strauss

16 books80 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 736 reviews
Profile Image for Maru Kun.
215 reviews486 followers
Shelved as 'not-to-read'
February 5, 2017
If you want to give your self a fright then read this article on the pseudo-history of Strauss-Howe Generational Theory, then read this book and finally reflect on the fact that, as reported in Time Magazine, it is one of the favorite works of Steve Bannon as it forms the basis of these beliefs:
Bannon noted repeatedly on his radio show that "we're at war" with radical jihadis in places around the world. This is "a global existential war" that likely will become "a major shooting war in the Middle East again." War with China may also be looming, he has said.

The fright comes when you consider that this loony is currently the Senior Counselor to the most ignorant man in mainstream US politics today, the 45th President, as well as sitting on the United States National Security Council.

And for all of the people that liked this book and are cheering on the coming collapse, before you award it the Goodreads five stars I think you should seriously consider whether you want your children conscripted into a war started as a result of Trump's ignorance and Bannon's loony theories.
Profile Image for J..
104 reviews43 followers
February 9, 2017
The Fourth Turning explains a theoretical approach to history - a cyclical system of societal high, awakening, unraveling and crisis. Each period has a corresponding stereotype: prophet, nomad, hero and artist. The time period for a cycle is the course of a generation, deemed a saeculum. Each of the four periods in a saeculum lasts between 17 to 29 years. The authors piece together historical events to fit their theory. The only abnormality (that they acknowledge) is the U.S. civil war. I did not agree with their classification of generations or stereotypes, their decisions about 'crisis' periods, or their proposed preparations to prevent total and lasting destruction.

This book is poorly written. It is a potpourri of random facts, scholarly borrowings and unsubstantiated claims. The authors cite numerous types of cycles, most of which are not relevant to their thesis. They also cite dozens of parallel claims by historical scholars; yet they only use "money quotes" without any substantive analysis.

While the authors present a novel idea, and there are clearly repetitions in historical periods, this pre-packaged form of history troubles me on several levels. First, their cited events rely on a mythological understand of history, with many important facts and events conveniently forgotten. Second, this form of simplified history rejects a careful and nuanced understanding of complicated world events. Third, it pretends that we can actually understand and predict history by reading charts - a claim mostly made by cult leaders and hedge fund managers. Finally, their approach is set forth as universal, yet the book is devoid of international examples. If China has retained civil society for thousands of years, why isn't this cycle more obvious there?

The authors have an obvious right-wing agenda. The preparations urged onto their readers for the coming crisis are typical of John Birch evangelism. I couldn't help but picture the authors sitting next to John Forbes Nash, Jr. ("A Beautiful Mind") in a garage pinning random Life Magazine articles to the wall and drawing lines through seemingly random events to construct an alternate universe.
16 reviews8 followers
February 13, 2009
Wow! I could totally see why Obama won the election after reading this--and why McCain did not. This is an amazing book on the patterns of history--and, as it was written 10 years ago, a dead-on prediction of the last 10 years. After reading it, I'm preparing for another crisis in the next 5 years. (I personally think the next American Crisis is going to be a cultural civil war--we'll see!)
Profile Image for Trike.
1,466 reviews152 followers
April 29, 2021
Prescient. These guys, who were the ones to name “Millennials”, published this book in 1997 and were right about America entering a crisis sometime around 2005, either a few years before (9/11) or a few years after (2008 financial crash), predicting a new wave of feminism (#MeToo), cultural upheaval (Black Lives Matter) and a turn toward conservative and religious beliefs with a strong streak of authoritarianism.

They were able to do this because it has all happened before. Six times over the past 500 years of Anglo-American history, in fact. As the saying goes, “History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes.”

Like the four seasons of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, our society experiences cycles: Awakening, High, Unraveling and Crisis. The 80s and 90s were the Unraveling, and we are now in the Crisis... the winter of our discontent.

Chillingly, each Crisis tends to resolve in total war. The American Revolution, the US Civil War, the Great Depression leading into World War II. We are on-track for the next violent paroxysm to begin any day now, resolving around 2025-2026. One can only hope that Einstein’s (probably apocryphal) comment doesn’t come true: “I don’t know what weapons we’ll use for WWIII, but WWIV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Short video summing up the ideas of the book: https://youtu.be/8Yfb2zQjKWE

Also: https://youtu.be/Wr9IdY_zA-M
Profile Image for John.
449 reviews5 followers
February 25, 2017
The first quarter of this book is junk. It's a review of moldy pseudoscience about theories of four - four humours, four elements, four seasons, four temperaments, four phases of life. It has little or nothing to do with the central premise that there is a four generation cycle of behavior in Angle-American society - all you have to do to justify the length of this cycle to me is to point out that the normal death from old age occurs about four generations after birth. After the authors finish with the above nonsense, they get into actually detailing the different cycles, and the subsections of each. There have been seven cycles since the 1400s, and each cycle has four subsections called Turnings, each corresponding to a particular constellation of generations. There are four kinds of generations and they always appear in the same order (except for once!): Hero, Artist, Prophet, and Nomad. There are therefore four Turnings: High, Awakening, Unraveling, and Crisis. The social environment (constellation of generations) determines the values and behavior of each new generation, which influences the future generations, so the cycles keep rolling. The theory is not deterministic - it does not predict what events will happen - it only tries to predict how Americans will respond to events that inevitably occur. This makes a lot of intuitive sense to me and the authors present a lot of evidence to back up their assertions. However, I have not looked for criticisms of their work or know enough about the history of social movements to say whether there is substantial counter evidence. The book was written in 1997, and it is interesting to read how the authors feel the Silent (b. 1925-1942, Artist), Boom (b. 1943-1960, Prophet), Thirteenth (b. 1961-1981, Nomad), and Millennial (b. 1982-200?, Hero) generations would develop over the next decade (that is, the last decade from where we sit), before the Crisis catalyst arrived somewhere around 2005. To me, it seems like they miss the mark. Maybe I don't have a good grasp of what's really going on outside my own experience, maybe they were wrong, or maybe the Crisis started earlier than they expected (say, September 2001). Missed predictions aside, they seem to get a lot of the general feeling of American society right. All in all, interesting to think about.
Profile Image for Lisa Reads & Reviews.
433 reviews119 followers
February 19, 2017
I'll give 2 or 3 reasons why this book should be read and trashed by everyone. First, it is only a hypothesis, not a theory because the premise has not been generally accepted. Despite that, consultants and speakers are perpetuating the ideas and sparking groups of true believers who adhere to it like a new religion, on faith instead of sound research or discourse. Steve Bannon, self proclaimed Leninist and adviser to SCPOTUS Trump is a prominent proponent of the Strauss–Howe generational hypothesis.

Like all fanatics, these folks will bend and select data that supports their desired outcome and ignore the rest. Their claims lack rigorous empirical evidence. They gloss over arguments that point real differences. This happens a lot and normally, I wouldn't care because time usually sorts out the bad hypotheses from those that become actual theories. Look at all the times the world was supposed to end and didn't. People were so sure. They had biblical and blah blah proof. But it didn't end, at least not in this parallel universe.

Now, I'll tell you why I'm peeved. Because the people (Bannon) who have FAITH in this hypothesis are trying to make it come about. Bannon is an outcast who wants to be relevant. He's directing Trump, writing those executive orders that Trump doesn't read, and ushering in a dark age for my country. Normally, such craziness wouldn't survive, but add the Putin angle, and the fact the GOP has been priming the country for years to disregard truth and morality...and what do you get? An apocalypse--which is the expected and desired end by a whole other set of religious crazies who have usurped their own God and in favor of taking the destruction of the Earth into their own hands. Welcome to the man-made Armageddon.
Profile Image for Bryan Alexander.
Author 4 books277 followers
May 7, 2018
It’s important for futurists to examine flawed futuring work and learn from it. I’ve said this before, reflecting on my own forecasting misfires. I haven’t offered many criticisms of others’ work, largely for reasons of time. I’d like to start doing some more of this.

Why? There are all kinds of benefits to this kind of analysis. One involves testing the limits of a given method (Delphi, trends extrapolation, etc.) by seeing what it misses… which then suggests how one can either modify the method or choose to use it in addition to another approach.

A second benefit concerns blind spots. For example, in his criminally underrated work on global inequality (cf my notes) Branko Milanovic notes that 1970s futures work focused so heavily on the Cold War’s primary antagonists – the USA and USSR – that they utterly failed to not only predict, but even pay much attention to nations that sidestepped the conflict’s core: Yugoslavia, for example, and most especially China. This is an understandable mistake, given the huge dimensions of the US-Soviet struggle, not to mention the stakes (possible human extinction), but it was a mistake. Seeing it now drives us to look for our own blind spots.

A third reason to prod older futures work is to understand how the broader public perceives futuring. Which projects win followings tells us something about present attitudes.

Today’s example is a popular and influential book, The Fourth Turning (1997; official site), by the gurus of generational thinking, William Strauss and Neil Howe. It claims to have discovered a deep and sustained structure to American history, one which will continue to function in the future. Understanding this code will therefore help prepare us for upcoming changes.

The code involves a multi-step sequence, each of which lasts about eighty to one hundred years, a period the authors refer to as a “saeculum”. Within each saeculum are four phases, or “turnings“:

High: “an upbeat era of strengthening institutions and weakening individualism, when a new civic order implants and the old values regime decays.”
Awakening: “a passionate are of spiritual upheaval, when the civic order comes under attack from a new values regime.”
Unraveling: “a downcast era of strengthening individualism and weakening institutions, when the old civic order decays and the new values regime implants.”
Crisis: “a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one.” (3; 101-104)
Within each turning comes a “generational archetype“. The High spawns a “Prophet generation”, the Awakening a “Nomad generation”, the Unraveling a “Hero”, and the Crisis an “Artist.” (19) . Each generation cycles through these types, although I think what this means is that a generation produces a small group of people embodying these patterns, rather than an entire generation becoming artists, nomads, etc.

Mount Rushmore, photo by the Chris Collins family
“Looking from left to right… Nomad, Hero, Artist, and Prophet.” (91)

Most of the book involves working this code out across American history and the then-present, with raids on other histories, historiography, and a final lunge at the future. For example, Strauss and Howe explain that a recent “High” was 1945-1963, followed by an “Awakening” through the 1980s, an “Unraveling” into the 1990s, and an upcoming “Crisis” around 2005-2007. To sum up: “we are presently in the Third Turning of the Millennial Saeculum, the seventh cycle of the modern era… giving birth to the twenty-fourth generation of the post-Medieval era” (19, 123).

The authors insist on the power of their system. They think the timing can wriggle around a bit, but the turnings must happen in order and within that 80-100 year frame. They allow “accidents” (events which don’t fit the system), but insist that what really matters about such events is “society’s response to them” (116; emphasis in original). They don’t have much interest in humility; the book’s subtitle is “an American prophecy.”

One of the biggest problems with the book is classic problem of trying to cram all of history into a narrow frame. Its judgements are so impressionistic that they are sometimes simply wrong. Describing the Kennedy administration, the authors refer to its imagining of the future as having “specificity and certainty but lack[ing] urgency and moral direction.” (101) I’m still not sure what that means, but I’m not sure it works on its face. The Apollo program, the US intervention in Vietnam, the civil rights struggle certainly possessed urgency. Moral direction suffused the New Frontier and its expansion of the Cold War, not to mention black organizing against white racism.

Soylent Green posterEarly on the text looks back 25 years to early 1970s forecasting, which is a fine thing to do. One passage cites Soylent Green (good) and EPCOT (ok) as attempts to predict futures which didn’t happen. I’m not sure what EPCOT got wrong in this sense (surely world is more technologically immersed?), but yes, we didn’t head into a world of massive overpopulation and industrialized cannibalism. (Personally, I see the latter, especially voiced by the Club of Rome, as a fine example of futures work not as prophecy but as warning, and therefore as a success.) Strauss and Howe then build on their thought in a peculiar way:

late-seventies forecasters made a more fundamental error… they all assumed America was heading somewhere in a hurry. No one would have imagined what actually happened: that through the 1980s and 1990s, while different societal pieces have drifted in different directions, America as a whole has gone nowhere in particular. (18)

This sounds appealing for about one tenth of one second, until you start thinking about the massive developments of those two decades. The internet, for example; AIDS and progress in gay rights; the birth of the modern right wing, starting with the Moral Majority; the Democratic party’s hard turn to the center and right; the end of the ozone hole crisis; massive rearmament; the drastic resurgence of income inequality. Not to mention the whole nearly destroying the world thing in 1983, the end of the Cold War, and the first of a new world order. You know, “nowhere in particular.”

Elsewhere, one passage offers a handy one-sentence summary of the “turning” idea: “In a High, people want to belong; in an Awakening, to defy; in an Unraveling, to separate; in a Crisis, to gather.” (112; emphases in original) This sounds roughly right, if we read back our history in a friendly way. Sure, people gather together in a crisis, and so on. But if we read critically, we find people acting in all four of those lines throughout history, breaking out of the four-phase template. People, especially Americans, are delighted to defy and separate every decade and probably every year since Plymouth Rock. Again, these formulae become bromides, or simply fall apart when taken seriously.

This impressionism also leads to some serious blind spots. A quick tour through British history, applying the code back as far as the fifteenth century, identifies the War of the Roses and the Glorious Revolution as epochal events, while utterly missing the English Civil War, that revolution, Cromwell’s regime, and the Restoration, each at least as important as the foregoing, and probably more so. But the timing’s off, so 1640-1660 doesn’t get its bullet points and position on helpful tables (45). Speaking of British history, Strauss and Howe are quite open about seeing American history in that light. They admit that Americans came from other nations and continents (Asia, Africa, the rest of Europe) and that some didn’t arrive at all (Native Americans), but set those aside because the great cycle started with the British (94).

Another blind spot swims into our view when the authors address demographic issues other than their generational dynamic. They see anxieties about overpopulation only in terms of their saeculum, and can’t account for a multi-generational project to redo millennia of human population practices when it’s right before their eyes, except to cram it back into their framework (194-5). That this development could warp their model – do only children react differently to their forebears than kids among broods of a dozen? – remains unaddressed. We can see this in the authors calling on GenX to become “America’s largest potential generational voting bloc.” (327) Setting aside questions of mobilization, this fails for two reasons: GenX is much smaller than Boomers or Millennials, a fact clearly known in the 1990s; mass media love ignoring GenX, a fact which we in that generation could have told you, had you asked us.

The generational archetypes strike me as the weakest part of The Fourth Turning. They offer glancing glimpses into historical figures encountered for the first time, but offer little insight beyond that, and ultimately fail to characterize people usefully. Prophets, for example, include religious leaders, as one might expect. They also number atheists, managers, and war leaders. “Their principle endowments are in the domain of vision, values, and religion… These have been principled moralists, summoners of human sacrifice, wagers of righteous wars.” (96) In short, a “Prophet” is just about any political, religious, or cultural leader.

Similarly, “Nomads” include “Stonewall Jackson, George Patton… George Washington and John Adams, Ulysses Grant and Grover Cleveland, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower… Their principle endowments are in the domain of liberty, survival, and honor.” (96) Elsewhere we learn that Huey Long and Boss Tweed were also nomads (269). At this point I’m not sure why the authors even use the term “nomad” (John Adams?!). They certainly aren’t addressing nomadic patterns within native American nations. Perhaps they are referring to physical mobility, hence Patton and Grant? We can easily swap personages between these two categories with at least as much logic as the authors show for including them. The other two archetypes offer the same superficial sense and deeper uselessness. It reaches the point where Andrew Jackson and Walter Mondale are lumped together (!) as “Artists”.

A similar problem attends the idea of “gray champions.” (139ff) Strauss and Howe pick up Hawthorne’s story of the same name (1837) to identify a figure who prophecies the advent of a fourth turning. But the generic, impressionistic nature of this figure means it can arrive at any time, and embody basically any message, from reactionary to radical.

Ultimately the strong claims of the book are either too flimsy or unfalsiable to be of use.

These problems vitiate what must have been the book’s most vital section when it appeared, its description of and advice about an upcoming fourth turning (270ff). It begins in a promising way, offering a series of potential crises, from state secession to disease outbreaks. One of them actually comes pretty close to 9-11, imagining a terrorist strike, but with different nuclear and financial consequences.

Then things become too light to be useful. One sober page reminds us that crises can trigger all kinds of distress (277). Older people will warn young people about stuff (279, 285). Xers will not be happy all the time. A currency devaluation will cripple Boomer finances – ah, well, that didn’t happen. A “great leader” will lead us into “a new High” – well, give it time, I suppose; again, this narrative arc could occur at any time, saecularly fitted or otherwise (300). We might see popular desires for more free market economics, or less (310).

The advice we get is similarly weak tea. We’re told to remember this is a different era than certain prior times. A “Lincoln-like leader” might spark secession or greater unity, depending on timing. We should “forge [a] consensus and uplift the culture” but “don’t attempt reforms that can’t now be accomplished.” “Treat children as the nation’s highest priority, but don’t do their work for them.” “Expect the worst [on defense] and prepare to mobilize, but don’t precommit to any one response.” These are all generic, middle of the road nostrums that don’t really guide us one way or the other.

One bit of advice is actually quite specific. Strauss and Howe recommend that we trim government spending. “We should shed and simplify the federal government in advance of the Crisis by cutting back sharply on its size and scope…” Related to this is a hedged call to “Tell future elders they will need to be more self-sufficient, but don’t attempt deep cuts in benefits to current elders.” It seems like an economically conservative message is buried therein.

Now,. there are some useful insights in The Fourth Turning. Opponents of the Obama and Trump administrations would each be glad to see that the book anticipated a return to “authoritarian government… rested and refreshed.” (108) Strauss and Howe based their code on a basic observation about intergenerational struggle, a development humans have thought about since Procopius complained in the sixth century about Byzantine kids wearing Hun-style haircuts to irk their elders, and probably earlier than that. But Strauss and Howe go a little farther, offering the idea that generations sometimes share commonality via leapfrog: “Your generation isn’t like the generation that shaped you, but it has much in common with the generation that shaped the generation that shaped you.” (79; emphases in original) . Call it the Harold and Maude hypothesis, but it’s a neat concept.

I was also impressed at how the book admitted one giant flaw in its system: the American Civil War. For two pages (121-2) the text explores what it deems to be “the only conspicuous anomaly” to its scheme. I admire how the discussion tries to apply the turnings and generational archetypes and ultimately finds them falling apart. The book’s fierce determinism exits for just a moment, and the authors return agency to human individuals. It’s a rough spot, one which the rest of the book sidesteps, but one I appreciate. I’m reminded of how Steven Pinker tries to fit WWI and WWII into his narrative of declining rates of human violence. Strauss and Howe do a better job in this brief passage.

There are other problems with the book. A text so keenly focused on the future barely touches on science fiction at all, and then ignores the great creative works about the future (think of Heinlein’s future history, or Asimov’s Foundation sequence!). It tries to coin some new terms, which the best that can be said of is they didn’t take. Generation Xers remain Xers, not “the Thirteenth” (although I enjoyed being evoked by Rosemary’s Baby (194)). While there isn’t a widely accepted nickname for the years 2000-2009, I don’t think any human beings other than Strauss and Howe have thought of them as “the Oh Ohs.” My final nit to pick: the index is terrible, only a list of names, and not a useful one at that.

So to return to my framing device: what can we learn from this kind of flawed futuring?

Method: this kind of “key to all mythologies” scheme is not very useful for serious analysis or futuring. Paying attention to generational differences has some advantages, but we should hesitate before building systems on top of them.

Blind spots: in 2018 I probably don’t have to remind readers of the importance of paying attention to populations other than straight white males, but that’s one group of blind spots this book struggles with. A less obvious point is taking demographics seriously, as this book fails to do.

I am intrigued at the pre-2001 approach to religion. Religion here appears mostly as a historical artifact, faintly echoed in the New Age movement. Radical Islam does not appear, serving instead as a black swan. Big, big blind spot.

Popular understanding of futures work: first, American really love their generational tribes. We adore self-identifying by Boomer, Xer, Greatest. The authors helped stoke this affection, and it rewarded them well. Futures work that speaks to strong identity markers has a good shot of winning and audience.

Second, busy people like handy sketches. Fourth Turning is a longish book, but the schema is clear, repeated throughout, and represented through many charts and tables.

Third, more deeply: this is a very 1990s book. It is suffused with neoliberalism’s cultural win, such as its call to cut back on elder services. I’m not sure how far this goes, since so much of the futuring is cloudy or think. One of the authors apparently worked with Steve Bannon on a film, but I don’t see Breitbart in The Fourth Turning. Instead this is closer to second term Bill Clinton.

These three present challenges to me as a futurist. Methodologically I try to use several tools, but research and time demands place trend identification and extrapolation at the top of my agenda, so I need to correct that imbalance. I don’t share the authors’ blind spots about demographics or religion, but then again, that’s how blind spots work. I need to know what I miss.

As a creator and business leader, I’m not sure I’ve connected as well with my audience as Strauss and Howe did. I address people by their professional identities, in terms of job and institutional situation, but not much more than that. I really fail to provide accessible sketches. So this is a good prompt for me to improve outreach skills.

(cross-posted on my blog)
Profile Image for Charles Haywood.
497 reviews725 followers
January 22, 2019
I am almost ashamed to review this book. It is like reviewing "Fifty Shades of Grey"—the mere fact the someone publicly admits he has read it degrades both him and his listeners. My only defense is that Steve Bannon has repeatedly stated this book is a major influence on his thought. He’s a clever man. So I sought wisdom by following his lead, but instead, I got a rotten egg. While I still have a great deal of respect for Bannon, having read this book, the Respect-O-Meter has dropped by roughly 60%. He may gain the respect back, for example by correctly predicting the results of, and the impact of, this coming May’s elections to the European Parliament. But it will be a task, after subjecting me to "The Fourth Turning."

This will not be a long review; that merely prolongs the agony. I write only to sketch out the major areas of failure, to make clear your need to avoid losing time you will never see again. At its core this book requires a total detachment of the reader from reality. The American singer Cat Stevens (bear with me) is known nowadays for having adopted Salafi Islam and being a rabid Jew-hater. But before he converted, he was big into numerology, as I remember from watching, some years ago, a VH1 “Behind the Music” special on his life. In that phase of his life, at least, Stevens would have been very comfortable with "The Fourth Turning," because the entire book is prophecy based on numerology. All that’s missing is a good dose of astrology.

In a nutshell, what William Strauss and Neil Howe claim is that all human affairs are, always have been, and always will be, governed by a time period, the saeculum, which approximates the length of a “long human life,” or roughly eighty years. Each saeculum has four generations, each of which has universal and certain characteristics, which succeed each other like the tick-tock of a clock. I am not going to tell you anything about them, their names or anything else, though, because they are stupid. Each saeculum also has a succession of events, from Awakening to Crisis, in a repeating pattern. After the climax of a Crisis, the society reboots itself and is reborn; this is the “Fourth Turning.” Strauss and Howe predicted, in 1997, such a Crisis beginning around 2005, with the rebirth to be complete by around 2025.

Before we get to the predictions, let’s cover the core structure. The reader quickly realizes that all this is a charlatan’s game, when he reads how narrowly the authors constrain their historical examination. Despite muttering about the Romans and the ancient Hindus, they identify only six saecula, beginning at the end of the Wars of the Roses, through 1997. This is the “Anglo-American Saeculum.” No attempt whatsoever is made to extend their analysis beyond England, until the Glorious Revolution, after which no mention at all is made of England, and the focus shifts solely to America. No Europe. No Asia. No Africa. Nothing at all. You’d think at least some attempt would be made to extend this supposedly universal framework beyond a very stripped-down history of America, but you would be wrong.

Even worse, the stated reason for beginning the examination of cycles around 1500 A.D. is not, as one might expect, lack of data. As becomes clear later, only the most trivial and superficial data is necessary for the authors to claim support for their theory. No, it’s because until the Reformation, don’t you know, Europeans could not comprehend linear time, except for maybe a few priests. Everyone lived in the eternal, cyclical now. The ignorance of this is astounding, and moreover it’s not clear why supposedly immutable and invariable generational cycles would be obviated by the common people’s perception of time, but nonetheless, it is the authors’ excuse for narrowing their time window to a convenient one—namely, one where throwing out a few names from the relevant time period makes it seem like the authors know what they are talking about, because of the vague familiarity most people have with at least some of the names.

Much ink is spilled in pseudo-academic and pseudo-scientific jargon. Many tables and charts are offered, complete with arrows to guide the confused reader through pop history along the desired garden path. The writing is terrible—rambling, repetitive, and reeking of selective fact choice. Even ignoring the tightly constrained focus, the exposition of the supposed saecula is risible. It consists of shouting out references to well-known figures, such as Abraham Lincoln, or cultural happenings, such as the Great Depression or rock-and-roll; giving a short and utterly flat (and often false) description of the figure or happening; and then making an enormous leap to conclude that figure or happening proves something, by itself, about a twenty- or forty-year period in history, which just so happens to coincide exactly with the authors’ thesis. It is a total waste of time; you would be better informed about world history by reading "Goodnight Moon."

Every substantive prediction in this book has been falsified. No, there has not been another religious “Great Awakening” in America. The 1990s are not remembered as a time of misery. Old people today are not inspired to refuse government handouts and young people have not stood up to deny them handouts. The Baby Boomers in their retirement have not created new forms of civic life. Nor have they created an “elder ethos that will hinge on self-denial.” I laughed out loud when I read that, before I read that “On the job, Millennials will be seekers of order and harmony. They will delight employers with their skills, work habits, and institutional loyalties.” I nearly ruptured myself laughing after that one. Even a blind squirrel is supposed to find a few nuts, but surveying the predictions in this book, that adage has been disproven.

The Crisis, ending a saeculum, that the authors predict isn’t some minor tumult, but, by the examples they give, something along the lines of complete political breakdown, major war, or a widespread pandemic leading to social near-collapse. Society will stabilize; then, after a few years, society will change dramatically, creating a new Awakening, and beginning the cycle again. Some people, doubtless Bannon among them, seem to think that because Strauss and Howe predicted a Crisis beginning around 2005, that they are therefore great prognosticators. No doubt Bannon would like a Crisis to help move his program forward; I have a lot of sympathy for that view. But it takes no skill to claim that any advanced society will, at least every few decades, pass through something that can justly be cast as a crisis, yet is still modest, and the 2007 financial crisis fits into that mold. It was not an existential Crisis in the sense the authors predicted. Nor does it take much skill to predict that America, which has been in decay for decades, will someday face an existential Crisis. It hasn’t arrived yet, though, and time is up on Strauss’s and Howe’s predictions.

Oh, it’ll come, because history will return. But this book does not tell us anything about it. Certainly, if there is a such an extreme Crisis, the path of initial stabilization followed by a reworking of society is more or less the typical one. Where the authors go wrong is in thinking there is any more pattern to history than that. That in retrospect some groups of people born roughly at the same time may evince, when viewed from certain angles, a set of common characteristics, does not create some kind of magic predictability machine. There is no wisdom here.
Profile Image for Christy Peterson.
1,043 reviews24 followers
June 3, 2011
There is so much corruption that I am looking forward to this next crisis. This attitude is predicted on page 257. Do I realize what I am actually saying? Maybe.

I give it 5 stars for introducing a new paradigm that understands history as cyclic, not linear. I loved the hero cycle described in the archetype and am going to read Hero With a Thousand Faces soon. I was fascinated at how wars turn out and are remembered in history when they aren’t 4th Turning wars. The Civil War and was a fascinating anomaly and leaves you wondering even more, what could have been if things were handled differently.

I give it 3-4 stars for the horoscopic generalizations of generations. You can’t help but think of the people you know that are from a mentioned generation and none that I know personally fit neatly into their summary. I realize that we are from a different mold, and don’t fit neatly into pop culture. Yay for that. Strauss and Howe seem to be right about half the time with their prophecies and generations

I first heard about this book from talks given by Oliver DeMille and Shannon Brooks on a number of CDs, MP3s and seminars. Then it was presented that the catalyst into the 4th turning was almost certainly 9-11. As we look back, we can see that it was not. This website explains it well.

Incidentally, Howe’s website link to 9-11 perspective doesn’t work.

I did find this YouTube video of Howe speaking about his work. (Strauss died in Dec 2007)

At 28 min he states that we are in the beginning stages of the 4th turning. They seemed to speak of FDR’s work favorably. I almost hurled. The interview with Howe ends just after 29 min.

So the catalyst for this upcoming crisis is now thought to be the economic crash 2007-2008.

This book is a must read by everyone, even hearing about it several times in the above mentioned sources didn’t completely get me out of my old paradigm of linear history. Yes, I understood the patterns and principles and knew that civilizations rise and fall but I must not have completely understood that there are patterns and principles and that civilizations rise and fall. I got it now.

The beginning discussed at length the relationship between Prophets and Heroes. I wasn’t sure I liked being a Nomad. By the end, I was satisfied with my generational role. Washington, Patton, Wythe, Adams, Patrick Henry, and John Locke were all Nomads. Good company.

I don’t think this is a fast read for many readers, definitely wasn’t for me. I was constantly referring back to the generation names and turnings. Perhaps it would have been easier if the archetype was always included with the name of the generation being discussed. By the end, it had been repeated so much that I finally had the recent generations/archetypes down.

As this was written in 1997, I was curious about people in politics today, specifically 2012 political candidates and where past and present leaders from my church fit in. I also wanted to put family members on the generational chart. That’s where the horoscopic generalizations were a little irritating.

So the next president needs to be from the prophet generation, to lead us through the next crisis. This fits most of the candidates, except for Obama who is a Nomad by 1 year (if only that could be a requirement ;) ) Obama definitely DOES NOT fit in with the tightening-down conservative Nomad description.

Here is what I found:
Prophet/Transcendental: Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Willford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow
Nomad/ Glided: Joseph F Smith
Artist/Progressive: Heber J Grant
Prophet/Missionary: George A Smith, David O McKay, Joseph F Smith
Nomad/Lost: Harold B Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra T Benson, Marion G Romney
Hero/GI: Gordon B Hinckley, Howard W Hunter, Boyd K Packer, Russell M Nelson, L Tom Perry and my sweet Grandma
Artist/Silent: Thomas S Monson, Dieter Uchtdorf, Dalin Oaks, M Russell Ballard, Richard G Scott, Robert Hales, Jeffery Holland, Quentin Cook, Ron Paul, John McCain
Prophet/Boom: David Bednar, Todd Christofferson, Neil L Anderson, Strauss and Howe, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman Jr., Herman Cain (wouldn’t Cain vs. Obama be INTERESTING!)
Nomad/13th Generation (or Gen. X): Obama, Glenn Beck, Me, my husband, most of my friends
Hero/Millennial: 5 of my children
Artist/New Silent: 1 of my children

I am a little worried about the upcoming hero generation. Are they boy-scoutish enough or too busy playing computer games, watching movies and wired to iThings? I think the valiant ones are a small number. I pray that the analogy that small rudders turn big ships holds true. Lord knows I am doing my best to raise such Heroes.

Strauss and Howe’s 4th Turning isn’t the only cyclical perspective of history; The Tytler cycle and the Book of Mormon Pride Cycle are examples.

So much history is mentioned (duh) that it is a good springboard for years of study, already grouped into turnings.

I truly am anxiously waiting for the buckling down and rebuilding of America that is supposed to happen. It is vital that it be done by educated citizens to make sure it goes right, or we could be transformed into a total aristocracy or dictatorship.

Profile Image for G.M. Burrow.
Author 1 book106 followers
October 18, 2021
This book tells the future because it reads the past. Written in 1997, it predicted the chaos of the 21st century. They didn’t know exactly what the chaos would look like, but they knew it would come in the early 2000s, they predicted that it would last till about 2025/2030, and the possibilities were a terrorist attack, economic meltdown, a pandemic, and government overreach. Boom. 2001, terrorist attack. 2008, economic meltdown. 2020, pandemic and government overreach. And it ain’t over.

This book is absolutely fantastic because its insight is so dang encouraging. Why? Because we know the crisis is right on schedule. A crisis hits every 80 years like clockwork. 80 years ago, WWII. 80 years before that, Civil War. 80 years before that, American War for Independence. And so on back they go, even hopping the continent and continuing back into the misty distance of British monarchs. It’s an Anglo cycle.

We also know how people will respond to a crisis. A crisis is a chance to remake the culture. America was fundamentally different after the War for Independence, the Civil War, and WWII, and not always for the better. So when the crisis of 2020 has you frustrated or worried, remember that you were born for this moment, God gave it to you, and here is our chance to fight for a new nation—one that remembers God.

On a more personal note, this book made my day because I have always been tempted to long for my grandfather’s war against Hitler. WWII just seemed like such a more important time to be alive. With evil that big and the lines drawn so stark, everything people did seemed charged with more significance. I wanted to go back and join that fight and felt guilty for having missed it. That’s crazy sauce and bad theology, but there you go. I slowly learned contentment with my own decade, but then this book came along and made me sit up straight. This was it. I’m actually living in a crisis. This is my WWII. A crisis comes only 80 years, and my generation has a chance to take advantage of this crisis and fight for what is true and right, just like our grandfathers.

Everything we do now to worship God, fight for our freedoms, and repent of our national sins is charged with significance because however America's current crisis turns out, on the other side we know we will have a fundamentally changed nation. This is the great turning point of our lives. We have the chance to make it a D-Day.
Profile Image for Celeste Batchelor.
321 reviews21 followers
August 14, 2012
UPDATE: Re-reading this one as part of a study group. I'm excited to STUDY this one deeper.

This was a necessary, but a tough read. I recommend it even though I only gave it three stars. I learned a great deal from this book, I just wish it was explained in more layman's terms. At times I felt angry and even stopped reading the book for a few days to clear my head of hurt feelings when reading of my Boomer generation parents and how they parented. I did find these generalizations to be true for the most part.

What I Liked:
- It explains the reasons for our current situation economically, politically, and culturally.
- Teaches about cyclic history and how it can be explained and even predicted.
- It explains why generations behave as they do, including the Generation X or 13ers of which I belong.

What I Didn't Like:
- The logic is explained, but is overly deep and detailed to the point of confusion.
- I think the same things could have been explained in a clearer language.
- The generations are very generalized, which as an "13er" who was raised to think individually and not collectively is hard to digest.
Profile Image for RoWoSthlm.
97 reviews18 followers
June 6, 2021
If the cycles are inevitable, as the nature and history perfectly evidences, there's not much we have to put against the force of them. There are many signals we are heading into the abyss of the prophetical fourth turning. Neglecting and fighting the fourth turning would be like neglecting and fighting winter. However, the author gives some advices how to survive it.

The book is a very comprehensive work on cycles. The research is however almost completely centered on the Western world, lacking a global perspective, especially the role of Asia in the presumed fourth turning. This is the weak point of the thesis. From the American perspective it makes sense. My concern is whether it is correct to leave Asia out talking about the fourth turning.

The winter is coming.
Profile Image for Joe Vasicek.
Author 113 books84 followers
March 6, 2021
This is probably going to be the longest 3-star review that I'm ever going to write.

Don't get me wrong. This is a very important book, perhaps one of the most important books of our time. Anyone who wants to understand why our world has gone so crazy and where we can expect things to go from here needs to read this book.

With that said, I found that this book falls frustratingly short. About 60% of the predictions are scarily accurate (for example, the authors predicted we would experience a "Great Devaluation" or major market crash in either 2002 or 2008; they were off by one year for the Dot Com crash, and right on the money for the Great Recession), but the other 40% of predictions are laughably wrong. The authors' characterization of the last three generations is heavy on myth and stereotype and shallow in real understanding (for example, they characterize the proto-2A movement as a group of "hobbyists"). The ideas in this book are brilliant, but on close inspection, they appear to be half-baked.

The book's central thesis is that "history shapes generations, and generations shape history." In other words, the generational cycle is key to understanding our history and predicting the course of future events. This cycle, known by the ancients as the saeculum, consists of four turnings or seasons, each lasting about the length of a human generation. The saeculum itself is the length of a long human life, which means that we all can expect to experience each of these turnings in our lifetimes. Each turning creates a different generational archetype, and the constellation of these archetypes is what determines the course of events within the turning.

Using this theory, the authors trace the history of the modern era back through seven Anglo-American saeculae, starting with the end of the Hundred Years War and the War of the Roses up to the late 90s, when the book was originally published. However, the authors claim that history before this time was chaotic rather than cyclical, and thus did not produce a secular dynamic. This was the first red flag to me, since it smacks of dismissing data that does not fit the theory, rather than adjusting the theory to fit the data.

The main area where I believe the theory falls short is in how rigidly it defines the generational archetypes. For example, because the protestant reformation, the second great awakening, and the so-called "conscientiousness revolution" of the 60s hippy era were all dominated by the generational prophet archetype, the authors portray all of these eras as broadly equivalent. In doing this, I believe they overlook some of the most critical pathologies of the 60s and 70s, and the boomer generation.

Instead, the theory needs an additional dimension, or set of dimensions, to explain the variance between generational archetypes of different eras. For example, the boomer generation was much more materialistic than spiritual, and the GI generation was much more collectivistic than individualistic, whereas the same generational archetypes from previous saeculae (the transcendental and republican generations respectively) were exactly the reverse.

Another area in which the theory falls short is in explaining how societies occasionally fracture, or merge, and how this fits into the secular cycle. This phenomenon is implicitly acknowledged by the fact that the seven Anglo-American saeculae become completely US-centric after the revolutionary war. Clearly, the US and Great Britain branched off at some point in this secular history, but the authors never explicitly discuss this fact, or how it happened. Likewise, the last two saeculae have included a sizeable non-anglo immigrant contingent, and while the authors do acknowledge this fact, they don't go into any depth about it.

What I noticed in reading their discussion of history was that when a society splits, the seeds of that split tend to be sown in an Awakening era, and when different societies merge, that process tend to have its roots in the Crisis era. This explains the difficulty in tracing any sort of secular cycle in English history and culture before the Hundred Years War, as before that time, medieval society was much more fragmented and localized. It's not an accident that it took a multi-generational war to forge the English people into a single nation, and thus kick off the modern era. Likewise, it's not an accident that the classical ancient era (which we can divide into saeculae) came to an end with the fragmentation and collapse of the Western Roman Empire.

In short, my greatest criticism of this book is that it seems to be describing a three-dimensional object in two-dimensional terms, the way a map tries to describe our spherical world. It gets a lot of things right, but it also suffers from distortions and inaccuracies, especially on the edges.

Generally, I found that the most pessimistic predictions of this book were the ones that proved most accurate, where the optimistic predictions fell furthest from the mark. That in itself is quite terrifying. According to the theory, we've already passed the climax of our current crisis era, but I still feel that we have a long way to go before we hit rock bottom, and am skeptical that the next secular high will begin anytime before 2030, if it comes at all. At this point, it seems much more likely that our society will permanently fragment, but of course I could be wrong.

Regardless, this is a tremendously important book that deserves careful study and scrutiny, despite what I perceive as its flaws. I would really like to see a book that builds on these ideas and incorporates them into a more expansive theory, as I described above.
Profile Image for Natasha.
175 reviews34 followers
April 4, 2011
Strauss and Howe make a strong argument for studying time cyclically. Not only does a definite pattern of seasons of growth and decay emerge over the centuries, but generations are formed determined by their relation in time to historical events. For example, generations who come of age during a crisis take on a hero role as they march in step to the orders of their elders and save the day. The authors claim, "When history is viewed as seasonal . . . each generation can discover its own path across time, its own meaningful linkage to ancestors and heirs" (page 332).

Consider viewing two perspectives of a race track. The athlete pounding the pavement experiences the race one step at a time, seeing only a few steps ahead on the curves, but a greater distance on the straightaways. Now pull back your perspective and observe the track from the bleachers. The spectator can see the whole track at once, and observes the cyclical pattern of each heat of racers. Similarly, time can be observed from these two perspectives: living in the moment and noting the patterns of history. Those of us currently running the race of time can learn from viewing time as a cycle, with each curve in the track a season. William Strauss and Neil Howe have delineated what can be learned by taking such a perspective of America's past in their book, The Fourth Turning.

As each cycle of history draws to its final season, or Fourth Turning, it approaches a pivotal point, or crisis, analogous to the tight curve on the track. Although the specific crisis cannot be easily foreseen, the cycles teach us when to anticipate its arrival and how to prepare for it. We can learn as much from studying what can go wrong, as what can go right. For this reason, as we approach the next Fourth Turning, it is advantageous to look at events surrounding the Civil War. Strauss and Howe state,

For any other Fourth Turning in American history, a historian would be hard-pressed to imagine a more uplifting finale than that which actually occurred. For the Civil War, a better outcome can easily be imagined. Yes, the Union was preserved, the slaves emancipated, and the Industrial Revolution fully unleashed¨Cbut at enormous cost. . . If learning from their example enables us to avert a catastrophe in the next Fourth Turning, our debt to the generations of Clay, Lincoln, and Grant will be very great indeed. (pages 121-2)

What went wrong with the Civil War? The North and South were polarized over the slavery debate despite the efforts of some, such as Henry Clay, to work out a compromise. The push to expand the U.S. borders westward did not allow the issue to rest. While the generation being groomed to be the hero-soldiers was still in its childhood, the matter came to a head. When Abraham Lincoln was elected president by a narrow margin, both sides knew that the days of compromise were over. The crisis came early, too soon for the would-be heros who were so traumatized by the brutal war in their youth that they never filled the hero's shoes. No hero generation emerged from the Civil War, the only cycle in America's history when this aberration occurred. The generation just senior to the would-be heros (called the Gilded) had not been groomed to be either civic minded or order-takers. They were adventurous and plowed headlong into the war, but were decimated by its end.

The above mentioned generations were, of course, not the only casualties of the Civil War. The south was devastated and racial relations horrific. Strauss and Howe speculate,

What would have happened if tempers had cooled for a few years, postponing the Crisis for another presidential election and slowing it down thereafter? . . . [T]he generational dynamics . . . would have been somewhat different. . . . The apocalyptic passions of the Transcendentals [Lincoln's generation] would have cooled a bit as they aged. And the Gilded [Grant's generation] would have been quicker to see war as danger rather than adventure. (page 262)

We learn from the Civil War that the crisis leading into the Fourth Turning can come too early with devastating results. Strauss and Howe suggest ways we can avoid repeating this mistake. We should prepare for the coming crisis both individually as citizens and collectively as a nation.

First, individuals should be prepared to make personal sacrifices: Strengthen virtues such as honor and integrity; become a team player; build relationships, especially within the family; prepare for limited resources in the future by establishing financial security and good health habits; and diversify everything from languages, to savings accounts, to career paths. Similar measures need to be taken on a national level. (See pp. 313-321.)

Arguably, the first sparks of the coming crisis began to fly on Sept. 11, 2001. Care must be taken that these sparks do not ignite into flame too soon. Time will allow the civic-minded "Hero" generation to mature. The generation just senior to them showed its grit on 9/11 as firefighters sacrificed themselves and travelers responded to Jeffrey Beamer's rallying cry, "Let's roll!" However, we learn from the Civil War that it takes more than grit to achieve an optimal outcome to a major crisis.

Perhaps even more important than the hero "order-takers" coming of age is the need for leaders, or "order givers" to gain greater wisdom. Here again, time is our ally. Life experiences teach wisdom as individuals learn from past mistakes and successes.

How do we bide time when the stage is set for conflict? Strauss and Howe answer: "A society is best served by a quaternity of temperaments, kept in proper balance" (page 328). Each generation must play to its strengths while tempering the weaknesses of its neighboring generations. Checking and balancing each other will help minimize anger and apathy, thus preventing undue harm. Time and perspective will ripen each generation to maturity. Much of that needed perspective can be gained by learning from the cycles of history.

Profile Image for Beth A..
675 reviews19 followers
July 24, 2011
A slow read, but interesting and thought provoking. It’s an attempt to predict the future in a fairly general way based on patterns in history and repeating generational traits. It’s an intriguing idea that as a generation our personalities may be formed- by the parenting and actions of our elders- in such a way that our traits can be traced back and predicted forward in rotating patterns that cause historical and current events to adhere to similar patterns. This theory seemed to make sense to me and made me think about the times we live in and what to expect next.

If you’re still interested after reading the above paragraph, go ahead and click for even more of my confused ramblings.
Profile Image for Vagabond of Letters, DLitt.
594 reviews269 followers
February 3, 2021
This and 'Generations' predicted the meteoric rise of SJW culture (a spiritual awakening, and SJWism is nothing but secular Neopuritanism [Mitchell 2020, Yarvin 2007*]) as the direct result of a catastrophe - likely financial. The dates given were 2005-20 for the catastrophe and 2015-30 for the awakening. Pretty fucking spot on for books written 10-30 years before the events predicted when most 10 year predictions fail (Silver 2012).

The Strauss-Howe cycle is 80 years which comprises two Kondratieff waves (Kondratieff 1935) and 4 Kuznets swings. Four K-waves or two 4-generation cycles comprise a 'Great Wave' (Hackett Fischer 1999).** The Strauss-Howe thesis is falsifiable given a prediction failure rate of over, I'd say, 25%.

Strauss-Howe theory and K-waves are some of those spooky sociological action at a distance things like statistical analysis of the stock market. Like how in 2007 a civilizational crisis was almost laughable, but not as laughable as the idea of a spiritual awakening in the near-term when 'indifferentism' and 'relativism' and 'lack of values' - not religiously-held radical values and witch hunts redivivus - were the bogeyman of the day. Not that I really believe it - but I've obviously thought enough about it to entertain the idea. Only in the past year or two has the concept of radical postmaterial leftism as religion entered the fringes of mainstream discourse (Mitchell 2020; Murray 2019; cf Campbell and Manning 2018).

As to K-waves, Nefiodov predicted a societal shift towards obsession with physical and 'psychosocial' health (i.e., the pathologization of deviant opinions and 'Triumph of the Therapeutic' all in one) with a peak in 2020 back in 2003.

I think Strauss and Howe are really on to something and link it to a sort of 'r/K seesaw' (Rushton 1994) with epicycles mediated by epigenetics (Penman 2015) during cycles of much larger life history adaptations (Woodley, Peñaherrera-Aguirre, et al. 2018), as well as elucidating the effects of the residuum of behavior environmentally determined instead of narrowly heritable (Sarraf, Feltham, et al. 2020). Other works lend credence to this hypothesis though it's never been tested and not sure it's testable. Like classical Marxian theorists, we're still in search of the 'iron laws of history', and Marxists were the first to attempt it in nontheological terms.

I'm not sure how K-waves, Great Waves, or Kuznets swings fit in, but several different theories - including Elliott's original grand supercycle (Elliott 1938) now most famous for badly predicting stock prices - operated on either 40, 80, or 160/ year cycles. Strauss and Howe give a possible reason why.

*Pseudonym 'Mencius Moldbug', essays 'How Dawkins Got Pwned' and 'M.41 and M.42'. See also Land in Laliberte (ed.) 2014, 'Dark Enlightenment'.

**At the end of each of the four previous Great Waves, 'Each revolution is marked by continuing inflation, a widening gap between rich and poor, increasing instability, and finally a crisis at the crest of the wave that is characterized by demographic contraction, social and political upheaval, and economic collapse. The most violent of these climaxes was the catastrophic fourteenth century, in which war, famine, and the Black Death devastated the continent--the only time in Europe's history that the population actually declined.' (Hackett Fischer 1999, introduction).
Profile Image for Jayne.
2 reviews1 follower
December 9, 2012
Back in 2008, I read The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe. I just came across a review (more like a synopsis) that I had put on LiveJournal at the time, so I figured I might as well post it here:

First, let the record show that "Everybody Knows" was originally written and recorded by Leonard Cohen, and to attribute the lyrics to Concrete Blonde demonstrates some willful fucking ignorance.

Second, did you know that Generation X was "the most-aborted generation in U.S. history"?

I don't know about you, but I kind of thought that was hilarious.

This book is pretty amazing. It explains history in generational cycles; e.g., Gen X is an alienated, amoral "Nomad" generation. The other generations are the Heroes (the Millennials), the Artists (the Silent Generation of the Jazz Age), and the Prophets (presumptuous Baby Boomers). The cycle runs uninterrupted through Anglo-American history (with the exception of the American Civil War which fucked things up good).

The turnings of history that accompany the rise and fall of generations are the High (when Prophets are born; think post-war prosperity), the Awakening (when Nomads are born; reformation and revolution), the Unraveling (when Heroes are born; things fall apart), and the Crisis (when Artists are born; times of great war).

The bad news is that we're transitioning from an Unraveling to a Crisis.

The good news is that after that, Things Are Looking Up. (Oh, look, it's the Ten of Swords again.)

In short, this is an interesting book that you should read in order to prepare your ass for the rest of your life.
Profile Image for Scott.
236 reviews
July 13, 2011
This is the best book I have read all year, in terms of how much it has changed my worldview. My wife has noticed that I am now seeing just about everything through the lens of generational cohorts, and in terms of the "fourth turning" we are now in as a society. The book was written by some liberal baby-boomers, but the basic premise (that we are heading toward a crisis) seems to fit with similar predictions from folks on the political right as well (such as Glenn Beck, who predicts global economic collapse and skyrocketing food prices in the near future). The authors' predictions are based on the past 500 years of Anglo-American history; they outline a recurring 80-100 year cycle of High, Awakening, Unraveling, Crisis that they chart in detail. I'm especially impressed with the predictions that they've gleaned from the last 6 Crises our society has been through, including: when the crisis will peak, what the mood of the nation will be at the time, and what the reaction will be to it by our children, ourselves, and our parents' generations. Anyone interested in writing a book about the near future (i.e., what the nation will be like 20 years from now) would do well to take a look at the authors' research (unless you like getting things terribly wrong). One observation they make that is, I think, especially keen, is that as we approach a new turning in this cycle (such as from an Unraveling phase to a Crisis phase as we are now), most pundits and analysts who try to predict the mood and issues of our society get it wrong: they expect more of the same, and are usually surprised when the next phase of the cycle is drastically different from the current one. Since we are now at the boundary between an Unraveling and a Crisis, many wrongly predict that we'll have more societal splintering, more culture wars, more alienation between disparate groups with seemingly irreconcilable goals, more latch-key kids, more crime, higher divorce rates, more class division, more risky behaviors among the youth, etc. If you don't know what the last major Crisis period (1929-1945) was like, you'll be very surprised when the nation pulls together to face its next major challenge. Also look to the American Civil War, the Revolutionary War, the Glorious Revolution, the Spanish Armada Crisis, and the War of the Roses (the other Crisis periods they track) to understand how society will become more civic-focused and less apt to tolerate individualism, risk-taking, and dissent. A fascinating read for anyone who is interested in our next 80 years--at least what the past would predict they'll be like. They admit that they could be wrong, but also point out that the cycle hasn't failed to produce a Crisis at this point for the last 6 cycles, and that they come with surprising regularity.

This book will help you prepare for the future, understand the present, and give you a framework for putting the past together, as no history book ever could.
Profile Image for Kylie Crawford.
258 reviews13 followers
June 25, 2020
The theory explored in this book is interesting and seems obvious when you think about it. History is made up of generations, and kids grow up in reaction to their parents and society’s leaders. Wouldn’t that lend itself to a cycle?

Why is there a catastrophic event every hundred years or so that seems to remake society from its core? Could it have something to do with the generation, the pattern of who is in charge, who is a young adult, and the willingness of that generation to take action?

In WW1, America waited two years after being bombed to join. In WW2, they declared war the next day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Go back 100-80 years and you get the civil war, again and you find the revolutionary war. The authors of this book sensed the patterns of the people, generations who were dealing with catastrophe throughout history, and explored them when they noticed underlying similarities.

We have a cycle of Prophet, Nomad, Hero, Artist. And guess what? Society is at its fourth turning.

That simply means that this book said some explosion (starting in 2005-25) would occur, spurred on by a lot of small pockets of discontent and unrest (I swear, some of their examples made me frown and re-examine the publication date). Some issues that other generations would have brushed off, or lived through stoically will spark a wildfire that will cause America’s citizens to tear our society at its seams. The generation will be aching for a change.

We’ve come out of all our fourth turnings better so far, WW2, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, let’s hope we can pull together for this one. With civic and personal responsibility, trust, and luck, hopefully we will.

What was disappointing was how “eh” this book was as an actually read. I laughed through some chapters but found myself zoning out and really needing to push through the beginning. And while the authors got the dates right it’s not hard to see how generalizing actions of groups of millions of people is hard to pin down. Has our world been receptive to Millennials? When they hit job markets during the Great Recession, did people bend over trying to make sure they didn’t fail? Hard to say. But the pinning down of the years of our struggle (2020, resolving in 2026) was uncanny.

Forewarned is forearmed, but who believed that we would experience the cocktail of issues we have now? I bet people thought the Great Recession was “it” and were surprised that society didn’t really shake and change like they expected. Throw in a virus and civil unrest, and maybe some big shift will take place. We can only hope it’s for the better, and we can try our best to ensure a good outcome by remaining informed and responsible citizens, adapting to swinging changes that might emerge.
Profile Image for Nick Martin.
229 reviews1 follower
March 9, 2019
If the joy that a book brings (see also: life itself) is less about the what that happens and more about the experience of passing time in a particular way — guided by authors, invited to align our thinking as tourist-readers for a while with theirs as guides . . .

There is much that is speculative here. And conveniently grouped. And over-generalized. A skeptical reader will find opportunities abundant to jump off this train. I, however, treated it as meditation, and enjoyed the hell out of the ride.

The notion that the human lifespan (+\- 80 years) has not greatly changed over time, that it can be divided into seasons, that the generations embody archetypes (prophet, nomad, hero, artist) based on their age and relationship to major events, that the interplay between the archetypes creates the atmosphere which in fact matters more than the great events themselves — I found this thing just so damn interesting to ruminate on!

That it was published in ‘97 adds a poignancy to the prophecy element here, as the eponymous “4th turning” of history was very obviously ushered in on a Tuesday morning four years later, about four years before Strauss and Howe had predicted. They predicted that the ensuing era of crisis would involve bitter generational disputes, the repeated failures and subsequent rethinking of institutions, and, if survived, would lead to a reimagined social order. Maybe it’s time we let the old ways die. They predicted this era to last till about 2026.

Read during this era of political tumult, I found The Fourth Turning to be weirdly reassuring. Like, we’ve been here before, there’s a hidden kind-of-almost-uncanny logic to our worldwide sense of unrest. The times they are a-changing. Enjoy the ride.
Profile Image for Jon Stout.
279 reviews57 followers
March 29, 2017
Two factors drew me to this book. First was much discussion among my friends, including at my church, of how to work with and appeal to Millennials. Second was the news item that Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s theoretician, was much influenced by Strauss and Howe’s work. Taken together, these two incentives were too much to pass up. I was happy to launch into an interesting discussion of American generations, as they have defined themselves over my lifetime.

Strauss and Howe’s thesis is that American history has taken place repeating a cycle, or saeculum, of approximately eighty years. Each saeculum consists of four generational segments representing a High, an Awakenng, an Unraveling, and a Crisis. The concluding Crises in American history have been the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Depression/World War II. We are about due for another Crisis. The generations of the current saeculum (after the G.I.’s of the last Crisis) are the Silent who came of age in the post-war years, the Boomers who grew up in the counterculture sixties, the Gen-Xers of the Reagan years, and the Millennials of the new millennium.

This structure presents a complicated matrix in three dimensions. There is a progression in historical time. There is a progression in life stages (childhood, young adulthood, midlife, and elderhood). As each generation transits historical time and its own life stages, there are four generations active, so we follow a drama of interacting generations, in which the actors come onstage, play different roles, and then exit. This can be confusing, but comes into focus when we consider a generation about which we care, such our own (in my case the Boomer) or that of our children.

I visualize it as four superimposed sine waves, each out of synch with the previous by a quarter cycle, so that at any point in time there is a rising, a high, a declining, and a low. One could also visualize this as the seasons of the year, with summer, fall, winter, spring all overlapping each other, as expressed in different generations.

So much for the set-up; now for the conclusions. I can see how Steve Bannon thinks that the current divisions in our country are building to a Crisis similar to our major wars. I also get that he thinks that economic or ethnic nationalism might be the way to resolve the Crisis. But most reviewers, myself included, hold that Strauss and Howe cannot be held responsible for Steve Bannon’s ideas.

As for working with Millennials, the younger generation in my family fall on the cusp between Gen-Xers and Millennials. Gen-Xers are described as being disregarded, unappreciated, and self-reliant. Apart from being “latch-key” children with two working parents, my offspring doesn’t seem disregarded or unappreciated. Millennials are anti-institutional, public-spirited and like to work in teams. My offspring has some of that, and will, I think, end up leading and managing Millennials. No pressure, but they are the future.

As for myself, Strauss and Howe call on the Boomers to be the “Gray Champions,” offering moral support and wisdom in the coming Crisis, while giving up some of our perquisites (government benefits) for the greater good. We are called not to be so self-centered as we are accustomed to be. I can live with that, and am looking forward to being a Gray Champion, in the style of Bernie Sanders.
Profile Image for Shad.
121 reviews6 followers
December 18, 2008
I know you really liked this one, which is why I was a little concerned about posting my rating. First, I think I'm a stingier rater overall. Basically, I think of the Book of Mormon as my 5, so it is pretty hard for other books to stack up. Second, while there were several things I appreciated about the book, I disagreed with much of the "methodology" and reasoning.

I did appreciate the effort to take a broader view of history, and I do think that cycles play roles in history and in our lives today.

However, I believe the fundamental failing of the book is the inability to appreciate the role of progress in society. In fact, I thought it was somewhat ironic that you sent me The Birth of Plenty at the same time as this book. The two are based on fundamentally opposed views of history. The Birth of Plenty fully appreciates progress and exemplifies the type of book The Fourth Turning criticizes so vehemently.

As with many polarized debates, I believe the answer lies somewhere in between. I do think society cycles through history, but I believe it is predominantly in an upward direction.

I feel the authors came up with an idea they liked that fit some of the data and then forced it onto history rather than having observed history and then expounded on the patterns they found. They continually discuss how certain generations were "the most" this or that but didn't seem to appreciate that indicates a linear progression (either upward or downward). I found their attempt to explain how their 80-100 year cycle went so drastically wrong for the saeculum prior to and following the Civil War. What seems more likely is that they simply couldn't deny that the Civil War was indicative of a 4th Turning (though they were able to claim WWI was not).

I did think it was an interesting review of cultural history, but I don't know enough about that to assess its accuracy. It did seem, though, that they glossed over serious differences within generations, and I think they overgeneralize. I don't think there is a set line in the sand between one generation and the next. I believe it is more of a spectrum and that, to the extent it is possible to identify behavioral patterns and attitudes within generations, they would ary from one end of the generation to the other.

Ironically, given my job, I thought they overplayed the importance of war, falling into a common trap in the field of history in which people focus on the best known or most-written about events of the era rather than everything that was going on at the time. For example, in the future, our day may be best known for OIF and OEF, but I don't think most Americans (including myself) would consider those to be the most important things going on right now.

I did appreciate the opportunity to think and see things from a different perspective. I believe cycles are a part of history.

Finally, they cite with approval Nietzsche (most famous for his quote "God is dead"), so I have an issue with that, too.

PS - My favorite Nietzsche joke was supposedly seen grafittied somewhere and read:

God is dead.

Nietzsche is dead.
Profile Image for Atanas Dimitrov.
116 reviews14 followers
December 15, 2022
*за рецензия на български език цъкнете тук

That which hath been is now;
And that which is to be hath already been;
And God requireth that which is past.
- Ecclesiastes 3.15

I’m tired of ideology. Tired of the endless “who’s right” conversations, heated debates, ostracising, fragmentation.

There nowadays seem to be an infinite number of groups who believe in their own Truth and anybody not outright stating The Truth out loud as a religious credo – let alone those disagreeing with it – gets ostracised. Be it republicans or democrats, conservatives or liberals, LGBT people, religious denominations, political party affiliated personas, groups based on sexuality, diet, stance on medical issues, geopolitics, skin colour, preference of sports, clothing, board games or whatever bizarre niche clusters exist nowadays, the societal fragmentation is seriously palpable these days.

Some people are scared to start conversations on “controversial” topics, others get pulled into the mainstream “correct” way of thinking in compliance with the current zeitgeist, and still moral zealots proclaim their Truth left and right.

It’s very tiresome.

And it’s a fundamentally wrong dichotomy, I’d say.

Strauss and Howe present an altogether different point of view. Why at one point societies seem strong, united, peaceful, creative, productive and overall developing at a rapid pace, and at another they are downcast, individualistic, crime-ridden, consumerist and outright self-destructive, has to do more with the generational alignment, rather than with the mainstream ideology, political system or religion, the authors argue.

Something like the adage:

Hard times create strong men,
Strong men create good times,
Good times create weak men,
Weak men create hard times.

There are three main arguments within the book, all of which a source of ultimate peace about and understanding of global (and local) affairs. A perspective seldom explored in conventional media or mainstream commentary.

1. History is not chaotic

Primitive humans believed that history is chaotic, i.e. random things happen at random.

History is not (strictly) linear either, i.e. the communist/transhumanist/scientific model where humanity is perceived to be on the path of indefinite scientific, economic, and political improvement leading to the bright future where we would have conquered the stars and become like gods.

History, in its very essence, is cyclical, argue the writers.

"The confidence born of growing security triggers an outburst of love that leads to disorder; anxiety born of growing insecurity triggers an outburst of strife that re-establisher order."

2. Seasons of life and seasons of time

As in nature, the human life also has 4 distinct seasons with their distinct features, expectations and outcomes, and so do societies and civilisations:

In a civilisational Spring, people want to belong; in a Summer, to defy; in an Autumn, to separate; in a Winter (Crisis), to gather.

3. Types of generations

The authors argue that throughout history, 4 distinct types of generations can be observed, each with its own characteristics and following the same pattern. Those generations go through the same cycle. Each generation is thus at a certain season of their life through the 4 seasons of time, i.e. Generation A is always in their Winter (63+ years of age) during a societal Crisis, while Generation B is always in their Spring (0-21 years of age): history creates generations, and generations create history.

The generation archetypes described in the book are:

1. The Heroes’ generation is in the summer (20-40 years of age) when it goes through civilisations’ Winters. They give way to Spring, creating a strong and safe society with palpable collectivism (regardless of the ideology).
2. The Heroes’ children, the generation of the Artists, grows up in safety and care, in the shadow of their fathers, whose glory and honour they can never reach. They search for their own spiritual growth and identity, and thus conflicting ideologies start emerging.
3. The next generation, that of the Prophets, makes a stand against the order established by the Heroes. The circle is complete: from collectivism, society moves away to individualism. The emphasis is moved away from doing to feeling.
4. The Prophets’ children are the generation of the Nomads. Born and raised in an environment where they have had to survive and look out for themselves, they develop complementary skills and knowledge, independent of anybody else. By the time they are in their youth, society starts to fully fragment and descends into a societal Winter, where the next generation of Heroes will make way for the next Spring and next wave of collectivism.

Thus 4 distinct types of generations live simultaneously at any given moment in time and the viable questions is at what season of their life they are at? What is the current generational alignment?

The authors avoid going into any ideologically burdened argumentation and provide thorough justification for their take on history: societies are strong because of the specific characteristics of the current generational alignment, and societies go down because if the specific characteristics of the current generational alignment.

Just as in the seasons of nature, one does not sow or harvest at Winter, but rather survives, and the same is applicable to both the cycles of individual life and societies: each season has its appropriate mode of behaviour which yields the correct fruits of the labour, and one cannot skip a season at their whim.


If I must share some criticism about the book, my only subjective dislike would be that it is too focused on Anglo-American history, albeit the authors give a lot of examples from ancient history and from other cultures who followed the cyclical understanding of the world. There are a couple of chapters discussing in detail the various turnings in the last ~500 years of Anglo-American history, which – although is a tad more uninteresting and tedious to go through for me as a Bulgarian reader – is to be expected.

From an objective perspective, the provided Fourth Turning/Crisis prophecy (written in the 90s and applicable for the current as of 2022 Western world) is accurate in the theoretical outline. It also follows the authors’ comments about the upcoming Crisis that “the catalyst [is] foreseeable, but the climax [is] not,” and thus the natural criticism of the book would be that the prophecy is not correct in the provided details. Also as expected.

A striking prophetic moment can be found, however:

In foreign matters, [Boomers] will narrowly define the acceptable behavior of other nations and broadly define the appropriate use of American arms. The same Boomers who once chanted “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is gonna win!” will demand not just an enemy's defeat, but its utter destruction.

Painfully true.

Closing the book, the authors provide a chapter with suggestions on how we can prepare for the Fourth Turning and the coming Crisis, both from an individual and societal point of view.

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.
—Ecclesiastes 3.1-8
Profile Image for Joyce Reynolds-Ward.
Author 71 books39 followers
March 3, 2017
What a bunch of utter bunkum. This book was part of a 90s-era spate of quasi-futurist attempts to project cyclical patterns on history in a time perceived to be a post-historical era. The authors ignore or try to handwave away the times the history doesn't fit their particular perspective, and they have a conservative cultural agenda they're trying to promote. It fits into the whole "change agent," "church growth theory" sort of speculation that came out of Fuller Theological Seminary in the 70s, where the perception is that society needs to be torn down and recreated in a particular form of Christianity favored by a subset of conservative evangelical beliefs.

The only thing that kept this book from hitting a wall is that it was a library book. That didn't keep me from snarking around that at least when I do handwavium in my sf writing, I admit I'm doing handwavium.

Cyclical theory does have some interesting elements to it, but this isn't one of those theories. Trying to define societal change based on loose generational theories without looking at actual longitudinal studies is pop sociology and, in this case, not particularly well-done. I refer the reader to Kevin Phillips, who has looked at the rise and fall of mercantile empires including the US and its precursors for a much better look.

Unfortunately this is a very attractive theory to those who would sooner burn down the structures of society rather than work to reform them.
Profile Image for The Overflowing Inkwell.
218 reviews26 followers
July 11, 2022
Well this was garbage.

In between the ad nauseam repetition of the same four facts and examples & the ignorance of how myth-making works (especially those that encode equinoctial precession, hence the four that is repeated), there is very little to appreciate here. I was looking for something that dealt more with long-term, but the 'cycles of history' the title promises amounts to very little: he mentions what some ancient Greeks and Romans and Hindus thought (and again, completely misses the point about long cycles referring to precession), and then constrains himself entirely to just American history, from right before America as a nation began. The majority of the book deals solely with the 1900s divvied up into his little sections. It's a mass of confused and confusing writing constantly referring to this generation being this age and doing L,M,N and that generation being that age and doing X,Y,Z, but also this other generation over here doing A,B,C, and restating the premise for the 4,900th time.

Save your time & sanity -- avoid this book.
Profile Image for Avery.
Author 2 books78 followers
February 7, 2017
A book for Gen Xers about the 2018-2022 crisis, written back in 1997. Saddest thing about this book is that it gave people 10 years to prepare their communities but nothing got done on that level.

Extremely overwritten, but then you get to the good bits:

After Y2K fails to bring societal transformation, “More people will start rooting for something big to happen, something bad enough to shock the society out of its civic ennui"

“Where G.I.s “ac-cent-tchu-ated the positive,” Boomers are constantly “going negative.” Defending against their attack ads has been shown to be futile; politicians who stay positive only get torn up worse”

“In retrospect, the spark might seem as ominous as a financial crash, as ordinary as a national election, or as trivial as a Tea Party”
Profile Image for Linette.
328 reviews1 follower
May 7, 2015
I actually finished! I thought I was never going to get to the end of this book.

Whilst I enjoyed the premise and I can see the archetypes I felt like Strauss and Howe belaboured the point. They made their point and then they made the same point again, and then they made the point in a different way and then they found another way to make their point.

I get it OKay!
Profile Image for Alexander.
186 reviews164 followers
April 24, 2018
Tedious mix of badly written, obvious insights and revisionist or reductionist history, with a ton of unnecessary repetition. I abandoned at about the 1/2 mark and an accelerated flip through the rest after 3 months of trying to force myself to read this. Don’t make my mistake.
Profile Image for Johanna Dolan.
3 reviews4 followers
February 17, 2016
I am IN LOVE with this book!! It explains my Gen X angst. It explains what is happening right now in the USA. And it offers HOPE for what is coming next! Fantastic book - you HAVE to read it.
Profile Image for Petter Häggholm.
27 reviews3 followers
March 19, 2018
This is a thought-provoking, intriguing, and utterly unconvincing book written in a style that set my teeth on edge and made me take five times as long to finish it as I normally would.

Strauss and Howe's basic thesis is fairly simple: First, generations of people (Baby Boomers, Gen X, and what have you) tend to share certain traits as they grow up and live in a shared Zeitgeist. Second, this tends to lead to different behaviours in different life stages; for example, children who grow up very sheltered may become very permissive parents to avoid stifling their own children as they were stifled. Strauss and Howe refer to “generational archetypes”. Third, this in turn leads to a predictable sequence of archetypes (again, as a simple example, strict parents producing permissive parents producing…). Fourth, the constellation of generational archetypes around at give life stages at any given time tends to shape history in broadly similar ways, in phases they call “turnings” (hence the title): “high” followed by “awakening” followed by “unravelling” followed by “crisis”. Fifth, this runs cyclically with a cycle length roughly equal to (and caused by) a human lifespan; so, eighty years or so—a period they call a “saeculum”, of which (they say) American history has gone through seven.

Straightforward enough: A cycle of four life stages, four generations, four historical phases. Strauss and Howe use irritatingly mystical language—like calling their generational archetypes things like “prophet” and “nomad” and “hero”—but in broad strokes, their suggestion makes sense, and is not in my view obviously absurd. It might be true, or it might be false. Of course, with hundreds of pages, it has much to say about the subject, tracing it back through American history all the way back to merry old England, and projecting it forward with predictions about the early 21st century.

And here is the problem. Strauss and Howe provide a brief outline of American history and explain it in terms of these interrelated cycles: how the “crisis” of World War II led to the “high” of booming post-war America, the “awakening” as people started paying attention to civil rights, the “unravelling” of the greedy yuppie era, and so on. And, to be sure, they have no difficulty in connecting these threads in a coherent enough fashion. (Although I did find myself wondering just how they could trace history from the American Civil War to World War II as the cycle moving from one crisis to the next without even explaining why World War I did not qualify as a crisis.)

The problem is, however, that if you know enough about American history, I have no doubt that you could explain it in this manner completely regardless of whether or not it is true. For instance, I’m sure that a knowledgeable historian could slice history into cycles of five generations rather than four, or maybe six, or even three. A good theory must not only account for known facts; it must also do so better than alternative theories. Whether this “saeculum” idea holds water or not, I don’t know, in part because it seems Strauss and Howe have no interest in investigating the issue. If they ever subjected their own ideas to critical scrutiny, it isn’t mentioned in the book. If they entertained the idea that their “saecula” might have a different number of phases, they don’t say so. They mention lots of scholars who have written in support of cyclical history, and four-generation cycles in particular, but if they have ever met anyone critical of their ideas, they evidently decided not to quote them.

I am reminded of the Illuminatus! trilogy, a bizarre set of conspiracy/comedy/sci fi novels that make me think both that I now better understand what hallucinogenic drugs must feel like, and that the authors must have gone through a lot of them in the writing process. Among countless other subthreads in the narrative is the frequent citing of the Law of Fives: “All things happen in fives, or are divisible by or are multiples of five, or are somehow directly or indirectly appropriate to five.” And so, throughout the novels, it turns out that any number of conspiracies, conspirators, historical events, and important objects turn up in sets of five. Some protagonists are extremely impressed by this; but the authors rather neatly puncture this near the end, when one character says that everything can be perceived in fives if you look hard enough, and (I don’t recall whether this is implied or explicitly stated) you could do the same with any other number—as numerologists have amply demonstrated.

As I said at the beginning, I think that Strauss and Howe’s idea is thought-provoking, and it’s not obviously false. But on the other hand, without applying critical skepticism to it, I am very concerned that it’s an idea that, like the Law of Fives, you could always find evidence for if you look hard enough, whether it is true or not.

In science, and I should say in any serious attempt to find objective truth in the humanities, such as history, it is not enough to ask, “If my idea is true, can I find support for it?” You must also ask, and this is far more important, “If my idea is false, how could it be disproved?” Strauss and Howe forgot to ask this question—or if they ever asked it, they don’t tell their readers about it (or what they found). Thus, based on the available evidence, I have no reason to think that the idea, however interesting, is actually true.
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