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Secular Cycles

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  147 ratings  ·  23 reviews
Many historical processes exhibit recurrent patterns of change. Century-long periods of population expansion come before long periods of stagnation and decline; the dynamics of prices mirror population oscillations; and states go through strong expansionist phases followed by periods of state failure, endemic sociopolitical instability, and territorial loss. Peter Turchin ...more
Hardcover, 360 pages
Published August 9th 2009 by Princeton University Press (first published January 1st 2009)
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Keith Akers
Aug 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is an absolutely great book, clearly of interest to anyone who is concerned about things like the collapse of civilizations, and specifically the possible collapse of our civilization. And it was published in 2009, and I'm only finding out about it, and reading it, now! I found out about it through Gail Tverberg's blog, "Our Finite World," and I hope it finds a wide readership. But a word of warning: this book is not for the faint of heart. You've got to love the subject or you'll never mak ...more
TL;DR this hypothesis and methodology seem like a major watershed moment in historical thinking but the book itself is not ideally constructed for lay audiences (in interest, not comprehension) and it's very much worth reading even if you want to skip/skim some of the case study chapters.

I can't believe this book, or at least this hypothesis and the evidence behind it, haven't made a bigger splash. I've been reading stuff in this vein for a long time, from Jared Diamond's stuff to Catton's Overs
Mar 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book exemplifies my type of futures - a grand sweep of human history, a causal model, and a dynamic framework from which we can view our present lives. The first chapter outlines the model and is followed by eight turns of the cycle, two per chosen country. The final chapter draws together the evidence and the model.

I found the model to be quite interesting. It seems to be based on two perspectives of history. One is the Malthusian, where history can be described as a series of cycles where
John Igo
Mar 24, 2020 rated it liked it
Secular Cycles

This book postulates a grand neo-Malthusian theory of history, as follows.
1. The population of commoners increases (approximately exponentially) to the carrying capacity of land they possess at their technological level.
2. The population the elites increases to the carrying capacity of of the commoner population with a lag of a few generations. The elite population overshoots the carying capacity of the commoner population due to faster reproduction rates (healthier food, better
David Lopez
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I would recommend reading war and peace and war instead of this one, this goes into much much more details but unless you know the math and are really that skeptical the same concept gets a worthy write up in his other book. Still very good and more of the same which is why I read it, but unless you really want more history from this perspective the same concept is done just fine in war and peace and war.
Secualr Cycles es un magnifico libro que busca mostrar como las predicciones de la teoría demográfica estructural es valida para el estudio de las sociedades agrarias. Los ciclos seculares de acuerdo a Turchin y Nefedov son procesos de muy largo plazo en los que las sociedades pasan por periodos de integración, expansión y estabilidad socioeconómica, llegan a periodos de estancamiento y luego de declive y desintegración.

La premisa de los autores es que es posible llegar a algo parecido a una cie
David Usharauli
Nov 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, economy
In this book the authors analyze several correlations that lead to rise and fall of the States based on population growth, labor market demands and excesses of upper classes.

I did not find their approach particularly innovative. One thing I remembered from this book is "plateau" stage they called stagflation. This is a stage in state's secular development when population saturation leads to wage decline that coincides with maximum profits for upper classes.

I would say that USA has entered stagfl
This book is amazing and I doubt I can provide a review that does it justice. I point to this review by Less Wrong and this Guardian review as a good start.

Briefly, the author's theory is simple: society works in cycles (secular cycles). There is a growth stage, where society grows. The land is underutilised and there is resource extraction. Upward mobility exists.

This is followed by a stagflation stage, where inequality increases. The elites then extract / oppress the peasants. Because elites
James Giammona
Sep 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
First of all, this is a dry academic book. If you don't enjoy dry books, you won't think this is worth 4 stars.

That said, the framework of population dynamics of both the general population and elite population and the various stages of growth, stagnation and crisis is extremely powerful and compelling. As has been said in an online review, this framework gives a great way to learn, contextualize and remember history (e.g. I've never felt more confident in my recall of Plantagenet historical eve
Jakob Fredin
Mar 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
Great book by Turchin with a seriously groundbreaking approach to history. There's no doubt that Turchin actually bases his theories on serious research and a comprehensive collection of data and analysis on a global scale from throughout ancient, up until modern, history. That being said, the book is obviously not beautifully written: the prose is repetitive and all chapters, except for the first and the last, mirror each other in almost every aspect. The middle chapters are throughout investig ...more
Kaustubh Sule
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics
I bought the book long back but did not read it. The recent stock market fall and once in a century event of pandemic forced me to read this book. This book clearly states pandemic as one of the reasons for negative turn of growth cycle during stagflation phase. The ideas laid out by authors are succinct and relevant to today's economy even if they mention that they have studied cycles for agrarian economies. The four phases of cycle have been empirically studied with respect to various civiliza ...more
Roman Schuster
Oct 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Thought provoking, to put it mildly. Prof. Turchin proves once again that anthropologists make the best economists. Chapter 1 proposes a framework through which to understand why population ebbs and flows, and the remainder of the book follows 8 case studies that put the framework to the test. Part history lesson (did you know that the church was the largest money lender in 16th century Russia?), part social analysis (over/under-representation of elites in the total population is one of the driv ...more
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very good intro to a revival of the study of historical cycles. The idea that population cycles and structures are more important historical movers than political ideology or regime type is not obvious in today's hyperpartisan political competition. Actually it became a heresy to not derive quality of personal welfare from type of installed political regime. It's refreshing to see a quantifiable theory saying otherwise. While this book covers agrarian societies, Turchin announces application of ...more
Dec 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
I feel that I wasn't the right audience for this book. The authors had a very clear hypothesis (you can predict cycles of growth and collapse in pre-industrial societies based on certain factors) and then provided 8 cases to test and prove their theory. While I think this would be valuable for people in the field, as someone who is not, it was repetitious and not something that I have the knowledge to refute or agree with honestly. ...more
Oliver Bateman
You can listen to my critique, and the critiques of others, around the 1-hour mark on this podcast:


To this, I will add the famous AJP Taylor line about historians of "decline" or "cyclical declension" being people whose perspective on this matter amounts to that of the tenured Oxford prof who laments how he could once afford three housekeepers but can now afford only two.
Zain Khan
Aug 21, 2022 rated it it was amazing
A must read for anyone interested in the rise and fall of empires, nations and civilisations.
Alex York
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
An empirical application of Structural Demographic theory.
A must read if you are interested in History as a science.
Mar 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
LOTS of data that supports novel and compelling theory of 3o0yr pre-industrial civilizational cycles. Impressive.
Oct 01, 2022 rated it liked it
Abandoned. Interesting theories but was way too dry and couldn't keep my attention. ...more
Thomas Devlin
Jan 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
A dense but worthwhile read for anyone interested in long-run macro forces shaping the rise and fall of societies
Feb 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Very interesting book. Outlines a theory of history which explains a significant proportion of historical change in agrarian societies. It's a very interesting approach, and one which I think will provide extremely interesting insights into history and, potentially, the future.

Some minor issues with typos, and some of the history strikes me as potentially a little weak, but those are very minor issues when compared with the overall work.
Fred R
Jan 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
There are still some very basic questions (how do you define "the elite"? What determines the number of "elite aspirants"? Is the model applicable to a post-agricultural economy? If so, what are we really talking about? People's ability to marshal enough resources to reproduce themselves biologically and economically?) that remain to be answered, but all in all I'm just a huge fan of this neo-Malthusian "structural-demographic" theory. ...more
Jun 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Well documented validation of a very interesting theory.
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