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Secular Cycles

10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691136967
ISBN-10: 0691136963
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Editorial Reviews


"This book is an audacious and ambitious attempt to promote the viewpoint that historical progression runs according to certain regular patterns. . . . I am fascinated by this book, particularly by the theoretical framework which is laid out in the introductory and concluding chapters. . . . [T]he main strength of the book lies in its scope, reminiscent of the broad perspectives of classical economists. It is the type of scholarship which proves that historical narrative can be fascinating."--Harry Kitsikopoulos,

"Those who are interested in grand social theories will want to read and reflect. I suspect that there will be many who then will rebut."--Brian J. L. Berry, American Journal of Sociology

"Turchin and Nefedov have set a very ambitious task for themselves. . . . [T]hey should be applauded for producing a work of very broad historical sweep and reminding us that developing general laws--or more plausibly, general tendencies--of historical dynamics remains a tantalizing proposition."--David S. Jacks, Australian Economic History Review

"[T]he standard of historical scholarship is excellent and opens the floor to interesting challenges for further empirical explorations."--Laura Panza, Economic Record

From the Back Cover

"Secular Cycles is an ambitious, audacious, and engaging achievement from two very talented scholars. This stimulating book will attract interdisciplinary attention from those interested in global history and secular economic change."--Cormac Ó Gráda, author of Famine

"I am impressed and delighted by the breadth, rigor, creativity, originality, and power of this book. The graphs present the data in a fashion that will be clear to any audience, and the text is straightforward and persuasive. This book carries the study of historical dynamics to a whole new level."--Jack A. Goldstone, George Mason University


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691136963
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691136967
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #793,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Turchin started his scientific career as a theoretical biologist, but now he works in the field of historical social science that he and his colleagues call Cliodynamics ( His research interests lie at the intersection of social and cultural evolution, historical macrosociology, economic history and cliometrics, mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, and the construction and analysis of historical databases.

Peter Turchin is Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut, Research Associate in the School of Anthropology at the University of Oxford, and Vice President of the Evolution Institute.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Norman Siebrasse on January 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Peter Turchin is a highly respected evolutionary biologist who has specialized in the synthesis of theory and empirical data (see his book Complex Population Dynamics for his work in that area). He has now turned the skills he honed explaining animal societies to human societies, and particularly to explaining the rise and fall of empires. In broad terms I would describe his approach as Malthus meets Marx meets social constructionism meets evolutionary game theory. While his model is strictly applicable only to agrarian empires, his explanations of phenomena such rising income equality, intra-elite conflict, and even increased demand for university admissions, resonate so strongly with modern society that it is clear that a modified version of his model will go a long way towards explaining our current political and economic circumstances. There are few aspects of his work that are individually wholly new; Turchin's contribution is a rigorous synthesis of historical case-studies with evolutionary theory and quantitative empirical evidence. His work has the potential to transform our understanding of "macro" social issues in the same way that behavioral economics has transformed our understanding of decision making at the "micro" level. I'll go out on a limb and predict that Turchin will eventually win a Nobel prize in economics.

I'll provide a quick overview of Turchin's work, but this synopsis doesn't do it justice; if you find my overview implausible, please read his books for yourself.

How groups manage to escape the prisoners' dilemma and cooperate is a central question of evolutionary biology.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This well organized and written book is an effort to evaluate a general model of historical development for pre-modern states. Turchin and Nefedov elaborate a model developed originally by the political scientist Jack Goldstone. The authors refer to this model as a structural-demographic model because it combines demographic forces with conflicts latent or inherent in the structure of these societies. The Turchin-Nefedov-Goldstone (TNG) model is a semi-Malthusian model begins with a period of demographic and social expansion. During this phase, labor is dear, peasants have a relatively advantageous position and almost everyone does reasonably well because of economic expansion. As population approaches the carrying capacity, and Turchin-Nefedov make it clear that this is relative to the level of technology and available good quality farmland, labor becomes relatively cheap, land costly, economic growth begins to stagnate but the land-owning classes are placed in a privileged position. Seigneurial revenues increase, agricultural involution increases, some aspects of urban life and manufactures increase as landlords have more disposable income, and there is increasing stratifcation at all social levels. Eventually, however, elites populations approach saturation and there is increasing competition among elites for increasingly scarce resources to maintain their privileged positions. The resulting economic stagnation, demographic stress, and elite competition greatly descreases social stability, often leading to what may be reinforcing cycles of famine, increased susceptibility to epidemics, and intra-elite violence. State collapse is common in this phase, often followed by demographic and economic contraction, and reinitiation of the cycle.Read more ›
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Giuseppe GANIO-MEGO on January 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Those cycles definitely exist.
Right now most of the planet is entering a Stagflation phase. Those cycles make understandable why the post 2nd world war generation of economists was saying things that are no longer applicable right now.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Anthony on December 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An excellent exploration of long-term cycles in agricultural societies. Even if you disagree with, or don't care about, the thesis, there is plenty of fascinating information about the structures of various European societies, from ancient Rome through Romanov Russia.

The general thesis of this book is that agricultural societies strengthen and weaken in multi-century cycles based on a modestly complex interaction of the population dynamics of the peasantry and the elite. Turchin and Nefedov provide quite a lot of data to buttress their case. One consequence of their thesis is that "golden ages" for the elites of a society are lousy times to be a peasant, while good times for the peasantry are usually times of stability, but only modest prosperity, for the nobility/elite of a society.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By P A DEWS THOMSON on September 12, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Peter Turchin works on long-wave theories of history. This work refines his earlier views, and adds another layer of explanatory complexity to the basic theme. A great deal of it is devoted to illustrating how the theory played out across the centuries. From my wide, if non-specialist, reading, he has it mostly right, and all the detail gives the reader a solid sense of how the interplay of the various theoretical factors worked out in messy real life.

Definitely worth reading, and I'll be interested to see if it makes any impact more widely.- on related fields.
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