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War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires [Paperback]

by Peter Turchin
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 27, 2007 0452288193 978-0452288195 Reprint
Like Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel, Peter Turchin in War and Peace and War uses his expertise in evolutionary biology to make a highly original argument about the rise and fall of empires.

Turchin argues that the key to the formation of an empire is a society’s capacity for collective action. He demonstrates that high levels of cooperation are found where people have to band together to fight off a common enemy, and that this kind of cooperation led to the formation of the Roman and Russian empires, and the United States. But as empires grow, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, conflict replaces cooperation, and dissolution inevitably follows. Eloquently argued and rich with historical examples, War and Peace and War offers a bold new theory about the course of world history.

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Editorial Reviews


TurchinÆs view of [history] from the perspective of an evolutionary biologist . . . promises a great deal. (The Times Higher Education Supplement)

About the Author

Peter Turchin is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut. He is the author of the technical work Historical Dynamics, in which he presents the statistical data behind the grand theory developed in War and Peace and War.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (February 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452288193
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452288195
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #175,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Complementary readings to this book July 19, 2009
There are already several fine reviews, so I will only suggest reading the following works (all of them interesting works dealing somehow with war, the state or empires) in addition to this book: 1) "War in Human Civilization" by Azar Gat (war explained, not just narrated); 2) " Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall" by the same author but far more complex to read; 3) "Understanding Early Civilizations" by Bruce Trigger (a great comparative review of early civilizations); 4) "History of Government" by S.E. Finer; and 5) Political Thought: 5.1. and 5.2: "The West and Islam. Religion and Political Thought in World History" plus "A World History of Ancient Political Thought" by Antony Black.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will transform our analysis of societies January 24, 2012
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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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Another attempt at a theory of history November 1, 2009
There have been many attempts to write laws for a world history. This is another try.

What the writer's theory is that large empires start off along what he calls metaenthic frontier. This is a region that separates two or more peoples that do not get along. This conflict is often genocidal. On each side of this border people unite to face the deadly enemy on the other side. Whatever the argument people have is seen as minor compared to the enemy they face on the other side. Overtime an **asabiya** forms which is a collective will and unity. As a group gains this **asabiya** it often gains in power and goes on to form a state or empire. In time as the empire gains in power and wealth, the differences between the have and have-nots grow. Soon the state starts to fall apart as it **asabiya** declines.

I confess that I have doubts about some of his history. For example I am not aware that early Romans dislike for the Gauls was as significant as the writer claims. Early Romans went to war almost every year, Livy's list of Roman conflicts is filled with such battles and wars with neighbouring people. Rome gained this **asabiya** not with its conflict with Gauls which it survived partly because of this **asabiya** but with its conflict with its neighbours. Later with Punic. It was Cathage not Gaul that Cato finished his speeches in the Senate with the phrase "Furthermore, it is my opinion that Carthage must be destroyed". The cry 'Hannibal is at the gates' was used to frighten naughty Roman children. After Cathage, Rome went after many other people first before taking on the Gauls.

Nor am I convinced the Byzantine Empire was a new empire. The Byzantinians saw themselves as Roman.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Meta-History Book Ever Written May 13, 2007
Poor Arnold Toynbee identified a few patterns, but his woeful explanations totally ignored many things, technological change being foremost. But now we have "War and Peace and War"!

Peter Turchin's superb book explains what keeps empires, nations, and even tribes together and allows them to be more than just transitory collections of random people sharing a culture. Extremely well written, the book illustrates its thesis at every turn with compelling historical examples and occasionally amusing biographical details. But the stress is on asabiya (accent on the second syllable, I think), and its fundamental importance for a group's very survival (though his data really allows him to press the case only for "empires"). The concept is related to "social capital" and also to Fukuyama's "trust", but fully warrants the use of Ibn Khaldun's own special term.

Finally someone has drawn together the real threads of explanation of the typical cyclic behavior of pre-modern nations. Though he does in the last chapter apply his findings to the post-1800 world, he acknowledges that things have changed and the traditional patterns apply less now.

Altogether a totally engrossing and very important book, written in such a manner that makes it hard to put down.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Another perspective to explain the fortunes of empire
Though I'm not an expert in the field, I've been interested in the history of empires and civilizations for a while now and have noticed (or at least it seems to me) that the past... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Glenn Corey
2.0 out of 5 stars Anything goes
The cover of the book shouts: "A radical new theory of world history with implications for nations of today. Read more
Published 6 months ago by aldo matteucci
5.0 out of 5 stars Innovative, very interesting, and easy to read and understand
I've nothing important to add to the comments made by others who read this book earlier. It is an another attempt to understand the basic laws of history. Read more
Published 13 months ago by levtol
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful
i ordered this book because my dining table wobbled a lot and often ruined family dinners. one of the legs was far shorter than the others and caused drinks to spill, and gravy to... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Aaron T
5.0 out of 5 stars Revolutionary change in understanding history
A lot of great reviews are already submitted for this item, so I will not make this one longer than it has to be. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Kirill Marchuk
5.0 out of 5 stars Great companion to Historical Dynamics
I read Peter Turchin's Historical Dynamics around five years ago. This book is billed (at least informally) as the "non-math" version. Read more
Published on January 18, 2012 by M. Zimmerman
4.0 out of 5 stars Valid points, some weak examples
Interesting book, written with enough open mindness to survey very different cultures and historic times, without the eurocentric / anglosaxon bias common to many historians. Read more
Published on November 4, 2011 by EMG
4.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious, hard to evaluate
This book describes a plausible model of how conflict between hostile cultures such as Islam versus Christianity can create the kind of large-scale cooperation (asabiya) needed to... Read more
Published on April 15, 2011 by Peter McCluskey
4.0 out of 5 stars Asabiya y el futuro
El libre parte de la idea de que los grandes imperios surgen en las zonas fronterizas, en las que conviven pueblos de distintas culturas. Read more
Published on January 7, 2009 by Jorge E. Dardon
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I've read
War and Peace and War is definitely one of the best books I've ever read. This is coming from a person that is certainly not a history buff. Read more
Published on September 22, 2008 by Maciej Zawadzki
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