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Secular Cycles

4.7 out of 5 stars 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, EH.net

"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: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.8 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: #640,233 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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The essential ideas are that particular factors cause societies to grow and prosper, then decline and finally to degenerate into internal bickering and even warfare. Eventually the disintegration ceases, and a new cycle begins. The stages of the cycle are: 1) expansion; 2) stagflation; 3) crisis and 4) Disintegration. During expansion the population grows and brings more land under cultivation – the authors examine mostly pre-industrial societies. Once the growing population’s needs exceed the productivity of the land, it has reached the second stage, wherein less land per capita slowly impoverishes the lower half of society. During stagflation, the elite continue to collect their rents and fees, so their lot does not worsen. In fact, because the lower strata of society are increasingly struggling, the labor pool expands, pushing wages down. During the stagflation phase, the elite increase in both number (often as a status reward in lieu of payments) and their per capita consumption. Impoverishment grows from the bottom strata up until it finally begins to digest the lower echelon of the elite, some of whom fall out of elite status. At this point we reach stage three – crisis. In this phase, economic pressures cause elite members to contend with each other; the rich use their influence to minimize taxes; and crime rises as the poor become desperate and the government, starved for funds, can no longer maintain order. This further reduces overall productivity. Finally, in the fourth stage disorder, disease, starvation and violence reduce population numbers in all strata of society. Eventually a strong leader arises and the population, now small enough to expand within available resources, begins the next cycle.Read more ›
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