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War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires Reprint Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0452288195
ISBN-10: 0452288193
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Editorial Reviews

Review

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 Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut. He is the author of "Quantitative Analysis of Movement" and more than sixty scientific articles, including several in "Nature and Science."
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (February 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452288193
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452288195
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,247 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Norman Siebrasse on January 24, 2012
Format: Paperback
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: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
One of the most helpful information-filled books I've ever read. Aside from his "theory of history," which may or may not be perfect, it is simply the best review of world history I have read. Lots of side-benefits, e.g., a devastating putdown of Macchiavelli (pp. 108-123), the early history of Russia (with interesting references to Ukraine), great re Roman history, tons of insights everywhere.
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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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