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War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires Reprint Edition
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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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
evolutionary biology meets history. This is a significant work in our understanding of civilization. It's on the order of Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Jeff Morrison
This book has completely changed the way I think about the history if empires. The most amazing thing that you can see right now is how our society is responding to elite over... Read morePublished on June 26, 2014 by Steve A. Tuckner
This book is a compelling read – a grand theory of world history. His analysis of the rise and fall of empires is from the point of view of social cohesion (the “asabiya” of Ibn... Read morePublished on June 11, 2014 by Dick_Burkhart
This is a book full of historical details about the origins of empires. The main thesis seems to be that empires are born on the fault lines between existing civilizations - the... Read morePublished on May 4, 2014 by Tim Tyler
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 morePublished on December 26, 2013 by Glenn Corey
The cover of the book shouts: "A radical new theory of world history with implications for nations of today. Read morePublished on October 13, 2013 by Sceptique500
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 morePublished on March 2, 2013 by levtol
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 morePublished on January 3, 2013 by Aaron T