Beresta Books Publishes Seshat History of the Axial Age

Peter Turchin


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As long-time readers of this blog know, I am not only a scientist, but also a scientific publisher. I founded and indie imprint Beresta Books in 2015 to publish academic and popular non-fiction books that do not fit comfortably within traditional disciplinary boundaries. The main, but not exclusive, focus of this imprint is on Cliodynamics, a transdisciplinary area of research after which this blog is named.

My primary motivation in launching Beresta was the changing relationship between academic publishers and scholars, which became increasingly exploitative after 2000. At the same time the rapidly evolving landscape of publishing created an opportunity for small independent publishers to challenge the dominance of the big, traditional publishing houses. Here are some of the posts I wrote on publishing in the past five years:

My Venture into the World of Indie Publishing

My Indie Publishing Venture: the Saga Continues

Ages of Discord: My Third Independently Published Book

Indie Publishing ≠ Self-Publishing

Well, I am happy tor report that on Dec. 8 Beresta has published its fourth book:

Seshat History of the Axial Age

You can read about the prehistory of this book in a blog post by the editors Jenny Reddish and Dan Hoyer.

The first three books published by Beresta were books authored by myself. But as I wrote two years ago, my plan was always to branch out into publishing books written by others. I don’t want to become a commercial publisher. Instead I’d like to continue publishing books in Cliodynamics, Cultural Evolution, and similar disciplines. Think of Beresta as a boutique scientific publisher, focusing, basically, on whatever I think is worthy of publication–what I find interesting and well-written.

Seshat History of the Axial Age (SHAA) is the first book for which my main role is as publisher, not author (I did contribute to the last, concluding chapter, but that’s all).

Now a few words about what else I learned in producing this book as publisher. Mostly, the process went smoothly, because I have already done this three times before. The great advantage of previous experience is that I have gathered a talented crew of specialists on whom I know I can rely, including a typesetter, an indexer, and a graphic designer. A new team member is an artist who drew the illustration for the cover, inspired by a relief detail from Achaemenid royal tombs at Naqsh-e Rustam, Iran. I think she and the graphic designer, who placed the drawing in the cover design, did a wonderful job:

Visit the artist’s website

Finally, about the future plans for Beresta Books. SHAA is only the first offering in the newly minted Seshat Histories series. Soon to follow are Volumes II and III dealing with the rise and spread of moralizing religion and the practice of human sacrifice. And I started working on my own book, tentatively titled Evolution of Complex Societies: Theories and Data.

Transcription of Birch Bark Letter No. 292. Wikipedia


About the name: ‘Beresta’ (birch bark in Russian) was used in medieval Russia as paper is used today to scribble notes for sending to a friend or business partner. The Beresta logo is styled after the Russian letter “B” as it was inscribed on a piece of birch bark with a few strokes of the stylus.

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Steven Moffitt

I wish you great success – you are providing a good service for other investigators whose work does not comfortably fit in an academic discipline.

Razib Khan

what steven said! you’re making a big difference peter (speaking as someone who has watched your vision mature over the last 10 years)

Juan Alfonso del Busto

This is a great initiative, Peter.
Also, congratulations on your article-interview in EL MUNDO newspaper! Possibly the most widely broadcasted in Spain. It is in the first page of today’s satturday edition!…? ??

Loren Petrich

The book’s Amazon page now has two reviews. One of them, by James Bennett, is titled “The Axial Age is dead; long live Axial Transitions”, and it contains “Indeed, in the Conclusion, Whitehouse et al. conjecture that it was social *population scale* that may have been the trigger for the axial transition, that more egalitarian, universalizing norms are adopted once you need to run a society that exceeds about one million people. And their recent (2019), more quantitative, Nature paper suggests that the society achieves that population scale first and then, roughly a century later, adopts various axial traits in their social institutions, perhaps to shore up the stability of the society.”

So the Axial Age would be an artifact of technologies shared across Eurasia making similar population sizes in different societies relatively close in time.

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