Cliodynamics, the rise & fall of empires and asabiya

Razib Khan gnxp August 1, 2008 Link


Yesterday assman recommended Peter Turchin’s oeuvre as a nice theoretical overview of world history, in particular Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall. Unfortunately it was checked out at the library, so I’ve ordered it, but his more popularly oriented War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires was available and I read it last night. With rather large font, copious endnotes, and a great deal of quotation of ancient and early modern historians and cultural observers it really doesn’t measure up to 416 pages. It’s a quick read. For those who are interested in world history and have some background knowledge I would recommend it, but its value is more in clarification than in originality (if you don’t have much background knowledge, skip it, you won’t know if Turchin is full of it or not, so why bother?). As a mathematical biologist by training Turchin’s program seems to be how to translate verbal models into formal ones (he has Santa Fe Institute connections in case you’re curious, so be warned or heartened, depending on where you stand). The reasoning behind this project is so obvious that I won’t repeat or elucidate it. Overall his goal is to flesh out a discipline of cliodynamics which can complement cliometrics. There’s a strong undercurrent within War and Peace and War that the reliance of cliometricians upon economic theory as a framework to make sense of empirical macrohistorical data needs to be complemented copiously by methodologies from a host of other disciplines.

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