Review of Historical Dynamics in Theory and History

Noël Bonneuil Theory and History May 5, 2005 PDF


In a review1 of Peter Turchin’s Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall, Joseph Tainter observes that theories of cycles in history are themselves subject to cycles in popularity, from the second-century-BC Greek historian Polybius, who predicted the demise of the Roman Empire 600 years in advance, to the early twentieth century’s Oswald Spengler, who viewed world history through phases of development and predicted the “decline of the West.” Cyclical theories having lain dormant for a suitable length of time, Turchin launches himself on an ambitious course of revivification, confident that mathematical formulations can help illuminate the long-term threads of history. However, Turchin is also confident that his approach leads the way, and what he perceives to be insights gained by mathematical modeling could as easily be seen as misconceptions aided and abetted by mathematical dust in the eyes.
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