What I am working on: Update

Peter Turchin


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Six months ago I posted a “progress report”, What I am working on. Since then a lot of things happened.

First, I finished writing my trade book, previously titled A History of the Near Future. As expected, the publisher didn’t like it, so the new title is The Wealth Pump: Ruling Elites and the Path of Political Disintegration. I finished the complete draft in June (right on schedule), but then there was a bunch of lose ends to take care of. As a result, the book went into production in August. The tentative publication date is June of next year. There is still a lot of work to do on it, but it will be largely done by other people. The biggest job for me will be to go over the copy-editor’s suggestions, and then approve the galleys, which will not take a lot of time. This leaves me time to switch to other projects, on which below.

Second, I am now an emeritus at the University of Connecticut, as of July 1. This means I am done with teaching college students, but I will continue teaching a regular Winter School in Austria, similar to what I did this year. Well, because of Covid, a winter school evolved into a spring school: CSH Spring School on the Evolution of Social Complexity 2022. Next year, 2023, Winter School will take place in a retreat in the Alps in January. There will be an announcement about it during the second half of September. But the main upshot is that now I have only one regular job, as a project leader at CSH, which simplifies my life a lot.

Third, I had a vacation-adventure, the first one in three years. I went to several national parks in the Zambezi-Okawango region. I’ll probably write more about it on this blog, but here are two pictures, taken by a friend:

At a water hole in Hwange National Park

Stretching after a long early morning game drive

Fourth, the Seshat project has published most of the papers analyzing what we started calling the Classic Seshat, which focused on data that enable us to test a variety of theories attempting to explain the evolution of complex human societies during the Holocene (roughly, past 10,000 years). I consider it a huge accomplishment, a result of more than a decade of work by a large research network associated with the Seshat Databank. I’ll write more on this in a future post. I am also now in a good position to finish my book, The Great Holocene Transformation, which I hope to do by this winter.

This Fall I am collaborating on a bunch of analyses and articles, led by my colleagues in Vienna and elsewhere. But the major thrust is on CrisisDB. We have gathered data on more than 100 past societies sliding into a crisis, and then emerging from it. A lot of data-cleaning remains, but we are now shifting the effort into analyzing these data. As our societies continue sliding into the ongoing “polycrisis” this work seems to be more relavant than ever.




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Steven Moffitt

I am eager to read your new books, and especially the SESHAT CrisisDB project. Keep up the groundbreaking work!


Thank you so much for the update!!


Thanks for the update. I’m surprised you haven’t written anything about the Ukraine war. I remember that a few years ago you warned in this blog that the intervention of the USA and Europe in Ukraine could generate tensions with Russia. Now Russia is looking to Asia, and Europe is facing a serious crisis. No one better than you to assess this conflict. I hope you now have more time to update your blog.

Roger Cooper

The link for CrisisDB does not work

Jan Steinman

6WF3FWow, a real camera!

I thought all the “elites” were using phones these days?

Bennett Stark

Appreciate the Update, and the photos too.
Look forward to the Great Holocene Transformation
Bennett Stark, PhD

John Strate4

I look forward to reading your future work. Your project should inspire historians to embrace the scientific method .

Loren Petrich

“The Wealth Pump: Ruling Elites and the Path of Political Disintegration” – what is the “wealth pump”? A tendency to accumulate more and more wealth? Could part of that be less vulnerability to negative events? A peasant whose cow died would suffer a disaster, while a noble whose horse died can easily get a new one. Or something similar.

“The Great Holocene Transformation” – what might that be? The large-scale societies made possible by the invention of agriculture? Societies that did not exist before the Holocene? BTW, there is a bizarre feature of the invention of agriculture. For most of the some 100,000 years that our species has existed, we did not have agriculture. We lived in small communities and we foraged, hunting and gathering. But in the Holocene, over the last 12,000 years, we invented agriculture independently in several different places. Why did it take so long? Was agriculture suppressed by something in the pre-Holocene climate?

CrisisDB – I thought of trying to look for correlations between various calamities that a crisis can have: depopulation (famine, plague), unrest (coups, civil wars, killing of leaders, demotion or exile or killing of elites), loss of territory, overall severity, …

steven t johnson

Previous inventions of agriculture were lost when the innovating society collapsed? If there is no one else to pass the torch to, the light goes out. But when someone else can carry on….

Loren Petrich

That begs the question. The big question is why the only surviving inventions of agriculture are Holocene ones. Was it impossible to get agriculture started in the Pleistocene? If it was possible, why was it impossible to get it to survive into the Holocene?

steven t johnson

Sorry, no, the hidden assumption that of course agriculture will survive is not well-justified. The assumption that civilization/culture is continuous is definitely false. And the ability of domesticated plants and animals to survive without people needs justifying too.

To put it another way, the slow spread of cotton across the world is a historical model of how difficult of how hard it would be for Pleistocene agriculture to spread.

Liz Cademy

Please let us know when your new books become available for pre-order.

I came across your work last summer, when I was wondering why it seemed civilization was falling apart. Your writing answered that for me, and I’ve been slowly reading everything I can get my hands on. [I’m a housewife turned web developer, working my way through this goes slowly.] As I put it in my head, most people are arguing about the color of the flowers on the weeds, not realizing the forest around them is changing.

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