Turchin, Peter 1957–
Turchin, Peter 1957–
PERSONAL: Born 1957.
ADDRESSES: Office—University of Connecticut, 75 N. Eagleville Rd., U-43, Storrs, CT 06269-3043; fax: 860-486-6364 E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer, ecologist, and educator. University of Connecticut, Storrs, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and adjunct professor of mathematics, 1994–.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright fellowship; Chancello's Research and Excellence Award, University of Connecticut.
Quantitative Analysis of Movement: Measuring and Modeling Population Redistribution in Animals and Plants, Sinaur Associates (Sunderland, MA), 1998.
Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Peter Turchin is a writer, ecologist, and educator who studies topics such as the dynamics of natural populations, ecological mechanisms of population changes and fluctuations in mammals and insects, and the mechanistic basis of landscape ecology. He also conducts research in theoretical ecology and population dynamics and in the demographic and social dynamics of human populations. His research in these areas is reflected in books such as Quantitative Analysis of Movement: Measuring and Modeling Population Redistribution in Animals and Plants, which adds "a new dimension to traditional models of the dynamics of populations" by presenting "a quantitative analysis of movement at two scales: temporal and spatial," according to Jeannette Yen in the Quarterly Review of Biology. The book "provides, in one place, a nice compendium of the theory and practice of examining movement in plant and animal populations," reported Ecology contributor Steven L. Peck. Turchin offers detailed guidance on gathering and analyzing spatial data on the movement of animal and insect populations in what Peck called "a very fine addition to the literature."
Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall "is an extremely ambitious book and fascinating to read in parts," noted Kevin T. Kilty on the Citizen Scientist Web site. Here, Turchin asserts that any science, particularly disciplines such as history or sociology, cannot become mature sciences until they have evolved to the point where they incorporate mathematics. Historical Dynamics therefore, seeks to outline ways in which mathematics can be profitably applied to the study of history. He develops and applies quantitative models in two areas of vital importance to the development and failure of nations and states: "territorial expansion and contraction of agrarian states, and population growth and decline in relation to political stability," applied mainly to 1,400 years of European history from 500 to 1900 C.E., according to Rainer Kattel in History: Review of New Books. In the end, Kattel continued, "The author shows superb skill in explaining complex mathematical modeling in plain language, but he leaves readers wondering why create these models at all." As Kilty concluded, "Science matures through definitive experimentation and the testing of hypotheses." However, the use of mathematics does not in and of itself signal that a particular field has matured.
In War and Peace and War: The Life Cycles of Imperial Nations, Turchin applies the science of cliodynamics—the study of processes that change with time—to search for and find distinct patterns in the events of history. He "claims to have found the general mechanisms that cause empires to wax and wane—laws as true today as they were during the Roman or Ottoman Empires," remarked Philip Ball in the Guardian. By applying complex mathematical models and behavioral theories, Turchin "concludes that there are persistent cyclical historical patterns," related reviewer Jim Doyle in Library Journal. These patterns, according to Turchin, are readily identifiable and consistent in their repetition, and the seemingly chaotic nature of history can be explained by using these cliodynamic theories and patterns. Turchin "brings modern discoveries in psychology, experimental economics, evolutionary biology and even physics to bear on history," commented Mark Buchanan in the New Scientist. "This isn't just another arbitrary narrative." For example, on the frontiers of empires, where thoroughly alien populations are in close proximity and frequent conflict, individual concerns often give way to general social cooperation and solidarity among the harried populations existing at the empire's fringes. As these populations and societies cooperate, they flourish and grow, eventually becoming strong enough to overcome the empires that applied the initial stresses that spurred their growth. Turchin also notes that success will eventually beget decline, as competition for limited resources begins to undermine the solidarity of the culture, leading to collapse. Turchin's "ideas generate many fascinating discussions of a wide variety of historical episodes, rendered in lucid, vigorous prose," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Ecology, June, 1999, Steven L. Peck, review of Quantitative Analysis of Movement: Measuring and Modeling Population Redistribution in Animals and Plants, p. 1451.
Guardian (London, England), August 25, 2005, Philip Ball, "Empire of the Sums," review of War and Peace and War: The Life Cycles of Imperial Nations.
History: Review of New Books, summer, 2004, Rainer Kattel, review of Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall, p. 168.
Library Journal, October 15, 2005, Jim Doyle, review of War and Peace and War, p. 70.
New Scientist, October 1, 2005, Mark Buchanan, "Legends of the Fall: Why Do Some Societies Build Great Empires Only to Have Them Crash and Burn?," review of War and Peace and War, p. 44.
Publishers Weekly, August 29, 2005, review of War and Peace and War, p. 48.
Quarterly Review of Biology, June, 1999, Jeannette Yen, review of Quantitative Analysis of Movement, p. 240; September, 2004, John M. Drake, "Life Sciences for the Twenty-first Century," review of Complex Population Dynamics: A Theoretical/Empirical Synthesis, p. 298.
Citizen Scientist, http://www.sas.org/TCS/ (March 11, 2005), Kevin T. Kilty, review of Historical Dynamics.
University of Connecticut Alumni Association Web site, http://www.uconnalumni.com/ (March 13, 2006), biography of Peter Turchin.