The Fourth Turning Book Summary - The Fourth Turning Book explained in key points
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The Fourth Turning summary

William Strauss and Neil Howe

An American Prophecy

4.5 (265 ratings)
23 mins

What is The Fourth Turning about?

The Fourth Turning (1997) presents a fascinating picture of history, past, present, and future. Though the people of modern Western societies tend to view history as a linear process, the reality might instead be cyclical, repeated regularly and predictably. By studying the ways in which history does indeed repeat itself, we can better prepare ourselves for what is likely to come in the future.

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    The Fourth Turning
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    Key idea 1 of 4

    History unfolds in a cyclical pattern.

    Humankind is obsessed with time –⁠ measuring it, dividing it, observing it, and most recently, controlling it.

    Throughout the course of our species’s history, humans have developed three distinct ways of thinking about time. The first is chaotic time, which was the dominant theory during our primitive days. In this view, historical events occur randomly. There’s no point in trying to determine the causes of events or to try and improve society because history doesn’t follow a path and there’s nothing people can do to influence it.

    The second theory of time, which became prevalent during the classical period, was cyclical time. The idea was that events occurred in cycles, much like the rotation of the earth, the orbit of the moon, or the procession of the zodiac. Humans can participate in and shape history by performing the right actions at the right times, thus winning favor from the gods. As such, this theory gives people more agency than in chaotic time.

    Finally, the third theory of time –⁠ linear time –⁠ became the dominant force alongside the Western monotheistic religions –⁠ Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In this version of time, history occurs as a straight line –⁠ a story with an absolute beginning and end with events following each other logically. This theory enabled humanity to liberate itself completely from the shackles of fate. People didn’t need to believe anymore that they were powerless in the face of external events because they could influence the story directly.

    But linear time also cuts people off from natural cycles and their relationship to something greater than themselves. For example, by suppressing the flow of a river by damming it, we might think we’re stopping a flood cycle. But we may instead be simply ensuring that the cycle is less frequent but more devastating.

    No Western nation denies natural rhythms and proclaims its freedom from them more than America. Perhaps for that reason, those rhythms play out even more dramatically there than elsewhere.

    Like other Western societies, America follows the saecular cycle, a temporal sequence of a hundred years –⁠ around the length of a human life span. This length of time is called a saeculum, and it contains patterns that repeat. Within each saeculum is a Turning – a span of about 20 years. This corresponds to about the length of one phase of human life, from childhood to elderhood. In miniature, a saeculum is like a year, while a turning is like a season.

    All together, the four turnings of a saeculum comprise its four seasons of growth, maturation, entropy, and decay. In the next chapter, we’ll go into more depth as to what characterizes each of these periods.

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    About the Author

    William Strauss was a social theorist, consultant, author, playwright, and director. He coauthored Generations, 13th Gen, Millennials Rising, and The Fourth Turning with Neil Howe. Their books have influenced such diverse figures as Al Gore and Steve Bannon. He founded the Cappies, a theater awards program for high school students, and he wrote a number of plays and musicals, including MaKiddo and Gray Champions.

    Neil Howe is a social theorist, consultant, and author. He has written or cowritten a number of books on generational trends, application-oriented books, and academic studies on aging. He’s the cofounder, with William Strauss, of three consulting companies: Hedgeye, Saeculum Research, and LifeCourse Associates, all of which work to apply their generational theory.

    Who should read The Fourth Turning?

    • History buffs
    • Devotees of American politics
    •  Future predictors

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