A reading club with a view to the future

213 William Strauss, Neil Howe: The Fourth Turning

The cyclical nature of history and the recurring pattern of generational archetypes can help us understand and prepare for future crises.

William Strauss, Neil Howe: The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy


"The Fourth Turning" presents a cyclical theory of history that suggests that every 80-100 years, American society enters into a new "turning," or era, characterized by a crisis or major upheaval. The book identifies four generational archetypes that correspond to each turning, and argues that the crises and challenges faced by each generation shape their collective character and worldview. The authors use historical examples to illustrate their theory, and argue that understanding these patterns can help us prepare for the crises and challenges of the future.


Title: The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy

Authors: William Strauss, Neil Howe

Publishing Year: 2001

Publisher: Broadway Books

Length in hours: 06 hours and 1 minute

5 main ideas

  1. The Theory of the Fourth Turning: The authors present their theory of cyclical history, which posits that American society goes through recurring patterns of crisis and renewal.
  2. The Generational Archetypes: The book identifies four generational archetypes, each with their own set of values and characteristics, and argues that these archetypes shape the course of history.
  3. The Crisis of the Modern Era: The authors argue that the current turning, which began in the 1980s, is characterized by a crisis of institutional decay and a loss of social cohesion.
  4. The Future: The book concludes with a discussion of the potential outcomes of the current turning, and suggests that the choices we make as a society will determine the course of our future.
  5. The Role of the Individual: The authors emphasize the importance of individual agency and action in shaping history, and argue that each individual has a role to play in determining the course of their own life and the future of society.
William Strauss, Neil Howe: The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy

5 funny quotes

  1. "Not long ago, one of us visited a convenience store outside Washington, D.C., and came across a bin of jelly beans called 'Beanie Babies.' To identify the six different flavors, the package explained, you had to check a chart showing which color represented which taste. It was like reading the instructions for the color-coding of terrorist alerts."
  2. "Rather than being an object of worship, the baby boomers had themselves become a religion, complete with highly standardized rituals (demonstrations, sit-ins, rallies) and preachers (Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Timothy Leary, Jane Fonda)."
  3. "The Fourth Turning is characteristically an era of decay, but one in which society's institutional defenses against threats are stronger than ever."
  4. "In the First Turning, you're born. In the Second Turning, you grow up. In the Third Turning, you give back. And in the Fourth Turning, you're scared stiff."
  5. "As with the simple flashcard, the point of a well-designed archetype is to trigger complex ideas quickly, safely, and with little emotional resistance."

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "The next Fourth Turning is due to begin shortly after the new millennium, midway through the Oh-Oh decade. Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation and empire. The very survival of the nation will feel at stake. Sometime before the year 2025, America will pass through a great gate in history, commensurate with the American Revolution, Civil War, and twin emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II."
  2. "An equally important objective is to shape a new public consensus, to generate a new national mood, to sweep away the old stereotypes and usher in a new era of collective decision-making. Only a Crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When that Crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around."
  3. "People are always aware of the problem they're in; it's seeing the next one coming that's always a challenge."
  4. "If history shows anything, it is that results vary widely depending on how individuals and societies respond to a Crisis."
  5. "America is unraveling. Though the great majority of Americans will survive the transition from the Third to the Fourth Turning, it is not entirely clear that the nation will."

5 dilemmas

  1. How to balance individual liberty with collective responsibility in times of crisis.
  2. How to address the issue of political polarization and social division during a Fourth Turning crisis.
  3. How to navigate the tensions between different generational archetypes and their respective values and priorities.
  4. How to manage the risks and opportunities presented by technological innovation and scientific advancement.
  5. How to prepare for and respond to the potential consequences of a Fourth Turning crisis, both in terms of immediate actions and long-term planning for a new societal order?

5 examples

  1. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, responding to the Great Depression and shaping American society in the process.
  2. Ronald Reagan and the "Morning in America" campaign, ushering in a new era of conservatism in the wake of the crises of the 1970s.
  3. The Civil Rights Movement and the activism of figures like Martin Luther King Jr., pushing for greater equality and civil rights during the Third Turning.
  4. The rise of Silicon Valley and the technological innovations that have transformed society during the current Fourth Turning.
  5. The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on society, potentially serving as the catalyst for the next Fourth Turning crisis.

Referenced books

  1. "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" by Edward Gibbon
  2. "The Lessons of History" by Will Durant and Ariel Durant
  3. "The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival" by Sir John Glubb
  4. "The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History" by David Hackett Fischer
  5. "The Long Boom: A Vision for the Coming Age of Prosperity" by Peter Schwartz, Peter Leyden, and Joel Hyatt

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"History is seasonal and winter is coming."

William Strauss, Neil Howe: The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy
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