Article Abstracts and Reviews


William Strauss and Neil Howe, “Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584-2069” (Book Review)

Heller, George NBulletin of Historical Research in Music Education, 1993-07-01, Vol.14 (2), p.151-156 …151 William Strauss, and Neil Howe Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584-2069. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1991. Pp. 538. Soft cover…Available Online 

If someone predicted in 1997 that sometime around 2005, give or take a few years, a global terrorist group would blow up an aircraft or that the Centers for Disease Control would announce a new epidemic with the Congress enacting quarantine measures, a financial crisis would erupt and that a high-tech oligarchy would emerge, we would be highly impressed with them. We would like to know what they studied and how they came up with such startlingly precise predictions. These were the predictions made by authors Neil Howe and William Strauss in their 1997 book, The Fourth Turning. In an interview with Rana Foroohar of the Financial Times, fund manager Kiril Sokoloff called the book prophetic, and now you know why.

This prophecy, which is laid out in a 1997 book, “The Fourth Turning,” by two amateur historians, makes the case that world events unfold in predictable cycles of roughly 80 years each that can be divided into four chapters, or turnings: growth, maturation, entropy and destruction. Western societies have experienced the same patterns for centuries, the book argues, and they are as natural and necessary as spring, summer, fall and winter.

Creative and provocative analysis suggesting troubling implications make this book a must-read. Strauss and Howe (Generations, 1991, etc.) reject the modern, linear conception of history that comforts believers in eternal progress and adopt an older, cyclical perspective. They divide time into 80100 year cycles termed “saeculums,” which consist of four 2025 year “turnings.” In the “High” turning civic order is reinforced; in the “Awakening” it is questioned; in the “Unraveling” personal interests are pursued; in the “Crisis” public authority is resurrected in response to internal and external challenges. Each phase of the saeculum produces a generation with distinctive qualities captured in four archetypes: “Heroes” are selfless and unreflective, “Artists” caring and sentimental, “Prophets” principled and narcissistic, “Nomads” savvy and unfeeling. All four are present in every society but play different roles in different turnings. With these basic elements Strauss and Howe lay out their cyclical version of Western history and pull together a tremendous amount of material in a series of tables. The bottom line for contemporary Americans is that, after a second turning (the “Consciousness Revolution”) that ended around 1984, we are now in a third turning (“Culture Wars”) that will end around 2005. The crisis of the fourth turning lies in the near future—not a pleasant thought given that the last one featured the Great Depression and WW II. While not everyone will follow the authors’ injunction to start preparing now, even those who dismiss cycle theories will find much food for thought. Some of the insights into generational relations are startling: How many people have recognized, for example, that the Reagan-era infatuation with self-interest represents a maturing of the “me generation” attitudes of the ’60s? Strauss and Howe use an amazing knowledge of popular culture to remain entertaining throughout, despite the heavy subject matter, and produce a metahistory to ponder as we approach the new millennium. (First serial to USA Weekend; $100,000 ad/promo; author tour)