The Fourth Turning: What the cycles of history tell us about America’s next rendezvous with destiny: a Book Review

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Our two authors, Strauss and Howe are dedicated researchers of Societies and Generations who have looked back over 500 years and discovered that; YES, history does repeat itself, and Oh Crap – it’s in a four generation cycle that repeats about every 80 years, and we are about to enter The Forth Turning, referred to in the book as the Crisis Generation. The book was published in 1997 and the next Forth Turning was predicted to be with us in about 10 years.

We have now entered the Fourth Turning. In looking back at previous Forth Turnings, we see that about 80 years ago we were fighting Fascism and about to enter a major War (why does that feel so scary right now). About 80 years before that we were fighting against Slavery in the Civil War. And 80 years before that we were fighting for our Independence in the American Revolution. The researchers take us back to the 1400’s and discover that….. every Forth Generation really sucks… and I would like to add “Party On My Millennials”, this is your party and it ain’t gonna be easy.

Given the crisis period we find ourselves in today, The Forth Turning may be the most interesting and thought provoking book that I have ever read. I first read The Forth Turning when it was published in 1997 for my research and study on technology and economic history trends. We were in the Third Turning in 1997 and I now find it amazing that in 1997 the authors’ predicted we would be entering a Crisis Generation in about 10 years. They nailed it; we have now entered The Fourth Turning, the Crisis Generation.

They describe Turning One as the Hero Generation from 1946-1964; think of our GI Hero’s and the American High after WW2. Fascism was defeated, people and the country were united, the government was great and the middle class would soon be thriving.

The Second Turning is defined as The Consciousness Generation 1964–1984. Remember the urban riots, the campus fury, alongside the Vietnam War protests and a rebellious “counterculture.”

The Third Turning from 1984 – 2008 brought us the Culture Wars and Individualism. People felt optimistic about their personal lives, but pessimistic about the country. It’s all about “me” and greed prevailed as the middle class is faced with rising inequality while breaking into competing “values” camps. It’s now like watching the middle class and the poor fighting over scraps while the Robber Barrons walk off with massive wealth… Oh Wait – that was 80 years earlier. We must be having a repeat.

When I first read the book in 1997 we were in the Third Turning and all was great for me. My company was doubling revenue every quarter. The stock market was rocking and the economy was booming. Possibly I was in the 1% back then and not seeing so clearly the other 99%. By 2001 my country would be running a budget surplus of about $300 Billion a year. This was exciting and soon our country could be completely out of debt. But the authors’ research had warned of and predicted a Fourth Turning, a Crisis Generation that would start in about 10 years. But how could that be?

So this book has sat on my “in case I need to research” bookshelf for almost 20 years. That was until last week when I said to myself OMG… we are in the Forth Turning, where the h*ll did I put that book.

The Fourth Turning did begin in 2008 as predicted, and we faced the worst recession of my lifetime. By late 2008 we were losing 800K jobs a month and we had taken our annual deficit from a surplus of $300B in 2001 to a negative $1.6 Trillion a year by Oct. 2008. American families had lost $16 Trillion in wealth during the recession. That is about $135,000 average loss per family. Most of the loss was in housing value that will be slow to come back. We had started a War and occupation with a country that we now know was not a threat to us. I think of that as the worst foreign policy debacle of my lifetime with an estimated cost of over $4 Trillion (and growing). That has added another ~$35,000 of debt per family. I recall someone in the White House telling us that “Deficits Don’t Matter”. Idiots… I’m afraid it will be my Great Grandkids that will still be paying that blunder off.

The authors’ research predicts that our Forth Turning, the Crisis Generation will be with us from about 2008 – 2029. The research only predicts the generations and cycles of the turnings. The book cannot and does not predict the outcome of this Forth Turning. That outcome will be determined by our next Hero Generation, YES Millennials that is you. I feel really bad about the mess we have left you and God Bless as you embrace this crisis.

WARNING: This is not an easy read, a little heavy at times. The authors’ are researchers and historians and this sometimes reads like a PHD thesis. But it is not “big wordy” and it gives immense detail and a comprehensive, thought provoking take on history. While it can be a bit frightening it does give a compelling explanation of the world we find ourselves in today.