Monday, September 4, 2017

"The Seneca Effect" Published

Springer: The Frontiers Collection

The Seneca Effect

Why Growth is Slow but Collapse is Rapid

Authors: Bardi, Ugo

Presents wisdom from an ancient Roman Philosopher that you can use today. Explains why technological progress may not prevent societal collapse. Provides a true systems perspective on the widespread phenomenon of collapse. Highlights principles to help us manage, rather than be managed by, the greatest challenges of our times.
My new book, "The Seneca Effect" is now available, you can find it on the Springer site, or on Amazon and other on-line sellers. Excuse me if I define it as "monumental" but, really, it has been a lot of work and the book contains a lot of things, mainly explained on the basis of system dynamics. It goes from the crumbling of pyramids, the breakdown of everyday things, all the way to social and economic collapses, including famines, wars, and assorted catastrophes. Yet, it is not a catastrophistic book. It is just that catastrophes exist and we have to deal with them. And, if nothing old ever disappeared, nothing new could appear.

One thing I have to explain about this book is the relatively high price. This is part of Springer's policies; they are not mainstream publishers and they have different pricing policies. And, as you probably know, authors have little to say on this subject, although I think I managed to convince Springer to price this book at relatively low levels for their standards. Don't think I hadn't tried mainstream publishers but, apparently, books about collapse are a no-no with publishers, right now. Nobody wants to mention the subject and maybe there are good reasons. In ancient times, they said, "name the devil and the devil is here."

Also, I can send you a flyer for a 20% discount; just write me at ugo.bardi(thing-a-magig) (valid until Oct 7, 2017). If it is still too expensive for you, if you follow the Cassandra blog or the Seneca blog, there are many things you can learn about system dynamics and collapses. It is truly a fascinating subject!


Here is a description of the book that you can find on the Springer site

The essence of this book can be found in a line written by the ancient Roman Stoic Philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca: "Fortune is of sluggish growth, but ruin is rapid". This sentence summarizes the features of the phenomenon that we call "collapse," which is typically sudden and often unexpected, like the proverbial "house of cards." But why are such collapses so common, and what generates them? Several books have been published on the subject, including the well known "Collapse" by Jared Diamond (2005), "The collapse of complex societies" by Joseph Tainter (1998) and "The Tipping Point," by Malcom Gladwell (2000). Why The Seneca Effect?

This book is an ambitious attempt to pull these various strands together by describing collapse from a multi-disciplinary viewpoint. The reader will discover how collapse is a collective phenomenon that occurs in what we call today "complex systems," with a special emphasis on system dynamics and the concept of "feedback." From this foundation, Bardi applies the theory to real-world systems, from the mechanics of fracture and the collapse of large structures to financial collapses, famines and population collapses, the fall of entire civilizations, and the most dreadful collapse we can imagine: that of the planetary ecosystem generated by overexploitation and climate change. The final objective of the book is to describe a conclusion that the ancient stoic philosophers had already discovered long ago, but that modern system science has rediscovered today. If you want to avoid collapse you need to embrace change, not fight it. Neither a book about doom and gloom nor a cornucopianist's dream, The Seneca Effect goes to the heart of the challenges that we are facing today, helping us to manage our future rather than be managed by it.


  1. Send Kindke coupon

  2. Could you not self publish - no one is going to read a 40 quid book.
    Sure it looks good for your academic transcript - another dusty tome for the lofty academic bookshelf.

    1. Of course it would have been possible, but self-published books have no visibility, they are not promoted, they are not edited, etc.

  3. Springer has "Mind-Sized World Models" from the book as a free download on their site. As I am audio electronics DIY enthusiast the models remind me of how operational amplifiers function. In the case of human race there is not enough negative feedback to regulate population. We only have positive feedback because we take our right to reproduce as sacred. There is no "servo regulation" of population which is badly needed. At the end "detritus" model from Catton's "Overshoot" will erase us together with all the troubles that we cause.

  4. Dear Ugo,
    along the years Jared Diamond's best seller Collapse keeps being cited in all sort of contexts, including your blog. When I first this book I was very impressed from it and its implications, but later on I discovered it has also been criticized due to lack of scientific knowledge. And in particular I found out the book "Questioning collapse" (published by Cambridge University Press) where scholars, mainly anthropologists studying the various populations targeted by Diamond, demolish the collapse theories as told by Diamond. After all, maybe collapse framwork is somehow an appealing but often misused story telling.
    Have you ever read this pubblication? What do you thing about it? I'm not questiong humanity is headed towards dangerous scenarios where collapse is likely to happen, but I'm not so sure anymore that the dinamics of past civilizations can tell us something about our future... it seems to me we are sailing in largely unexplored waters.

    1. I haven't read that specific book in full, but several excerpts and discussions from it. The problem is that collapse is a treacherous subject and it is easy to get lost into the details; lose track of the forest while looking for the leaves. This specific book (I am citing from memory) defines collapse as "The complete end of a social and political structure." If this is the case, then the Roman Empire didn't really collapse until the abdication of the last Russian Czar ("Caesar") in 1917. So, much of the debate depends on the definition. And if we define collapse as "rapid decline" rather that complete end, then collapses do exist. Personally, I have been working a lot on the history of the Roman Empire, something that Diamond doesn't describe in his book. I think I can say something about that collapse: it was real, it was harsh, it was disastrous. Then, about the cases that Diamond does describe, well, he chose cases for which we don't have so many data, so many things he says are debatable. A case in point is Easter Island. Was it deforestation or genocide? There is plenty of debate here; and I am afraid that it will always be difficult to decide, we don't have that many records. But of one thing I am certain - really, absolutely-positively certain - our civilization is nothing special; it is just bigger than the past ones. It means that when it collapses it will make a lot more noise. But collapse it will, at this point it is unavoidable - at best softenable.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014). His most recent book is "The Seneca Effect" to be published by Springer in mid 2017