|Sarah Beaumont escaped from the modern American ghetto to become a successful journalist, programmer and real estate investor. However, while investigating an idea for developing her latest real estate purchase, she makes a stunning discovery: since the 19th century the course of history has been under the control of one of more groups of powerful and mysterious "cliologists" who use mathematics to predict the future. Like the "psychohistory" of Isaac Asimov's Foundation stories, cliology is supposed to be able to make use of mathematical analysis of sociological factors in such a way that our 19th century mathematicians were able to predict World War II. Unfortunately, in trying to get America ready to fight the Nazis,
they accidentally started the Civil War!
Only a small portion of the book takes place in the 19th century when these
early cliologists use their Babbage Analytical Engines to make their
predictions. Most takes place "now" while Sarah avenges the death of her
friends at the hands of the cliologists.
There is some mathematical terminology thrown around in the story from time
to time, which gives the supposed "research" of the cliologists some
believability. In addition, there is some good background on the early
history of the mathematical foundations of computer science and the role of
mathematical models. But, in fact, most of the math in this book
comes at the end, in the form of an appendix on the mathematics of
history. This is presented as non-fiction, admitting that there is no real
field of cliology (so far), but offering many pages of examples to convince
us that it could be real. From simple statistical analysis of data
on the frequency of the outbreak of war to more complex topological
analysis of cultural boundaries, we see a (not entirely rigorous)
introduction to the sorts of ideas that could forma basis for cliology.
This book is based on short stories that the author published previously.
In the short stories, the science of cliology was called "psychohistory",
but the name has been changed here since psychohistory is often used to
mean the study of history from a psychological perspective.
I thought the book as fiction was pretty bad. The central idea is great,
but the story itself long, tedious and no real ending to it. However, I
thought the essay on Cliohistory which followed was one of the most
fascinating things I've ever read. People should get the book, ignore the
story, and just focus on the essay.