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The Rise & Fall Of The Great Powers: Economic Change & Military Conflict From 1500 To 2000 (1989)

The Rise & Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change & Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (1989)
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4.05 of 5 Votes: 4
ISBN
0679720197 (ISBN13: 9780679720195)
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English
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vintage
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The Rise & Fall Of The Great Powers: ...
The Rise & Fall Of The Great Powers: Economic Change & Military Conflict From 1500 To 2000 (1989)

About book: An absolutely stunning book! Thought provoking, intelligent, accurate, well thought out with a powerfully presented thesis that is well defended with incredible detail. The book is a sweeping overview of Great Power conflict & rivalry from 1500 through to the 1980s and tries to identify common themes that make countries and empires powerful relative to their enemies, and what relative weaknesses expose those powers to inevitable decline and collapse. Since it is a sweeping overview, don't expect any in depth analysis of any particular conflict or personality, but do expect a tour-de-force through the relative economic, military and social weaknesses and strengths of each power considered in the text. Kennedy's book has stood the test of time. Although it was written 26 years ago, there are lessons in this book for people today. Lessons that current leaders and politicians should heed for the preservation of their future.Kennedy starts with a careful analysis of the Ottoman, Meiji and Ming dynasty empires and provides a summary analysis of why those empires failed to rise and become dominant world powers like the Habsburg Empire did in 1500 AD and other European Empires did throughout the centuries. As Kennedy moves through each century he carefully details perceived strengths and weaknesses of each country and the reasons why they failed to win wars against each other. His most compelling argument throughout the book is that the ability of belligerents to marshal economic resources determines the fate of the belligerent concerned. His central thesis is that although strategy, arms, manpower and ability is important factors in determining localized conflict over the short term, economic strength ensure strategic victory over the long term. His most compelling defense of this thesis arises when comparing the strength of the allies against Germany in World War 2.Importantly though Kennedy compellingly argues throughout that economic and military power are always relative and that the circumstances of any nation, empire or power can change and that leaders should never assume that the current status quo is permanent, but that it can change rapidly. The evidence of 500 years of great power conflict and the shifting sands in fortunes presented in Kennedy's book provides ample evidence for this claim and is certainly an important lesson for today's leaders (that to be honest seems to have largely been forgotten).This work is as relevant today as what it was 26 years ago when it was first written and provides a tremendous framework through which students of history and others can use to analyze relative strengths and weaknesses of great powers in the current world and try to forecast the future and the interactions that will take place between these powers. Since this book was first published there have been huge shifts in the world: the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the retreat of the USSR from Afghanistan, the collapse of the Soviet Union, War in the Balkans, 911, two US led invasions of Iraq, and the invasion of Afghanistan by the US. When this book was first published, Ronald Reagan was still the president and yet I feel this tremendous synthesis of 500 years of global great power rivalry is as relevant today as it was when first published. A book that truly is standing the test of time.

Back when I was in college, I felt the need for a course that looked at how economics, politics and warfare all combined to form statecraft. I never got to take that non-existent course, but got what I wanted in "Rise and Fall of Great Powers." Paul Kennedy wrote a 500-year history of grand strategy in world history, as first one European empire followed by another tried to achieve the perfect synthesis of absolute security and prosperity, and in the process scaring the hell out of smaller states who would combine to bring down the threatening giant. As such state/empires reached their peak, they would be beset by a plethora of competing priorities. If left alone, each threat would impeach the empire's raison d'etre, showing a weakness that others could exploit. That leads to "imperial overstretch," as the empire strains to resolve every crisis, and in the end go broke, its bankruptcy leading to decline. "Rise and Fall of Great Powers" came out towards the end of the Cold War, when American economic supremacy was questioned by the expensive military need to contain the Soviet Union worldwide. Japan was rising economically, perhaps moving into a position where it could overtake the US. Recent history proved otherwise, but Kennedy should be given credit for daring to "swing for the fences", even though he got the forecast wrong. In the end, the book is still a useful guide that explains how states work to increase their economic and military power, trying to build on their strengths while masking their weaknesses. Kennedy's prose can be quite dense at times, but the reader is encouraged to hack their way through the thicket. The facts do come together in the end.
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Reviews
Frederick J
Published in the mid 1980's Paul Kennedy observed that the United States was in the same position as other great powers from the last 500 years of world history. They had become overextended militarily and the diversion of economic strength to maintain the military supremacy necessary to preserve great power status ultimately threatened to (or did) undermine the economic stability required to maintain military strength. Thirty years ago it was already evident that the United States transforming from being the world's greatest creditor to it's greatest debtor, further diverting the underlying economic power.America is facing great challenges, and although not simple (neither Kennedy nor I presume to make suggestions), it must be faced that the United States' position in the world is in flux and changing, and probably declining. However, her resources, and size will continue to be great, providing an excellent foundation to meet the challenges of a changing world--provided her leaders can strike the best balance between "guns and butter", i.e. maintaining the best compromise between military power, social requirements, and economic development.
Simon
I read this book when it first came out in the 1980's but has remained one of the books I remember best from that time, 25 years ago, and which therefore merits a retrospective review.This book was one of the first "global histories" that I had read, that seek to address why some societies/nations/continents etc rise up and others fail. Meticulously researched, it documents the relative paths of the major nations over the last 500 years. The persuasive main thesis is that fiscal credibility was what served Britain so well during its rise (at the time a political hot potato given the deficit economics of the Reagan Presidency). The book gave me an appreciation of the inexorable rise of Germany after unification (1870) and just how much how the struggle with Germany was a bankrupting Pyrrhic victory for Britain.Of several books in this category that I subsequently read (including "Guns, Germs, Steel" and "The end of history"), this is the one that I enjoyed the most. It remains a classic.
Choong Chiat
This book has managed to, to borrow the words of a reviewer, "successfully combine the scope and sweep of 'popular' history with the discriminating rigour of professional historiography".In addition, the author managed to achieve the above in an elegant, insightful, coherent and clear manner.However, although it is understandable that the author would repeat his main arguments to place emphasis on them, the repeated reiteration of the arguments that a country's strengths & weaknesses should be viewed in relation to those of other countries and that a country's strength, especially when fighting a war, hinges greatly on its economic capacity do get somewhat tiresome.
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