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The Rise & Fall of the Great Powers

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  2,728 ratings  ·  114 reviews
About national and international power in the "modern" or Post Renaissance period. Explains how the various powers have risen and fallen over the 5 centuries since the formation of the "new monarchies" in W. Europe.
Hardcover, 0 pages
Published May 1st 1990 by Random House Value Publishing (first published 1987)
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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 state
Kennedy is the man. There's not much else to say. Sure, the thesis is "simplistic" or "schematic" or "deterministic" or whatever other bombastic term pseudo-intellectuals (and legitimate intellectuals alike) choose to use, but one has to understand that the project of this book is to make some sort of reasonably defensible generalization about what leads to the fall of great powers throughout history. That's not exactly easy. No single explanation will be perfect. But his thesis about imperial o ...more
Steven Peterson
As Kennedy puts it in his "Introduction," "This is a book about national and international power in the "modern"--that is, post-Renaissance--period. It seeks to trace and to explain how the various great powers have risen and fallen. . . ." And, on the same page:

"The `military conflict' referred to in the book's subtitle is therefore always examined in the context of `economic change.' The triumph of any one Great Power in this period, or the collapse of another, has usually been the consequenc
While this tome is undoubtedly a seminal work of history, its arguments are fatally flawed and ultimately unsatisfactory. His attempt is really to determine why Europe emerged as the leader of the international system in the 20th century as opposed to other traditional power centers in Asia and the Middle East. In the end, he never gets to the "ultimate question," which was the enchanting goal of Jared Diamond's "Gun's, Germs, and Steel." Kennedy spends a lot of time harping on the miraculousnes ...more
This is a really important book to read for students of diplomacy, military history, and grand strategy. It covers the economic and military reasons for the rise and fall of great powers. It is Eurocentric and covers the rise of Elizabethan England, the decline of Spain, the rise of Napoleon, the rise of Germany, the decline of the Austrian and Ottoman Empires, the rise of the United States and Japan, and the Decline of the British Empire. The final chapter on the bipolar world of the USSR and U ...more
The key determinant (@ Kennedy) is relative, not absolute decline). British GDP grew, in absolute terms, while it declined relative to the US and others. Thus do great powers ebb...

The US peaked in early 2000, though a debt bubble managed to keep things aloft for another few years.

When China meets the US, China will be poorer on a per capita basis, but will FEEL richer as it is ascending; while the US, with a small population, will be richer on a per capi
Andrew Updegrove
Paul Kennedy’s exegesis on the intersection of economic capacity, extraterritorial ambition and political reality is what Monty Python might refer to as “a bloody big book.” Indeed weighing in at 677 pages, it is more than up to the task of putting down your budgerigar, if that’s on your to do list. Notwithstanding that fact and its subject matter, for a serious reader it is an accessible and readable treatment of subject that is often presented in quite the opposite fashion.This is not to say t ...more
Ben Sweezy
Dec 30, 2009 Ben Sweezy is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
So far I've been pretty frustrated by Kennedy. His introduction lays out a fairly simplistic set of reasons purporting to explain why the West "rose" and the East did not.

China: Orientalist despotism, a unitary China, the decision to scrap the treasure fleets, persecution of merchants, an ethos not focused on competition or accumulation of wealth, state-directed investments.

Europe: political fragmentation, merchants could do their thing, embrace of competition and accumulation of wealth.

But then
The book explores the politics and economics of the Great Powers from 1500 to 1980 and the reason for their decline. It then continues by forecasting the positions of China, Japan, the European Economic Community (EEC), the Soviet Union and the United States through the end of the 20th century. Kennedy argues that the strength of a Great Power can be properly measured only relative to other powers, and he provides a straightforward and persuasively argued thesis: Great Power ascendency (over the ...more
Densely loaded with economic, demographic, and other historical data makes this book's conclusions all the more solid and reasonable. The book has aged well since its publication, now decades old (The small exception being the final chapter, in which he proceeds to contemplate the "approaching" 21st century). Kennedy's explanation for why different empires have risen to power and then burned out and fallen by the wayside is not cheery when one looks at America now. If anything, we seem to be mo ...more
This book is great for anyone who wants a full historical analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the Great Powers as pertaining to their military clout (but, of course, things like industrial output and political will matter for this).

As a military history junkie, I like this kind of thing as much as anyone and think it's great fun. That said, you have to feel that the book is letting the biggest questions slide by in favor of easier, small potatoes one. The book's main thesis is that thin
Kennedy sets himself a very haughty goal, and is unfortunately unable to meet it. His deterministic predictions fall short of being substantiated with a coherent theoretical model, and incongruities are clear. The concepts of relative power decline and the overcommitment of the primary state are worth reading, and the "fall" part of the argument for the historical sections are rather well constructed. However, the rise (or rather, not-rise of states who also seem to meet the qualifications) of a ...more
Captivating, comprehensive exploration of what drives power politics among great nations, focusing on the constant flux of relative power among nations that rests largely on economic and military power/potential. A must read for anyone seeking to build a strong foundation of knowledge from which to learn about international relations. Furthermore, written in 1988, the book provides a fascinating window onto the mindset of world-watchers at the dusk of the Cold War, with the global spotlight on t ...more
Nathaniel Horadam
Not only the best grand strategy book I've ever read, but quite possibly the best non-fiction work as well. This book has quite a reputation, and it certainly lived up to it.
Paul Kennedy's "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" is an essential read for understanding the main economic forces that have broadly guided the last five hundred years of conflict and interaction between the Great Powers. A solid and direct writing style, if at some points a bit dry or esoteric, makes this a good introduction to the macrotrends shaping the equilibrium between the major players today, though it does not attempt to explain those trends in any great detail. Reading the first ed ...more

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
Este es un libro excelente. Un recorrido por 500 años de la civilización siguiendo el hilo común de las grandes potencias históricas y su ciclo vital nacimiento / auge / ocaso, investigando en la Historia intentando exponer los factores comunes de los respectivos procesos. Aún reconociendo la complejidad y la variabilidad de las respectivas situaciones históricas se puede observar que desarrollo económico y poderío militar son cara y cruz, es difícil encontrar el equilibrio perfecto, el círculo ...more
Paul Sharpe
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 ex ...more
Secara populer, lebih berupaya melihat bagaimana AS dapat muncul pasca PD II sebagai kekuatan dunia. Peran Jepang sebagai junior partner AS di Asia Pasifik juga disinggung. Peranan industri otomotif Jepang yang diberikan oleh AS untuk memasok kebutuhan Perang Korea. Seingat saya, itulah saat pertama ada truk tentara bermerk Toyota. Juga sempat hadir di Indonesia truk serupa itu.

Point penting lainnya, ekonomi, dan pertahanan sangat bertalian, termasuk didalamnya R&D yang memungkinkan penguasa
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 ...more
I wanted to learn about (European) history, so I picked up this book.
It's easily summarised: Economic power leads to political power. Every power needs to balance between military expenditure and investment in the economy, so the more power you assume, the stronger the incentive to spend on military, and the more the long-term economy is harmed.
So this negative feedback assures that no Great power will remain that for very long.
(That last bit isn't actually in the book, but does follow from it
A brilliant concept with a mostly-engaging presentation marred occasionally by repetition.

The book discusses what makes a nation-state "great" and follows what the author calls the "great power system" from its first rise in the 1500s up until the mid-1980s. He provides a brief history of the rise of each power and its subsequent fall along with the underlying reasons for its "greatness". The book concentrates on why powers rise and fall and provides little more than a cursory discussion of the
La historia ha demostrado ser un circulo perfecto donde las acciones generacionales se repiten por mas que tratemos de evitarlo. Naciones con historias sacras e imperios con ganas de controlar todo lo que este en el horizonte terrenal. Pero siempre quedan en corto por las capacidades politico/militares/industriales/tecnologico/sociales que demuestran como un pais puede en un momento a otro ser una potencia o ser una colonia. Recomendado para todo el que quiera un repaso de la geopolitica mundial ...more
Jason Styles
This is one of the best books strictly about history I have ever read. The author has an engaging writing style, expert knowledge of the material he addresses, and a clear thesis used effectively to organize the wide range of information presented throughout the text. I would recommend this book to anyone.
Shankar Rajesh
One of the earliest works I read on why Emoires rise and why / how they fall. Strategic overreach and debt have been the harbingers of doom for many an Empire. The case of the Hapsburgs immediately interested me and I got hooked on to reading this. A classic and must read any history / political science buff
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
I used this book as a main source for my diplomatic history courses in university, but I would definitely read this book if I have known about it before the course.

The language is not so complicated to understand which iis the most important thing that I look for in the historical books. It did not make me feel like "What is he talking about, actually?". The nations, events, wars, consequences were all so clear and reasonable.

The only thing that I'm still concerned about is its objectivity but p
This isn't a light read; it's densely loaded with economic, demographic, and other historical data. That makes its conclusions all the more solid and reasonable, though, and the book has aged well since its publication, now decades ago. Kennedy's explanation for why different empires have risen to power and then burned out and fallen by the wayside is not cheery when one looks at America now. If anything, we seem to be moving faster than most along the path he described. I wish some of the polic ...more

I read this book years ago. It is an excellent account about how economics intersects with war. It might be a bit date now, but it is probably still worth a read.

Tom Schulte
This book covers from the Ottoman Empire to The Cold War; roughly 500 years in as many pages. This brisk pace makes the mostly military history come across like a zoetrope; animation through rapid motion. The approach to war is one of the logistics over strategy; technology and foreign cash reserves factor in more than geography and division count. The final chapter looking ahead is almost quanit as the 1987 work still has to consider East Germany and the USSR. However, even then there were stil ...more
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