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The Rise & Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change & Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000
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The Rise & Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change & Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000

4.08  ·  Rating Details ·  3,413 Ratings  ·  149 Reviews
A brilliant historical analysis and forecast of the rise and fall of empires from the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries by a major contemporary historian. Illustrated with maps and charts.
Hardcover, 704 pages
Published December 12th 1987 by Random House
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Jay Atwood Kennedy isn't "towing the line for the powerful." It's simply an analysis of the great power system. There is no judgement, no spin, no political…more Kennedy isn't "towing the line for the powerful." It's simply an analysis of the great power system. There is no judgement, no spin, no political agenda. Just an analysis of what was and is. After reading the 2001 essay you referenced I can say that it does have a political agenda & quite the narrow conservative focus.(less)
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Jan 03, 2009 William rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 27, 2010 Harpal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Daniel Clausen
Feb 27, 2017 Daniel Clausen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the preeminent books on imperial overreach. Paul Kennedy charts over a 500 year period how great powers rise and fall. Economic resources fuel rises in power that lead to military buildups to protect that power. However, over time, more and more military resources are needed to maintain empires. Great powers invest more in their military and neglect domestic investments to strengthen their economy, leading to atrophy and decline.

A corollary idea has to do with differencing growth
Jan 18, 2008 Joel rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Steven Peterson
Nov 03, 2009 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 10, 2015 Clif rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Published in 1987, this is a must-have reference for anyone interested in European history over the last 500 years and American history in the international context up until the late 20th century. It is a comparative anatomy of nations.

Kennedy is erudite. The depth and breadth of his knowledge are on display throughout the book. In order to analyze national power, one must be familiar with the many factors that make it up, among them geography, economics, the characteristics of the citizenry, ed
This was an endeavor. Starting from the Reformation to the late 80's this book covers the reasons for the rise and fall of the great powers. The Bourbon Monarchies, Hapsburgs, Napoleon, Holy Roman Empire/Austro-Hungarian Empire, the German Empire, Britain, Nazi Germany, Japan, and the United States are all covered. I believe this book is on the level of Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy. A monumental undertaking that examines in-depth all aspects that make an empire and then subsequently lead to its d ...more
Mar 05, 2013 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 12, 2016 Laila rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, politics
Uzun soluklu okudugum, esimin "başucu" kitaplarindan "Büyük Güçlerin Yükseliş ve Cöküşleri"

Tamamıyla yabancısı olduğum, uzun zamandir okumaya cesaret edemediğim bir alanın eseri olduğu için incelememi alıntılardan çok genel içerik özetine ayıracağım.

Öncelikle 1500-2000 yılları arasında ekonomik değişme ve askeri çatışmalar bu güne kadar gördüğümüz klasik kitaplardaki gibi değil, yalın ve akıcı bir dille anlatılmış. Bu edinilen bilgilerin akılda kalması adına çok verimli bir şey bana göre. Ayrıc
Apr 23, 2009 AC rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 26, 2014 Andrew Updegrove rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Oliver Kim
Nov 10, 2015 Oliver Kim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Where most academic works in economics and history are timid, limited in scope and ambition, this book is grand and magisterial--a must-read for anyone interested in history and economics. Its subject is nothing less than the history of the Great Powers from 1500-2000, viewed from the lens of military and economic power. In its worldview, this book is unapologetically conservative and realist: there is little discussion of changing social conditions, of the day-to-day lives of ordinary people, o ...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
Nov 11, 2014 Taylor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Oct 15, 2010 Khalid rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 28, 2009 Jacob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 23, 2013 Isabella rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014

È stato un percorso lungo e tortuoso, ma alla fine ce l'ho fatta.
"Ascesa e declino delle grandi potenze" è un saggio storico economico affascinante e illuminante, per certi versi. Consigliato a chi abbia voglia di esplorare in modo un po' più approfondito i risvolti che caratterizzano gli avvenimenti che così tante volte abbiamo studiato a scuola, in modo meccanico e, a mio parere, sbagliato.
La storia non è solo una materia noiosa o mnemonica, e alcuni autori riescono a fartela rivalutare! Ke
Feb 27, 2016 Jody rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A thoroughly researched, well-written book. Published in the late '80s just prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, this sweeping 500-year survey is still relevant today, if not more so. Imperial overstretch has felled many a great Empire...
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 W
Nov 10, 2016 Paul W rated it really liked it
In four centuries of Great Power development, the unequal pace of economic growth, driven chiefly by technological developments, has had crucial long-term impacts upon the relative military power and strategical position of states. All of the major shifts in the world’s military-power balances have followed alterations in the productive balances, with victory going to the side with the greatest material resources.
Kennedy supports this with a detailed analysis of the political and economic develo
Peter Mcloughlin
Like the end of history by Fukuyama and Clash of Civilizations by Huntington, this is one of the big idea history books and I mean big idea as in "the fox knows many things the hedgehog know one big thing". this is a hedgehog book tracing the rise and fall of powers on the fortunes of commerce for the rise and military expenditure and overextension for the fall. Fairly simple big idea iterated over the past 500 years. That is the big idea traced in the book and narrative Kennedy gives to western ...more
Aug 09, 2014 M.J. rated it really liked 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
Paul Sharpe
Sep 25, 2013 Paul Sharpe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 25, 2015 Cory rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jun 09, 2014 Francisco rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
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
Frederick J
Mar 19, 2012 Frederick J rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
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
Feb 21, 2014 Simon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-history

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
Apr 06, 2015 Patrick rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, economics
I read this a long time ago, about the time of publication, prior to the fall of the Soviet Union. Yes, the book is dated, but its analysis of the ebb and flow of great states, and in particular of the period before the fall was/is well constructed and illuminating. It is amazing to read something written about the flaws of the Soviet system without any hindsight - Kennedy made clear that the flaws were clearly in evidence, and that the USSR was in decline.
This is heavy, meaty historical/econom
Jay Atwood
Jan 28, 2014 Jay Atwood rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A truly astounding work. Completely apolitical in approach, it analyzes why Great Powers rose and fell over the past 500 years before dissecting current world powers and the forces (both internal and external) at work upon them. Written before the Berlin Wall fell and Soviet communism fell, Kennedy used his knowledge of world power dynamics to (largely) accurately predict the immediate futures of the US, the USSR, China, Japan, & the EEC. (The only thing that might have surprised him about t ...more
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“The sums acquired by the administrators of this domaine extraordinaire in the period of France’s zenith were quite remarkable and in some ways foreshadow Nazi Germany’s plunder of its satellites and conquered foes during the Second World War.” 0 likes
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