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Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  3,384 ratings  ·  347 reviews
CHINA AND THE UNITED STATES ARE HEADING TOWARD A WAR NEITHER WANTS. The reason is Thucydides’s Trap, a deadly pattern of structural stress that results when a rising power challenges a ruling one. This phenomenon is as old as history itself. About the Peloponnesian War that devastated ancient Greece, the historian Thucydides explained: “It was the rise of Athens and the fe ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published May 30th 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Dennis Gibb I have read several books about the possible coming confrontation with China including Westman's book and I think this is certainly on par with the be…moreI have read several books about the possible coming confrontation with China including Westman's book and I think this is certainly on par with the best of the books. For thoughtful this is a book that will provoke thought and more questions, for those who are just becoming aware of the situation is does an excellent job of framing from the standpoint of both nations.(less)

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Trish
Present foreign policy in the United States is examined in the context of one of the earliest consequential wars ever written about:
“While others identified an array of contributing causes of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides went to the heart of the matter. When he turned the spotlight on ‘the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta,’ he identified a primary driver at the root of some of history’s most catastrophic and puzzling wars.”
Fear. Allison has the advantage of recen
...more
Charles J
Jun 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Graham Allison, a Harvard professor and sometime government functionary, is clearly a man who thinks a great deal of himself. On the other hand, most of his pride in himself actually seems justified by his experience and thought, and in these Trumpian days, perhaps immodesty is the Spirit of the Age. Therefore, if you can get through the scenes in “Destined For War” where Allison talks down to and instructs David Petraeus like a schoolboy, as the latter sits behind his CIA desk; and the passages ...more
Dillon
This was well-written and informative. A few takeaways:
- China's growth can hardly be overstated. It's genuinely impressive, and unprecedented in terms of modern metrics.
- Chinese folks, by and large, have a pretty pragmatic view of the world - democracy is not going to happen as long as the country is getting more prosperous under the CCP. If responsive autocracy is working, why fix it? In other words, hardly anyone is still talking about Tiananmen Square, now that China is on the path to growt
...more
Murtaza
Oct 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-2018
History shows that changes in the balance of power often occur gradually over time. The spectacular confirmation of the new order sometimes comes only after the fact, when it is punctuated by a decisive war or political collapse. This book argues that the reemergence of China will upend the post-Cold War order in which the United States has been the preeminent power internationally. In the picture that Allison paints, China will not just match the United States as a superpower but will utterly d ...more
Vidur Kapur
Aug 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
As a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Graham Allison has had privileged access to policymakers in Washington for many decades, and was mentored by none other than the notorious Henry Kissinger.

What he has seen, vis-à-vis US policy on China, frightens him. American officials have until recently downplayed China's commercial and military gains, and adopted an incoherent strategy, one which "permits everything and prohibits nothing". In actual fact, a patient, carefully calcu
...more
Richard Duncan
Sep 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: in-the-nook
There is much that is important in this book. Allison makes some strong points about the differences between China’s worldview and our own, and how it affects our respective approaches to the world. He discusses how we need to approach foreign policy, and more importantly, what we need to understand about ourselves before we can come up with a coherent strategy to deal with China and other international challenges.

However, the book never quite comes together. It feels like scraps from several di
...more
Raghu
Aug 01, 2017 rated it liked it
The spectacular rise of China’s economic and military might in the past twenty years has given rise to hope as well as anxiety and fear among diplomats and policy makers in the United States. Even the academics and historians are intrigued by what it portends for the future. Consequently, we have a plethora of books, essays and analysis in the media and from the publishing houses. This book is one more contribution to the subject, but quite an original and interesting one. It focuses on the ques ...more
Aristotle
Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? by Graham Allison

Only the dead have seen the end of war. Or have they? Renowned political scientist Graham Allison seeks to analyze the complex situation that presents itself between the United States and China in Destined for War, and discover if the historical precedent of destructive conflict can truly be avoided. Above all else, I found this book to extremely gripping and informative, written in a digestible essay style that s
...more
Steven Peterson
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is Thucydides’ Paradox (from his towering work, The Peloponnesian Wars) and its implication for American-Chinese relations, as per Graham Allison:

About the Peloponnesian War that devastated ancient Greece, the historian Thucydides explained: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Over the past 500 years, these conditions have occurred sixteen times. War broke out in twelve of them. Today, as an unstoppable China approaches an immova
...more
Noah Graham
The books premise that there will naturally be war between a dominant power and a rising one seems to describe the exception rather than the rule, because as change is the only constant their is always some power rising and some power falling, but wars are not happening in most of the world most of the time.
For example; in the 1980's Japan was asia's leading economy, now it is china. there was no war between the 2.
Similarly russia was asia's dominant military power (Usurped by china again)
I
...more
Owlseyes


President says US will act unilaterally if China does not pressure Pyongyang
in: https://www.ft.com/content/4d9f65d6-1...
...more
Stanislav Stanchev
Graham Allison's "Destined for War" is an accessible book about one of the most important topics in current international affairs - the relations between the U.S. and China. However, I was actually a bit disappointed with the amount of new content and ideas in the book. The actual idea of a "Thucydides Trap" - where the rise of a new power and the relative decline of the ruling power creates so much stress in the inter-state system that war is likely to break out - was clearly put forth in Allis ...more
Muhammad Jalal
Apr 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An interesting insight into how realists in International Relations view the ongoing security competition between the USA and China in the Asia Pacific and beyond. Allison draws upon his understanding of the Peloponnesian wars and puts forward a novel argument that in the past 500 years, on the majority of occasions the rising power and the established power would find it almost impossible to prevent the steady march to war. Writing before the Coronavirus war of words and the trade war, Allison ...more
Angie Tang
Mar 30, 2019 rated it did not like it
By far the best review of Allison’s book by Sinologist Arthur Waldron - ouch!
“How to conclude a look at so ill conceived and sloppily executed a book? Do not blame Allison. The problem is the pervasive lack of knowledge of China — a country which is, after all, run by the Communist Party, the police, and the army, and thus difficult to get to know. This black hole of information has perversely created an overabundance of fantasies, some very pessimistic, some as absurdly bright as a foreigner on
...more
Bruno Pascon
Nov 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book to understand the geopolitics of the US and China today and the implications should a big rethinking process about the role of each other is not implemented in the short term. Having read this after Yergin’s The New Map was quite complementary and now I will go for Kissinger’s On China to complete a triad on geopolitics and global superpowers.
James Murphy
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Of the several books I've read this spring on the China-U. S. competition in the western Pacific, Destined for War vies with Christopher Coker's The Improbable War as being the most scholarly. Both rely heavily on history for their analysis of the present.

All I've been reading refers to what's called the Thucydides Trap, the phenomenon existing when a ruling power is threatened with displacement by a rising power. The situation, which is how all these analysts view the current China-U. S. rivalr
...more
Mbogo J
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I had initially shelved this book a bit lower on my To Read list then this trade war between China and US(the review is being written in September 2018) has escalated into a full scale war which necessitated an analysis on how close we might be to the "real" war. According to Graham Allison though the chance is low, the probability is non-zero. Reason? Thucydide's Trap.

The trap with a name that I have no intention of pronouncing twice, occurs when a rising power deems the current dominant power
...more
Max
Dec 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sociology
Read it as part of an EA reading club and really enjoyed it. The book is the result of a history research project which found that 12 out of 16 cases of a rising power threatening to displace ruling power in the end culminated into a war. In the book, Allison is working to extract lessons that help us avoid escalating tensions between US and China. Maybe because of this motivating purpose the historical analyses felt very alive and gripping to me. I think this approach to history works really we ...more
Gary
Jun 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An exceptional book on the possibilities of a confrontation between the two super powers, the US and China. Since the Nixon years, China has been building back to become the mega power we see today. What is their goal ? Who do they have to displace ? The US has been the world's super power since the end of WW2. No longer is this the case as China has now risen from the shadows to become the presumptive leader in all categories. Does this lead us into a WW3 ? Graham's narrative of past and presen ...more
Andre Grillon
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Graham Allison’s “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?” (2017) may have a destiny as century’s reference.

In 2014 the IMF estimated that the size of China’s economy in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms has exceeded the United States at $16.7 trillion vs. $16.4 trillion respectively. Consider these amazing statistics:

-China is the worlds largest producer of:
ships, steel, aluminum, furniture, textiles, clothing, computers, semiconductors, communications equipment, p
...more
Jonathan Mckay
Sep 10, 2020 rated it liked it
54th book of 2020.
tl;dr: Read the cover, read the appendix, skip the rest.

‘Destined for War’ introduces the Thucydides trap, named after Thucydides’ recording of the war between Sparta and Athens. In this pattern, rising powers (e.g. Athens) can end up at war with dominant powers (e.g. Sparta) even though the outcome is against the interests of both parties. According to Graham, in 12/16 cases over the last 500 years, similar shifts in power balance have led to war. The book relies on practi
...more
Peter Wolfley
Jun 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has provided me with my favorite new principle: applied history. Just like applied physics, where you try to find the practical use of natural laws, applied history is where you try and distill the lessons of history for practical applications. Is it too late to switch careers and become an applied historian?

This idea of Thucydides’ Trap is a scary one. Especially when viewed from our current perspective with over 3000 years of history behind us. A rising power and a ruling power are
...more
alex
Jan 14, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fic
This is a very cool concept and I was beyond excited to read it. It assumes that its audience is primarily from the United States, so provides little information on the country's government and history. In comparison, there are large amounts of background information on the Chinese government and history. Without providing the evidence to support their US-bias I find it difficult to trust the author's conclusions.

The US bias implies that if war were to break out between the US and China, it wou
...more
Franklin Wang
Jun 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent data and analysis. As the popular dialogue in the Western media is largely oblivious of China, and Chinese media largely nationalistic, such politic realism and cautious warning Graham provides is rare and precious. U.S. and China have to find a way to compromise and collaborate so that we have a stable and secure world. Let's hope.

For an excellent discussion among Graham and Former U.S. Ambassador to U.N. Samantha Power, and one well-known historian Niall Ferguson, see https://www.you
...more
John Tyson
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book should be required reading for anyone with an interest in global affairs.

Allison has written a tight combination of narrative history, status quo analysis, illustrative anecdotes, and realistic hypotheticals that all come together to deliver his argument in an easily digestible way. No small feat for such a broad subject.

I learned so much reading this book, and I’m now eager to read his other works.
Stephen
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are those who believe that America and China are destined for war. As China expands and becomes more assertive in East Asia, it will start to compromise key American interests. How should America respond to this? Is war an option? If so, can it be avoided? These are the key questions that this book answers, and it will be interesting to see how things turn out as events unfold in the course of this century.

What I like about this book is that it doesn't rely on unsupported assertion. It sta
...more
Paul O'Leary
May 18, 2018 rated it liked it
I’ve given Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? three stars, but, I’ll be frank, I may be penalizing Graham Allison for my misperceptions. Most reviews appear glowing. But I expected a book that would be more centered around the current position of China and the USA on the political chessboard, our current policies toward China, and how they might be improved or managed. This isn’t really what the book’s about. My bad. Still, the title did influence this misperceptio ...more
Bettie
Description: CHINA AND THE UNITED STATES ARE HEADING TOWARD A WAR NEITHER WANTS. The reason is Thucydides’s Trap, a deadly pattern of structural stress that results when a rising power challenges a ruling one. This phenomenon is as old as history itself. About the Peloponnesian War that devastated ancient Greece, the historian Thucydides explained: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Over the past 500 years, these conditions have occur ...more
Ashish
Mar 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fi, war, history
This is pretty interesting. Looking at sociological, economic, historical and political patterns that join the threads between minor unconnected events and paint the larger picture that's been there under the surface, identifying patterns of history and using them to predict probabilities into future events... there's something almost Hari Seldonian about the concept.
I love the term 'Applied History'. History is so much more than a collection of dead facts - it's a living, breathing story that'
...more
Moses
Sep 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
An excellent and historically-informed strategic summary of the perils and opportunities in Sino-American relations in the 21st century.

The upshot is that in cases from Athens and Sparta to Germany and the UK, rising powers make established powers nervous, and this often leads to war. Allison's approach is to use historical precedent and diplomatic know-how to explore different scenarios that could lead to war between China and the US, and different scenarios in which war is averted.

One surprisi
...more
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Librarian Note: Also writes under the name Graham T. Allison.

Graham Allison is Director of Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the bestselling author of Destined for War: America, China, and Thucydides's Trap (2017); Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World (2013); Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable C
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