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

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  4,671 ratings  ·  232 reviews

"A work of almost Toynbeean sweep... When a scholar as careful and learned as Mr. Kennedy is prompted by contemporary issues to reexamine the great processes of the past, the result can only be an enhancement of our historical under
Paperback, 677 pages
Published January 15th 1989 by Vintage Books (first published December 12th 1987)
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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 age…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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing
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
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 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
Sense Of  History
Nov 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
In 1987 this was a real blockbuster in history and international politics. Kennedy seemed to have written the definitive analysis on the strength and weaknesses of empires and countries. But only two years later Kennedy's reputation was gone, because he had not predicted the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union. How unjust! This book can still be read for its breadth and erudition, and it certainly contains some very useful insights into the world of today.
An incredibly detailed and complex read, I would only recommend this to the history buff who is not only endlessly curious, but has some prior knowledge of Great Power history in the last 5 centuries. The amount of detail discussed upon is insane, and the author manages to paint the economic, social, military and political aspects of the powers in broad strokes, while using tables, graphs and good ol' quotations. But this book is more than just a narrative description - it is an analysis, and a ...more
Jul 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, politics
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
Nov 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Too long for my liking,and goes into a bit too much detail about ancient empires like Ming China.Didn't really hold my interest.
Bruno Gremez
Oct 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book by Paul Kennedy proposes a very interesting review of the politics and economics of the Great Powers of the last 5 centuries since 1500. It reviews our history, by analysing, one by one, the Great Powers of the time, their strengths and weaknesses, and the challenges that caused them to lose their supremacy in favour of other upcoming Great Powers.
Some of the main arguments of Paul Kennedy to explain the rise and fall of Great Powers are first that the strength of any Great Power is m
Steven Peterson
Nov 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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
Jesse Kraai
Jan 02, 2019 rated it liked it
A totally useless book until we get closer to WWI. Full of generalities and no figures. And while the book does eventually begin, at a historical point where the author is more familiar, the early deficiencies continue to infect the remaining chapters. For example, how were the wars financed? The money system gets set up long before WWI, and Kennedy basically has nothing to say about it. It's a shame, especially because his beautiful manufacturing numbers can't be understood without debt. German ...more
One of those magisterial overviews of five centuries of world history. Paul Kennedy does a very good job with a quasi-Marxian approach to this, in that economics do in large part determine the trajectory of nations (e.g., a materialist explanation).

While Kennedy admits that earlier history is not his area of expertise, he does a decent job explaining how the "east" fell behind, given the increasing insularity of Ming China and the internecine struggles in South and East Asia that consumed resour
Pete Dolack
Oct 07, 2019 rated it it was ok
What a disappointment this book is. Can you imagine a book that purports to explain the rise of European wealth and domination over the rest of the world that not once mentions slavery? That spends all of two pages skimming over colonialism (without ever using the word) and only a handful of brief mentions in passing thereafter? Incredible, but there it is.

So what accounts for Europe's rise to dominance? Why, it's the "free enterprise" system! Yep, Paul Kennedy gets its completely backward. Capi
Mar 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Peter (Pete) 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
Sep 07, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: geschiedenis
Whereas Toynbee and Spengler focused more on organic cycles and look into a wider era, Kennedy highlights in his book the rise and fall of empires during the last 500 years. It is important to remind that the former Yale professor wrote this book in 1988, just before the end of the Cold War. He likes to link military strategy to economic strength. Basically, strong economies will has sufficient funds to build a strong army, while countries after their economic zenith have to invest more to prote ...more
Son Tung
Jun 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is rich in economic data and comparison.

Most people are familiar with the idea that the rise and fall of any power depend on a variety of factors: economic management and investment, military strength, geopolitical (dis)advantages.. I should consider myself in the same category. However, reading the books is comparable to doing fill-in-the-blanks exercise with faded memory or knowledge gaps.

For example, i thought it would be kinda boring for sections on WWI and II, but on the contrar
Written in 1987, Kennedy weaves the economic histories and military histories of the Great Powers and show how empires can be won or lost by ignoring one or the other and how military and economic concerns support each other as a country interacts with the world.

Why I started this book: Epic scope, and just released as a 30 hour audio book, I was eager to tackle this history.

Why I finished it: First, most history books break up history into themes, time periods or regions of the world. It's refr
Jun 10, 2020 rated it it was ok
Despite this books huge importance in modern political studies scholarship, I found this book a rather dreary read. The dryness of the work was unnecessary and the book could have done with a more thorough analysis of the rise and fall of the Islamic east before beginning his study of the rise of the west. The work is at its best when the availability of data increases, mainly in the 18th and 19th centuries. But thx chapters on the Hasburgs an the Turkish rivalry with Spain are very light of muc ...more
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A very well researched overview with extensive footnotes. I like Kennedy's prose style as well. He ties together multiple strands of the Great Powers' histories: cultural, political, economic, military. Most of us 'know' at least the broad outlines of the stories he tells, but he makes connections and correlations that I had overlooked.

He finished writing the book in 1986. I'd like to read his reaction to the events of 1989 - the fall of the Berlin Wall and the implosion of the Soviet Union, Tia
Apr 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A very long, very difficult, but very worthwhile read. Kennedy's extremely well-referenced survey of five centuries of Great Power nations lays bare the patterns of economics and conflict that ebb and flow, driving constant change in world relations. I found his predictions on the future of the Soviet Union to be the most fascinating, given how soon it collapsed after the publication of this book.
Dec 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The history of great powers is interesting, but what is really amazing are the insights and forecasts that are made in this book, published in 1987. This book is mostly accurate 30 years later. Learning how Paul Kennedy thinks about great powers and the future is wonderful.
Mitchell Timin
Jun 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you want to know history, you pretty much have to read this book!
Burinschi Emil
Apr 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Profound analysis of the period of time in International Relations, including lots' of statistics and emphasis on the economic factors.
Andrew Updegrove
Apr 26, 2014 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 rated it it was amazing
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
Pieter Cramerus
Nov 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I assigned this book to my senior class at a school for gifted students. It was on the president's reading list at the time, and deservedly so. The author's hypothesis is that great powers go through a predictable curve: 1)They amass great wealth (due to the law of uneven change); 2) They build a huge military and expand their territory of control (by annexation, colonization, etc.); 3) Their economy declines in size and productivity (military is the most expensive and least profitable venture); ...more
Ben Sweezy
Dec 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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Paul Michael Kennedy is a British historian specialising in the history of international relations, economic power and grand strategy. He has published prominent books on the history of British foreign policy and Great Power struggles.

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