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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

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  4,074 ratings  ·  188 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 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…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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4.10  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,074 ratings  ·  188 reviews

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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
Tuncer Şengöz
Jan 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Her ne kadar Berlin Duvarı yıkılmadan, SSCB çözülmeden, Avrupa Birliği henüz Avrupa Ekonomik Topluluğu aşamasındayken yazılmış olsa da, günümüz dünyasını - 500 yıllık perspektiften - kavrayabilmek için okunması gereken başyapıtlardan biri. 21. yüzyılın ilk çeyreğinde yaşanan olayların cevabı da kitabın satır aralarında: 9/11, ABD'nin Büyük Ortadoğu seferi, iki büyük finansal kriz, Arap Baharı ve vekalet savaşları...
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 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
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
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
Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Testo letto per un esame universitario, è obiettivamente un mattone ma non posso che dargli 5 stelle perché nonostante ci si metta un po' a digerirlo è molto più che interessante e offre una panoramica del sistema internazionale di grandi potenze che corre lungo 5 secoli. Un'analisi brillante e chiara che dà degli strumenti fondamentali per capire il mondo di oggi guardando sia al passato, e quindi a come e perché siamo arrivati dove siamo ora, sia al futuro perché getta le basi per un'analisi c ...more
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.
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
Apr 06, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics, history
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
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
Nov 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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
Tom Schulte
Apr 21, 2013 rated it liked it
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
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
Feb 21, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
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
Apr 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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“The continued existence of all three states, France, England, and the United Provinces of the Netherlands, each with the potential to dispute Habsburg pretensions in the future, again confirmed that the Europe of 1600 would consist of many nations, and not of one hegemony.” 3 likes
“The cause of this transformation, effected by the Meiji Restoration from 1868 onward, was the determination of influential members of the Japanese elite to avoid being dominated and colonized by the West, as seemed to be happening elsewhere in Asia, even if the reform measures to be taken involved the scrapping of the feudal order and the bitter opposition of the samurai clans.39 Japan had to be modernized not because individual entrepreneurs wished it, but because the “state” needed it. After” 3 likes
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