The rise and fall of the great powers : economic change and military conflict from 1500 to 2000

by Paul M. Kennedy

Paper Book, 1987




New York, NY : Random House, c1987.


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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member chellinsky
I heard good things about Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, but it didn't live up to my expectations. By necessity, the book was very broad. Rather than assume existing knowledge of the Great Powers since 1500 C.E., Kennedy described each in depth alongside developments that led to
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the ebb and flow of power during 500 years. This produced a book heavy in historical detail and fact that could have been condensed for people even remotely familiar with the history of these years.

At the same time, as Kennedy admits, the book is decidedly Eurocentric. Thus, he presents a good description of the rise and fall of European great powers, but the constricted historical timeline means that larger trends may be absent. Will what caused the rise and fall of the Habsburg Empire be the same as what motivated the rise and fall of the Khanates or Rome? By confining his study to the 500 years of Europe's domination of the global, Kennedy limits a wider application of his concluding concepts about why Great Powers ultimately rise and fall.

With the above concerns about the book stated, TRaFotGP is useful if you want an analysis of what made nations gain prominence and then decline since 1500. It also makes a decent primer on European history during this era. Whereas books about Great Power politics from political scientists assume prior knowledge of most of what Kennedy discusses, TRaFotGP takes great lengths to bring the reader up to speed. Based on my own assumptions of how the world works, his reasoning is sound (looks largely at economic and military fluctuations to determine where power centers are located) and his predictions in the last chapter of the book, in the following 20 years since the edition I read, reflect reality (more regarding the USSR and China than Japan).
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LibraryThing member PaulFAustin
Kennedy's thesis, much hailed on the left during the '80s, that "imperial overstreatch" of excess spending on arms being responsible for the decline of great powers has fallen in the dust,
LibraryThing member ehines
Though this book seems to be pretty strongly associated with the 1980s fear of Japanese ascendancy, it's historical analysis of the economic & strategic underpinnings of the world powers is fascinating and pretty well-written. And this isn't the sort of book you need to agree with--the perspective
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it provides is the point, not its predictions or prescriptions.
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LibraryThing member DougJ110
As relavant today as it was 25 years ago. A great insight into the history of nations and the evolution/devolution that gives them a constantly changing among the other nations of the world.
LibraryThing member mbmackay
A tour de force analysis of the last 500 years of power struggles, lessened only slightly by the decision to subtitle the book 1500 to 2000 when it was released in 1989, which meant that predictions made 10 minutes before the landscape changed with the collapse of USSR in 1990 rather spoiled the
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polish at the end! But great book and wonderfully thought provoking.
Read in Samoa Sept 2002
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LibraryThing member jddunn
A solid, moderate, broad history of the interplay of economics, geography, politics, personality, chance, and other factors that have led to the rise and fall of empires and the shaping of the modern geopolitical world. A little West-centric, but, then again, so was the process itself, for better
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and worse.
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LibraryThing member gmicksmith
This is an interesting work to compare and contrast to Niall Ferguson's work, in particular, his Civilization.
LibraryThing member carterchristian1
I have been reading this at the same time I have been reading a very critical a book about the CIA
LibraryThing member aitastaes
WINNER OF THE WOLFSON HISTORY PRIZE Paul Kennedy's international bestseller is a sweeping account of five hundred years of fluctuating economic muscle and military might. Kennedy's masterwork begins in the year 1500, at a time of various great centres of power including Minh China, the Ottomans,
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the rising Mughal state, the nations of Europe. But it was the latter which, through competition, economic growth and better military organisation, came to dominate the globe - until challenged later by Japan, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Now China, boosted by its own economic prowess, rises to the fore. Throughout this brilliant work, Kennedy persuasively demonstrates the interdependence of economic and military power, showing how an imbalance between the two has historically led to spectacular political disaster. Erudite and brilliantly original, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the politics of power.
A brilliantly original book...It is intended for the intelligent layman as well as the academic historian, combining in Toynbee-esque manner the sweeping conception with careful attention to historical detail' Financial Times This book is falling out of briefcases all over Washington DC, both because it looks and sounds erudite and because it purports to answer an increasingly common question: Has the United States already embarked on its journey into the sunset of empire? It is administering a lot of frissons to trend-watchers' Christopher Hitchens Outstanding...He ranges across five centuries and around the whole world. He seems to have read every relevant book in every possible language. And he has produced a general argument so deceptively simple that no politician, however busy, should ignore or misunderstand it' Observer One of the masterpieces of modern historical writing' Daily Telegraph A masterpiece of exposition. It is erudite and elegantly written' New Society A remarkable book...long, clever, often funny, and crammed with remarkable insights; it is tinged with the genius that unravels complexity' Evening Standard Shows a master historian's ability to use evidence like a boxing champion's uppercut' TES One of those rare (and irresistible) books which successfully combine the scope and sweep of popular' history with the discriminating rigour of professional historiography, making it both a bloody good read and a thought-provoking one' Listene
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LibraryThing member mdobe
The internal political system of the United states, or of any other nation for that matter, is of little consequence to Paul Kennedy in his treatment of WWI. The rise and fall of the Great Powers with which he is concerned is based upon the waxing and waning of economic strength, the ultimate
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measure of which is the ability to fight and win a war. As David Kaiser pointed out in his review of the book, Kennedy is less concerned about why nations go to war than the impact wars have on the constellation of powers which make up the international system. The success of Kennedy's book is testimony to the continued relevance of a traditional approach to international relations.

Few could dispute Kennedy's assertion that in the final analysis, American financial interests made intervention on behalf of the Allies a nearly foregone conclusion. American entry into WWI tipped the overall balance of economic strength heavily in favor of the Allies. He stresses the time lag in American mobilization as a factor in the duration of the conflict, but does not decry America's belated entry or its crusade to flmake the world safe for democracy." Once again, he is interested in mechanics rather than intention.

Unlike Kennan, he deals with WWI in and of itself rather than as a prelude to the rise of totalitarianism. This does not mean that Kennedy's view of WWI is presented without a larger interpretive framework, however. Of all the cases which fit into his scenario of Great Power status being based upon the ability to finance a successful war, WWI certainly provides the least contestable example. The rising Great Powers of Germany and America clashed in this conflict, and America's greater productive capacity,

This book too must be seen within the context of the Co1d War, in Kenndy's case the late Cold War. Kennedy's ultimate conclusion that America in the late 1980s is a Great Power in decline evoked great popular controversy. "Imperial overstretch or the excessive commitment of economic resources to military needs, is the root cause of America's decline according to Kennedy. This message found many adherents at the closing of the Cold War, just as did Kennan's at its outset. One suspects, however, that due to the ponderous statistical baggage of Kennedy's analysis more people actually read Kennan than Kennedy. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers is not an easy read.
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LibraryThing member Paul_S
Worth every page. Sometimes things get clearer when viewed from a distance, exact details of events change and are unpredictable but overall arches even if not exactly following the projected curves are slow to turn. I'm not a great explainer but the author of this book is.


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