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The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers [Paperback]

Paul Kennedy
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)

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early account of wars

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First Sentence
In the year 1500, the date chosen by numerous scholars to mark the divide between modern and pre-modern times, it was by no means obvious to the inhabitants of Europe that their continent was poised to dominate much of the rest of the earth. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very important information Jan. 29 2004
Format:Paperback
As the relative strengths of leading nations in world affairs never remains constant, there is an optimum balance between wealth creation and military strength over the long term. Time and again the leading power believed that it could neglect wealth production in favor of military adventures but others waiting in the wings closed the gap, the relative strength was eroded and a long, slow decline of the once-leading power followed. The rise of Europe was not obvious in 1500 considering Ming China, the Ottoman Empire, the Mogul Empire, Muscovy and Tokugawa Japan which were well organized, had centralized authority and insisted on uniformity of practice and belief. European knowledge of the Orient was fragmentary and often erroneous, although the image of fabulous wealth, and vast armies was reasonably accurate. Constantinople fell in 1453 and the Ottoman Turks were pressing towards Budapest and Vienna. Compared with the world of Islam, Europe was behind culturally, technologically and militarily. Few at that point would have predicted that Europe would soon be at the top of the pack.
Warlike rivalries between European states stimulated advances, economic growth and military effectiveness. The Habsburg bid for power was ultimately unsuccessful because other European states worked together, the Habsburgs overextended in repeated conflicts during which they became militarily top heavy upon a weakening economic base. The other European states managed a better balance between wealth creation and military power. The power struggles between 1600 and 1815 were more complicated as Spain and the Netherlands declined while France, Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia rose to dominate diplomacy, and warfare.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Product of the Time Sept. 11 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Kennedy's book is a product of the time it was written. In the mid-80's the topic of the day, primarily put forth by the more intelligent neo-liberals, was defense spending and its relation to economic growth. More defense spending was supposed to lead to less economic growth. The idea informed many of the chapters in Kennedy's book, but particularly the last couple.
Now, perhaps Kennedy was accurate about the earlier great powers; I don't have sufficient background to comment. He's an engaging writer on those subjects at any rate. However, his idea of imperial overstretch, as applied to the US, was wrong, and demonstrably so given the last fifteen years. It's worthwhile to look at why this is the case, since this reveals his blind spots.
His thesis--that military power rests on economic power--is fine as far as it goes. He even identifies many of the factors that go into creating economic power; that portion of the book is so broadly stated that it is almost impossible to refute. Having identified the broad range of factors, however, in the last couple chapters he promptly focuses on those that happened to be the topic of discussion in the mid-80's: defense spending, deficits, and industrial planning. In the event, these turned out to be much less influential than others. The free market in the US turned out to be flexible, growth-oriented, and much quicker on its feet than those of Japan, Europe, or the Soviet Union. As a result the US grew considerably more quickly than the other powers. The mechanisms that Kennedy considered most important--defense spending and global commitments--turned out to be second order effects compared to the ability of the US to deploy capital efficiently, innovate, redeploy labor to new industries, and grow.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful if you're into economics! April 6 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I found this quite dry and hard to read. It is superb if you are an insomniac! I tried really hard to get through it and finally gave up around page 150.

I was looking for something different. The title was suggested in an engineering book that I was reading and it sounded like it would give me better understanding of what I was trying to understand. Either I never found it, or didn't understand it (most likely) but I just couldn't go on to the end. Maybe one day I will pick it up and give it another try.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers March 29 2004
Format:Paperback
This is one of the best books that I have read on global power. One of Kennedy's reoccurring themes is that a continuing strong economy is necessary to maintain a nation's standing. He values urbanization, industrialization, and per capita income. I particularly found his contrast and comparison on Russia and The United States in the 19th Century as emerging powers. His data on the results of Britian's "cutting edge" industrial revolution technology, and it's productive results, is unbelievable. I constantly go back to this book. It is not only a treasury of insight into past balance of power equations but also those of today.
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4.0 out of 5 stars These reviews themselves are interesting... April 26 2005
Format:Paperback
...as a view of recent history. Kennedy's predictions on the near future were no worse than anyone else's at the time. His imperial overstretch view seems a lot more relevant in 2005 than they did in 1999 or even 2003.
The overview of world history has its limitations, but there are still many important things in this book that it would be hard for a reader to find elsewhere.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Bargains at Amazon.com - 500 Yr Economics Summary
I was going to write a longer review that covered some of the elements of the book but then I read the lengthy review by David Willis (see below). Read more
Published on April 13 2004 by J. E. Robinson
4.0 out of 5 stars A Book About Historical Cycles
This is a good book that reveals that there are cycles and trends that tend to have happened throughtout history to great nations. Read more
Published on Feb. 10 2004 by Joseph J. Slevin
3.0 out of 5 stars Could a book be more wrong?
Time has not been kind to Paul Kennedy's book. It's sort of funny to think that Kennedy was writing this on the eve of a ten year financial boom in the US -- one of the largest in... Read more
Published on Dec 23 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars Learning from History
Kennedy chronicles the rise of the Great Powers starting with the Ming Dynasty in China and taking us all the way to the contemporary times of the 1980s. Read more
Published on July 19 2003 by book worm
5.0 out of 5 stars Remembering the past, seeing the future
History is a wonderful study, a professor of mine once commented, of the interlocking circles of influence, whereby one can find often that an obscure arranged marriage in the Dark... Read more
Published on July 12 2003 by FrKurt Messick
4.0 out of 5 stars Great fact gathering, but...
I know it's picking nits, but there was one statement that the author made on page 504 saying that "Stars Wars" technology would not alter the MAD equation if it were developed. Read more
Published on June 27 2003 by Mark T. Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars A very important historical explanatory model.
Paul Kennedy has developed a unique approach at explaining history. Paul Kennedy's historical model focuses on a few variables, including:
1) What % of GDP a Power dedicates... Read more
Published on May 30 2003 by Gaetan Lion
5.0 out of 5 stars Great - Easy read...
Amazing book! Wonderfully written. Surprisingly, only half-interpreted. As a few reviewers have pointed out, it is more properly used as a history book than an oracle. Read more
Published on May 26 2003 by J. Risse
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Good !!!! Not only useful but also readable :)
In this book, published in 1987, Kennedy's aim is to explain us the relationship among different forms of power: economic, political and military power. Read more
Published on May 18 2003 by M. B. Alcat
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