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The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers Paperback – 1989

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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679720197
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679720195
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 3.1 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #97,806 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By DAVID-LEONARD WILLIS on 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Randy Roehll on 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on Sept. 11 2002
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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Format: Paperback
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). I concluded that my review would be a bit silly if I attempted to duplicate his existing customer review that summarizes much of the book.
So I will make some slightly different comments. This book is one of the better buys at and I will probably look at some of the other books written by Paul Kennedy. I like the way the author presents reams of data and arguments. It is very well done and all quite interesting. This book is very detailed being 540 pages long with an incredible 120 page discussion of sources added to the 540 pages. So it is simply another excellent book that provides a lot of detail that connect economics, military history, world influence, etc. As a reader I like to read this type of book so I can interpret current events with a better understanding of the historical precedents.
If I can make a slight bit of humor I am worried that some of our current politicians like Bush who received a C average at Yale and is not a reader has never heard of or read this book, or a similar book, or have many other politicians. They should. This book points out the obvious. History repeats itself and countries and economies run in cycles. This idea of the cycle and the tie in to military power is not unique, in fact it is the norm. The US is no different and we are not exempt from this concept of a cycle. There is a small problem in that the book was written in the late 1980's and so it does not have the "correction" in the growth of the Japanese economy, and in fact Japan's growth itself may have already peaked in a shorter time frame after two upward cycles 1853-1939, and 1945-1992.
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