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The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers Paperback – 1989

3.8 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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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 38 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #80,667 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers

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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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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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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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Format: Paperback
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 Ages could be responsible for a thermonuclear exchange or a hostile corporate takeover today.
Of course, he was exaggerating, but only by a matter of degrees. History is the study of the interconnexions of human beings in their actions over time, and to that end, the more we understand of the past, the better chance we have of surviving and flourishing into the future.
Paul Kennedy's book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers is an insightful, sweeping examination of the centuries of the growth and dominance and, lately, relative decline of the European powers over the rest of the globe. To a lesser extent (because they were lesser players) he draws in Asian, and finally, American players, although as will be seen, they began to play the game according to the European rules.
He pays particular attention to the economic and military aspects of the motivations of national and ethnic decision-making; so often history (or at least popular history) has portrayed such as purely political, religious (at least until the last few centuries), or royal-family intrigues. Kennedy explores the forgotten aspects in a popular format; hence the question (as the Gulf War is almost universally recognised as, in reality, a war of economic necessity rather than for political or moral purpose, which tended to be added later)--were the Hapsburgs responsible? Rather, that is a way of asking, are the same motivations that were at play with Great Power relationships in 1500 still at play today? Have we learned anything?
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