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The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers Paperback – January 15, 1989

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Kennedy, a history professor at Yale, here assesses the interaction between economics and strategy over the past five centuries," reported PW , concluding that "the book is a vigorous entry in the debate over the extent to which national wealth should be used for military purposes."
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Yale historian Kennedy surveys the ebb and flow of power among the major states of Europe from the 16th centurywhen Europe's preeminence first took shapethrough and beyond the present erawhen great power status is devolving again upon the extra-European states. Stressing the interrelationships among economic wealth, technological innovation, and the ability of states efficiently to tap their resources for prolonged military preparedness and warmaking, he notes that those states with the relatively greater ability to maintain a balance of military and economic strength assumed the lead. Kennedy never reduces the analysis to crude materialism or empty tautology. Stimulating, erudite, carefully crafted, and readable; for public and academic libraries. James B. Street, Santa Cruz P.L., Cal.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (January 15, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679720197
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679720195
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (130 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,501 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

136 of 140 people found the following review helpful By DAVID-LEONARD WILLIS on January 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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59 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Ami Isseroff on July 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
Kennedy's "Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" is a classic that should rank with the great books and great ideas of the 20th century. Anyone who wants to understand what has happened in history, and what will most likely happen, should read this book.

Great theories and great books are often so because they state, in a convincing way obvious facts that we want to ignore because they are inconvenient or unflattering. Sigmund Freud's Psychopathology of everyday life and "Interpretation of Dreams" shocked the Victorian world by pointing out that a lot of human behavior is about sex. Darwin's "Origin of Species" and "Descent of Man" was a shocker because it pointed out that we are animals, descended from animals. Karl Marx's contribution, shorn of polemics, was to point out the importance of economics in history and ideology.

Kennedy amasses considerable evidence for the unattractive theory that wars are won by economic might (and not because providence is on the side of the "good guys"), that all empires are mortal, and that empires can kill themselves by economic over-extension.

He correctly predicted the economic problems of the Soviet Union, before it was obvious to all, and he predicted the over extension and deficit spending that would could the lot of the US in the future - and are the lot of the US in Iraq. This is not a popular thesis.

Every historian from Thucydides, and Polybius to Gibbon, Toynbee and Spengler has understood that empires are "mortal." Yet every empire and every citizen of every empire insisted that their empire was the "exception" that could never be challenged and never fail. That is what makes many uncomfortable about this book, but it cannot be ignored.
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144 of 169 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
The problem with this book (and maybe why reviews are so divergent) is that it tries to be two different things. It succeeds as a historical narrative about the development of various western powers. The Hapsburgs, Napoleonic France, Czarist Russia, Prussia, Germany, and the British Empire are all covered. The Soviet Union, Japan and the U.S. come in for later treatment. The book traces the influence of finance, geography, politics and innovations and shows how advantages in each were strategically applied. It excells in describing the emergence of the western world from Empires and rising and falling 'Great' and 'Middle' powers involved in various alliances and coalition wars, through to the post Vietnam era of a bipolar world ruled by two Superpowers. Where the book fails is in economic forecasting specifically as it relates to the U.S. today.
Four fifths of the book is good, as it is devoted to the development of Kennedys' theory, which is - economic wealth and military power is relative. Relative in terms of its distribution among nations and relative within a nation over time. Indeed, the U.K. of the 1980's and today,(a second rank power in comparison with the U.S and Japan) is wealthier in absolute terms than the huge British Empire of the late 19th century. The idea that that there is a strong relationship between economic power and military might, which seems obvious, is also illustrated with historical examples. What is less obvious (until shown by the author) are the variations on this theme. For example, an economic power may not also be a military power at the same time (Japan in the 1980's). There is also a tendency for declining economic powers to spend very heavily on the military, as their sense of security decreases (Soviet Union and U.S in the 1980's).
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