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Book description

Back when I was in college, I felt the need for a course that looked at how economics, politics and warfare all combined to form statecraft. I never got to take that non-existent course, but got what I wanted in Rise and Fall of Great Powers. Paul Kennedy wrote a 500-year history of grand strategy in world history, as first one European empire followed by another tried to achieve the perfect synthesis of absolute security and prosperity, and in the process scaring the hell out of smaller states who would combine to bring down the threatening giant. As such state/empires reached their peak, they would be beset by a plethora of competing priorities. If left alone, each threat would impeach the empires raison detre, showing a weakness that others could exploit. That leads to imperial overstretch, as the empire strains to resolve every crisis, and in the end go broke, its bankruptcy leading to decline. Rise and Fall of Great Powers came out towards the end of the Cold War, when American economic supremacy was questioned by the expensive military need to contain the Soviet Union worldwide. Japan was rising economically, perhaps moving into a position where it could overtake the US. Recent history proved otherwise, but Kennedy should be given credit for daring to swing for the fences, even though he got the forecast wrong. In the end, the book is still a useful guide that explains how states work to increase their economic and military power, trying to build on their strengths while masking their weaknesses. Kennedys prose can be quite dense at times, but the reader is encouraged to hack their way through the thicket. The facts do come together in the end.

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