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Fear of Flying

Paul Kennedy, 21 November 1985

No Longer an Island: Britain and the Wright Brothers 1902-1909 
by Alfred Gollin.
Heinemann, 468 pp., £18, October 1984, 0 434 29902 2
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... In the two decades before 1914 Englishmen probably worried more about the future and safety of their country and empire than they had done since Napoleon’s time. The cosy assumptions about British world supremacy which permeated the likes of Palmerston and Macaulay no longer seemed valid in a period of great international change. At sea, the supremacy of the Royal Navy was ever harder to maintain now that three, four, six foreign powers were building new battle fleets ...

False Alarm

Geoffrey Hawthorn, 13 May 1993

Preparing for the 21st Century 
by Paul Kennedy.
HarperCollins, 428 pp., £20, March 1993, 0 00 215705 5
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... conservatives as well as liberals at the end of Reagan’s expensive two terms in the White House, Paul Kennedy suggested that like other great powers before it, the United States was dissipating the resources that had made it great. It was in ‘imperial overstretch’. And its political system, like that of Britain earlier in the century, would make the ...


Mark Mazower: The UN, 22 March 2007

The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American Power 
by James Traub.
Bloomsbury, 442 pp., £20, November 2006, 0 7475 8087 1
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The Parliament of Man: The United Nations and the Quest for World Government 
by Paul Kennedy.
Allen Lane, 361 pp., £25, July 2006, 0 7139 9375 8
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... skilful secretary general, the General Assembly has been able to pull its weight. Its founders, as Paul Kennedy observes in The Parliament of Man, had envisaged the UN being run by a glorified international civil servant, much as the League was. They weren’t disappointed in the heavy-set Norwegian installed as its first head, Trygve Lie. As minister of ...

War within wars

Paul Addison, 5 November 1992

War, Strategy and International Politics: Essays in Honour of Sir Michael Howard 
edited by Lawrence Freedman, Paul Hayes and Robert O’Neill.
Oxford, 322 pp., £35, July 1992, 0 19 822292 0
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... be employed for the protection of merchant shipping. The Admiralty also comes out badly from Paul Hayes’s analysis of its pre-1914 plans for a sudden descent on Germany. But for the resistance these plans encountered, he writes, ‘the catastrophe of the Gallipoli campaign might instead have been enacted in Friesland. The effects on morale, prestige ...

Last Days of the American Empire

Philip Towle, 19 May 1988

Armageddon? Essays 1983-1987 
by Gore Vidal.
Deutsch, 244 pp., £11.95, November 1987, 9780233981567
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by Gore Vidal.
Deutsch, 587 pp., £11.95, November 1987, 0 233 98152 7
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The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 
by Paul Kennedy.
Unwin Hyman, 677 pp., £18.95, March 1988, 0 04 909019 4
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... ours rested not so much on military prowess as on economic primacy.’ The last chapters of Paul Kennedy’s epic study suggest that American power is subsiding relative to other powers rather than dying. Vidal sees himself as the literary chronicler of the rise and decline of American power. His latest novel begins as the Spanish-American War of ...

Downward Mobility

Linda Colley, 4 May 1989

The Blackwell Dictionary of Historians 
edited by John Cannon, R.H.C. Davis, William Doyle and Jack Greene.
Blackwell, 480 pp., £39.95, September 1988, 9780631147084
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Edward Gibbon, Luminous Historian, 1772-1794 
by Patricia Craddock.
Johns Hopkins, 432 pp., £19, February 1989, 0 8018 3720 0
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Gibbon: Making History 
by Roy Porter.
Palgrave, 187 pp., £14.95, February 1989, 0 312 02728 1
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by Owen Dudley Edwards.
Trafalgar Square, 160 pp., £5.95, October 1988, 9780297794684
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by Hugh Tulloch.
Trafalgar Square, 144 pp., £5.95, October 1988, 0 297 79470 1
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... disintegrated not because it was corrupt, but because it suffered from, and embodied, what Paul Kennedy might call imperial overstretch. The cause of the Empire’s decline and fall was ‘in a sense, its very existence’ (Craddock). Eighteenth-century Europe, by contrast (for Gibbon did not foresee Napoleon), was secured and stabilised by its ...

How can it work?

David Runciman: American Democracy, 21 March 2013

... or two, the people wake up, and the ship of state slowly rights itself. The British historian Paul Kennedy, in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, published in 1987, offers a very different view. This is not the story of twenty to thirty-year cycles of intervention and laissez-faire, but of two to three hundred-year cycles of imperial ascendancy ...

Britain takes the biscuit

Gordon Brown and Geoff Mulgan, 25 October 1990

The Competitive Advantage of Nations 
by Michael Porter.
Macmillan, 855 pp., £25, May 1990, 0 333 51804 7
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... for instance? Why not government policy and structure – a factor highlighted recently by Paul Kennedy in his argument that the USA’s division of powers precludes the single-minded policies that might be necessary for industrial regeneration? Still, the virtues of the book outweigh its defects. It demonstrates that government does have a ...

Rigging the Death Rate

Paul Taylor, 11 April 2013

... operations, two of whom, James Wisheart and Janardan Dhasmana, were struck off even before Ian Kennedy’s report was published. The problems at the infirmary had become public largely through the efforts of Stephen Bolsin, a consultant anaesthetist with an interest in clinical audit, a process in which clinicians’ outcomes are measured. Bolsin became ...

Strong Government

Linda Colley, 7 December 1989

The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688-1788 
by John Brewer.
Unwin Hyman, 289 pp., £28, April 1989, 0 04 445292 6
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Cambridge in the Age of the Enlightenment: Science, Religion and Politics from the Restoration to the French Revolution 
by John Gascoigne.
Cambridge, 358 pp., £32.50, June 1989, 0 521 35139 1
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Imperial Meridian: The British Empire and the World 
by C.A. Bayly.
Longman, 295 pp., £16.95, June 1989, 0 582 04287 9
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... of Sea Power upon History (1890), we might stress the derring-do of the Royal Navy, or – as Paul Kennedy did recently – the role of public finance. Brewer concentrates on organisational factors, and isolates three that were crucial. First and foremost, Britain’s army and navy trebled in size in the century after the Glorious Revolution. By the ...

And after we’ve struck Cuba?

Thomas Powers, 13 November 1997

The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis 
edited by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow.
Harvard, 728 pp., £23.50, October 1997, 0 674 17926 9
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‘One Hell of a Gamble’: The Secret History of the Cuban Missile Crisis 
by Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali.
Murray, 420 pp., £25, September 1997, 0 7195 5518 3
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... October 1962 was not August 1914 because John Kennedy had learned the lessons of Munich, which may be summarised as follows: get angry in private, think before you speak, say what you want, make clear what you’re prepared to do, ignore bluster, repeat yourself as often as necessary and keep the pressure on. Where Kennedy learned the mixture of forbearance and resolution which lies at the heart of international peace and good marriages is a mystery; his mother and father were no better at solving problems than Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler ...


Stephen Sharp: The ‘Belgrano’ and Me, 8 May 2014

... My problems began​ in 1984 when I wrote letters to Francis Pym and Sarah Kennedy about the Falklands War and Sir Robin Day’s part in it. Sarah was presenting a radio programme and I thought she was talking about me when she spoke of a young man who had just lost his mother. Francis Pym said, ‘Guns fire from Number 10’ on the Sarah Kennedy show ...

Short Cuts

Christian Lorentzen: ‘Anyone but Romney’, 23 February 2012

... against Mitt Romney. It was 1994, I’d turned 18 two weeks before, and Romney was challenging Ted Kennedy for the Massachusetts Senate, a seat he’d held since 1962. I lived in Hopkinton, a small town that over the course of my childhood was turned into a bedroom community for lawyers, bankers and software engineers. They bought McMansions in its acres of ...

Short Cuts

Frederick Wilmot-Smith: RBG’s Big Mistake, 8 October 2020

... paid off. Trump filled Scalia’s seat with Justice Neil Gorsuch. Soon after, Justice Anthony Kennedy retired. At 81, Kennedy was older than a Supreme Court judge should be; but he wasn’t ill (and is still alive). Nevertheless, he decided that President Trump and the Republican Senate were the ones he wanted to ...

Wild Words

Stuart Hampshire, 18 August 1983

A History of the Modern World: From 1917 to the 1980s 
by Paul Johnson.
Weidenfeld, 832 pp., £16.50, April 1983, 0 297 78226 6
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... Coolidge is a hero in Paul Johnson’s eyes, and Franklin Roosevelt a villain. The former is quoted with approval: business ‘has for its main reliance truth and faith and justice. In its larger sense it is one of the greatest contributing forces to the moral and spiritual advancement of the race.’ About Roosevelt Mr Johnson writes: ‘In terms of political show-business he had few equals and he had an enviable knack of turning problems into solutions ...

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