One of the most interesting works on European history is Paul Kennedy’s “Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.”
Kennedy describes the political and economic developments and the military conflicts between 1500 and the end of the 20th century. His thesis is that the power and strength of a state depend essentially on economic factors.
For the more successful a country’s economy is, the more money it has at its disposal for weapons and research, which leads directly to military power.
This works well until empires overstretch and undermine their economic base, whereupon rising powers try to take their place.
Kennedy proves this with numerous examples such as the “Habsburgs’ grip on power, 1519 – 1659”, the recurring struggle between France and the British Empire or the First and Second World Wars.
A really recommendable book for anyone who is interested in history and wants to know more about the background of the rise and fall of the great powers.