The End Of A Great Power: Two Book Reviews

If you’re interested in entering the discussion about why the American empire is in danger of collapsing, these two books will serve as a beginning primer.

The End Is Always Near

Apocalyptic Moments, From the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses
Dan Carlin (Pub 2019)
Carlin is the host of the immensely popular podcast, Hardcore History,  and this book is an extension of some of his podcasts.

His central thesis in all of this is:

  • The more states increase their power, the more of their resources they devote to maintaining it
  • The capacity to engage in war/conflict with another power depends on the level of resources needed to win and/or maintain the existing empire.
  • States/empires begin to fail when they have to borrow money to maintain their empire and the conflicts.
  • When they run out of borrowing power, they fail.
    He writes in an engaging manner and the fact he’s using his podcast transcripts may account for some of this professionally relaxed voice in his writing.

He illustrates his thesis with specific moments both from ancient history and the near nuclear misses of the modern era.

The book is well worth the quick read of 246 pages (Amazon).

He also gives a reasonable number of “further resources” to read in the index for every chapter.

If you’re looking for a fast read and an enjoyable one to understand this subject, I’d highly recommend this book.

But Having Said That

This book was preceded by:

The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers

Paul Kennedy (Pub 1986)

This book is far more complete in explaining the same thesis but it shifts time frame away from the (mostly) ancient world of Carlin’s book to the years 1500 to 2000.

The New York Times reviewer had this to say:

“He expands his thesis in the introduction and epilogue. It can be easily summarized: The more states increase their power, the larger the proportion of their resources they devote to maintaining it. If too large a proportion of national resources is diverted to military purposes, this in the long run leads to a weakening of power. The capacity to sustain a conflict with a comparable state or coalition of states ultimately depends on economic strength; but states apparently at the zenith of their political power are usually already in a condition of comparative economic decline, and the United States is no exception to this rule.

Power can be maintained only by a prudent balance between the creation of wealth and military expenditure, and great powers in decline almost always hasten their demise by shifting expenditure from the former to the latter. Spain, the Netherlands, France and Britain did exactly that. Now it is the turn of the Soviet Union and the United States.”
Archives of the New York Times

In other words, pretty much what Carlin says. This book is far more dense — as befits a book written by an academic — 540 pages with an extensive index of further reading. Check it out here at Amazon

The Significant Difference Between The Two Books

Kennedy took quite a bit of flack for the last 30 pages or so where his publisher asked him to comment on the decline of the American empire (remember written in 1986 only 10 years after Vietnam) and he did so with the same set of criteria of military engagement and financial management. This drew significant argument from some economists and politicians.

Carlin does not deal with the American situation.

The Bottom Line

If you want to read an engaging book on the subject, read Carlin’s book. I’d recommend this if you’re at all interested in history and understanding how and why some of these amazing civilizations fell.

Kennedy’s book is far more complete — focussed on a more modern era — and is a bit of a slog to get through it unless you’re a serious student of history.

A Personal Note:

A quick review of online comments shows many commentators (particularly those in the U.S.) do not agree with either Carlin or Kennedy when the books would suggest the the American empire is in danger of failing. There are those who suggest the characteristics of ancient empire failures do not apply to a modern world and its economic models.

I have no deep background to comment on the intricacies of modern economics.

What I do have is my Scottish grandmother’s saying, “The piper must be paid.” 

(Every Scot knows the piper is always paid for playing — in coin or drink.)

Facebook Just Jumped The Shark


Let me say up front that Facebook is very useful in our small real-world community as it serves as a major way to communicate events and even sell (or give away) items.

But having said that, I should confess I’ve never been a huge fan of Facebook as an author.

And lately, I think it’s jumped the shark in its desire to make money. (At least for me as an author.)

So What is Jumping The Shark?

The beginning of the end. Something is said to have “jumped the shark” when it has reached its peak and begun a downhill slide to mediocrity or oblivion.

“It’s said to have been coined by Jon Hein who has a web site, jumptheshark.com, and now a book detailing examples, especially as applied to TV shows. It supposedly refers to an episode of the TV show “Happy Days” in which Fonzie jumps over a shark on water skis, which Hein believes was the point at which the series had lost its touch and was beginning to grasp at straws.” Urban Dictionary.

Gardeners Like Videos

I know gardeners tend to like videos so (in a video) I polled my fans on Facebook

(I have just above 5000 Likes and 5000 Followers – or roughly 10,000 readers who may/may not see the video) about gardening questions they may have.

Facebook showed that video post to just over 1000 people (encouraged by 5 shares.)

This means 10% of my “fans” saw the post asking if they had gardening questions. I also note this was a large response by past traffic patterns.

I made two videos answering one gardening question in each.

The Results

  • Video number 1 was shown to 357 people with no shares.
  • Video number 2 was shown to 1505 people with 8 shares driving those numbers. (Note this was almost a record-setting number.)

A low of 3% and a high of 15%

It’s clear the second video views was driven by shares, but even so, it still only reached 15% of my readers.

While I intended to create a series of garden videos, I confess I ran out of steam with the numbers.

To be sure, Facebook dunned the hell out of me to invest in advertising to show the videos more often. Other creators will recognize the line, “Boost this post to reach XX readers for only…”

Facebook Is An Advertising Channel

I remember Brian Clark from the old Copyblogger site writing that Facebook was an advertising channel and not good for anything else (as an author or business.)

I find the hyper-local information about our community helpful but as for developing a fan-base or helping gardeners, I’ll be doing that on my own platforms moving forward.

And treating Facebook as an advertising platform.

The Only Possible Use I Have For Facebook Now

Is to establish a presence for name recognition purposes. I can link to my website author posts and if somebody stumbles over my page – great. And possibly as an advertising platform for my books.

Why “Possibly” An Advertising Platform

Fiction books are usually sold as series. At the moment, authors spend money advertising the first book in the series (often at breakeven or a small loss) hoping readers will buy the first book and then continue buying the others in the series.

As long as the series is profitable as a whole, the loss on the first book caused by advertising is worth the cost.

Gardening ebooks are sold as one-offs. There’s little in the way of a series “cliff-hanger” boost in sales. It is hoped if the first book helps the gardener, they’ll be more likely to buy a second to help solve another problem.

Bottom Line

For me moving forward, Facebook’s utility as an author is clearly an advertising channel and I suspect that’s fine by Facebook.

But, let me pose a question.

If my intent is to sell books, am I better off:

  • paid advertising on Facebook where fans don’t want to be sold to, but entertained or
  • paid advertising on Amazon that’s built for selling books?

Right.

And yes, I’ll likely have more to say on this in the future but for the moment, my Facebook author page is simply one more ad channel for me.

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