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The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  774 ratings  ·  44 reviews
A decade after the cold war ended, policy makers and academics foresaw a new era of peace and prosperity, an era in which democracy and open trade would herald the "end of history." The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, sadly shattered these idyllic illusions, and John Mearsheimer's masterful new book explains why these harmonious visions remain utopian. To Mearshei ...more
Paperback, 576 pages
Published January 17th 2003 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2001)
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Mearsheimer is the recent practitioner of a tradition of IR 'realism' which is related to the theoreticians E. H. Carr, Henry Morgenthau, and Kenneth Waltz, though he differs from all of these. His view is called 'offensive realism', which says that the anarchic state system leads to aggressive behavior in international politics. Other states are forced to adopt this set of aggressive behaviors in order to survive.

In Mearsheimer's view, Power is the only thing that matters. This largely means mi
Shyam Sundar
Dec 17, 2012 Shyam Sundar rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone who is interested in international politics and war
As a part of my International Relations course last semester, I did an assignment on John Mearsheimer’s contribution to the discipline. I read his book “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics” and I was thoroughly impressed by his arguments. He calls his theory “offensive realism”, in opposition to Kenneth Waltz’s “defensive realism”, although both belong to the school of “structural realism”. Mearsheimer gives the basic assumptions of the realist theory -

The international system of states is anarc
Dear John (Mearsheimer):

Of all the realists, you suck the least.
James Murphy
We tend to be enthusiastic about books which offer ideas you already hold, books which reinforce your way of thinking. So it's no surprise that I liked John Mearsheimer's The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. He articulates what I have for years thought is the true nature of international relations.

The book is a long argument for Mearsheimer's theory about what drives the relations between nations. He calls it offensive realism, his theory that the collection of the world's great powers is an an
I was old enough to remember the apocalyptic prognostications of WWIII with Mad Max and Terminator movies. After fall of the Berlin Wall fell and collapse of the Soviet Union, I bought into the "End of History" euphoria. I thought that democracies have triumphed and authoritarians' days were numbered. Realism seemed too cynical and pessimistic at the time. My main of objection to realism was that it didn't give enough weight to the internal traits of a state in determining its behavior. Democrat ...more
John Mearshieimer presents an excellent theory in the form of offensive realism that stands up to close scrutiny in his book the Tragedy of Great Power Politics. By clearly laying out his definitions of what state goals are and how he measures power he makes a compelling case for regional hegemony and the stopping power of water. By utilizing several case studies to prove his theory the points are well made. His analysis of military power is very interesting and well done.

It is hard to find good
This is a restatement and working out of the Realist school of international relations, which dictates that military power and security competition dictates all relations between states, and that power logic determines everything. It's a good explanation of both the theory itself and the consequences thereof, though the historical examples are a little tiresome in places. It is not however a good defense of the basic assumptions of realism; they're taken as given, and rely on the last 200 years ...more
Mearsheimer's writing is extremely clear and his arguments are assertively made. However, he cherry-picks from the historical record and distorts even the examples he chooses to make his point. Even conceding that he's right about state behavior during WWII (which he isn't), he is incapable of conceiving of how nuclear weapons have changed world politics. He maintains that the great powers will once again go to war even though it has been 70 years and his prediction has yet to come to fruition. ...more
Daniel Simmons
In a 1992 campaign speech, then-candidate William Jefferson Clinton told his audience, "In a world where freedom, not tyranny, is on the march, the cynical calculus of pure power politics simply does not compute. It is ill-suited to a new era." This kind of rhetoric is wishful thinking, according to Mearsheimer -- and he spends 500+ pages outlining why. I appreciated the wealth of historical detail and the organization of this book, and I can't help but admire the author's chutzpah in taking on ...more
An essential guide to great power politics in the 20th century. Do not apply to the 21st century.
um...not exactly a fan of offensive realism, me...but it's a good book nonetheless.
Raj Agrawal
[Disclaimer: This is a snapshot of my thoughts on this book after just reading it. This is not meant to serve as a summary of main/supporting points or a critique – only as some words on how I engaged with this book for the purposes of building a theoretical framework on strategy.]

Mearsheimer, clearly a student of history, presents what I view as a Jominian theory of international politics. He distinguishes his “offensive realism” as a more applicable theory than Waltz’s structural realism, or
In The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, University of Chicago professor of political science John Mearsheimer lays out his definition of “offensive realism.” Steeped in the realist side of international relations theory, offensive realism does not promote the idea that nations seek to maintain the status quo (as defensive realists maintain). Instead, Mearsheimer proposes a few simple points that define his offensive realism. First, great powers continually and actively attempt to gain global heg ...more
Brian Prosser
Mearsheimer writes about offensive realism, his theory of international politics. He specifically deals with great power relations, relating potential power to a state's population and wealth, and actual power which he ties directly to land power --- the army. He includes a fairly exhaustive list of major conflicts, mainly using England, France, Germany, Russia and the U.S ---- with a bit of Japan, Italy and Austria- Hungary thrown in as well. Mearsheimer considers other, more liberal theories a ...more
Nate Huston
You can't mitigate the security dilemma! Stop trying! Disregard all else and acquire all the power! Mearsheimer is the keeper of the offensive realist's flame. Just about the only guy anywhere close to the structural realism laid out by Waltz. He may violate his rationality assumption, but his writing is straightforward, easy to understand, and overall a refreshing change from the norm in today's IR great books world.
Simon Mould
A must read for those that want a realist perspective on the lessons of history that can be appropriated to IR theory.
John Mearsheimer expertly outlines and applies classical realist theory about the world. He discusses the impacts of having a powerful military and what the nuclear option does for countries. However, I was astonished to find out that this book was written AFTER the cold war. Much of what he talks about is old, outdated, and does not reflect the current state of international affairs. The times are changing and this old way of thinking needs to be eliminated.
I don't agree with the conclusions of the book, but its a must read for anyone interested in realist theory.
Dan Stefanus
Fabulous narrative about the causes of the strife which characterizes the relations of powerful nation-states. The combination of theory and example provides for an exemplary method of illustrating his positions on why governments act against each other and to what extent. I strongly recommend this book to all students of International Relations and War. Truly a seminal work.
Great book, great introduction to the theory of international relations. It adequately illustrates the role of anarchy and power distributions in international relations. It also shows the reader what it is that IR theorists actually do. Mearsheimer explains the fundamentals of realism while adding to the theory by exploring the nature and role of offensive strategies.
Matt Ely
A real tome, but ultimately a convincing a deeply-researched look into the nature of interactions between powerful countries. The logic depends less on ideology and more on what is essentially true of all states, that is, the quest for a kind of hegemony. Very clear formula for what states do and what states ought to do in terms of international conflict.
I read this book for my Poli Sci capstone course, and actually really enjoyed it. It gives a very interesting take on the great powers both old, new, and to come. Certainly an "easier" read than most to explain the game of power politics in the world, looking at both the past as well as the future.
Brilliant. It's a pity so much specious vitriol has been directed at Mearsheimer in the wake of the Israel Lobby book, as it's doubtless swayed some away from this -- as clearheaded an assessment of our present position as I've recently read. Highly recommended.
Adam Petrikovič
Brilliant! This book is a useful historical analysis of great power politics. Written in 2001, Mearsheimer explains the mechanics that govern the international system and predicts the developments of the past decade with astonishing accuracy.
Let us all hope that humanity isn't so cold and calculatingly predictable as Mearsheimer advocates, otherwise we have no reason to hope for a world with less conflict. But if he is right, at least it will make international relations simple.
Jan 25, 2009 Jerometed marked it as to-read
The international system is anarchical
States are rational
States have survival as their primary goal

I thought this up on mushrawms my sophomore year, i am genius; ganus who adds 13 books to his too read for every 1/3 book read
Jeffrey Mervosh
May 01, 2008 Jeffrey Mervosh rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Political Scientists
I did think this was a better attempt at Structural Realist theory than Walt or Waltz offered, though in the end I felt it had the same weakness - that theory can never fully explain the complexity of the world in which we live.
Insightful book with well thought out analysis. It makes a strong argument for linking economic wealth to military power and the potential for future military conflict between China and Anerica
I wrote a paper on offensive realism, so I needed this. It was meh, obviously dry IR stuff. It was an interesting theory with plenty of holes and possible counter examples.
Piotr Pietrzak
Top ten books every student of international relations should read

by Piotr Pietrzak
Author of the prospects for humanitarian intervention in Syria
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John J. Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science and codirector of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago.
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