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The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

3.90  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,021 Ratings  ·  58 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
A long, heavily theoretical (social science) modelling of powers and great powers. Mearsheimer, who is quite brilliant, is a Realist, and argues for offensive realism as opposed to defensive realism. In offensive realism, nations of necessity seek to maximize their power at any cost, and must seek hegemony -- and thus war is always inevitable. In defensive realism, country simply seek to survive, and will seek a balance. Though I admire Mearsheimer's intelligence, I find a theoretical-modelling ...more
Brit Cheung
May 01, 2016 Brit Cheung rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ir-studies
Well, Eloquent as the narrative is , a large proportion of Mr John. Mearsheimer's aggressive realism theory cannot be applied to the 21st century.

Personally I am not inclined to subject to his theory which reminds me of the Dark Forests laws involved in a si-fi book Three Body Problems in which a rather bleak prospect will be presented for everyone. Just cannot imagine such things shall occur. Will detail the reasons and analysis about the book soon.

Mr Mearsheimer wants to validate his theory b
Shyam Sundar
Dec 17, 2012 Shyam Sundar rated it really liked it
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
Apr 17, 2009 Blamb009 rated it liked it
Dear John (Mearsheimer):

Of all the realists, you suck the least.
Nov 28, 2014 Shawn rated it really liked it
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
James Murphy
May 22, 2015 James Murphy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 14, 2016 Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
outstanding theory on how to view the interactions of great powers/countries.

through this theory no confusion will remain as to what the hell is going on in international politics.

like why do we make this trade deal with so-and-so country when they hate us?
why do we support this civil war and not that one?
why did we sign this treaty and not that one?
why are we at war with this country and not that one?
why did the cold war happen?
why does italy suck so much?

he comes in like a wrecking ball on con
Feb 05, 2016 Louis rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Mearsheimer’s The Tragedy of Great Power Politics offers a rebuttal to Francis Fukuyama’s theory about the “end of history”, offering a theory of “offensive realism.” Instead of viewing the collapse of the Soviet Union as ushering in an unprecedented era of peace, Mearsheimer suggests we should be cautious: multipolar worlds are more likely to descend into violence and war than other arrangements of international systems. Furthermore the actions of states and driven primarily by self-intere ...more
Nov 07, 2011 Brian rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-history
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
Nov 09, 2007 Chris rated it it was ok
Shelves: extemp
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
The Tragedy of Great Power Politics is a treatise by John J. Mearsheimer on a major branch of realist theory of international relations that he calls offensive realism. Realism has several main postulates: that states are the main actors in international relations (more specifically, "great powers" are the main actors in an anarchic international system), all states have some offensive military capabilities, states can never be sure about each other's intentions or offensive capabilities, and st ...more
Dec 31, 2015 Samy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
يقدم الدكتور ميرشايمر نظرية جديدة فى السياسة الدولية تنتمى للمدرسة الواقعية تسمى بالواقعية الهجومية ويحاول فى كتأبه تأطير نظريته وتأصيلها وفى أثناء ذلك يوضح المفاهيم التى استخدمها ولماذا، ثم يعرض نظريته على السجل التاريخى للقوى العظمى بين عامى 1792 - 2000 ثم ينتقل فى الفصل الأخير لمحاولة وضع تنبؤ للعقدين التاليين بناء على نظريته
الكتاب مفيد بشكل عام لكن حكمى عليه منقوص لأنى غير متخصص وهم أفضل من يقوموا بالحكم على هذا الكتاب لكن بناءا على ما ورد فى الفصل الأخير من تنبؤات أستطيع أن أقول أن النظرية
Feb 01, 2012 Will rated it really liked it
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
Aug 18, 2014 Adam Petrikovič rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war-studies
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.
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
Michael Griswold
The title of this review is the bottom line of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics by John Mearsheimer. The central point is not that hard to grasp that the structure of the international system makes conflict between great powers inevitable. But the way he goes about both setting up and giving evidence for his theory, may bend the reader in so many different directions that great power war or the fear of great power war becomes an absolute certainty.

I hold a Master’s degree in Political Science
Simon Mould
Feb 17, 2014 Simon Mould rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
A must read for those that want a realist perspective on the lessons of history that can be appropriated to IR theory.
Oct 14, 2007 Adrian rated it really liked it
An essential guide to great power politics in the 20th century. Do not apply to the 21st century.
Jan 17, 2011 Elena rated it liked it
um...not exactly a fan of offensive realism, me...but it's a good book nonetheless.
Raj Agrawal
Oct 13, 2013 Raj Agrawal rated it it was ok
Shelves: saass-books
[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
Apr 23, 2008 Billy rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-history, theory
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
Jan 13, 2013 Brian Prosser rated it really liked it
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
Jan 31, 2014 Nate Huston rated it really liked it
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.
Nahyara Lacerda
Dec 07, 2015 Nahyara Lacerda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great book for those who wants a better understanding about Offensive Realism and how this theory explains the States behavior in the international system.

Great read to students of International Relations.
Jan 24, 2016 Brittany rated it it was amazing
This was really useful for my area of study, and the cases provided really illuminated Mearsheimer's arguments.
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.
Feb 11, 2016 Dwayne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A clear, well-organized, and convincing case for offensive realism. Mearsheimer makes his points
Apr 08, 2015 Derek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: must-read
I don't agree with the conclusions of the book, but its a must read for anyone interested in realist theory.
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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.
More about John J. Mearsheimer...

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