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The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  1,896 ratings  ·  103 reviews
The update of this classic treatise on the behavior of great powers takes a penetrating look at the question likely to dominate international relations in the twenty-first century: Can China rise peacefully? To John J. Mearsheimer, great power politics are tragic because the anarchy of the international system requires states to seek dominance at one another s expense, ...more
Paperback, Updated Edition, 592 pages
Published April 7th 2014 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 2001)
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Dear John (Mearsheimer):

Of all the realists, you suck the least.
Brit Cheung
Mar 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 19, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Wissam Raji
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
A very interesting book about great power politics and how governments either cooperate or confront each other to keep the balance of power. The book discusses different strategies of confrontation, containment or cooperation. Many good historical examples of buck-passing, bloodletting, and containment are given with concentration on WWI and WWII. The theory of the balance of power from an offensive realist point of view is discussed and many examples are given starting from the 17th century ...more
Daniel Clausen
I read this book side by side with Buzan and Waever's Regions and Powers. The books is a good one and stands on its own, but comes up short in comparison to Buzan and Waever's work.

The oddest feature of Mearsheimers book is that he speaks about geopolitics as if it was the 1930s, the nineteenth, or even the eighteenth century. In essence what Mearsheimer calls offensive realism is nothing more than continental realism or the realism born in 18th century Europe. Just like Buzan and Waever's
Jan 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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. ...more
Feb 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
As much as I liked this book, it was a flashback to my masters studies. It was a challenging read (audiobook in my case) because you had to stop and think, process, and analyze everything every step of the way. ...more
Michael Gerald
Mar 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Dr. Mearsheimer is one of the leading figures in the school of international relations that is realism. This book again provides realism's arguments on the anarchic nature of international relations and the primacy of the interests of states.
James Murphy
Aug 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics-ir
WHY IS THE GLASS so half-empty? Because, Mearsheimer tells us, structure of the world makes it so. There is no hierarchy (no world sheriff), states can hurt each-other, and cannot be certain of one another's intentions, current or future. So to survive, for a rational actor, is to become more powerful; powerful enough that no other state can challenge them. But here is the thing: by acquiring relative power, states unbalance the international system. Unbalanced system is not stable; someone ...more
Nov 09, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
It feels out of touch nowadays to consider a social or political theory that is still mainly rooted in the 20th century framework. Reading this book was no exception. The thesis argument is compelling, and at first glance, it makes one wants to dive in deeper over what Mearsheimer wants to convey. As I read further in, however, the heavy Western-centric examples of IR during the Napoleonic Era and the First and Second World Wars, makes me cringe. If nothing, it is harder to utilize his theory in ...more
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
The fairly astute reasoning applied to national self-interest to the anarchy of world affairs that leads to struggle among powers and strategies for the growth of power and control by dominant states and their various policies to further the quest for growing control. It gets specific based on factors like resources and geography of various powers and how it makes for the planning of all the players. It assumes that states are always rational actors until say a demagogue takes over one of them ...more
Eileen Ying
Feb 09, 2019 rated it did not like it
possibly one of the worst books i've ever read, written by a white man who probably had way too much fun concocting military strategy and imagining mass destruction. here is the premise encapsulated in a single sentence: "states should behave according to the dictates of offensive realism, because it outlines the best way to survive in a dangerous world" (11). basically he's saying that it's perfectly rational and reasonable for states to seek hegemony. and that china and the US will soon be ...more
[Used this as a textbook for university. I'm not going to rate it since I didn't read it for fun but I wanted to count it because I had to read all of it.]
Nov 29, 2015 rated it liked it
John Mearsheimers The Tragedy of Great Power Politics offers a rebuttal to Francis Fukuyamas 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-interest and ...more
Nov 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: on-bookshelf
He makes some very good points, but for the most part he does not really make a good theory that revolves around world politics as he basically disregards three continents and only really focuses on about four countries. He tends to conveniently forget a lot of facts and a lot of history, and oversimplifies events so that it fits his theory.
Nguyen Hoang
Apr 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
The theory itself may still have many flaws, but overall it's a good overview of international relationship over the last three century. Quite easy to read and those who love history would definitely find this book interesting.
Adam Petrikovič
Oct 14, 2013 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.
Oct 14, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An essential guide to great power politics in the 20th century. Do not apply to the 21st century.
Simon Mould
Feb 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A must read for those that want a realist perspective on the lessons of history that can be appropriated to IR theory.
Casper R
Oct 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
Too simplistic theory for a complex world.
Jan 17, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
um...not exactly a fan of offensive realism, me...but it's a good book nonetheless.
This is a sobering analysis, based on extensive research of the history of great powers between 1792 and 2000, of what drives "great powers" (i.e., countries like the U.S., Russia, and China at the present time, and countries like the U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Austro-Hungary in times past). The author's premise is that "offensive realism" is the driving force and the theory that determines how countries will behave.

Offensive realism, according to the author, paints a gloomy picture:
This has been one of the most difficult books Ive read in a long time. That is not to say that the writing is bad at all. The writing and organization are slightly dry and academic, but overall the Mearsheimer accomplished his stated goal of writing so as to be able to communicate with and inform a broad spectrum of the public. Nor are his arguments poorly written. He makes a pretty compelling case for his paradigm: that states are compelled by their central motive of security in an inherently ...more
Paul O'Leary
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I could swear I bought this book in the summer of '01 in Cambridge. Maybe I'm romanticizing it. Well, it's sat on my self until the summer of '17, so, you might well ask, what the hell happened to the romance? In truth, this was very much a book of its time. By its time, I'm referring to the pre- 9/11 world. The world and age after communism fell. A new zeitgeist offered itself which prophesied that governments were soon to be moribund, or next to pointless; that corporations would be society's ...more
Dennis Murphy
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Political Scientists, Historians, and Policy Makers
Recommended to Dennis by: Several Faculty
The Tragedy of Great Power Politics by John J Mearsheimer is a book of extremes. It is the logical conclusion of five presumptions on how to view international relations:

1. International system is anarchic, no one to govern governments.
2. States have inherent offensive capability.
3. States cannot know another states intentions.
4. Survival is the primary goal of nations.
5. Great powers are rational actors.

This in turn creates a pattern of behavior that nations undertake in order to best
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John J. Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. His many books include Conventional Deterrence. He lives in Chicago, IL.

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