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The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  1,322 Ratings  ·  70 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
Brit Cheung
Mar 18, 2016 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
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
Apr 17, 2009 rated it liked it
Dear John (Mearsheimer):

Of all the realists, you suck the least.
Shyam Sundar
Jun 07, 2012 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
Daniel Clausen
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Mearsheimer’s 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 wor
Jun 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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. Democrat ...more
James Murphy
Aug 14, 2014 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
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 need ...more
Jan 28, 2012 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.
Nov 29, 2015 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 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 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
Mar 14, 2016 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
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.
Nguyen Hoang
Apr 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Simon Mould
Feb 17, 2014 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 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 rated it liked it
um...not exactly a fan of offensive realism, me...but it's a good book nonetheless.
This has been one of the most difficult books I’ve 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
Dave Schoettinger
This book should come with one of those warnings that accompany pharmaceutical commercials showing smiling, happy people while the little voice in the background says things like "Stop taking if you have suicidal thoughts" or "side effects sometimes include strange dreams". Some readers will certainly become depressed by this book, in fact, some of the disclaimers Professor Mearsheimer includes suggest that writing the book depressed him. The depressing part of the book is its central thesis tha ...more
Raj Agrawal
Oct 11, 2013 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
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
Oct 19, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good read with a lot of unnecessary fat. The theory and the supporting arguments are interesting to know. If you are good at fast reading, and skipping stuff, this book should be enjoyable.
Apr 23, 2008 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
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
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
Brian Prosser
Jan 13, 2013 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
Dec 31, 2015 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
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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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