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Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics 1st Edition

15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199758739
ISBN-10: 0199758735
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Editorial Reviews


Acclaim for <em>Why Leaders Lie</em>:

"Entertaining and well-written...this is a short and punchy book with a lot of lists and observations.... On its own terms, this book is an attempt to start a conversation about how lying operates in international politics. In that respect, it succeeds admirably, and contains a number of important avenues for future research."
--<em>International Affairs</em>

"Mearsheimer is one of the most prominent, productive and imaginative scholars in the realist school of international relations. In this brief, highly instructive volume he discusses how and why leaders have used deception, dissembling and outright lying in pursuit of foreign policy goals."
--<em>The RUSI Journal</em>

"Myth-makers beware! Writing with verve and economy, John Mearsheimer breaks new ground in exposing this hot-button issue to systematic scrutiny."
--Jack Snyder, Professor of International Relations, Columbia University

"Is lying in international politics a shameful behavior or a useful tool of statecraft? When is it good for leaders to lie to their own people? Is there too much--or too little--lying in international politics? John Mearsheimer answers these and other similarly explosive questions with the boldness and originality for which he is so well known. This is an insightful essay by one of the world's most provocative thinkers. A fascinating read."
--Moisés Naím, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and former Editor-in-Chief, <em>Foreign Policy</em>

"This path-breaking study of lying in international politics is full of surprises. World leaders can lie to each other without suffering grave consequences, but they do it far less often than we might suppose. However, when leaders lie to their own publics about foreign policy conduct, significant damage can result--particularly in democracies. John Mearsheimer categorizes the various types of lies and weighs the risks of undertaking them in this insightful analysis that is so relevant to our times."
--James F. Hoge, Jr., Chairman, Human Rights Watch, and former Editor, <em>Foreign Affairs</em>

"In this fascinating little book, John J. Mearsheimer argues that lying about foreign policy is an intrinsic part of the democratic way of life. This is an important message for those members of democratic publics who wish to avoid being bamboozled by their leaders."
--Robert O. Keohane, Professor of Public and International Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

John J. Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science and the co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago. His books include The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, which won the Joseph Lepgold Book Prize, and New York Times bestseller The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, which has been translated into nineteen languages.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (January 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199758735
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199758739
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 0.7 x 5.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #880,388 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Robert Spitzer on January 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Mearsheimer's new book is a much-needed think piece on lying that accomplishes two very different tasks: first, providing an analytical framework (he calls it a "theoretical template") for subsequent research on this self-evidently important yet neglected topic; second, providing a clearly written exegesis on lying that is utterly accessible to the average reader. Who would have assumed, for example, that lying between nations is rare, whereas lying by democratic governments to their own people is more common by comparison? In a time when self-made complexity and obscurity is too readily mistaken for insight, one cannot help but admire the crystalline clarity of Mearsheimer's superb little book.
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37 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
By no stretch should this book be dismissed as a three. While I might normally have gone with a four, I am settling on five for balance and because the author not only covers an extraordinarily important topic in a sensible measured way, but his endnotes are another book all by themselves--I recommend all readers start there.

Where the author falls short is in lacking a strategic analytic construct for measuring the true costs of lying in blood, treasure, and spirit. He tends to ascribe pure motives to leaders (for example, not at all confronting the raw fact that Dick Cheney committed 23 documented impeachable acts (see my review of Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency for the itemization) and Dick Cheney also led the telling of 935 documented lies best covered by TruthDig but also in Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq.

The book disconnects grand strategy (global engagement) from domestic prosperity in a manner I find disconcerting, and while the author is most able in documenting the costs to a democracy of lies to the public, I do not see nor feel the deeper reality: lies destroy the Commonwealth. Lies allow a two-party tyranny to sell out to the Arabs (not just the Israelis), to Wall Street--lies permit the mortgage clearinghouse fraud, the derivatives fraud, and the Federal Reserve fraud on the one hand, while also fooling the public into a national security policy that is clinically insane, catastrophically costly, and ultimately a self-inflicted wound that could be fatal.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By D. H. on March 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Bottom line up front: Don't bother buying it, it would be a waste. Get it from the library or used for under $5 and you can finish reading it in one sitting. He's basically telling you things that you already know, just in a structured way.

Given that Mearsheimer is a heavy hitter in the IR field, I expected more. The premise of the book is interesting, though the ideas are not nearly thought out enough to warrant an entire book. The "meat" of the book is only about 100 (tiny) pages and within that he repeats himself constantly. It really seems as though he took what should be a 15 page essay and fluffed it up with a bunch of WWII examples he knew off the top of his head and an intro and conclusion that does nothing to add to the analysis of the topic.

Some of his points also don't come across very strong. He outlines a number of cases in which leaders lie, both to their own constituents, but also to other states. That part is logical, though his "proof," which is basically a couple of anecdotes, don't back it up much. However, one of his claims is that states don't often lie to one another--a strong claim at first glance. He admits that he had assumed just the opposite, that leaders lie to other leaders all the time in international politics, but that he was proven wrong during his research. After reading it, I'm still not sold. In fact, he spends a substantial amount of time giving a handful of cases in which leaders DO lie to one another (like Soviet Union exaggerating how many missiles it had, or during treaty negotiation, or in preparation for a war). After reading all of his outlines for this, I'm more convinced that leaders lie to one another all the time!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By fjness on July 24, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Mearsheimer takes a cursory look at lying in international politics. He provides examples of lies and then develops categories to describe the types of lies told by leaders. I think he wrote the book to catch the attention of the American public following the 2003 invasion of Iraq and does a good job of explaining that lying should be expected when leaders want war. The book would have made a great foreign affairs article, but a more in depth study would have improved the strength of his thesis.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By William A. Harris, Jr. on March 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a public relations professional it really hepls one understand the spin that politicians and those trying to manipulate public opinion use the techniques described in the book.
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Format: Paperback
A Stunning Exercise in Academic Doubletalk

From the title, “Why Leaders Lie,” I was looking forward to a discussion of the countless whoppers America and the world have been treated to over the last 20 odd years. However, the first warning signs appeared in the subtitle, “The Truth About Lying in International Politics.” The warnings continued, beginning with the first sentence of the Preface where the author reports that this project started with a call from the New York Times.

What follows is an assemblage of anecdotes held together with confusing, contradictory mumbo jumbo. The author claims that after researching the topic he was surprised to find out how little nations lie to each other. Ok, then why bother writing a book about the infrequent exceptions to this newly discovered rule? On the contrary he notes that, particularly in democracies, leaders are more likely to lie to their own people. Ok, then why not write about that? Oh no, he insists, his concern is in the international realm. Nonetheless he devotes considerable space discussing domestic lies. Huh?

The entire book is free of any context, as if lies are something otherwise well meaning leaders occasionally manufacture on the spot to bamboozle their targets. I do not recall seeing the word “propaganda” in the 93 pages I suffered through, nor do I see it in the index. It is unimaginable to me that someone could seriously discuss government lies without an examination of the systematic brainwashing that is the fiber and marrow of contemporary “news” as managed by our political leaders.

Any risk the author takes of giving offense to officialdom ends with the title. The one contemporary example he cites of official lying neatly fits the mantra “Bush Lied People Died.
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