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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucid, thoughtful, readable
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...
Published on January 9, 2011 by Robert Spitzer

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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very meh. Get it from the libaray, but don't buy it.
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...
Published on March 15, 2012 by D. H.


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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucid, thoughtful, readable, January 9, 2011
This review is from: Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (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
5.0 out of 5 stars Cornerstone, Not the Whole Building, January 2, 2011
This review is from: Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (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.

Morton Halperin covered this topic better in Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy; Second Edition and one can never go wrong with a close look at Art of Diplomacy: The American Experience. More recently Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (American Empire Project) is helpful.

The book does not render a deeply philosophical look such as provided by Will Durant in both Philosophy and the Social Problem: The Annotated Edition as well as The Lessons of History. It does not get into the nuances of what I call data pathologies and information asymmetries, a foundation domain for Advanced Information Operations (IO) and Cyber-Command (an oxymoron, but comprehensive in intent).

Lies kill one's comrades. Lies are treason. Flag officers and Senior Executive Service officers who go along with political lies for careerism are betraying their Oath to the Constitution. Until we have a cadre of professional leaders that reassert their integrity, political leaders will continue to lie, and the Republic will continue to decline. [Professional leaders lie also; I would court-martial them for doing so--inter-service lies are intramural murder in my view.]

This book is a five for impact, disregard any lesser appreciations.

See also (I only get three more links):
Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush
Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin
House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power

All by books are free online at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog (but better in hard copy from Amazon). My two extensive lists of lists of book reviews do what cannot be done here at Amazon: examine the best of non-fiction across the 98 categories in which I read, one master list focusing on the negatives that are killing us all, the other on the emergent positives. Find them if you wish at PBI under REVIEWS:

Worth a Look: Book Review Lists (Positive)
Worth a Look: Book Review Lists (Negative)
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very meh. Get it from the libaray, but don't buy it., March 15, 2012
This review is from: Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (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! He even at one point says that states that get caught for lying won't have much negative impact once important negotiations come along again, showing there's really no strong justification NOT to lie.

Finally, and this one was really distracting, there were a number of typos throughout the book. They jumped off the pages distracting me from his argument and are peppered throughout. Seriously, Mearsheimer is a respected theorist and academic and this is a professional publication that should have been thoroughly edited. Apparently it was not, and it's embarrassing to see the mistakes. It almost makes me think that all of the people who gave blurbs on the back of the book--including Moises Naim who used to be Editor-in-Chief for Foreign Policy--didn't even give the book a serious read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Executive Summary of US Official Lies., July 24, 2014
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Leaders Lie, March 15, 2013
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This review is from: Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (Hardcover)
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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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A few minor logical fallacies, but still rewarding experience............, July 13, 2013
This review is from: Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (Hardcover)
There are already accurate positive reviews on this book so I won't repeat what others have said accurately.

I'll provide a few minor quibbles so that the readers can get more out of this book.

On page 50;

"The Bush administration actually had solid evidence before the war that Saddam and Bin Laden were not working together."

...and for proof, he wrote;

"As noted, two high-level Al Qaeda operatives captured after September 11 independently told their interrogators that there was no link between the two."

Didn't it occur to him that they could have been lying about it to conceal the link?

...and also, he wrote;

"Moreover, neither the CIA nor the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) could find conclusive evidence of a meaningful link between bin Laden and Saddam before the United States invaded Iraq. Nor was the 9/11 Commission able to uncover evidence of a "collaborative relationship" between those two leaders."

Please notice lack of proof doesn't necessarily mean the existence of disproof.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cornerstone of Politics - ?, February 18, 2012
This review is from: Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (Hardcover)
We have domestic lying lying between states, strategic cover-ups, fear-mongering and nationalist myths (eg. American exceptionalism, 'Its morning in America') What ever happened to the goal of fact-based decision-making?

FDR lied about German attacks on U.S. ships prior to our involvement in WWII, and hid Stalin's tyranny - lest political opponents prevent with with him to defeat Hitler. Mearsheimer calls these 'noble lies' that helped us defeat Hitler. Ergo, not all lies are bad.

Then JFK lied about what really went on in Turkey regarding missiles aimed at the Russians - instead, obviously preferring another lie, that the 'best and the brightest' had backed down the Russians.

Another instance - LBJ and the Gulf of Tonkin incident lie that smoothed the way for declaring war on Vietnam.

Then there's Bush II - lies and inferences about Iraq's involvement in 9/11, acquiring massive amounts of yellow-cake, the U.S. still considering alternatives - after it had decided to attack, and Iraq being near ready to deploy WMD. While Bush II is instead thought of as an incompetent liar, author Mearsheimer cautions us that we'd instead view him as a genius had there been no Iraq insurgency, and democracy now was blooming in the Middle East. (It's too early to judge the 'Arab Spring')

Mearsheimer also contends there's less lying between countries, because these lies are more likely to be found out. Yet, didn't Bush II also lie to the entire world about Iraq? And didn't Hussein lie about WMDs to keep Iran at bay, Kruschev encourage the erroneous perception of a missile gap?

And what about those who want to become leaders - their lies, half-truths, and statements of aspiration as fact dwarf anything imagined by Machiavelli.

Bottom-Line: Political/government lies are extremely dangerous. Surprisingly, the U.S., despite priding itself on openness and democracy, is one of the worst international liars.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars, September 13, 2014
This review is from: Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (Hardcover)
Worth the read; not as in depth as I expected from Professor Mearsheimer based on his other work.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lies, May 5, 2011
By 
G.X. Larson (Southeastern Michigan) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (Hardcover)
John Mearsheimer's short new book is about lying in international politics. In this arena, political/national leaders can lie to other countries' political/national leaders or they can lie to their own constituents. Mearsheimer defines lying as "when a person makes a statement that he knows or suspects to be false in the hope that others will think it is true. A lie is a positive action designed to deceive the target audience". Lying is distinguished from concealment and spinning, where concealment is not a positive action to deceive anyone and where spinning is not about spreading information that a leader knows to be false. So, for example, President Johnson's account of the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a lie, as was President Eisenhower's lie(s) to the Soviets concerning the 1960 U2 incident.

More precisely, Mearsheimer identifies seven different types of international lies: inter-state lies; fearmongering, where leaders try to create support for policies that might be unpopular without lies (think of the Iraq war); strategic cover-ups, where a country tries to cover-up botched policies using lies for the purpose of national, not personal, interest; nationalist mythmaking; liberal lies, where a lie is used to counter accusations that an action is contrary to liberal norms such as international law; social imperialism, which "occurs when leaders tell lies about another country for the purposes of promoting either their own economic or political interests or those of a particular social class or interest group"; and ignoble cover-ups, "when leaders lie about their blunders or unsuccessful policies for self-serving reasons". The last two lies--social imperialism and ignoble cover-ups--are not discussed at length in the book because Mearsheimer is concerned with international lies-for-the-sake-of national interest, not lies for personal gain.

All in all, I suppose this book can help fill in the gaps of the international politics dilettant's bookshelf; but, to echo the sentiments of another Amazon review on this page, much of Mearsheimer's discussion is common sense. I did find it interesting, and contrary to common sense, however, that inter-state lying is relatively uncommon. Even so, this species of lying is not harshly punished by constituents, as they (the constituents) often understand that lies are sometimes necessary in the anarchic international arena. I did not, however, think that "nationalist mythmaking" merited a discussion in the book--at least the way Mearsheimer discussed it--since it was unclear to me how nationalism is a lie in the same sense that the other six lies are.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You will gain rewarding insights, May 3, 2011
This review is from: Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (Hardcover)
Reading this book you will gain rewarding insights into the phenomenon of lying in politics. Author illuminates both types. One is the intentional lying. Why do politicians do this? For a very simple reason: it works! The other type is when a politician is honest when making a promise during the election campaign. When he or she is elected, the reality sets in. Take, for example, a U.S. president. This is the person who, unlike anyone else, is entitled to know everything. So, the president develops a better understanding of the subject at hand. A recent example is the unfulfilled Obama's promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Generally, we, the public, do not fully appreciate the strong objective causes which make things the way they are, especially with regard to those we strongly dislike. Suggesting that leaders often lie for good strategic reasons, the author in effect points to the inability of their subjects to deal with the truths in politics, as well as with the realities of governing in general.
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Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics
Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics by John J. Mearsheimer (Hardcover - January 7, 2011)
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