The Games of July

Explaining the Great War
Frank C. Zagare

How an unwanted war erupted and spiraled into one of the most devastating conflicts in history


Taking advantage of recent advances in game theory and the latest historiography, Frank C. Zagare offers a new, provocative interpretation of the events that led to the outbreak of World War I. He analyzes key events from Bismarck's surprising decision in 1879 to enter into a strategic alliance with Austria-Hungary to the escalation that culminated in a full-scale global war. Zagare concludes that, while the war was most certainly unintended, it was in no sense accidental or inevitable.

The Games of July serves not only as an analytical narrative but also as a work of theoretical assessment. Standard realist and liberal explanations of the Great War are evaluated along with a collection of game-theoretic models known as perfect deterrence theory.

Cover illustration: Satirical Italian postcard from World War I. Used with permission from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries.

Frank C. Zagare is UB Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Praise / Awards

  • "Seldom does one see a game-theoretic approach as carefully applied to a series of distinct but related decisions. Those applications give new light to the puzzling decisions of 1914. Zagare's theory allows us to understand the beginnings of World War I from a different and unified perspective while also challenging more traditional approaches to international relations."
    —Glenn Palmer, Penn State

  • "Frank C. Zagare combines a deep command of historical scholarship and the sophisticated skills of an applied game theorist to develop and test a theory of why deterrence failed, catastrophically, in July 1914.  His compelling conclusion is that the outbreak of World War I was no unfortunate accident but, instead, was fueled by rational decision-makers caught up in predicaments they could not escape.  Zagare concludes with sage advice on how to avoid even more cataclysmic breakdowns in a nuclear world."
    —Steven J. Brams, New York University

  • "Zagare's deft study of the origins of the First World War using his perfect deterrence theory uncovers new insights into that signal event and shows the value of formal theory applied to historical events.  A must-read for those interested in security studies."
    —James D. Morrow, University of Michigan

  • "Through an exemplary combination of formal theory, careful qualitative analysis, and lucid prose, The Games of July delivers important and interesting answers to key questions concerning the international political causes of World War I. Its well-formed narratives and its sustained engagement with leading works in IR and diplomatic history—on the specific origins of the Great War as well as broader problems of alliance politics, coercive diplomacy, and war causation—make it a rewarding read for security scholars in general and a useful teaching tool for international security courses."
    —Timothy W. Crawford, Boston College

  • "The Games of July seamlessly integrates formally derived insights and outstanding historiography.  This careful analysis marries formal deductions with detailed historical analysis to show how a series of interrelated decisions led to the catastrophic Great War. With brilliant consistency Zagare demonstrates how early decisions conditioned the buildup to a war that was neither intended nor inevitable.  This is a must-read for historians and political scientists concerned with steps to war.  For practitioners dealing with crisis this is a primer that can detect and help avoid undesired escalation."
    —Jacek Kugler, Claremont Graduate University

  • "The two Zagare books would make a good combination for graduate students."
    Choice, C.K Butler, University of New Mexico

  • "A common critique of game-theoretic work in international relations is that it is often not connected to the empirical world that it is meant to explain. By combining a sophisticated model with detailed historical analysis, The Games of July does a nice job of showing that this does not need to be the case."
    Perspectives on Politics

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Copyright © 2011, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 226pp.
  • 14 Figures, 12 Tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2011
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07116-6

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  • $94.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2011
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05116-8

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  • $36.95 U.S.

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