Cornell University Press

Robert Jervis, 1940-2021

Return to Home

Bob Jervis, the Adlai E. Stevenson Professor and Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, died on December 9, 2021. For Cornell University Press he was author, series editor, adviser, reviewer, and the best of friends. Roger Haydon, formerly executive editor at the Press, worked with him for a quarter-century.


Publishing at university presses depends on peer review. Authors and editors see the review system as all too often a chore, a delay, an inconvenience, but properly executed it results in stronger arguments, more reliable evidence, and better books. At its best, it’s an expression of selflessness and generosity on the part of the referees, who devote untold hours to improving the work of colleagues, and do so anonymously.

Bob knew as much as anyone, and more than almost all, in his various areas of expertise.

Editors cherish rare reviewers like Bob Jervis who invest wholeheartedly in the enterprise. The combination of virtues he possessed doesn’t hold many surprises. The reviewer needs to know the topic area, and Bob knew as much as anyone, and more than almost all, in his various areas of expertise: intelligence, nuclear politics and strategy, political psychology, political history, international relations theory…. The reviewer needs to be engaged, and Bob’s reviews were detailed, knowledgeable, and supremely helpful to authors who wanted to improve their work. How he understood so much about so much never ceased to surprise me; many of his reviews ran eight pages or more, and further bibliographical suggestions would often turn up in my email box in the days following receipt of the original review. The reviewer needs to be prompt, and Bob would regularly deliver reviews in ten days or two weeks—his reliability was a boon to nervous authors as well as to the editor who needed to manage their often pressing and always time-consuming concerns.

Robert Jervis
Adlai E. Stevenson Professor and Professor of International and Public Affairs

Such reviewers build a strong sense of the community of scholarship, of the mutuality of the enterprise. Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, the series Bob and his long-time friend and collaborator Bob Art established at Cornell University Press in the 1980s, is the practical expression of that sense of community, both in the academy and in its wider engagement with topics and arguments of critical public importance. Through demanding and engaged reviews, the two Bobs developed an editorial culture of excellence that continues to shape both an academic field of study and broader conversations about questions of security and international relations.

Bob Jervis in his turn benefited from the expectation of exacting reviews that he established as a community standard. I worked with him on his Why Intelligence Fails. A wonderful basic idea: Bob had written a commissioned report on intelligence failure at CIA around the fall of the Shah of Iran, and combined the declassified document (and internal Agency reactions to it) with his careful reading of the purported evidence that Iraq was working on weapons of mass destruction before the US invasion of 2003. The draft manuscript was intriguing but fragmented. A demanding review from a senior scholar, whose own book had received a Jervis review years earlier, provoked a transformation from a collection of conceptual and archival shards to a strongly event-focused book with a powerful argument about intelligence and its deployment. Bob made no complaint on receiving the review, and he did not gripe about the extra work it demanded. He welcomed the reviewer’s smart engagement: he buckled down with his normal diligence and prodigious energy, and produced the book that Cornell published in 2010. The result was a work that has been influential and widely praised.

I had the pleasure of working with Bob Jervis on the series for better than two decades. He was generous with me, as he was with would-be authors, and his modest demeanor and extraordinary insights gave me a model against which to measure scholarly achievement. It was an honor to work with him, and with his death the world is a smaller and less interesting place.


Roger M. Haydon recently retired from Cornell University Press as Executive Editor and he sponsored the much-lauded book series, Cornell Studies in Security Affairs.

Book Finder