Robert Jervis, 1940-2021

Professor Robert Jervis

Robert Jervis, born April 30, 1940, in New York City to Herman Jervis, a lawyer, and Dorothy Jervis, a potter, died of lung cancer on December 9, 2021. He was at home, in the presence of Kathe, his wife of 54 years, and his daughters, Alexa and Lisa. He was a husband, father, and grandfather extraordinaire, a giant in his field of International Relations, a mentor to legions of younger scholars, an enthusiastic provider of feedback to university administrators, a museum goer and opera lover, a skilled napper, and a pioneer of the capsule wardrobe. 

Bob had his early education at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, where teachers consistently noted his fine mind and terrible handwriting. In 1958, he departed for the wilds of Oberlin, Ohio, where he fell in with the wrong crowd – a group of future political science professors (and one geneticist). In 1962, he entered the PhD program for Political Science at the University of California at Berkeley, where he distinguished himself by sleeping on a closet shelf and “almost getting arrested” for his activities in the Free Speech Movement. 

By then he had set his life on its most fateful turn when he went on a 1961 student trip to the Soviet Union, where he met Kathe Weil of Denver – they struck up a conversation while refusing to dance at an orientation event, then struck a bargain in which he carried her suitcase, and she carried his typewriter. They married in 1967, and began to raise their family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

They moved to Los Angeles in 1974 to follow Bob’s beloved Dodgers, and incidentally for him to join the faculty of the University of California at Los Angeles. There he wrote seminal books and articles, and won a Halloween costume party by wearing a Brooks Brothers suit. In 1980, he and his family moved back to New York and he taught at Columbia University for the rest of his life.

Bob’s productivity was legendary, as was his support of younger scholars and colleagues. His professional accomplishments and his scholarly influence are too vast to summarize. Among the highlights: the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, election to the American Philosophical Society, and election to the National Academy of Sciences. His doctoral dissertation is still in print. 

He is survived by his wife, daughters Alexa (Greg Racz) and Lisa (Jay Schwartz), grandsons Daniel and Joshua Racz, step-grandson Ezra Schwartz, brother Steven (Susan Weltman), sister-in-law Zarine Weil, nephews  Aaron Weil (Linda Perry), Darius Weil, and niece Delna Weil.

Please click here to access the tribute by Professor Keren Yarhi-Milo and Dean Thomas Christensen that was published in Foreign Affairs.

Please click here to access the tribute published by the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies.

Please click here to access Professor Jervis's March 2020 essay "How I Got Here," published in H-Diplo's essay series on Learning the Scholar's Craft: Reflections of Historians and International Relations Scholars.