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The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy
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The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  1,412 ratings  ·  146 reviews

The first full account of how the Cold War arms race finally came to a close, this riveting narrative history sheds new light on the people who struggled to end this era of massive overkill, and examines the legacy of the nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons that remain a threat today.

Drawing on memoirs, interviews in both Russia and the US
Paperback, 577 pages
Published August 3rd 2010 by Anchor (first published January 1st 2009)
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This book was a fantastic recounting of the Cold War. It was extremely factual, and did well in citing all of the sources for each piece of information and story that made this book non-fiction.

I always found the Cold War as this mysterious time period where we somehow miraculously avoided nuclear annihilation by coming up with Mutually Assured Destruction. However, Hoffman really gives us an in-depth and intimate look at how MAD came about. I was left intrigued as I learned about what the Dead
Chad Sayban
The second half of the twentieth century will always be defined by what became known as The Cold War. Born out of the distrust between the major allied powers in the Second World War, the standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States not only gave shape to the modern world, it also created two weapons building programs unrivaled in history. Ultra secret programs that produced weapons that are too horrifying to imagine and created consequences for those who chose to create them. And whi ...more
I'll admit I picked this up because I am a fan of nuke porn. I grew up reading the surprisingly subtle On the Beach, the over-written, over-sexed The Last Ship, and the ridiculous Ian Slater series WW III. On television, I was thrilled by The Day After (I've never seen Steve Guttenberg the same, since). I even downloaded On Thermonuclear War, just to see what precautions I could take (step one: don't get into a thermonuclear war; there is no step two).

Some months ago, I read an article on the o
Nick Black
Great reporting and research -- I'd barely heard of the Biopreparat, despite The Doomsday Men's emphasis on biochem (particularly Shirō Ishii's Unit 731). Pretty crappy writing, though. The whole thing has a definite air of being hustled together on a bunch of adderall.
The Cold War seems both so recent and so long ago. This book brought back memories of the day to day events and the feelings they engendered. It was a fascinating summary of the diplomacy that brought down Communism in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. The back and forth of arms negotiations which did result in a reduction of nuclear weapons were revealing. Gorbachev come across as the major hero (at least to me) for being willing to make major changes in his system of government, though he s ...more
Glenn Hyman
Excellent book! The cold war is very much still with us. Still, Americans or Russians could send up their missiles and really the only possible responses are massive retaliation and doing nothing. I must say that I understand a little bit better the motivation of Ronald Reagan. He could not believe that if the Russians were to send up their missiles, there is not really much that we can do. That was behind the whole Star Wars thing. He wanted some way to protect us from a Soviet first strike, fo ...more
A chilling account of how close the world came to nuclear catastrophe during the Cold War and also a fascinating account of how the Cold War ended. Very interesting on the dynamics of the Reagan-Gorbachev relationship and also the whole parallel worlds of the US and Soviet Union and their perceptions of each other. Most worryingly it has details of the appalling biological weapons programs the Soviets pursued right up to the end and beyond of the Cold War in contravention of treaties they had si ...more
Incredible book! An absolute must read for sure. Presents enough well researched background to create significant concern about the possibility both weaponized BW/CW stocks remain in Russia and the expertise/capability remains to make more. With Putin's actions over the last decade, it is clear the world has much to be concerned about with respect to the future actions of the Russian Federation.
So...When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union “an evil empire”, it turns out he was actually on to something. In his excruciatingly-researched examination of Cold War politics, David E. Hoffman categorically examines the deception and lies of military generals and scientists behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s. The title of the book refers to the semi-automated “Doomsday Machine” of the USSR, aka “Project Perimeter” that would retaliate with nuclear missiles against the US in the event of a p ...more
Awesome recounting of the end of the cold war. From Reagan through Yelstin. Reagan come across as a hero. Gates & Snowcroft come off as kind of tools.

The sections on the biological weapons of the Soviets are really wild & scary.
Steve Smits
This amazing and, in many respects, chilling book is an account of the winding down of the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. It is amazing because of the interplay on nuclear arms control between the US leadership, principally Ronald Reagan, and the Soviet leaders following Brezhnev. Reagan was sincerely repulsed by the philosophy and practices of communism and his tough talk was an honest expression of his views on the so-called “Evil Empire”. At the same time, a ...more
The Dead Hand is an extensive and well-researched book about the later years of the Cold War and its legacy that still remains with us today. The book primarily focuses on the Reagan Administration and his dealings with the Soviet Union. Although the author often will go from the 1950s through the 1980s when covering certain topics or individuals. The book also jumps from what was going on politically in the United States & Soviet Union but also military/science side of the Soviet Union.

I th
This is a conventional narrative history of the final stages of the Cold War and its end and aftermath, with an emphasis on weapons on mass destruction, mostly focusing on the Soviet Union and Russia, which is not surprising given that Hoffman was the Moscow bureau chief of the Washington Post in the 1990s. The same topics are mostly covered in the relevant chapters of Richard Rhodes's Arsenals of Folly and Twilight of the Bombs. One topic Hoffman discusses at length and Rhodes doesn't is the So ...more
AJ Armstrong
An astonishingly detailed and extensively researched history of the Cold War. The careful correlation of recently-available Soviet records with new Western sources and publish accounts lends Hoffman's work a depth and authority not previously available. From the terrifying through the mundane and comical, the events of the 1970's and 80's (culminating with the sudden dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's) are portrayed from a variety of viewpoints and agendas. Readers will finally ...more
John Murphy
An overly long but still interesting history.

The author has benefited from interviews with, and memoirs of high ranking participants in the Cold War, both Soviet and Western.

Some real surprises:

Reagan and Gorbachev, during their Summit in Iceland, with only interpreters present, agreed to eliminate all nuclear weapons by the year 2000. The agreement failed when Reagan insisted that his SDI program (Star Wars) could not be restricted to the laboratory but had to be tested in space. What a missed
"The Dead Hand" covers enormous swaths of narrative terrain with an exceedingly narrow focus. After briefly introducing Soviet forays into biological and chemical warfare in the late 1970s, Hoffman commences with a retelling of the political and diplomatic bullet points between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the 1980s. The central concern of this story is the struggle of both superpowers to reduce or eliminate their respective stockpiles of nuclear weapons, with a subplot devoted to the aforem ...more
Brad Hodges
The Dead Hand, by David E. Hoffman, is the Pulitzer-Prize winning look at the last stages of the Cold War, and it's as fascinating as it is scary. It seems that while we were all asleep in our beds, the world has come close to annihilation more than a few times, sometimes from flocks of geese being taken for nuclear missiles.

I love reading history of times I lived through, because it takes me back to what I was doing at the time. This one starts with the election of Ronald Reagan as U.S. preside
Depending on when you call it, the Cold War may have ended 20 years ago (could have been in 86 at Reykjavik or in 91 when the Soviet Union collapsed). Maybe it is for that reason we are seeing a surge in Cold War books. Last year we saw the angry Arsenals of Folly by Richard Rhodes, this year we have a new one from Neil Sheehan called a Firey Peace in a Cold War (just started it, great so far). Take a look at this review essay from Philip Zelikow for a number of books on the era.

In the Dead Hand
Matthew Trevithick
Really great book on the Cold War arms race - and why the problems that seemed to have ended in 1991 are still haunting us today. Very readable and unbelievably haunting. (The title of the book - The Dead Hand - is the name the Soviets gave to a nuclear response system that was 100% automated and run by a series of satellites and computers that nearly ended life on earth several times. The system would, upon warning of a launch from the US, launch a missile that would fly across the Soviet Union ...more
Overall, a great, harrowing, and complex true tale of the Cold War arms race with special attention to the Soviet's covert bioweapons program. When I bought this book, I was expecting it to mainly focus on the nuclear and bioweapons efforts of the USSR, which would have been fine, but I was surprised at the level of detail and introspection provided on the diplomacy between the Soviets, the Americans, and the British during the Reagan-Thatcher years. Having the story told from the frontlines of ...more
This is a really really detailed look at the arms race that eventually ended the cold war. Hoffman did a ton of interviews, read countless memoirs and sifted through Russian and American declassified reports to put this book together. Don't be too intimidated by it though, it's very readable and doesn't come across like a textbook.

I enjoyed the parts about USSR and American politics the most. I just don't know how Hoffman came across all of the insider knowledge concerning political movements,
Geoffrey Benn
“The Dead Hand,” by David Hoffman, is a Pulitzer-prize winning account of the last decade of the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union and its immediate aftermath. The book focuses on the Soviet side of the arms race, beginning with the election of Ronald Reagan in the U.S. during the later years of Leonid Brezhnev’s rule. Hoffman extensively uses archival materials and interviews with Soviet scientists and leaders to trace the development of both nuclear and (much more distur ...more
A history of the end of the Cold War, with a focus on how the US and Russia came down from the height of the arms race and in particular what happened to Russian WMDs after the fall of the Soviet Union. Offers favorable characterizations of both Reagan and Gorbachev, who both earnestly strove to eliminate nuclear weapons from the face of the earth, with less than total success. Ultimately it took perhaps less luminous men like Boris Yeltsin and George HW Bush to go about the nuts and bolts of ar ...more
Raj Agrawal
This is a book I’ll definitely come back to. I’ve never gravitated toward history books, but this one reads like a novel – but “you can’t make this stuff up.” Hoffman tells the story of the major personalities involved in nuclear deterrence, especially during the Reagan and Gorbachev years. Hoffman shifts some of the emphasis off of Reagan’s effectiveness, and shares credit for the end of the Cold War with Gorbachev. Gorbachev’s genius, ability to shape information, and his apparent concerns wit ...more
LeeAnn Heringer
A bit dry, more of a history book with dates and documents and a hundred Russian names that are difficult (for me) to remember and track, rather than a really compelling story. Though there are sections -- the Chernobyl meltdown, the fate of the loose plutonium and enriched uranium after the breakup of the Soviet Union (who could guess that Kazakhstan would be one of the success stories), the open selling of nerve gas to Syria and Iran, the continued blatant lies. Having just read Haruki Murakam ...more
It's a good book, an interesting book. I learned things about the USSR and cold war history that I probably should have already learned. Education about history is good.

There's a breadth of content and, as I understand it, this book breaks new ground in documenting and publicizing the horrible secret recent history of weapons of mass destruction. It's an important contribution to civil understanding of the threats of proliferation and I hope can inform the public discourse. I came away feeling s
Jeffrey Carpenter
This is the best book I read in 2013. I came across this book because it was on the Air Force Chief of Staff's reading list. It is a thorough look at the relationship between the United States and Soviet Union on weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, biological, chemical). That sounds like a dry subject, but the author talks about the leaders and what they did and what they were thinking.

I learned a lot of new things reading this book. I had not fully appreciated how close we were to an agreemen
There's a slight chance I would have rated this higher if I had read it instead of listening to the audio. (Recall that I don't really like listening to audio books, but can handle it for non-fiction while I'm hiking or walking or running by pretending it's public radio. But this narrator did not at all live up to my favorite narrator.) Sometimes I couldn't keep track of whom we were talking about --but then again that didn't really matter. Basically this was interesting as all get out, and I LO ...more
This was a truly absorbing book.

Terrifying, truly terrifying, but compulsive reading. This is worse than any horror fiction, primarily because it lays bare how close the world came to obliterating itself.

The book chillingly details the Cold War arms races, nuclear and biological, the pop psychology that both sides employed, and got woefully wrong. The fear and mistrust on both sides, the worrying influence of the military on both sides and the real human misery caused by all this.

This should be
Having lived most of my life during the Cold War and following events reasonably closely, it was shocking to learn how close the United States came to war with Soviet Union. The mind numbing production of weapons of mass destruction was madness. When coupled with incredible misunderstandings and ignorance, the situation was amazingly dangerous.

Most of us were aware of the nuclear weaponry pointed at each other. What is not as well known is the amount or chemical weaponry. More unnerving (no pun
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Hoffman was born in Palo Alto, Calif., grew up in Delaware and attended the University of Delaware. He came to Washington in 1977 to work for the Capitol Hill News Service. As a member of the Washington bureau of the San Jose Mercury News, he covered Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign. In May 1982, he joined The Post to help cover the Reagan White House. He also covered the first two year ...more
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