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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

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  3,373 Ratings  ·  297 Reviews
“A tour de force of investigative history.” —Steve Coll

The Dead Hand
is the suspense-filled story of the people who sought to brake the speeding locomotive of the arms race, then rushed to secure the nuclear and biological weapons left behind by the collapse of the Soviet Union—a dangerous legacy that haunts us even today.

The Cold War was an epoch of massive overkill. In t
Hardcover, 592 pages
Published September 22nd 2009 by Doubleday (first published January 1st 2009)
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Andre Bonin There is an audiobook version, I got it as audio book in my public library.

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Oct 06, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: nuclear-war
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
Jun 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Lai piedod man tas cilvēks, kurš man ieteica izlasīt šo grāmatu, tas bija sen un tviterī. Grāmata man lasītājā stāvēja labu laiku gaidīdama savu kārtu, kaut kā pēc tās iegādes bija pārgājis entuziasms lasīt par Auksto karu. Vispār jau nebija tā, ka uzreiz pārgāja, pirmajā piegājienā tūlīt pēc iegādes es kādas pārdesmit lappuses pievārēju, bet neielasījos un atliku vēlākam laikam.

Par Aukstā kara laikiem ir sarakstītas simtiem grāmatu, sākot no pilnīgiem izdomājumiem un beidzot ar protokolu pārdru
Jan 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
I thought this book would likely be boring; but no. Hoffman starts with a bang and generally kept me turning the pages. I did not remember all the Russian names, but I didn't have to, as some clue was inserted to jog my memory if the name returned. I have to say now, before I forget, that the book left me with a lingering question, which I mentally asked over and over as the book drew to a close. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE RABBITS? There was this lovely scientist living in some remote area with his wi ...more
Mar 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Frank Stein
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Just a few decades later, it's hard to imagine how humanity spent so long living on the nuclear brink. Yet, throughout the Cold War, presidents, politicians, and generals in the United States and Soviet Union spent a good chunk of their time thinking about the "unthinkable," how to end billions of human lives. David Hoffman's book, although overlong and often circuitous, shows us how close we were to destruction, and why we decided to step back from the edge.

As Ronald Reagan remembered in his me
Apr 26, 2010 rated it liked it
"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
Apr 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Nick Black
Jul 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: oppenheimania
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.
Jan 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio, history
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.
Incredible story of the history of the Cold War, including how the world almost came to war over a mistake. "Dead hand" refers to the idea of having automated systems determine the efficacy and need for initiating a retaliatory strike on an enemy prior to the arrival of the enemy's already launched attack systems. The book also discusses the Soviet Union's illegal bio-weapons research and development. The leaders of that country were convinced the US was doing it, so the Soviet Union needed to a ...more
This is a very frightening book with it pointing out all that we have not known and what we don't know at present. The Cold War may be over, but the weapons still remain and so do those who wish to wage war.
Jun 02, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Raj Agrawal
Nov 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: saass-books
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
Glenn Hyman
Feb 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
May 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, war
The Cold War is over, we no longer have nuclear attack drills in schools, so all's well. Right?

Wrong. Way wrong. Turns out the Soviets were developing some seriously dangerous biological weapons, and who knows where this technology has subsequently found a home. Chances are good that some really bad people now have this.
Feb 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
How are any of us alive?
Steve Smits
May 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Derek Brozowski
This book was disappointing to me for several reasons. First, the titular doomsday machine is the subject of significantly less than a quarter of the book. Biological and Chemical weapons and arms control summits are the majority focus of the book. Chemical and biological weapons are definitely scary, but I was looking for nuclear terror instead. Secondly, the author treats Reagan without an ounce of criticism. His lofty speeches and contemplative letters are treated as if they are the only expr ...more
Dec 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
There was a lot here that was new to me, and Hoffman does a great job digging out new details and piecing together the overall story. It is sobering to look back and consider how much damage was done by misinformation (willfully perpetuated at times) and misunderstandings. The paranoia, ascription of malice, and a culture of distrust caused on both sides led to enormous injustice and suffering, and it could have ended much worse. The inability of leaders to build real cross-cultural relationship ...more
Brad Hodges
Nov 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Richard Buro
Jun 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The short version first...

It has taken me two years to finally write this review up for inclusion on Goodreads. The reason I am doing this is the impetus placed on my reviewing by the cli-fi monthly read for January 2015 in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Group at Goodreads. Basically it is a non-fiction work about the unthinkable but frighteningly real postential for particularly nasty weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) to become a reality in the world to come. This story is told by David
Jun 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Reagan escorted his guest [Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko] down the long colonnade from the West Wing to the main White House mansion for a reception...A small chamber orchestra played classical music. Reagan introduced Nancy. At the end of the reception, Gromyko took Nancy aside and said, "Does your husband believe in peace?"
"Of course," she replied.
"Then whisper 'peace' in your husbands ear every night," he said.
"I will, and I will also whisper it in your ear," she said. And with t
Nov 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
May 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
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
Jul 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 29, 2011 rated it liked it
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
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NonFiction Pulitzers: Dead Hand: May/June 2017 -- Part 3 39 28 Jul 13, 2017 10:14PM  
NonFiction Pulitzers: Dead Hand: May/June 2017 -- Part 2 18 18 Jun 26, 2017 10:05PM  
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David E. Hoffman covered Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign for the Knight-Ridder newspapers. In 1982, he joined The Washington Post to help cover the Reagan White House. He also covered the first two years of the George H.W. Bush presidency. His White House coverage won three national journalism awards. After reporting on the State Department, he became Jerusalem bureau chief for The Pos ...more
“Katayev’s notes show that the military-industrial complex was indeed as large as Gorbachev feared. In 1985, Katayev estimated, defense took up 20 percent of the Soviet economy.16 Of the 135 million adults working in the Soviet Union, Katayev said, 10.4 million worked directly in the military-industrial complex at 1,770 enterprises. Nine ministries served the military, although in a clumsy effort to mask its purpose, the nuclear ministry was given the name “Ministry of Medium Machine Building,” and others were similarly disguised. More than fifty cities were almost totally engaged in the defense effort, and hundreds less so. Defense factories were called upon to make the more advanced civilian products, too, including 100 percent of all Soviet televisions, tape recorders, movie and still cameras and sewing machines.17” 0 likes
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