The Dead Hand

  • by David E. Hoffman
  • Narrated by Bob Walter
  • 20 hrs and 50 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, General Nonfiction, 2010
This riveting narrative history of the end of the arms race sheds new light on the frightening last chapters of the Cold War and the legacy of the nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons that remain a threat today.During the Cold War, world superpowers amassed nuclear arsenals containing the explosive power of one million Hiroshimas. The Soviet Union secretly plotted to create the "Dead Hand," a system designed to launch an automatic retaliatory nuclear strike on the United States, and developed a fearsome biological warfare machine. President Ronald Reagan, hoping to awe the Soviets into submission, pushed hard for the creation of space-based missile defenses.In the first full account of how the arms race finally ended, The Dead Hand provides an unprecedented look at the inner motives and secret decisions of each side. Drawing on top-secret documents from deep inside the Kremlin, memoirs, and interviews in both Russia and the United States, David Hoffman introduces the scientists, soldiers, diplomats, and spies who saw the world sliding toward disaster and tells the gripping story of how Reagan, Gorbachev, and many others struggled to bring the madness to an end. When the Soviet Union dissolved, the danger continued, and the United States began a race against time to keep nuclear and biological weapons out of the hands of terrorists and and rogue states.


What the Critics Say

"A stunning feat of research and narrative. Terrifying." (John le Carré)
"In The Dead Hand, David Hoffman has uncovered some of the Cold War's most persistent and consequential secrets - plans and systems designed to wage war with weapons of mass destruction, and even to place the prospective end of civilization on a kind of automatic pilot. The book's revelations are shocking; its narrative is intelligent and gripping. This is a tour de force of investigative history." (Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Gripping story of the cold war arms race

Any additional comments?

This is an excellent retelling of the nuclear arms race between east and west, including the not so well known history of the biological weapons race. It's a fascinating period of history when world war three actually seemed like a possibility. The main focus is on the later Reagan/Gorbachev era. Superbly read. Highly recommended.

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- Matthew

Thorough, Detailed but often a bit boring

I read this because I wanted to learn more about the cold war. This book provides a detailed, blow-by-blow account of the development of biological and nuclear weapons and negotiations for their reduction. It focuses mainly on the stories of Russian politicians and scientists that were responsible for the development and cover-up of weapons.

My problem with the book is that the story of the cold war - although horrifying and ridiculous is not all that gripping. Changes to the stance of either side or successes in bringing about the end of the cold war are not clearly directly related to the events that happen in it. There is a long stand-off, a series of submits and then the end comes about because of social change within Europe. For me the book gets too lost in the details of the careers of specific people whose part in the overall story isn't significant.

On this audio version there is also a glitch so that the audio jumps at (if I remember correctly) about 9 hours in so we lose a section.

No doubt this is a thorough review of the events of the cold war, but I suspect the abridged version covers more than enough for most people.
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- Richard

Book Details

  • Release Date: 13-10-2009
  • Publisher: Random House Audio