• The Dead Hand

  • The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy
  • By: David E. Hoffman
  • Narrated by: Bob Walter
  • Length: 20 hrs and 50 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 13-10-09
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Random House Audio
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.5 (92 ratings)


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.
©2009 David Hoffman (P)2009 Random House
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Critic reviews

"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
5 out of 5 stars
By Matthew on 19-08-14

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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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Isy on 07-01-13


David Hoffman well documented and extraordinary way of writing shows us the race of the superpowers to keep their supremacy at any cost. A must read for everyone who wants to understand how governments use their power and funds to create weapons that can destroy our world in a blink.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Andrew on 01-07-10

Credible study into Russia's weapons programmes

This certainly was an in depth study of the weapons systems created by both the Soviet Union and to a lesser extent America; the politics surrounding them, and the consequences of their creation. It is clear the author researched the subject deeply in this academic standard publication. That some subjects were only discussed in passing was because they were peripheral to the subject of the book; lightly covered is not the same as simplistic and this is far from simplistic book.
It is rare to find a book of this standard in audible. Usually they are in university bookstores. That Foreign Affairs rates this book highly speaks for itself also. More please.
Essential listening for cold war students.

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23 of 24 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Brian on 16-11-10

Eye opening

I would strongly disagree with the reviewer who called it "asinine." The author is not sympathetic to one side or another, he mostly presents a factual history of the end of the cold war. He DOES however attempt to relate what Gorbachev and Reagan were thinking during tense moments by quoting from their personal notes and diaries. It does allow the author to paint a more human picture of Gorbachev, one of a man who was interested in ending the arms race. Perhaps this ins't palatable to someone who grew up mid-century and understandably objects to any gentle portrayal of Soviet leadership.

It also paints an interesting picture of Reagan - who like Bush II - was obsessed by technological possibility. It makes Reagan seem almost naive in his conviction that technology could somehow bring peace to the world through SDI. The moment where Gorbachev offers Reagan complete nuclear disarmament in exchange for non-deployment of space based lasers - only to have Reagan reject the offer - is amazing. Having grown up at the end of the last century, much of this material is new relative to what you learn in standard history courses (and I took plenty of them). It's been a truly enlightening read to understand how we've arrived at our current state. A recent issue of Foreign Affairs has an essay suggesting that we are still in a cold war defense mentality - expanding our weapons systems and technology - when in fact this strategy no longer serves our national interest. And this book explains exactly why we think this way.

With regard to content - the "asinine" reviewer is correct. There isn't much about The Dead Hand aside from a general overview. But the true purpose of the book is to help understand the development and legacy of weapons of mass destruction created by the Soviets. It is easily one of the best audiobooks I've ever listened to and an essential read to understand the end of the cold war.

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32 of 34 people found this review helpful

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