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Dead Hand: Reagan, Gorbachev and the Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race Hardcover – February 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


'A stunning feat of research and narrative. Terrifying.' -- John le Carre "The Dead Hand' is a brilliant work of history, a richly detailed, gripping tale that takes us inside the Cold war arms race as no other book has...a story so riveting and scary that you feel like you are reading a fictional thriller.' -- Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of 'Imperial Life in the Emerald City' 'This is a tour de force of investigative history.' -- Steve Coll 'An extraordinary achievement.' -- Sir Michael Dobbs 'Authoritative and chilling ... a readable, many-tentacled account of the decades-long military standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union ... The Dead Hand is deadly serious, but this story can verge on pitch-black comedy - Dr. Strangelove as updated by the Coen Brothers.' New York Times -- New York Times 'A thought-provoking book which reads like a thriller. A gripping chronicle of the second half of the last century and a brilliant analysis of the single strategic conflict that more than any other shaped today's world.' -- Gordon Thomas, author of 'Inside British Intelligence and Gideon's Spies' 'I found 'The Dead Hand' extremely stimulating. As a Foreign Office Minister I was involved in Gorbachev's meeting with Margaret Thatcher; and as Defence Secretary from 1992-95 I was very much associated with the safe removal of post-Soviet states' nuclear weapons. This book is an excellent history of that period.' -- Sir Malcolm Rifkind, MP 'This book, which won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction and is soon to be published in the UK, is in the best traditions of American long-form reportage... Key characters are evoked in enough detail to make us care and then carry the narrative through to the end. It involves simplifications and elisions: but in this case, these are less important than the horrified fascination Hoffman - a former Washington Post Moscow correspondent, later foreign editor - succeeds in rousing through a story at once journalistically detailed and morally alive.' -- John Lloyd, FT 'Hoffman's magisterial, human, vividly readable account of a remarkable time doesn't stop in 1991.' -- Peter Preston, Guardian '[Hoffman] has compiled a fascinating narrative of the last phase of the cold war and the era of Mikhail Gorbachev, glasnost and perestroika, which ended amid the collapse of the Soviet Union.' -- Max Hastings, Sunday Times 'This is an important well-written volume that makes a major contribution to our understanding of the last decade of the Cold War and its aftermath.' -- Christopher Andrew, Literary Review '['The Dead Hand'] has important things to say... It is exceptionally well informed. Anyone interested in the Cold War will learn something new from this fascinating, if rather depressing, read.' -- BBC History Magazine 'If you like your history told James Bond style, you'll love this book.' -- Daily Telegraph 'David E. Hoffman bagged a Pulitzer for 'The Dead Hand: Reagan, Gorbachev and the Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race' (Icon Books, 11.99). The book reads with the pace of a political thriller and includes wonderful insight into the relationship between the Cold War's two central characters who managed to pull their empires back from the brink at a time when they shared an arms arsenal with the explosive power of 1 million Hiroshimas.' -- Irish Examiner

About the Author

David Hoffman is a contributing editor at the Washington Post, where he previously served as White House correspondent, Moscow bureau chief, and assistant managing editor for foreign news.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Icon Books (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184831230X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848312302
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (123 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,113,361 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author
David E. Hoffman is Contributing Editor at the Washington Post and has been a journalist for 30 years. He served as the Washington correspondent for the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury-News. He covered Ronald Reagan's campaign for the presidency in 1980, and was national economics correspondent for Knight-Ridder Newspapers. In 1982, he joined The Washington Post to cover the Reagan presidency. As a White House correspondent, he covered the major U.S.-Soviet summits of the Reagan years, including Geneva and Reykjavik, as well as domestic policy and politics. He also covered the George H. W. Bush presidency. Later, he was diplomatic correspondent at the time the Soviet Union collapsed, and then served as Jerusalem correspondent, covering the Oslo peace accords. From 1995 to 2001, he served as Moscow bureau chief. On returning to Washington in 2001, he was Foreign editor and then Assistant Managing Editor for Foreign news, managing the Post's foreign service, until 2009. More recently, he was a correspondent for the FRONTLINE documentaries "Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria" (2013), "The Trouble With Antibiotics" (2014) and "The Trouble with Chicken" (2015).

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

110 of 121 people found the following review helpful By Adam Rust VINE VOICE on November 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Dead Hand details secrets from the Soviet Union's military and research industries - secrets that are so dark as to reframe the historical interpretation of that country and its leadership during the Cold War.

The Soviets referred to a semi-automatic defense plan as the "Dead Hand." The Dead Hand was a system that would fire a portfolio of SS-18's on to the United States and Western Europe if its sensors made the conclusion that the Kremlin had been destroyed by a nuclear blast. The system was in place as early as the mid-80s. It is a bit of a miracle, given the demonstrated shortcomings of Soviet engineering, that it never made a mistake.

There's more to the spirit of the Dead Hand, though. Much of this book is about the extensive germ warfare research that the Soviets conducted in violation of international law. Hoffman has managed to track down the assorted scientists who worked in the Urals, in Kazakhstan, in Siberia, the Aral Sea, and other places. Each one has a small part to play in a dark effort. The Soviets weaponized all kinds of killer bugs - plague, smallpox, anthrax, tularemia, and others. The Soviets created anti-biotic resistant strains of each. Some were hybrid bugs that would kill in two stages over several weeks.

In the last days of the Soviet Unions, leaders like Sam Nunn and Les Aspin worked to identify and eliminate nuclear stockpiles. Unfortunately, not as much effort went in to finding chemical weapons. Some were found, but the author believes that many stockpiles were either hidden or lost.

The takeaway, ultimately, is that the Dead Hand still exists, albeit in a new mode. There is no semi-automatic nuclear weapon program.
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91 of 101 people found the following review helpful By Paul Gelman on October 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Cold War was mainly an ideological war.Threats of mutual destruction played a significant part during this conflict.Suffice it to mention the Berlin crises and the Cuban Missile Crisis,where humanity has almost annihiltated itself.Brinkmanship was the name of the game ,played in many instances by the Soviet empire.
"The Dead Hand" shows to what extent all of us were living in the most dangerous period of times during the second half of the twentieth century.Its focus is to show two important and cardinal points:to what extent missiles were to make sure nobody would be alive in case the conflict grew into a hot one.The second point emphasizes and demonstrates an angle which did not get much attention by Cold War historians:the threat of biological warfare.The combination of these two destructive forces would have made Hiroshima a child's play.
As Mr.Hoffman makes it clear in his riveting and breathtaking book,it would have been a matter of only some minutes when humanity could have destroyed itself.This is a story that includes presidents, advisors,soldiers,(evil)scientists,generals and spies
who were working for their respective peoples in order to gain the upper hand.
For the first time, we get an in-depth story about the Soviets' biological weapons program.The purpose of the Soviets was to create a genetically-engineered super-germ which would cause hundreds of millions of fatalities.He includes the story of some scientists who were working on this secret project day and night.
This is his best and most fascinating part of the story.He includes stories about some scientists who could not live with lies anymore, thus they defected to the West and told the whole story about how the Russians were trying to fool the world about their intentions on biowarfare.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Donald J. Glocka on March 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Most "Cold War" books fall into 1 of 2 categories... Wide scope poicy analysis or put-you-on-the scene field level narratives. There are few that find a readable method of blending the two. Hoffman does a fine job of doing just that. While the book is top heavy from the Reagan era on and generally skims over pre 1980 Cold War history it is, nonetheless, informative, upsetting and revealing. Get the highlighter out because there are many passages you will want to refer back to when discussing this subject in the future. It is one of the best histories of the Reagan-Gorbachov negotiations since Beschloss's "At the Highest Levels". If you are a foreign policy wonk purist you will probably find this book a bit thin. If you are an afficianado of field level tactics you may find this book a bit slow in areas. So be it..i.e., some people like Kolko's "Anatomy of a War" and some like Baker's "NAM". If, however, you like both of those books you'll probably love this one. A friend of mine, when seeing the dust cover of the book on my desk, mistook it for a fictional novel. I told him, "No, it isn't... but I sure wish it was!" as parts of Mr. Hoffman's work are very unsettling.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By D. G. James on November 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought "The Dead Hand" because for many years I believed there was more to the "Cold War" and its "end" than what we were taught or told. To be honest, I never bought into the hypothesis that President Reagan's massive build up of the military and zest for "Star Wars" was the "cause" of the dissolution of the Soviet "evil empire". My more "I-obviously-watched-too-many-movies" side of me even thought that Gorbachev and Yeltsin would turn out to be CIA plants in what would have been the greatest single covert operation in human history. I just couldn't believe the Soviet "ending", which came on like a locomotive, could have been chalked up to death by natural causes with American military might to speed death along. No, this State had a fast-moving cancer put there by the Americans, on the inside. Well my fantasies will remain relegated to the Fiction section, but Hoffman did proceed to scare the daylights out of me with what he revealed. I won't spoil the many "a-ha's" so cleverly researched and reported on by Hoffman, but I will say that when I finished the book I shook my head in utter disbelief that the two superpowers didn't manage to destroy humanity. The scarier part is that it is possible a serious WMD threat still exists, especially in the so-called "rogue" states: Iran, North Korea, etc. OK, a little peek: given the laughable state of security around the Soviet's weapons of mass destruction at Cold War's end, even an optimist is left to conclude that the likelihood that an WMD will be used in our lifetime is inevitable, since accountability was a joke and incentives to sellout high. Hoffman's recount of Cold War history is riveting, revealing and even revolting. I fought sleep to keep reading.Read more ›
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