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99 of 108 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Horrible Set of Crimes
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...
Published on November 1, 2009 by Adam Rust

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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Level-Headed and Sober Assessment
"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...
Published on May 7, 2010 by Kelly Cooper


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99 of 108 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Horrible Set of Crimes, November 1, 2009
This review is from: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy (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. Instead, there are the residual weapons (both chemical and nuclear) that have fallen into untraceable hands throughout the world. There appears to be evidence that some of those hands include the governments of Iran and North Korea, but it is just as likely that many private groups are able to put their hands on the remainders of the Soviet arsenals.

This book contradicts some of the larger interpretations of Ronald Reagan's presidency. Reagan built up weapons stockpiles, building not just the Pershing IIs but also the drive to SDI. Many have taken those events to say that Reagan was hawkish, and that he strategically invested in defense in order to put economic pressure on the Soviet budgets. Hoffman doesn't deny that SDI did require additional spending, but his analysis is that Reagan was driven first by an absolute hatred of nuclear weaponry. He knew that their system was able to produce advanced weaponry but little grain. Hoffman portrays Reagan very favorably, even as he is less taken by Bush I.

This book covers a lot of ground, but the author's narrative is very readable. I think it adds something to the history of the Soviet Union.
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84 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars INTELLIGENT, GRIPPING, FRIGHTENING, October 2, 2009
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This review is from: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy (Hardcover)
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.Included are special photos about those who took part in this evil plan.
There is a special chapter about "The Year of the Spy",i.e 1985, where spies from both sides traded secrets and betrayed each other.
Hoffman also describes in great detail the way Gorbachev and Reagan came both to the conclusion that spending billions upon billions of dollars on mass-destruction weapons was an act of stupidity, although it took the Soviets a lot of years to come to this conclusion.
I do not recall another book where the exchange of opinions and ideas between Gorbachev and Reagan is so detailed ,documented and well- analyzed.
Tens of personalities and scientists from both sides were interviewed for this book.It shows many new insights into Reagan,Gorbachev and their assistants.There is a special chapter about the way the Russians asked the Americans to assist them financially in order to destroy their weapons and nuclear bombs and warheads.Senator Sam Nunn did whatever he could in this respect in order to persuade the Congress to give 1 billion dollars for this purpose, but he did not have much success.
In the end, the collapse of the Soviet Union marked the end of failed ideology,"hypermilitarization and rigid central control.It left behind 6623 nuclear warheads,882 nuclear bombs on planes,15000 tactical nuclear warheads and at least 40000 tons of chemical weapons,including millions of shells filled with nerve gas so deadly that one drop could kill a human being,not to mention the fact that anthrax bacteria spores and other pathogens humanity has never heard of them before were left intact".
The fall of the Iron Curtain caused hundreds- perhaps thousands -of disgruntled scientists,soldiers and others in Russia to live without any clear purpose.What's more,they were very hungry and had barely the means to support their families.No wonder many opted for the West.No wonder the arsenal left behind can still fall in the wrong hands.
This is only a minuscule part of the menu of this fascinating and gripping book which should be mandatory reading for all Cold War enthusiasts, buffs and pros alike.As for the Dead Hand, you will have to read it by yourself to find out what the devil it means!
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars REAGACHOV, March 19, 2010
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This review is from: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy (Hardcover)
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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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We're lucky to be alive, November 11, 2009
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This review is from: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy (Hardcover)
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. Several times I was jolted by the book hitting my forehead but instead of entering eye-lid theatre, I would press on. The Dead Hand is that good. But like a curious lad who just has to see what really happens in an X-rated movie, you finish the book not sure you wanted to know the truth. The boogie man is really out there.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Huge story; an important book, November 1, 2009
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Donald E. Graham (Washington, DC USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy (Hardcover)
This is an astonishing book. It is a reporter's triumph; it tells an important and (as far as I know) absolutely unknown story. It is also suspenseful and well-written; John LeCarre's endorsement on the back on the book is well deserved.

David Hoffman is a longtime colleague on The Washington Post, but I do not think I'm overrating his book out of friendship. The story it tells is roughly this: immediately after signing a treaty banning chemical and biological weapons in 1972, the Soviet Union set about building a new, secret, and very extensive biological weapons capability. They were successful; they created frightful new weapons (a chemical weapons program was added later). Amazingly, Hoffman interviewed and has documents from scientists who led the program. The persistence (and language skills) required to get hold of these documents and conduct these interviews won't come along again soon.

The weapons included anthrax, smallpox and plague and many more. Much of this was recovered by a ragtag team of American diplomats and scientists during the Yeltsin years. Was all of it? Probably not. (One of Hoffman's sources was recruited to teach at a university in Iran and says that many of his colleagues went there as well).

While this story unfolds, Hoffman tells the more familiar story of Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and the unraveling of communism. He also chronicles the Soviet-US interactions in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush years, in wonderful detail and including much new data gleaned from US and Soviet negotiators.

The book is a combination of diplomatic history, suspense story, and completely original reporting. I cannot recommend it too highly.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-Written and Incredibly Timely and Important, April 12, 2010
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This review is from: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy (Hardcover)
Anyone hoping to opine intelligently on Obama's current efforts at nuclear reduction needs to read this book first.

It is a deeply researched, well-written look at Reagan and Gorby's efforts to eliminate nuclear arms, along with fascinating, newly-discovered material on the Soviet chemical and biological weapons programs.

I personally was unaware the extent to which Reagan was devoted to the elimination of all nuclear arms -- he was deeply affected by ABC's The Day After, and immediately began to write notes to Soviet leaders in an effort to engage them on nuclear arms issues.

Unfortunately, his successor Bush I and his team -- including Cheney -- were distrustful of Gorbachev and set Reagan's efforts back (although Sam Nunn and James Baker were instrumental in securing loose weaponry after the fall of the Soviet Union).

The book ends with very practical, timely suggestions for what can be done now to reduce the nuclear threat -- including taking our devices off of "fire-ready" status.

I hope our leaders are listening.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Level-Headed and Sober Assessment, May 7, 2010
This review is from: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy (Hardcover)
"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 aforementioned biological and chemical weapons programs within the Soviet Union.

Rather than present an exhaustive study of the complex science or realpolitik pressures at play, Hoffman tends to give credence to personality by singling out quirky moments and conversational tipping points (i.e., the notes President Reagan scrawled in the margins of dense white papers seem to matter more than the content of the papers themselves). There's nothing inherently disingenuous about this kind of history, but it avoids the distinction of being comprehensive.

Apparently there is a significant amount of primary - even groundbreaking - research that has made its way into this book. This may be enough to recommend it to readers with an existing library on the Cold War who nonetheless have an appetite for historical minutia. For those with merely a passing familiarity with the nuclear arms race, this might present more questions than answers (which might recommend it as well). To keep the story moving, Hoffman often breezes over motivations, geopolitics, and technical specifics; a tactic which tends to focus the reader's credulity on the author himself. Fortunately, such credulity is ultimately well placed. There is authority here, even if it not always on display.

Finally, it reads very much like newspaper writing: often dry, with ham-fisted (and unnecessary) attempts to humanize characters, bland repetition for fear of being unclear, and a generalized simplification of convoluted realities.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, fast-paced history, December 8, 2009
This review is from: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy (Hardcover)
A few authors (Richard Rhodes comes to mind) have attempted to compile a history of the Cold War arms race, but Hoffman has written what will probably stand as the definitive popular history of that era. Hoffman's point of view appears relatively neutral-although he is quite clear that the unchecked spread of knowledge and equipment related to WMD is a bad thing-and his overview is comprehensive.
Hoffman's greatest contribution may be his coverage of the Cold War's aftermath. He leaves several questions unanswered, but does so because the questions are unanswerable. Among those questions is "what became of the USSR's tactical nuclear arsenal?" Hoffman doesn't know, and makes a good case that no one else does either. Given those revelations, this may end up being the scariest book on your shelf.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping read! Fiction could not have been any better!, December 7, 2009
This review is from: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy (Hardcover)
Every so often a great book flies under the radar and Dead Hand is that book for 2009. We didn't see it reviewed in the New York Times or the author on the Daily Show touting it. No, this is a book that tells the very scary story of how the Soviet Union broke ever promise and every treaty to develop some of the most dangerous pathogens ever created. It also does one of the best jobs of demonstrating how the Communist system helped a very few while resulting in most people scrounging in order to survive.

I don't suppose this book will be popular with those who regret the collapse of the USSR or still believe Mikhail Gorbachev was a peace love leader. In fact Dead Hand shows that the USSR was pursuing weapons of mass destruction right up until the end. Even while the country was collapsing around it. Dead Hand should be on the top of the best seller lists because it tells a gripping and true story of the evil that comprised one of the most terrible totalitarian countries ever to live!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Face to Face with Evil, May 21, 2010
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This review is from: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy (Hardcover)
Thomas W. Schaaf Sr. Fairfax, Virginia

Though David Hoffman won a Pulitzer Prize for this very well written, in depth account, of the Cold War arms race and its dangerous legacy it has not been widely read, probably because, in part, of the lack of prominent enthusiastic reviews. And that group of establishment reviewers were in turn restrained because the Washington/New York establishment elite see this comprehensive account as too pro Reagan and too revealing of the neoconservative influence on arms control and foreign policy, particularly relations with Russia.

Hoffman acknowledges that the twin pillars of this inside story of both the U.S. and USSR were the Reagan years in the White House when he was a correspondent there for the Washington Post and, secondly,when he was the bureau chief for the Washington Post in Moscow during the 1990s. During that period he had several interviews with Reagan and Gorbachev granted two interviews as this book was being written. Between those crucial assignments in Washington and Moscow Hoffman spent a year in graduate school focusing on Soviet/Russian affairs and became a Russian speaker.

The period 1981-89 concerns nuclear arms and the anti-ballistic missile program (SDI) or Stars Wars as the press named it and gives the best explanation of why Gorbachev was so opposed, that I have read. The book title "Dead Hand" comes from the Soviet program designed to respond to a decapitating first strike by USA on Moscow which would let loose a barrage of ICBMs controlled by computer without any authorizing release from the Soviet leadership.

But far more menacing, in the view of Hoffman, was the chemical and germ warfare which the Soviet and Russian governments were preparing, even in the face of the 1972 Treaty which more than 70 nations, including the Soviet Union and the United States, signed ( the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention) banning the development and production of biological weapons and the means of delivering them. The treaty became effective in 1975. But as Hoffman relates in his introduction chapter " the Soviet Union promptly betrayed its signature........Brezhnev approved a secret plan to covertly expand Soviet germ warfare efforts.......The Soviet program grew and grew into a dark underside of the arms race."

Although Hoffman covers the nuclear weapons aspect of the arms control issues which were crucial during the Reagan/Gorbachev era with a skill and finesse that makes it read like a series of personal narratives the real impact and thrust of this book, in my view, are the potential consequences of the Russian germ warfare program. Not withstanding that the title refers to nuclear weapons which are indeed a horrific and major threat to civilization, the details and facts of the biological production and war plans which were extant in Russia even after the collapse of the Soviet Union are reported by Hoffman with clarity and stunning disclosures and details.

The Prologue is an excellent example which begins, "Are any of your patients dying?" Hoffman then goes on to set the scene, April 4, 1979 in Sverdlovsk, a Soviet industrial metropolis in the Ural mountains where there is an outbreak of anthrax. The quote above was from one physician to another as they encountered two unusual deaths from what looked like severe pneumonia. What had happened, though covered up for decades, was that Compound 19, a laboratory for development and testing deadly pathogens, including anthrax, grown in fermentation vessels, had been dried and ground into a fine powder for use in aerosol form and had accidentally been released into the air. A north wind had carried the anthrax spores to rural areas to the south and sheep and cattle in villages began to die and people started to get sick. By April 20, 358 people were sick. 45 died.

As the author recounts this was only one of many sites where many variations of deadly pathogens were cultivated and weaponized in huge quantities. Chapter 22, the final chapter of the book, "Face to Face with Evil" is a chilling conclusion from which I read a paragraph to my Naval Academy classmates and the wives when I reviewed this prize winning book. Hoffman describes the experience of Andy Weber, a State Department officer, posted to Kazakhstan in central Asia where a colossal anthrax-processing machine stood intact in the remote city of Stepnogorsk .

To paraphrase: " On a brilliant summer day, June 2, 1995 a chartered Yak-40 jet landed on the bumpy airstrip of Stepnogorsk carrying Andy Weber and a team of biological weapons experts from the United States. About nine miles away stood the anthrax factory built in the 1980s. Never before had a Westerner set foot in the secret plant where anthrax bacteria was to be fermented, processed into a thick brown slurry, dried, milled and filled into bombs-by the ton.

Weber climbed to the top of one of the twenty-thousand liter fermenters and looked down into it with a flashlight. The cylinder was made of specialty steel with a resin lining. He could see the impellers attached to a central rod that would stir the anthrax spores but could not see the bottom in the dark four floors below. Weber felt a chill run up and down his spine.

Hoffman then quotes Weber. "....I had never bought into Reagan's 'Evil Empire' thing. I was a product of liberal eastern schools, I went to Cornell, but there it was. I was face to face with evil."

This is a book every American who is concerned about reality and our future should read.
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