The Dead Hand: Book summary and reviews of The Dead Hand by David E. Hoffman

The Dead Hand

The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy

by David E. Hoffman

The Dead Hand

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Book Summary

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.

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Book Awards

  • award image Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music, 2010

Reviews

Media Reviews

"Thanks to interviews and new documents, he provides the fullest—and quite frankly the most terrifying—account to date of the enormous and covert Soviet biological weapons program, developed in defiance of international treaties at the same time that the Soviets appeared to be earnestly interested in reducing their weapons stockpile." - The New York Times

"[A] welcome, unsettling, nonfictional addition to this still timely genre." - The Washington Post

"A compendium of discomfiting, implication-heavy facts, of particular interest to students of geopolitics." - Kirkus 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

"An extraordinary and compelling story, beautifully researched, elegantly told, and full of revelations about the superpower arms race in the dying days of the Cold War. The Dead Hand is riveting." - Rick Atkinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of An Army At Dawn

"No one is better qualified than David Hoffman to tell the definitive story of the ruinous Cold War arms race. He has interviewed the principal protagonists, unearthed previously undiscovered archives, and tramped across the military-industrial wasteland of the former Soviet Union. He brings his characters to life in a thrilling narrative that contains many lessons for modern-day policymakers struggling to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. An extraordinary achievement." - Michael Dobbs, author of One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War 

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