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  • 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 46 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (196 ratings)

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The Dead Hand cover art

The Dead Hand

By: David E. Hoffman
Narrated by: Bob Walter
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Summary

“A tour de force of investigative history.” —Steve Coll

The Dead Hand is the suspense-filled story of the people who sought to brake the speeding locomotive of the arms race, then rushed to secure the nuclear and biological weapons left behind by the collapse of the Soviet Union—a dangerous legacy that haunts us even today.The Cold War was an epoch of massive overkill. In the last half of the twentieth century the two superpowers had perfected the science of mass destruction and possessed nuclear weapons with the combined power of a million Hiroshimas. What’s more, a Soviet biological warfare machine was ready to produce bacteria and viruses to sicken and kill millions. 

In The Dead Hand, a thrilling narrative history drawing on new archives and original research and interviews, David E. Hoffman reveals how presidents, scientists, diplomats, soldiers, and spies confronted the danger and changed the course of history. The Dead Hand captures the inside story in both the United States and the Soviet Union, giving us an urgent and intimate account of the last decade of the arms race. With access to secret Kremlin documents, Hoffman chronicles Soviet internal deliberations that have long been hidden. He reveals that weapons designers in 1985 laid a massive “Star Wars” program on the desk of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to compete with President Reagan, but Gorbachev refused to build it. He unmasks the cover-up of the Soviet biological weapons program. He tells the exclusive story of one Soviet microbiologist’s quest to build a genetically engineered super-germ—it would cause a mild illness, a deceptive recovery, then a second, fatal attack. And he details the frightening history of the Doomsday Machine, known as the Dead Hand, which would launch a retaliatory nuclear strike if the Soviet leaders were wiped out. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the dangers remained. Soon rickety trains were hauling unsecured nuclear warheads across the Russian steppe; tons of highly-enriched uranium and plutonium lay unguarded in warehouses; and microbiologists and bomb designers were scavenging for food to feed their families. The Dead Hand offers fresh and startling insights into Reagan and Gorbachev, the two key figures of the end of the Cold War, and draws colorful, unforgettable portraits of many others who struggled, often valiantly, to save the world from the most terrifying weapons known to man.

©2009 David Hoffman (P)2009 Random House
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic reviews

“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.”—The New York Times

“Revealing, alarming and compelling throughout. . . . This richly reported account vividly chronicles the insanity of the arms race. . . . Taut, crisply written. . . . The Dead Hand puts human faces on the bureaucracy of mutual assured destruction, even as it underscores the institutional inertia that drove this monster forward. . . . A fine book indeed.”—T. J. Stiles, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“In a compelling narrative packed with vivid detail and telling quotations, Hoffman tells the story of how Reagan and Gorbachev halted the arms race.”—The Times Literary Supplement

What listeners say about The Dead Hand

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It will make you think!

A thorough telling of how close the world has come to nuclear destruction and the aftermath of all those weapons still around. This book will make you think the world is a scary place full of scary people.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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The evil empire

A strong condemnation of Russia, the evil empire so called that obfuscates, denies and lies about its involvement in nuclear and biological weapons. The book focuses on post Reagan, and post Glasnost; do not trust the Russians, a sentiment unchanged with Putin. The west is hardly blameless but most enlightening is the comprehensive biological programmes pursued by Russia, in the face of disarmament treaties. A scary story, well researched and well read ... with a fair about of poetic license I am sure. If the Cold War entertains you; listen to this.

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Fantastic and very accurate account...

Fantastic and more importantly accurate account of some of the cold war and the collapse of the USSR and the chaos that ensued.
great narrator

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superb narration

Started slow but then suckered me in and I really enjoyed it. the narrator did I great job - sounded like Ronald Reagan (though he wasn't doing an impression, his voice was just similar)

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An excellent book!

A very intriguing account of a dangerous part of our history that still remains.
A lot of information regarding a knife-edged era that still terrifies.
Those interested in this type of history will find it essential.

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    5 out of 5 stars

EXCELLENT BOOK!!!

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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Riveting and difficulty to stop listening to.

A cracking book covering a period of history that I grew up in. Enough detail to fill in the background of stories I remember in the press and lots of detail on what really went on especially around Biopreperat and the biological weapons program in the Soviet Union and beyond.

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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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Very informative.

Excellent follow up to similar books I've read/listened to which detail the technical side of the arms race. This book focuses more on the politics of the cold war, explaining the US and Soviet/Russian leaders attitudes and psyche, and how this was reflected in their approach on nuclear/chemical/biological weapons.

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The Cold War wasn't just about Nukes!

A brilliant insight into the Cold War era arms race, specifically covering biological weaponry; its research and development and its political impact.
Well narrated and well worth a listen!

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