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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 superpowe 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.


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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 superpowe 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.

30 review for The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy

  1. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    I'll admit I picked this up because I am a fan of nuke porn. I grew up reading the surprisingly subtle On the Beach, the over-written, over-sexed The Last Ship, and the ridiculous Ian Slater series WW III. On television, I was thrilled by The Day After (I've never seen Steve Guttenberg the same, since). I even downloaded On Thermonuclear War, just to see what precautions I could take (step one: don't get into a thermonuclear war; there is no step two). Some months ago, I read an article on the o I'll admit I picked this up because I am a fan of nuke porn. I grew up reading the surprisingly subtle On the Beach, the over-written, over-sexed The Last Ship, and the ridiculous Ian Slater series WW III. On television, I was thrilled by The Day After (I've never seen Steve Guttenberg the same, since). I even downloaded On Thermonuclear War, just to see what precautions I could take (step one: don't get into a thermonuclear war; there is no step two). Some months ago, I read an article on the online newsite Slate called "The Letter of Last Resort." This letter is handwritten by the reigning British prime minister, and is essentially a Roman thumbs up/thumbs down in the event the minister is killed by a nuclear strike. The letter is kept in a safe in a nuclear submarine and tells the captain what to do if his country has already been destroyed; i.e., to fire off the missles or call it a day. The concept of the letter of last resort is intertwined with the titular "dead hand" of David Hoffman's book on the "untold story" of the Cold War arms race. The dead hand, in its purest, theoretical form, is a device out of Dr. Strangelove. It is a system of radiation sensors, seismographs, and computer-linked communications that would fire off the Soviet Union's missiles in the event a first-strike decapitated the leadership. Essentially, a nuclear war could be started, waged, and completed without a human being ever pushing a button. It is a chilling thought, one that compelled me to purchase this book. Except there was never any such "Doomsday Device." It never progressed beyond the thought-stage. What the Soviets did create was called "The Perimeter." It used communication rockets to communicate with its nuclear arsenal, and could launch a retaliatory strike after low-level human input. This is not nearly so frightening or interesting as a true dead hand. Moreover, only about six or seven pages is spent on "The Perimeter." (And in fairness to the New York Times, "The Perimeter" was written about as long ago as 1994). Instead The Dead Hand feels like a lot of research in search of a narrative. It claims to be about the Cold War arms race, and it has a lot of new information on the Soviets biological weapons program. However, the great bulk of the book is devoted to rehashing the final decades of the Cold War. I imagine the author doing all these interviews, combing all these archives, coming up with all these tidbits, then wondering what to do with it all. In the end, it seems like he took this new material and appended it to an already-told story. The Dead Hand starts promisingly enough, with an anthrax outbreak that is swept under the rug by Soviet officials. After that intriguing prologue, though, the book returns to a well-worn path. It details the waning term of Leonid Brezhnev, who kept madly spending on defense and pushing the Soviet economy to the brink. What follows is a greatest hits of the Cold War. The shootdown of KAL 007; the rise of Gorbachev; the grand designs of Reagan (interesting how conservatives attack Barack Obama's naivete in wanting to get rid of all nuclear weapons, while their patron saint Ronnie crusaded for the exact same thing); the Reykjavic summit; perestroika and glasnost; arms control; the fall of the Soviet Union; and American attempts to secure the Russian arsenal. This is all well-trod ground. The old stuff is interspersed with a lot of detail - a lot - about the USSR's biological weapons program. To be sure, the program was dastardly, and to use Reagan's calculation, evil. Soviet scientists went so far as to work on viruses that would cause a person to get sick, let them get better, then hit them with a second, lethal phase. Still, the idea of state-owned biological weapons is not as frightful when compared to nuclear weapons, since the latter make the former obsolete. That is, why would a nation-state use a weapon that could make a bunch of people sick over the course of many weeks when you could simply lob a missle and get the same results instantly? More terrifying is the possibility that these scientists might still be out there for sale to rogue nations or terrorists, and it was interesting to see the programs put in place to try to hire these Russians and keep them out of trouble. The narrative is constantly jumping from one mile marker to the next, without ever finding that thread to pull all the events together. I was annoyed at certain parts when Hoffman would start a story then just drop it and move on. For instance, when talking about the year of the spies, he tells the story of an American agent arrested in Moscow. You learn that the agent's Soviet contact was executed, but you never learn the agent's fate (I went to the internet to learn the agent was released the same day). Mostly I was disappointed with what the cover promised to deliver. I thought I was going to read about a Doomsday weapon, with all the attendant risks and hypotheticals. Instead, I read about a lot of things I already knew. With the recent anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, there have been a spate of Cold War books. This was the first I picked. That will teach me to buy a book solely on a cool title and a picture of a missile on the front cover.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dervishi

    This book was a fantastic recounting of the Cold War. It was extremely factual, and did well in citing all of the sources for each piece of information and story that made this book non-fiction. I always found the Cold War as this mysterious time period where we somehow miraculously avoided nuclear annihilation by coming up with Mutually Assured Destruction. However, Hoffman really gives us an in-depth and intimate look at how MAD came about. I was left intrigued as I learned about what the Dead This book was a fantastic recounting of the Cold War. It was extremely factual, and did well in citing all of the sources for each piece of information and story that made this book non-fiction. I always found the Cold War as this mysterious time period where we somehow miraculously avoided nuclear annihilation by coming up with Mutually Assured Destruction. However, Hoffman really gives us an in-depth and intimate look at how MAD came about. I was left intrigued as I learned about what the Dead Hand really was, how close we came to destruction and how it got that close, along with tons of other covert operations that, most likely, would never have been brought to light. The fact that Hoffman compiles all this valuable information into a solid and factual recounting of how both governments handled nuclear arms, well, lets just say that it's wonderful somebody like Hoffman took the time and effort to do that. The book itself is very interesting, starting off with a good hook (hint: it involves anthrax) and then invites the reader into the White House for a look at the Reagan administration. Hoffman kept the book interesting and accurate by narrating a wide array of characters, never lingering with one specific person too long. While this book is hefty, it's because it goes into great detail about covert operations on both sides of the Cold War. It does so while maintaining interest, and it's well written as well. The level is definitely above teen, something an adult would read. A good comparison would probably be New York Times level reading. I wouldn't really recommend this book to any of my peers, because this book requires not only an advanced reading level, but a strong interest in the Cold War, otherwise the reader will have trouble understanding and/or lose interest. However, if a well-rounded reader is looking for a Cold War book, I would DEFINITELY recommend it as a reliable and trustworthy source of information on the Cold War.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    Dead Hand by David E. Hoffman 9/14/82 Teller explained his vision of an X-ray laser that he called Excalibur. An effective missile defense would turn mutual assured destruction on its head, Teller said — and lead to “assured survival” instead. Reagan asked him if an American antimissile system could really be made to work. “We have good evidence that it would,” Teller replied .... “He’s pushing an exciting idea,” Reagan wrote in his diary that night, “the nuclear weapons can be used in connection Dead Hand by David E. Hoffman 9/14/82 Teller explained his vision of an X-ray laser that he called Excalibur. An effective missile defense would turn mutual assured destruction on its head, Teller said — and lead to “assured survival” instead. Reagan asked him if an American antimissile system could really be made to work. “We have good evidence that it would,” Teller replied .... “He’s pushing an exciting idea,” Reagan wrote in his diary that night, “the nuclear weapons can be used in connection with lasers to be non-destructive except as used to intercept and destroy enemy missiles above the earth.” Reagan may not have grasped that Teller was talking about setting off nuclear weapons in outer space. The Dead Hand is a Pulitzer winning book from 2009 that covers the Cold War period between 1980 and 1992. The title comes from a chilling top secret program called “The Dead Hand” that the Soviets had at the ready. It could assure nuclear destruction of the U.S. even if all of the Soviet leaders and their cities were attacked and blown up first. The system which was briefly in place used automated sensors and timers that could launch Soviet nuclear strikes even days and weeks after the first strikes. The Gorbachev administration put an end to the Dead Hand program in 1986 fearing an accidental launch and questioning the ethical basis for such a program to exist. The vast majority of the book however focuses on the secret nuclear, biological and chemical programs of the Soviet Union. And it also focuses on the nuclear weapons program in the U.S. and the ill-conceived Strategic Defensive Initiative or Star Wars” initiative promoted by Reagan. SDI had little basis in science and also had a multi-decade time horizon that was unlikely to survive so many different administrations. The program also scared the devil out of the Soviet leaders who saw the defense shield as a crazy escalation in the nuclear arms race. Gorbachev and Reagan play outsized roles in this book. They discuss the reduction of nuclear weapons in several summits with one another. Each leader had a genuine desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons but were wary of being rolled during negotiations. At the Reykjavik summit in 1986 they nearly agreed to complete de-nuclearization by 2000 but Reagan refused to agree to a ban on research and development associated with SDI. Sad isn’t it? How the world could be a safer place today if Reagan had given up the only item on the list that was an unrealizable pipe dream. And many scientists and national security experts in both the U.S. and the Soviet Union knew that it was. Ironically many of these same experts on both sides were also relieved when the agreement fell through — since they had deep distrust that the other side would even honor such an agreement. The research and writing in this book is excellent. The last third of the book 1988-1992, after Reagan’s presidency, was not nearly as great however. Eventually Gorbachev’s presidency began to fail and the Soviet Union fell apart and the energy of the narrative petered out with it. This might not be the fault of the author but perhaps the book might have been better if it had ended with Reagan’s departure. 4 stars. Most of the book was five star material and I am glad to have read it. If nothing this book makes one realize how important it is for the world leaders to discuss de-proliferation today because there could always be an accident or an ill fated SDI project to bring the two biggest powers to nuclear war.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    I thought this book would likely be boring; but no. Hoffman starts with a bang and generally kept me turning the pages. I did not remember all the Russian names, but I didn't have to, as some clue was inserted to jog my memory if the name returned. I have to say now, before I forget, that the book left me with a lingering question, which I mentally asked over and over as the book drew to a close. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE RABBITS? There was this lovely scientist living in some remote area with his wi I thought this book would likely be boring; but no. Hoffman starts with a bang and generally kept me turning the pages. I did not remember all the Russian names, but I didn't have to, as some clue was inserted to jog my memory if the name returned. I have to say now, before I forget, that the book left me with a lingering question, which I mentally asked over and over as the book drew to a close. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE RABBITS? There was this lovely scientist living in some remote area with his wife and children. They used rabbits to test their biological warfare on. One night some wolves got hold of the injected rabbits and tore them limb from limb but did not eat them. The scientist and his family had been starving for some time, and so he put the rabbits in the freezer ....and we never hear of the rabbits again! Or the family. At first, I thought the book was going to be all "yay Regan" or "Yay Gorbachev " but fortunately it was not. I WAS glad I had read other Russian historical books, though, or I might have been a little misled. As to Regan, well, you have your thoughts and I have mine. If you are the paranoid type do not read this book. It makes it all too clear how we could all be wiped out without anyone being the wiser. Not even the instigators. Who knows what biological warfare may be still stored anywhere, as all governments tend to be paranoid, and the Russians maybe a little more so. (At least we can rent a room at a Motel 6 and feel pretty certain it's not bugged.) Honestly, it's been several weeks since I read this book, and the things I should know best I have forgotten. I have not forgotten that Hoffman did a whale of a good job on this, and I know there is a subsequent one, which I plan to get soon.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Chad Sayban

    The second half of the twentieth century will always be defined by what became known as The Cold War. Born out of the distrust between the major allied powers in the Second World War, the standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States not only gave shape to the modern world, it also created two weapons building programs unrivaled in history. Ultra secret programs that produced weapons that are too horrifying to imagine and created consequences for those who chose to create them. And whi The second half of the twentieth century will always be defined by what became known as The Cold War. Born out of the distrust between the major allied powers in the Second World War, the standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States not only gave shape to the modern world, it also created two weapons building programs unrivaled in history. Ultra secret programs that produced weapons that are too horrifying to imagine and created consequences for those who chose to create them. And while those weapons were never actually employed in the war that luckily never happened, it wasn’t for lack of trying. And even now, the shadow of those military programs lives on in spite of the end of the Soviet Union. In fact, things might be more dangerous now than they were at the height of the Cold War. David Hoffman’s inside look at the Cold War arms race and its consequences is in a word…frightening! Those of us who grew up in that time remember the fear that pervaded us – that one day we would wake up to cities being incinerated by nuclear warheads and that would be the end of that. However, until I read. The Dead Hand, I didn’t really appreciate just how close to the brink of World War III we came. Forget the Cuban Missile Crisis. We never came closer to calamity than during a few weeks in 1983 – and few knew anything about it until decades later. The Dead Hand goes far beyond simply documenting how weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical and biological) shaped policy between the superpowers. It describes just how perilously close we came at several points to all out Armageddon. Hoffman provides a wealth of information from sources on all sides of the Cold War. Even more chilling is how even today we are haunted by the legacy of destructive arsenals even though the two primary combatants no longer have a beef with each other. The industry of the two superpowers are now the deadly tools that rough states and terrorists would love to grab a hold of…and just one would alter our world forever. That is not to say The Dead Hand is perfect. At times, Hoffman’s writing becomes a bit repetitive, at other times he drones on about minor things. However, the overall portrait he paints is both thoughtful and chilling. Hoffman doesn’t end with a litany of conclusions or things that need to be done. Ultimately, there are no easy answers to the world we have built other than a need to be vigilant about allowing paranoia and fear to push into acting in a devastating way. The tools of our protection can become the instruments of our destruction. The Dead Hand is a must read for anyone who lived through the anxiety of the Cold War or wants to know what threatens our way of life today. The Cold War might be over, but the threats to humanity still remain. Well written…and frankly unnerving.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ed

    A chilling account of how close the world came to nuclear catastrophe during the Cold War and also a fascinating account of how the Cold War ended. Very interesting on the dynamics of the Reagan-Gorbachev relationship and also the whole parallel worlds of the US and Soviet Union and their perceptions of each other. Most worryingly it has details of the appalling biological weapons programs the Soviets pursued right up to the end and beyond of the Cold War in contravention of treaties they had si A chilling account of how close the world came to nuclear catastrophe during the Cold War and also a fascinating account of how the Cold War ended. Very interesting on the dynamics of the Reagan-Gorbachev relationship and also the whole parallel worlds of the US and Soviet Union and their perceptions of each other. Most worryingly it has details of the appalling biological weapons programs the Soviets pursued right up to the end and beyond of the Cold War in contravention of treaties they had signed. It is a very concrete book based on the author's visits to key sites in the history of the Cold War in the former Soviet Union and his interviews with key players. Not for the faint hearted.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michael Burnam-Fink

    The Dead Hand is an account of Soviet biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons through the end of the Cold War, and how these weapons drove superpower politics, that manages to be sprawling without being comprehensive. The many interesting moments add up to less than the sum of their parts. One chain is Biopreparat, the Soviet agency in charge of biological warfare. Biopreparat spent billions of rubles weaponizing anthrax, plague, smallpox, and a host of other diseases. There was infrastructure The Dead Hand is an account of Soviet biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons through the end of the Cold War, and how these weapons drove superpower politics, that manages to be sprawling without being comprehensive. The many interesting moments add up to less than the sum of their parts. One chain is Biopreparat, the Soviet agency in charge of biological warfare. Biopreparat spent billions of rubles weaponizing anthrax, plague, smallpox, and a host of other diseases. There was infrastructure to produce plagues to kill nations. Accidental discharges from weapons labs sickened and killed Soviet citizens. And since biological weapons were banned by a treaty the Soviet's were party to, the whole thing was officially denied for decades. Most of what we know comes from defectors, including the memoirs of scientist Ken Alibek. Another front was the dream of Reagan and Gorbachev to reduce nuclear arsenals. Mutually Assured Destruction kept the fragile peace of the Cold War, with the risk that the slightest accident could end the world. Some classes of weapons were worse than others. The Pershing II intermediate range missile could hit Moscow in less than five minutes, opening the possibility of a decapitation strike against Soviet leadership. Against this, the Soviet's deployed a system called Dead Hand, a semi-automatic response, which in a grim parody of Dr. Strangelove, which centered on a similar automatic response, was kept secret. Hoffman doesn't get into the grimy details of the technology, preferring instead a diplomatic history of negotiations between the superpowers. At several points, efforts which might have eliminated nuclear weapons foundered because Reagan wanted to keep the Strategic Defense Initiative. In Reagan's mind, this was a shield to protect the world from missiles. Pragmatically, it was a way to spend billions trying to prove Edward Teller's thesis that the H-bomb was good for something. The Dead Hand is frustrating, because it brushes up against some key issues in the technology and logic of nuclear weapons which are being forgotten as the Cold War fades from memory. MAD relies on the assumption that both parties are capable and willing to respond to a nuclear attack with one of their own. This requires a chain of command which will always drop the bomb when properly ordered to, from the supreme commander down to a junior officer carrying out the actual mechanism of delivery, and will never do so under any other circumstances. Orchestrating this always/never duality is a terrifying problem in safety, and one discussed in the American context in Schlosser's Command and Control. Hoffman doesn't really get at the Soviet solutions to the same problems, or lack thereof, instead focusing on an artificial line of 'semi-automated retaliation'. The basic problem, that a relatively junior and underinformed person in charge of a mobile rocket system, ballistic missile submarine, or alert bomber can trigger nuclear apocalypse, is present in both systems. The book is redeemed by a terrifying coda about the 90s. The Soviet WMD system was sustained by the full force of the police state, and when the USSR fell, there were thousands of sites and scientists now without support. Iran and North Korea tried to hire specialists in rockets and biological warfare. Plutonium weapon cores and enriched uranium ingots were stored in shoddily maintained facilities guarded by starving soldiers. It is a wonder that proliferation in the 90s did not end with some kind of horrific incident. The Dead Hand tries to straddle two world: a technical focus on the actual Evil Empire of an autonomous military industrial complex procuring tremendously expensive weapons that will never be used; and the collapses of the Soviet Union as a social and political entity, and manages to do neither full justice. But the partial history is still engaging, and worth reading.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    Just a few decades later, it's hard to imagine how humanity spent so long living on the nuclear brink. Yet, throughout the Cold War, presidents, politicians, and generals in the United States and Soviet Union spent a good chunk of their time thinking about the "unthinkable," how to end billions of human lives. David Hoffman's book, although overlong and often circuitous, shows us how close we were to destruction, and why we decided to step back from the edge. As Ronald Reagan remembered in his me Just a few decades later, it's hard to imagine how humanity spent so long living on the nuclear brink. Yet, throughout the Cold War, presidents, politicians, and generals in the United States and Soviet Union spent a good chunk of their time thinking about the "unthinkable," how to end billions of human lives. David Hoffman's book, although overlong and often circuitous, shows us how close we were to destruction, and why we decided to step back from the edge. As Ronald Reagan remembered in his memoir, during his presidency he carried no wallet or money, "no keys in my pockets - only secret codes that were capable of bringing about the annihilation of much of the world as we know it." Since Dwight Eisenhower, U.S. Presidents have been shadowed at all times by aides with a "nuclear football," a briefcase containing the launch codes and targets for nuclear attack. The increased speed of nuclear missiles, however, meant Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan had to confront the possibility these codes could be used in minutes. The Soviet intermediate range SS-N-18's placed in Europe in 1978 threatened to blow up that continent in five or six minutes, while the Pershing missiles placed there in response in 1983 threatened Moscow in the same time period. Both sides worried about what to do if they could not communicate to launch in time, and became obsessed with command and control channels. The Russians created a semi-"dead hand" nuclear system, whereby a communications missile would launch after a nuclear strike and send codes out to all silos to fire when ready. The world was on hair-trigger alert for years. Reagan thought he had found a way out, comprehensive missile defense. One revelation from the book is just how important Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars," was in the superpower standoff in the 1980s. After Reagan's assistant Martin Anderson, his friend Karl Bendetsen, and the scientist Edward Teller all suggested to Reagan that he should propose a defense against nuclear attack, Reagan announced the idea to the world on March 23, 1983, against the advice of almost all his Cabinet. The Soviets became obsessed with the danger it posed to their retaliation capability, even though it remained no more than a drawing board plan. One KGB agent estimated that 40% of the info coming across his desk in that time had to do with missile defense. Ending the SDI was also the main stumbling block between Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in negotiating what each secretly longed for, the end of nuclear weapons. Yet by 1987, Gorbachev and Reagan negotiated an accord taking the intermediate missiles out of Europe. By 1990 the Soviet economy was collapsing so fast that both sides engaged in an arms race in reverse, deactivating submarines and missiles and planes by the thousands, and, for the Soviet Union, finally winding down the extensive biological weapons complex they had illegally kept. Soon, the US began spending billions not to build weapons but to prevent Soviet weapons and scientists from falling into the wrong hands. U.S. inspectors found purified uranium stacked in buckets in unlocked warehouses, or dropped about the floor in empty office buildings. Soviet trains to take weapons back from the old Soviet satellite countries had missiles tied down with wire and sticking out of the sides of the cars. It was a precarious time, and Hoffman makes clear that despite American efforts under the Nunn-Lugar Act to safeguard it, some of the Soviet arsenal probably got away. The greater Cold War terror did end. By 1991, George H.W. Bush could ask his staff if nuclear football could stop trailing him everywhere, but they convinced him against it. The football still trails the President today. It is a perfect metaphor for what Hoffman calls the "Dead Hand," the continued danger, fear, and destruction that remains from the Cold War arms race, which still threatens much of our lives, even when the creators of the race have long passed.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    "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 aforem "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.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gail

    The Cold War seems both so recent and so long ago. This book brought back memories of the day to day events and the feelings they engendered. It was a fascinating summary of the diplomacy that brought down Communism in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. The back and forth of arms negotiations which did result in a reduction of nuclear weapons were revealing. Gorbachev come across as the major hero (at least to me) for being willing to make major changes in his system of government, though he s The Cold War seems both so recent and so long ago. This book brought back memories of the day to day events and the feelings they engendered. It was a fascinating summary of the diplomacy that brought down Communism in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. The back and forth of arms negotiations which did result in a reduction of nuclear weapons were revealing. Gorbachev come across as the major hero (at least to me) for being willing to make major changes in his system of government, though he seems a tragic figure as his country falls apart geographically and its economy collapses. The author has more appreciation for Reagan than I do and George HW Bush comes across pretty badly. He devotes a lot of space to biological weapons, which the Soviet Union continued to produce in vast quantities long after a treaty banning them. Uncounted stocks of nuclear components, biological and chemical weapons that remained as the Soviet Union broke up were appallingly tended; who knows what happened to some of them. This book also has interesting profiles of many of the scientists involved in the biological weapons programs and what happened to them. I would recommend it both to someone who lived though the events and to someone for whom it seems like ancient history.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    Incredible story of the history of the Cold War, including how the world almost came to war over a mistake. "Dead hand" refers to the idea of having automated systems determine the efficacy and need for initiating a retaliatory strike on an enemy prior to the arrival of the enemy's already launched attack systems. The book also discusses the Soviet Union's illegal bio-weapons research and development. The leaders of that country were convinced the US was doing it, so the Soviet Union needed to a Incredible story of the history of the Cold War, including how the world almost came to war over a mistake. "Dead hand" refers to the idea of having automated systems determine the efficacy and need for initiating a retaliatory strike on an enemy prior to the arrival of the enemy's already launched attack systems. The book also discusses the Soviet Union's illegal bio-weapons research and development. The leaders of that country were convinced the US was doing it, so the Soviet Union needed to also. Very well written, highly recommended if you like late 20th century history.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nick Black

    Great reporting and research -- I'd barely heard of the Biopreparat, despite The Doomsday Men's emphasis on biochem (particularly Shirō Ishii's Unit 731). Pretty crappy writing, though. The whole thing has a definite air of being hustled together on a bunch of adderall. Great reporting and research -- I'd barely heard of the Biopreparat, despite The Doomsday Men's emphasis on biochem (particularly Shirō Ishii's Unit 731). Pretty crappy writing, though. The whole thing has a definite air of being hustled together on a bunch of adderall.

  13. 4 out of 5

    David

    Awesome recounting of the end of the cold war. From Reagan through Yelstin. Reagan come across as a hero. Gates & Snowcroft come off as kind of tools. The sections on the biological weapons of the Soviets are really wild & scary.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Katy

    This is a very frightening book with it pointing out all that we have not known and what we don't know at present. The Cold War may be over, but the weapons still remain and so do those who wish to wage war. This is a very frightening book with it pointing out all that we have not known and what we don't know at present. The Cold War may be over, but the weapons still remain and so do those who wish to wage war.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Abhi Gupte

    What an explosive book!! I had read in magazines and seen in movies the scare of mutual assured destruction and Russian proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons; but the details elucidated by Hoffman in the "Dead Hand" sent shivers down my spine. He describes the mind-numbing mechanics of the management of these Weapons of Mass Destruction (I know that's a loaded term post-Iraq but it really deserves to be used here). The cognitive dissonance of both the leaders and the peoples of the two What an explosive book!! I had read in magazines and seen in movies the scare of mutual assured destruction and Russian proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons; but the details elucidated by Hoffman in the "Dead Hand" sent shivers down my spine. He describes the mind-numbing mechanics of the management of these Weapons of Mass Destruction (I know that's a loaded term post-Iraq but it really deserves to be used here). The cognitive dissonance of both the leaders and the peoples of the two superpowers, regarding the need for these weapons is laid bare. Everyone knew having the weapons was insane and yet everyone thought not having them was not a sane choice. Hoffman deserves his Pulitzer just for chronicling the Russian biological weapons program - I had no idea it was this monstrous. I feel the book did not cast the US in a negative light which makes me wonder whether there was a bias in the writing. It might be that the US government did have it's hands clean or that they were extremely good at the illusion at the very least. But regardless, Hoffman presents an irrefutable indictment of the Russian program. I did not rate it 5/5 just because I thought the book could have spent more chapters on the transition period from 91-93, especially on how the new independent republics and especially Yeltsin, consolidated their lethal legacy of nuclear weapons. I wish Hoffman had covered this in as much detail as he did the Reagen-Gorbachev relationship in the beginning of the book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ron Willoughby

    The only thing more mind-boggling than our proximity to self destruction during the Cold War has to be our refusal to speak with honesty of mistakes made and evil plans undertaken. I say evil because what other word could be used for a program of biological annihilation intended as the follow-up to nuclear first strike. David Hoffman has written an excellent book detailing so much of what transpired on the Soviet side of the Cold War regarding Nuclear, Chemical and Biological weapons of mass des The only thing more mind-boggling than our proximity to self destruction during the Cold War has to be our refusal to speak with honesty of mistakes made and evil plans undertaken. I say evil because what other word could be used for a program of biological annihilation intended as the follow-up to nuclear first strike. David Hoffman has written an excellent book detailing so much of what transpired on the Soviet side of the Cold War regarding Nuclear, Chemical and Biological weapons of mass destruction. His research, insight and synthesis of sources is simply remarkable. It is small wonder he was awarded a Pulitzer. I will be reading more of Mr. Hoffman.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Tollemache

    A riveting book that pursues a parallel set of narratives centered around the WMD programs of the Soviet Union and the 1980s strategic weapons negotiations between Gorbachev and Reagan. While both are interesting, it is the discussion of the Soviet's biological weapons program that is the most haunting. Even though both the US and the USSR signed the 1972 treaty outlawing the use of and development of bio weapons, the Soviets covertly pursued a very aggressive bio weapons program that developed A riveting book that pursues a parallel set of narratives centered around the WMD programs of the Soviet Union and the 1980s strategic weapons negotiations between Gorbachev and Reagan. While both are interesting, it is the discussion of the Soviet's biological weapons program that is the most haunting. Even though both the US and the USSR signed the 1972 treaty outlawing the use of and development of bio weapons, the Soviets covertly pursued a very aggressive bio weapons program that developed tons of engineered infectious agents and the ordinance to deliver them. The scary part is how even though the Soviets could mobilize advanced tech to make these weapons they displayed a typically Russian sloppiness for their control and storage. The book opens with the tale of a mass casualty event in the Siberian town of Sverdlovsk in which in a matter of weeks several dozen civilians died of a mysterious pneumonia like disease that turned out to be anthrax.. The Soviets tried to blame bad meat and or bone meal, but the truth was the town was next to a top secret bio weapons lab and somehow a plume of anthrax spores dirfted over the town. The Soviets of course used the toxic mix of obfuscation and incompetence that would be on the world stage during the Chernobyl disaster 7 years later to cover it up for decades. Hoffman also details how their sloppy disposal of small pox spores led to a smallpox outbreak on the coast of the Aral Sea in 1980. The second narrative traces how from the early days of the Reagan admin where the relationship between the USA and the USSR was non-existent to the point of being hostile but as the old guard of the Soviet Union died off in the early 1980s (they had like 3 Premiers in like 18 months) and the younger more modern Gorbachev rose to power right as the Reagan admin began to mellow its outlook on the USSR the famous weapons negotiations could being.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ushan

    This is a conventional narrative history of the final stages of the Cold War and its end and aftermath, with an emphasis on weapons on mass destruction, mostly focusing on the Soviet Union and Russia, which is not surprising given that Hoffman was the Moscow bureau chief of the Washington Post in the 1990s. The same topics are mostly covered in the relevant chapters of Richard Rhodes's Arsenals of Folly and Twilight of the Bombs. One topic Hoffman discusses at length and Rhodes doesn't is the So This is a conventional narrative history of the final stages of the Cold War and its end and aftermath, with an emphasis on weapons on mass destruction, mostly focusing on the Soviet Union and Russia, which is not surprising given that Hoffman was the Moscow bureau chief of the Washington Post in the 1990s. The same topics are mostly covered in the relevant chapters of Richard Rhodes's Arsenals of Folly and Twilight of the Bombs. One topic Hoffman discusses at length and Rhodes doesn't is the Soviet biological weapons program. The belligerent in World War II with the most advanced program of biological warfare was Japan, which experimented on live Allied POWs and Chinese civilians. After the war both the Americans and the Soviets availed themselves of Japanese germ warfare expertise, just as they did with German rocketry. The American program was terminated in 1969 by President Richard Nixon; when speechwriter William Safire asked Nixon whether the United States should retain a few germs as a deterrent, Nixon answered, "If somebody uses germs on us, we’ll nuke 'em." Great Britain terminated its program in 1956. The Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain all signed the 1972 convention outlawing biological weapons. However, the convention did not include an effective regime of inspections, so the Soviet Union cheated: tens of thousands of Soviet scientists and technicians worked on weaponized anthrax, smallpox, the Marburg virus and more, genetically engineering the germs to be more effective and resistant to medicine, brewing enough of the poisons in enormous stainless-steel vats to kill the humanity many times over. This was no deterrent: how can something be a deterrent if its existence is a state secret? In Sverdlovsk in 1979, anthrax spores leaked from a factory, killing about 100 people; when the rumors of this found their way to the West, Soviet scientists lied to their Western colleagues that the epidemic was caused by people eating tainted meat; the truth was only acknowledged after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The extent of the program was revealed to the West in 1989, when the director of an institute that worked on spraying plague germs from a low-flying cruise missile went to France to sign a contract for lab equipment. He defected to Great Britain and told all he knew; the West hushed it up lest the news of it harms Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of New Thinking. The defector called the Canadian embassy first because he was afraid that if he were to go to the United States or Great Britain, he would be forced to work on these countries' germ warfare programs; he and his colleagues did not believe that these programs did not exist. The Canadian embassy gave him a cold shoulder but the British one was more responsive. The title of the book comes from a late Soviet second-strike nuclear command-and-control system called the Perimeter. If a Pershing II ballistic missile had hit the Kremlin and killed Konstantin Chernenko and the rest of Soviet leadership before they had time to react to its launch, several junior officers in a bunker would check that a nuclear attack had taken place and normal communication links had been severed, and launch a special rocket with a radio transmitter in place of a warhead. The transmitter would transmit commands for a retaliation strike, which would cause nuclear-tipped missiles to automatically launch. The officers would be analogous to the twitching fingers of a dead hand; hence the title of the book. This is analogous to the Doomsday Machine from the film "Dr. Strangelove". A character in the film says, "The whole point of the doomsday machine is lost if you keep it a secret!" The Perimeter, however, was secret until the fall of the Soviet Union. The film is black comedy, but the book is nonfiction!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Raj Agrawal

    This is a book I’ll definitely come back to. I’ve never gravitated toward history books, but this one reads like a novel – but “you can’t make this stuff up.” Hoffman tells the story of the major personalities involved in nuclear deterrence, especially during the Reagan and Gorbachev years. Hoffman shifts some of the emphasis off of Reagan’s effectiveness, and shares credit for the end of the Cold War with Gorbachev. Gorbachev’s genius, ability to shape information, and his apparent concerns wit This is a book I’ll definitely come back to. I’ve never gravitated toward history books, but this one reads like a novel – but “you can’t make this stuff up.” Hoffman tells the story of the major personalities involved in nuclear deterrence, especially during the Reagan and Gorbachev years. Hoffman shifts some of the emphasis off of Reagan’s effectiveness, and shares credit for the end of the Cold War with Gorbachev. Gorbachev’s genius, ability to shape information, and his apparent concerns with the status quo of USSR domestic policy, led to critical decisions that deescalated many potential nuclear triggers. There really is too much to tell in this brief review. This is one of my favorites. From the impact of loss of USSR prestige after the Korean Air shoot down (see Gilpin) and resultant frenzy to reacquire influence, to the crucial role of (and manipulation of) espionage, to Reagan’s zealotry in painting the USSR as the epitome of evil (including a pitch to evangelical Christian leaders), there is much to draw from in Hoffman’s account. Hoffman even shows the space arms race as a sort of proxy war in the same fashion as Afghanistan. This is the first time I’ve seen the SDI framed in this light. Certainly, Hoffman intends to draw a theme of the threat of biological weapons as a current threat; however, I’m not sure he does that quite effectively. It almost seems a reach at the end of his book. Nevertheless, he provides a tremendous account of how biological weapons played a role in the Cold War that may have largely gone unnoticed due to the US’s ability to conduct intelligence at that time, as well as the USSR’s ability to keep that program secret. So, not a book so much on the USSR’s “Dead Hand” system – an automated nuclear missile launch system, rife with potential for error – but it’s the Dead Hand on a larger scale. Personalities, fear, and possession of weapons of mass destruction are a devastating mix.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Hyman

    Excellent book! The cold war is very much still with us. Still, Americans or Russians could send up their missiles and really the only possible responses are massive retaliation and doing nothing. I must say that I understand a little bit better the motivation of Ronald Reagan. He could not believe that if the Russians were to send up their missiles, there is not really much that we can do. That was behind the whole Star Wars thing. He wanted some way to protect us from a Soviet first strike, fo Excellent book! The cold war is very much still with us. Still, Americans or Russians could send up their missiles and really the only possible responses are massive retaliation and doing nothing. I must say that I understand a little bit better the motivation of Ronald Reagan. He could not believe that if the Russians were to send up their missiles, there is not really much that we can do. That was behind the whole Star Wars thing. He wanted some way to protect us from a Soviet first strike, for which we are essentially defenseless. So I can understand his motivation, even though he didn't seem to understand that the Russians see Star Wars as a way for us to be able to attack them without fear of retaliation – because we would shoot down their retaliatory missiles. We are all very lucky that Gorbachev came to power. He clearly understood the absurdity of the nuclear arms race. It is difficult to imagine that the Soviets had a system totally computerized that would launch a retaliatory attack in the case that their leaders have been killed by a US first strike. All the things that could have gone wrong in the Cold War, but didn't, it's amazing we escaped it without some huge accident, setting off a nuclear war. Another incredible element of this book is how huge the biological and chemical weapons program of the Soviet Union was. There is still a lot to do to reduce the threat of weapons of mass distruction.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Derek

    This book was disappointing to me for several reasons. First, the titular doomsday machine is the subject of significantly less than a quarter of the book. Biological and Chemical weapons and arms control summits are the majority focus of the book. Chemical and biological weapons are definitely scary, but I was looking for nuclear terror instead. Secondly, the author treats Reagan without an ounce of criticism. His lofty speeches and contemplative letters are treated as if they are the only expr This book was disappointing to me for several reasons. First, the titular doomsday machine is the subject of significantly less than a quarter of the book. Biological and Chemical weapons and arms control summits are the majority focus of the book. Chemical and biological weapons are definitely scary, but I was looking for nuclear terror instead. Secondly, the author treats Reagan without an ounce of criticism. His lofty speeches and contemplative letters are treated as if they are the only expression of American nuclear policy and militarism writ large. The Soviets are always decrepit and deceptive, and towards the end of the book “the Iranians” becomes a nebulous villain in the background. It’s not a poorly written book by any means, but it’s certainly not as suspenseful as the copy on the front and back covers advertise. I’m surprised that the Norwegian rocket incident from the mid nineties didn’t make an appearance. I figured that would be red meat for the author since the possibility of an accidental or unintended nuclear launch is an ever present theme throughout the book. In that case, I’d recommend Command and Control by Eric Schlosser.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cav

    This was an OK read. Not bad, but not great, either. "The Dead Hand" spends most of its time on a very detailed back-and-forth account of the relationship and negotiations between Reagan and Gorbachev, for what seemed like more time than it was worth. For such a long book (audio book was >20hrs long), it could have included a background about the Cold War and its early stages, which was what I was expecting. Author David E. Hoffman praises Mikhail Gorbachev for his role in the de-escalation and d This was an OK read. Not bad, but not great, either. "The Dead Hand" spends most of its time on a very detailed back-and-forth account of the relationship and negotiations between Reagan and Gorbachev, for what seemed like more time than it was worth. For such a long book (audio book was >20hrs long), it could have included a background about the Cold War and its early stages, which was what I was expecting. Author David E. Hoffman praises Mikhail Gorbachev for his role in the de-escalation and diplomatic efforts at ending the Cold War: "Gorbachev did not set out to change the world, but rather to save his country. In the end, he did not save the country but may have saved the world." There's lots of interesting information here, including details about the Russian bio-weapons programs, and the post Soviet mismanagement of fissile materials, but I feel that the writing style ultimately left a bit to be desired. The story is not presented here in as an engaging or interesting manner as it could have been. 3.5 stars.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    Incredible book! An absolute must read for sure. Presents enough well researched background to create significant concern about the possibility both weaponized BW/CW stocks remain in Russia and the expertise/capability remains to make more. With Putin's actions over the last decade, it is clear the world has much to be concerned about with respect to the future actions of the Russian Federation. Incredible book! An absolute must read for sure. Presents enough well researched background to create significant concern about the possibility both weaponized BW/CW stocks remain in Russia and the expertise/capability remains to make more. With Putin's actions over the last decade, it is clear the world has much to be concerned about with respect to the future actions of the Russian Federation.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ying Zu

    Interesting recount of the cold war history, but the narrative is overly skewed as if every minute American actions during that horrible span of tension are automatically justified due to their moral superiority or some mysterious yet boundless love for humanity as a whole. Given up reading at around 90% mark, the storyline turns very pale after the soviet meltdown. Overall not recommended, wish I had spent the time reading something else.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    The Cold War is over, we no longer have nuclear attack drills in schools, so all's well. Right? Wrong. Way wrong. Turns out the Soviets were developing some seriously dangerous biological weapons, and who knows where this technology has subsequently found a home. Chances are good that some really bad people now have this. The Cold War is over, we no longer have nuclear attack drills in schools, so all's well. Right? Wrong. Way wrong. Turns out the Soviets were developing some seriously dangerous biological weapons, and who knows where this technology has subsequently found a home. Chances are good that some really bad people now have this.

  26. 4 out of 5

    John

    How are any of us alive?

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bill Weaver

    The Dead Hand: the Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy, despite that lengthy title, won the Pulitzer. I thought it'd be a good follow up to the Making of the Atomic Bomb. Certainly it is different nonfiction. The Atomic Bomb book couldn't been written by a robot: it was just a chronological, objective retelling of events. The Dead Hand, on the other hand, is investigative journalism (or history?) and offers interpretation and opinion. Unfortunately, this book was offe The Dead Hand: the Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy, despite that lengthy title, won the Pulitzer. I thought it'd be a good follow up to the Making of the Atomic Bomb. Certainly it is different nonfiction. The Atomic Bomb book couldn't been written by a robot: it was just a chronological, objective retelling of events. The Dead Hand, on the other hand, is investigative journalism (or history?) and offers interpretation and opinion. Unfortunately, this book was offering a lot of new information when it was published, and so the book really focuses on the unique things the author had to offer instead of offering a more holistic look at the Cold War. The result is that the book totally dwells on Reagan's fairly dumb insistence on being able to build a missile shield (at the cost of meaningful disarmament!) and the Soviet chemical/biological weapons program. I don't know. I didn't enjoy this much. 158? Here's what I learned: Reagan wrote in his memoir that as president he didn't keep keys or a wallet in his pocket, just a plastic card with the codes to annihilate mankind. Interestingly, the codes aren't to launch the nukes--the nukes don't know the codes--they're just to ensure that the president himself is indeed speaking (since nuclear launches could be ordered over the phone--the nuclear codes are literally protection against good impersonators). A common Cold War adage was that the Americans couldn't predict Soviet behavior because the Americans had so little little information on inner Soviet workings, and the Soviets couldn't predict American behavior because the Soviets had too much information on inner American workings. After Reagan was shot, he got very sentimental and wrote a hand-written letter to Brezhnev from the hospital calling for peace and negotiation, but also sorta censuring and saying that all their problems were because they should abandon communism for democracy and socialism for capitalism. The author noted that "Reagan's letter seems to be based on the premise that the Soviets hadn't adopted American ideals simply because they didn't know they were available to them." (The state department hated Reagan's letter for this reason, and sent an edited version, but Reagan found out and sent the hand-written one, too). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_... should be required reading for all politicians and military leadership. So many understandable and yet totally preventable mistakes from all sides, before, during, and after. Perhaps the most interesting, a group of intelligence analysts pretty much immediately figured out that the Soviets shot down the plan out of ignorance and fear that it was another American spy place illegally invading their air space, and these analysts got their information to the White House within a day. Unfortunately, Reagan and Schultz just didn't want to believe it because they were so fired up and thought the Soviets were just crazy aggressors. The amount of information https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_An... provided to the Soviets is staggering. Because of Walker, the Soviets had the naval encryption key and could listen to literally every naval communication they could intercept. Reagan has admitted that he was "not good with details." Like Trump, Reagan insisted on one-page briefing papers. Reagan once proposed a disarmament treaty to the Soviets that would give them both the same number of nukes, except the treaty also had a very low hard cap on ground based nukes. Reagan didn't realize that nearly all of American's nukes were on submarines, and nearly all of Soviet nukes were ground-based, so that this agreement was pretty one-sided. The Soviets rejected the deal for this reason, and Reagan admitted it was his fault for not knowing--he thought he was proposing a fair deal. Reagan looooovvveed the idea of a missile shield. An aide said in a meeting once, "Wouldn't it be nice if the country could protect its citizens instead of just avenging them?" Reagan stopped the meeting and basically said, "Write that down!" He then gave a national public address on the subject using the same phrase even before missile defense had reached the R&D phase (and maybe he should've waited, because missile defense is pretty hard, although maybe all the US failures on missile defense are counter intelligence to prevent Soviet/Chinese countermeasures). The Soviet bioweapons program (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_...) is staggeringly frightening. It's also pretty remarkable that the Soviets ramped up the program shortly after signing a treaty that would prevent literally everything in the program. Basically, the Soviets had (have?) enough weaponized anthrax, tularemia, and small pox to wipe out all of mankind. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioprep.... Soviet bioweapons engineers used to say that if they wouldn't make bioweapons, the only jobs they could get would be at the Western Siberian Hat Company. Which is a fun way of saying, "I'll be thrown into a prison labor camp if I can't make or refuse to make bioweapons." Soviet bioweapons leaders didn't really think it was a big deal to make bioweapons. They said, "We were violating the treaty, so we assumed the Americans were violating the treaty. They're as smart as us, so why wouldn't they? Especially if they knew we were violating the treaty?" Eventually Reagan's administration learned (rightly) that Soviets were extremely concerned about the possibility of an American first strike against the Soviet Union. This made no sense whatsoever to the Americans, who thought the Soviets would have enough intelligence on US war game strategy to know that a first strike had never been contemplated--US strategy was completely based in deterrence. The intelligence mainly came from British intelligence, who had great Soviet double agents. British intelligence eventually came to understand that Soviet leaders' fear of a first strike was pretty much caused by the Soviets' lack of nuclear-safe bunkers in Moscow and St. Petersburg. American leaders have enough protection that they can imagine themselves surviving a Soviet first strike, but Soviets believed that they would certainly all die, so they were hyper-vigilant about watching for signs of a Western strike against the Soviet Union. For example, there was a Soviet directive for its London spies to monitor the price of blood in London because the Brits would start hoarding blood, driving up prices, if they were gearing up for an attack. The Soviet spies had to inform their superiors that blood donors were unpaid in England. US president who did the most to eradicate US stock piles of biological weapons? Richard Nixon. Nixon effected probably the only unilateral discard of an entire weapon stock in the world. Nixon got rid of all of the US biological weapons stockpiles, saying that they were unnecessary with nukes, and mainly to show that he was a more powerful leader and more trusted than his predecessors. The US never proposed complete nuclear disarmament to the USSR because there was never an expectation that the USSR would go for it because without nukes the USSR wouldn't be a superpower. In all of his diaries and papers, the only time Reagan referred to himself as "depressed" was after he saw https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Day.... Aides agree he was in a stupor for about a week after it aired. Reagan seems pretty brilliant in messaging and portraying himself to Americans, and pretty stupid in understanding how the Russians saw him. Pretty much everyone in the USSR took deep, lasting offense to being called "The Evil Empire," and it severely limited Reagan's ability to negotiate. Worse, Reagan didn't really understand why. Terrifyingly, the Soviets' Dead Hand system was pretty much straight out of the plot of Dr. Strangelove. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Ha.... Basically, the Soviets built a highly sophisticated computer and missile system that could launch its nukes and destroy the West if it were ever attacked and all of its leaders were dead. Though Soviets themselves recognized that it was stupid to have a doomsday device and not tell anyone. They also eventually backed the program down to have some human firewalls, but these were pretty much low-level officers surviving in bunkers who could decide to stop launching every single nuke. The CIA devoted 45% of its total analytic power to the Soviet Union when Gorbachev came to power, yet the CIA had pretty much no clue about him because the CIA had no inside sources in the Kremlin, and had to rely on British and Canadian intelligence to share information they had. As a result, the CIA guessed the hell out of what type of man Gorbachev was when it briefed Reagan, and completely missed the mark in thinking he would be like his predecessors. On the contrary, Gorbachev only took the job to change things. Gorbachev was the first Soviet leader to realize that to be a superpower you didn't need a superpower military; you needed a superpower economy. Unfortunately he inherited an economy that spent 20% of all wealth on the military, which was hard to figure out because military budgets were confidential even to the politburo. The Soviet military industrial complex was basically a rogue nation with complete economic control. Reagan absolutely and needlessly blew the world's best chance at disarmament. Gorbachev proposed concrete steps to complete disarmament for nukes and ballistic missiles, but Reagan wouldn't agree to limit his stupid missile shield to lab research. The more I read, the less I think of Reagan and the more I think of Gorbachev. This book sorta became frustrating to read because both Gorbachev and Reagan were sooooooooo hung up on missile defense, which is so f---ing stupid in hindsight. But they should've known better then. Reagan should've recognized that this wasn't even at the R&D phase and could face significant hurdles such that it shouldn't be as important as, you know, getting rid of nukes and ballistic missiles; and Gorbachev's advisors all told him, "Well, even if they build that, there are dozens of things we could do that could beat it. Just fire a ton of flak or hundreds of dummy missiles at once. Easy." This book made me less afraid of nuclear weapons and more afraid of biological weapons, "the poor man's bomb." Dropping an ordinary atomic bomb on Washington, D.C. would kill about 80,000 people. A hydrogen bomb or other multi-stage weapon would kill about 1.9 million. Luckily for all those people, these weapons are incredibly difficult to construct, and both the people who know how and the materials necessary to do so are well tracked and extremely hard to come by. But guess what? Releasing 100 kg of anthrax spores on Washington, D.C. would kill 1.4 million people. And unlike nukes, experts estimate it would take 5 biologists, a few weeks, and less than $100,000 to develop such a weapon. Sound unlikely? It's not. The Soviets had a massive stockpile of anthrax spores. Over 100 Soviets died due to an accidental explosion that released the spores. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sverdlo... After bio/chemical disarmament, Soviets were allowed to tour US weapons depots and former labs to investigate whether the US had stockpiles. The Soviet scientists were irate to find out that the US had not developed biological or chemical weapons. They pretty much came to hate the former Soviet Union for making them develop such weapons based on the lie that the US was doing the same. Based on what I read, I would bet all of my money that other nations/people/whoevers were able to get highly enriched fissile material when the USSR fell. The Soviets, German, and US intelligence apparata caught maybe a dozen people at airports who were trying to walk off with fissile material. When the USSR fell and inspectors flew in to help inspect and secure enrichment and storage sites, everyone's account is the same: they were all floored by how unsecured the Soviet fissile material was. Most descriptions include phrases like "literally just lying on the ground," "in unlocked lockers in an unlocked building," "just anywhere--anyone could walk off with the stuff." Soviet personnel even admitted that they didn't keep good records on how much plutonium/uranium/tritium/etc. they had because that way they'd never have a shortfall when they inevitably lost some. The "smarter" personnel might just underreport how much they had so that when they lost some, the numbers would line up. Iran, North Korea, and Iraq were all over Soviet scientists when the USSR fell: sending their young men to take their college classes from Soviet professors to start good relationships, trying to straight up hire the best Soviet scientists. The more I learned of the situation when the USSR fell, the more terrified I became. All fissile material and the secrets to make bombs are definitely not accounted for. Some has definitely fallen into the wrong hands. Here's an article sorta touching it: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/feat... Al-Qaeda tried very hard to get its hands on former Soviet nuclear weapons or fissile material, but there's no evidence they were successful (you know, because the most likely evidence would be a crater somewhere in the West). Bin Laden was also very impressed by the sarin gas attacks by the cult in Japan and Al-Qaeda was actively exploring a bio/chem weapons program, knowing full well that it could kill as many as a nuclear bomb at little cost and with incredibly less expertise.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Niall

    The Dead Hand is a dense, gripping and incredibly well sourced history of the Cold War arms race between the US and Russia. Hoffman expertly details the construction and implementation of what are two rival doomsday machines that are designed for maximum damage and hair-trigger automation. In addition to the massive arsenal of nukes pointed at each other and on constant stand-by for launch there were incredible amounts of chemical weapons and biological weapons also on stand-by, with horrific gr The Dead Hand is a dense, gripping and incredibly well sourced history of the Cold War arms race between the US and Russia. Hoffman expertly details the construction and implementation of what are two rival doomsday machines that are designed for maximum damage and hair-trigger automation. In addition to the massive arsenal of nukes pointed at each other and on constant stand-by for launch there were incredible amounts of chemical weapons and biological weapons also on stand-by, with horrific groundbreaking research being done by Soviet scientists. As an example: the Russians had discovered a way to manipulate small pox to ensure that if a bio-weapon was used, the victims (if they recovered from the initial disease) would have their nervous system attacked by their immune system two weeks later - a 100% fatality rate in other words. Similarly the Russians developed a nerve gas called novichok which is so deadly all it required was a single drop to kill someone in 15 minutes. They had over a million litres of it at the ready. The Russians also successfully developed a near automated nuclear launch system called "Perimeter" that would see a computerized missile launch and communicate with the nuclear arsenal to attack as it flew towards the US. It was implemented for use near the end of the Cold War. An nuclear holocaust was nearly unleashed when Russian radar thought a flock of geese were missiles coming from the US. The specific details of the sheer amount of violent weaponry and the insane automation created by both the US and the Russians is only a portion of what's covered by Hoffman. He does a fantastic job of illustrating how high risk the collapse of the Soviet Union was for the world as nukes, chemical and biological weapons were left completely unguarded, not tracked by any official documents and left totally vulnerable to criminals or nations looking to gain an edge in warfare. There are weapons grade uranium left in buckets, weaponized anthrax buried in dirt and fissile material laying around under parking lots and in abandoned closed cities. Nuclear physicists were being paid $15.00/month when the collapse took place. Some were paid in eggs and sugar, others with vacuums which they then had to sell to earn money. One scientist working on bio-weapons ended up having to eat the test animals he had for experiments in order to feed his family. Iran and North Korea pounced on this weakness, offering scientists money to provide insight on weapons of mass destruction. The sudden availability of weapons, materials and knowledge to the highest bidder was yet another red alert threat and consequence of creating these dueling doomsday machines. The way Hoffman tells it, we got incredibly lucky not to have a variety of madmen with these weapons given how easy they were to obtain. The details of the US scrambling to control this situation is equally thrilling and harrowing. I thought the book was a little fat in the middle section where Hoffman (albeit impressively) details every little bit of correspondence and opinions of Reagan, Thatcher, Gorbachev, the Soviet politburo and various public servants as arms control talks begin to ramp up. By what felt like the fifteenth time Reagan and Gorbachev have communication or correspondence on SDI (aka the "Star Wars" program) with neither side understanding the other, I was ready to move on. But Hoffman got everything back on track with the details and dangers of the Soviet collapse - that was pulse pounding stuff. The Dead Hand has two clear lessons from the arms race that defined the Cold War. First, that simple communication and mature diplomacy should be the norm for foreign relations (especially when WMDs are involved). Due to mistrust and lack of dialogue, there were constant misunderstandings and escalations that could have easily caused an apocalypse. The second lesson comes in the form of a cautionary tale for nations who spend the majority of their resources on the military industrial complex rather than investing it in their own people. Following this path leads to ruin - the US should take note of this. A final aside: The Dead Hand is an all-time book title. I just wanted to get that in there somewhere.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Steve Smits

    This amazing and, in many respects, chilling book is an account of the winding down of the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. It is amazing because of the interplay on nuclear arms control between the US leadership, principally Ronald Reagan, and the Soviet leaders following Brezhnev. Reagan was sincerely repulsed by the philosophy and practices of communism and his tough talk was an honest expression of his views on the so-called “Evil Empire”. At the same time, a This amazing and, in many respects, chilling book is an account of the winding down of the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. It is amazing because of the interplay on nuclear arms control between the US leadership, principally Ronald Reagan, and the Soviet leaders following Brezhnev. Reagan was sincerely repulsed by the philosophy and practices of communism and his tough talk was an honest expression of his views on the so-called “Evil Empire”. At the same time, and this isn’t so widely known, he was genuinely driven by the idea that the world could be rid of nuclear weapons. His disarmament overtures to the Soviets were bold, usually counter to the advice of his civilian and military advisors, and came remarkably close to succeeding. Against this intention, however, were his constant provocative anti-Soviet public statements that could be legitimately received as antagonistic, even threatening. The story is chilling because of circumstances in the early 1980’s where misperceptions and the response to those brought us to the brink of an actual nuclear exchange. Reagan’s openly hostile demeanor toward the Soviets brought their leaders (a succession of old guard hacks – Andropov and Chernenko) to believe that the United States was planning a first-strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Their level of obsession reached a state of paranoia. They surmised that the US would first take out the leadership through an all-out attack with its nuclear arsenal. This led to devising a command and control protocol that would allow a launch command to be sent without the real-time authorization of the top leaders – a semi-automatic launch command to the missile officers at the silos, hence the “dead hand” that would in effect pull the nuclear trigger. One thing is clear: the Soviets felt genuinely, if erroneously, threatened about the West’s intentions. While they were not reckless about their own use of nuclear weapons, a series of missteps or technical breakdowns stemming from their fears could have resulted in a nuclear exchange. The book recounts incidents where, due to errors in early warning systems, the Soviets thought they were being attacked. The decision time to launch a counter attack is just minutes, the so-called “hair trigger” danger of nuclear strategy. Reagan’s effort to eliminate nuclear weapons was thwarted by his obsession with the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI or the so-called Star Wars program). It is puzzling why he held so tightly to this new aspect that would inevitably upset the balance between the super powers. It seems clear that this was not just a bargaining chip he played against the Soviets. He apparently truly believed that this anti-ballistic missile “shield” would protect against nuclear attacks (although the science and technology were/are highly suspect) and could bring about the reduction or elimination of offensive weapons. The Soviets, whose economy could not bear another expensive weapons venture, logically viewed SDI as destabilizing the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) balance between the two countries. SDI would create greater threat to them since, after all, if the US could destroy the Soviet’s nuclear missiles then its own could be used without fear of retaliation. Another chilling aspect of this story, told at great length and in remarkable detail, is the Soviet’s development of biological weapons. After an international treaty banning the production and possession of biological weapon agents was signed by most countries, the Soviet Union completely violated the treaty by continuing with a full-scale, highly secret program of manufacturing the most heinous weapons imaginable. The Soviets believed wrongly that the US was also ignoring the treaty and they continued on a massive scale to find and weaponize diseases that would create the most horrific consequences if used. The Soviet leaders were aware of this, but couldn’t exercise complete control as there was a powerful military-industrial combine that worked to perpetuate it. Indeed, the influence of the defense/warfare sector of the Russian economy (and surely our own) was a strongly contributing factor to the arms race in all dimensions. (One must remember that the Soviet economy had a huge defense industry, a much larger component of the country’s economy than in the US.) The Soviet Union collapsed during Gorbachev’s rule. Gorbachev was not the radical reformer that he is often portrayed to be, but his moves to open up Soviet society unleashed forces that took matters far beyond what he intended. Gorbachev and Reagan develop a true rapport, but institutional impediments (including the military/industrial combines in both countries and the SDI) prevented making substantial progress on arms control. It was after the Soviet economy collapsed (and, yes, the constant pressure of keeping up with the Americans had something to do with this) that the unsustainability of the levels of nuclear weapons compelled change. However, as the Soviet’s economy and authority structure collapsed the already poor controls over nuclear weapons and weapons materials have become clear and very worrisome. The book conveys the laxity of security over weapons and weapons materials and the ability of rogue actors to spread these elsewhere. Even if, thankfully, the chances of full-scale nuclear war have greatly lessened, the possibilities that weapons or weapons components could fall into maleficent hands has greatly increased. In the “MAD” era of the cold war (and one would not wish to return to this) the opposing powers had compelling institutional rationales for not attacking each other. Our new enemies have no such inhibiting pressure on them. There are international programs aimed at destroying stockpiles, or at least accounting for them under strict security, but the chances that these materials could fall under the control of terrorists seems very great. One remembers the fear and revulsion created by two homemade “pressure cooker” bombs in Boston; just think of what could happen if even a small amount of nuclear/radioactive elements were unleashed anywhere in the country. The efforts to gain (regain?) control over the security of the products of the Cold War deserve the highest attention possible.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mustafa Gundogan

    It looks like the author is in love with Reagan. Ideology aside, statistically speaking, there should be something he did that should be criticized, right? You won't find it in this book. He presents Reagan as someone willing to get rid of the nuclear weapons altogether. If this were the real intention he would've sat with Russians trying to find a way out. Instead he gave green light to defensive systems (by violating the previous agreements) fully knowing that the Soviets would understand this It looks like the author is in love with Reagan. Ideology aside, statistically speaking, there should be something he did that should be criticized, right? You won't find it in this book. He presents Reagan as someone willing to get rid of the nuclear weapons altogether. If this were the real intention he would've sat with Russians trying to find a way out. Instead he gave green light to defensive systems (by violating the previous agreements) fully knowing that the Soviets would understand this an aggressive move. Even such an obvious move from Reagan is described as almost peaceful. Plain ridiculous.

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