Book Review: The Dead Hand by David E. Hoffman

Author: David E. Hoffman
TitleThe Dead Hand
Publication Info: Anchor (2010)
ISBN: 9781415965825
Summary/Review: This book is a history of the Cold War from ca. 1979 to collapse of the Soviet empire which draws on interviews, memoirs, and previously secret sources to present both the American and Soviet sides of the story.  It’s interesting to read about many of the top stories of my childhood from a historical perspective – Afghanistan, the Korean Air shoot down, Iran-Contra, Grenada, Reykjavik Summit, the Evil Empire and “We begin bombing Russia in five minutes,” Cherynobyl, Glasnost and Perestroika, Mathias Rust flying into Red Square and the Soviet Coup of 1991 are all recounted.  There are many surprises such as Ronald Reagan’s deep desire to eliminate nuclear weapons from the world which seemed contrary to his defense rhetoric of the time but also the rationale behind Reagan clinging to the Strategic Defense Initiative (even though it was never a reality and it proved a stumbling block in disarmament treaties).   Things on the Soviet side are even scarier as an incident in 1983 when a false alarm almost lead to the launch of a full-scale nuclear missile attack.  Hoffman also details the Soviets extensive and illegal biological weapons development. The last part of the book Hoffman discusses the danger of the remaining nuclear and biological weapons left over after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  While Hoffman’s point is that the danger of these weapons didn’t go away after 1991, this portion of the book  just isn’t as compelling as the earlier parts of the book and it feels kind of tacked on.  This is a fascinating look at recent history that I found both eye-opening and educational.

Recommended books: House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World’s Two Most Powerful Dynasties by Craig Unger and The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower by Robert Baer.

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