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Download The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy Audiobook

Extended Audio Sample The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy Audiobook, by David E. Hoffman Click for printable size audiobook cover
4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (713 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: David E. Hoffman, David Hoffman Narrator: Bob Walter Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Abridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: September 2009 ISBN: 9780739384862
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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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Quotes & Awards

  • Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Nick | 2/10/2014

    " We don't hear much about weapons of mass destruction these days, but this history of the Cold War arms race and its aftermath is a warning bell that much needs to be done, not only to abolish nuclear weapons, but also chemical and biological weapons and stocks of enriched uranium and plutonium. Hoffman lays out in plain language the extent of unsecured weapons, weapons-grade materials and scientists and technicians who are able to make more of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jeff Rosendahl | 1/28/2014

    " A great book for Cold War historians. Similar to "One Minute to Midnight" in that it's amazing in hindsight to realize how much the US and USSR misunderstood each other. Hoffman writes that the USSR concealed massive biological and chemical weapons programs that only came to light recently even though they denied having these programs. His writing about these weapons and the nuclear weapons that were basically left lying around when the USSR dissolved is scary...almost to the point where it's remarkable we're still around at all. Makes great points about Reagan and Gorbachev not being nearly as deal-making on strategic arms as we believe. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kevin | 1/28/2014

    " "Chilling! If you thought that Dr Strangelove was just a comedy with no basis in fact. Think again. During the Cold War, the Soviets did have a doomsday device. They also continued with the production of civilization ending biological warfare agents until well into the 1990's. These are but a few of the shocking revelations in Hoffman's book. But perhaps scariest of all is the greatest danger came well after the fall of the Soviet Union. Loose nukes, destitute scientists, and leaking bio-bombs. Gave me the shivers! " "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Ryan | 1/28/2014

    " Pretty fascinating, and extremely scary. My only complaint might be that it focuses on the Soviet side of things, and doesn't go into depth about the nuclear control systems or internal power struggles around nuclear management in the U.S. Still, the peek behind the Soviet system is scary, and shows how a small misunderstanding could have triggered nuclear war. Nice brief history of Gorbachev, too, who I didn't know too much about, but who I respect more now for trying to pull his country back from the brink. He failed in a way, but he also succeeded in a way. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Rachel Fritz | 1/24/2014

    " This the third Pulitzer prize winner that I have read this year and I have not been disappointed. An incredible read that explores the nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of the Cold War. Very interesting to read how each side misunderstood the other. It ends with the tragic thought of how ideologies and threats have changed but the potential for mass destruction is still real. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Tlenon | 1/24/2014

    " Abandoned half way through. It was interesting to learn about soviet political structure. But I just can't take it any more. Makes The Americans tv show a better watch. The soviets were genuinely that paranoid about US intentions. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Craig | 1/20/2014

    " Very powerful summation of the aspects of the Cold War that did not end in 1991, the unanswered questions about the biological, chemical and nuclear weapons that still remain behind in the former Soviet Union. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize for best non-fiction work in 2010, this account written by former Washington Post journalist David E. Hoffman is both accessible and eye-opening. At its heart it's another review of the Cold War - spies, negotiations, threats, and the culture of personality make up its heart - but by focusing on a part of the Cold War that has not been very well covered in other accounts, it really makes important statements about the global threats that remain with us. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Greg Brown | 1/19/2014

    " A fantastic overview of the '80s and '90s of Cold War nuclear politics, with chilling information about the biological and chemical programs undergone by the USSR at the same time. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Kees | 11/22/2013

    " Probably one of the best contemporary history books I have read in a long time. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the period. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Gwynne | 11/20/2013

    " I listened to this book via CD (a first for me). A comprehensive exploration of the Cold War Arms Race. Way more than I needed to know for my research but definitely worth hearing. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 David Dennis | 10/24/2013

    " Just started on this one, and already it's chock full of scary anecdotes about nuclear war near-misses and other Cold War disasters. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 John | 9/3/2013

    " A brilliant, readable book that has transformed my view of the Soviet Union: the worst country ever. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Joey | 3/1/2013

    " Probably a little longer than it needed to be and I started to lose interest at the halfway mark. Interesting subject and the writer is skilled but the narrative was a little drawn out. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Laurie | 12/22/2012

    " An excellent book on the legacy of the Cold War--a legacy that still puts us all at risk. The information on the Soviet biological weapons program is frightening. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Peter | 8/11/2012

    " A good choice by the Pulitzer committee. Riveting. Bravo to Mr. Hoffman for impeccable writing and historianship. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Alex Long | 5/25/2012

    " A gripping tale of the cold war arms race (both biological and nuclear) that centers around the negotiations between Regan and Gorbachev. This is not an exhaustive history of the cold war, it's a detailed look at how the cold war ended and how the world dealt with the aftermath. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Simon | 5/17/2012

    " This is an excellent read. The Dead Hand is full of facts and goes in depth about the Russian nuclear weapons program. Citing a lot of the Russian government officials is what makes this book come alive. David Hoffman reveals a lot of untold secrets and compiles it into one great read. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jack | 4/26/2012

    " Scary. The world is not safe. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 David Hoffman | 3/30/2012

    " How the Cold War ended -- not as we thought! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Dave Steinbrunn | 3/4/2012

    " Interesting, but very dry and dense "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Brittany | 2/18/2012

    " Very scary...to think what potential destruction is out there, and how easily it can fall into the wrong hands. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jonnie | 5/10/2011

    " The rating should be more like a 4.5; there were just a few places where it dragged a little. I would recommend this book. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Nathan | 5/1/2011

    " This book is a chilling look at the nuclear and biological weapons programs of the Soviet Union and the remaining danger to civilization. I finished the book with a sense of alarm at how easily a lone terrorist could use a form of these weapons to inflict great harm. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jack | 3/9/2011

    " Scary. The world is not safe. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Greg | 1/2/2011

    " A fantastic overview of the '80s and '90s of Cold War nuclear politics, with chilling information about the biological and chemical programs undergone by the USSR at the same time. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Gwynne | 12/13/2010

    " I listened to this book via CD (a first for me). A comprehensive exploration of the Cold War Arms Race. Way more than I needed to know for my research but definitely worth hearing. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Terri | 12/5/2010

    " Very well researched and readable account of secret Russian nuclear and (most scary) biowarfare programs and how arms control agreements were reached. Also the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Reagan. Some interesting tidbits about our current defense secretary, Gates. "

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About the Author
Author David E. HoffmanDavid E. Hoffman is a contributing editor at The Washington Post and a correspondent for PBS's flagship investigative series, FRONTLINE. He is the author of The Dead Hand, about the end of the Cold War arms race, and winner of a 2010 Pulitzer Prize. He lives with his wife in Maryland.
About the Narrator

Bob Walter is a producer, director, and audiobook narrator. He is best known for his work as a music producer and sound effects designer for the movies Halloween, The Little Brave Toaster, and Apocalypse Now. His audiobook narrations include several nonfiction and fiction titles from Hachette, Random House, and HarperCollins, among others.