The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy by David Hoffman

It was April of the 1979 when we, the Urals Polytechnical Institute students, learnt that people started dying from unconfirmed cause in our city of Sverdlovsk. The deaths have not been officially confirmed in the first place, and the following explanation of the pulmonary type anthrax related deaths with tainted meat did not make any sense. Nevertheless the cat was out of the bag, and the youth in their twenties ran to the nearest pharmacy for antibiotics. Penicillin was available over the counter, I administered myself a week course and methodically finished up a bottle of cherry coloured pills.

This is how the opening pages of the book brought me about 30 years back. The accident blamed by most on the leak from the semi-military R&D compound specialized in bio-weapons located amidst residential area, and by some on the biological attack by unknown enemy sets the tone to the little discussed layer of the arm race. While the world seems to be alarmed by the nuclear threat, the author brings together facts making the reader think that at least one big country is busy working out the unbeatable creepy and literally viral weaponry. The author bases investigative part of the book on interviews with former leading Soviet bio-chemists and genetic-engineers who moved to the West, as well as on the results of International commissions having placed visits to supposedly decommissioned bio-facilities in former Soviet republics.

Great deal of the book is concerned with Reagan-Gorbachev relations. The author was a journalist on an assignment to cover the topic at the time, and it’s been covered well. David Hoffman later worked in Russia. This itself makes the book fairly balanced, taking interests of the parties on both sides of the iron curtain into prospective.

If you are interested in US and/or Russia politics, Cold War, arm race, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy is definitely for you. Highly recommended.