The Book I Read

Does  doing a post about the books I read as I finish them seem like a good idea to you? It sure does to me, so here we go:

I just finished The Dead Hand by David E. Hoffmann.

‘This (quite long) book is the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner in the non-fiction category and something of a sensation in the cable news/foreign policy reporting world. The Dead Hand is about efforts to limit or decrease nuclear, chemical and biological weapon stores by the Soviet and American governments during the last decade of the Cold War. The last third of the book deals with the nuclear/bio/chem weapons containment issues that arose after the Soviet Union broke up in 1990/91 and fledgling, unstable former Soviet republics like the Ukraine, Kazakhstan and others found themselves in possession of stores of weapons and weapon “ingredients”  which they weren’t able to store safely. Often, they were also reluctant to return them to Russia or give them to the US for safekeeping/destruction and so they found themselves with a dangerous, potentially destructive dilemma on their hands.

The book really distinguishes itself by its detailed and highly authoritative reporting of the many twists and turns of foreign relations that took place in the USSR and the USA as the various leaders struggled mightily to avoid all-out nuclear destruction as well as national embarrassment. What really kept me coming back to the book, however, was the sheer jaw-dropping amazingness of the events reported. For example, the way the Chernobyl (which, interestly enough, means Wormwood in Russian — a reference to the Book of Revelation, apparently) accident was dealt with is almost unbelievable. Also surprising was the way the CIA and other intelligence services so frequently misappraised the situation. For many years they insisted, for example, they Gorbachev was faking perestroika and glasnost as way of  lulling the US into a false sense of security. Also, they had no idea of the huge biological weapons plants the USSR was running into the 90’s. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the book was the way that the Cold War ended so relatively peacefully and calmly despite all the bumbling, subterfuge and sheer incompetence along the way.

I had very little knowledge about the 1980’s and the Cold War coming into this book so for me it was particularly informative and interesting. Really, though, it’s just extremely well done and a good read for anyone interested in history and/or foreign relations. I really recommend it!


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