I would strongly disagree with the reviewer who called it "asinine." The author is not sympathetic to one side or another, he mostly presents a factual history of the end of the cold war. He DOES however attempt to relate what Gorbachev and Reagan were thinking during tense moments by quoting from their personal notes and diaries. It does allow the author to paint a more human picture of Gorbachev, one of a man who was interested in ending the arms race. Perhaps this ins't palatable to someone who grew up mid-century and understandably objects to any gentle portrayal of Soviet leadership.
It also paints an interesting picture of Reagan - who like Bush II - was obsessed by technological possibility. It makes Reagan seem almost naive in his conviction that technology could somehow bring peace to the world through SDI. The moment where Gorbachev offers Reagan complete nuclear disarmament in exchange for non-deployment of space based lasers - only to have Reagan reject the offer - is amazing. Having grown up at the end of the last century, much of this material is new relative to what you learn in standard history courses (and I took plenty of them). It's been a truly enlightening read to understand how we've arrived at our current state. A recent issue of Foreign Affairs has an essay suggesting that we are still in a cold war defense mentality - expanding our weapons systems and technology - when in fact this strategy no longer serves our national interest. And this book explains exactly why we think this way.
With regard to content - the "asinine" reviewer is correct. There isn't much about The Dead Hand aside from a general overview. But the true purpose of the book is to help understand the development and legacy of weapons of mass destruction created by the Soviets. It is easily one of the best audiobooks I've ever listened to and an essential read to understand the end of the cold war.
When it comes to my books, I'm not terribly snobby or caught up in details of the author's style. What holds me is the strength of the story and passion of the author. This is hands down one of the best best books I've ever had the pleasure of listening to.
Some of the reviewers have rightly said that Hillenbrand wrote this book as though she were the main character's mother, lavishing praise and casting as positive a light as possible. Others have pointed out that surely she also invented many of the details of the story. I certainly don't doubt that. How could you ever recover so many moments from someone's life. Yet others have called her writing saccharine and sub-par. These reviewers are correct. 100 Years of Solitude this is not.
Having said that - IT IS HANDS DOWN, NO CONTEST, THE BEST audio book I have ever listened to (and I've listened to quite a few). Hillenbrand writes an intensely personal, detailed, and moving account of one man's war experience in the Pacific. This is complimented by the narrator's excellent reading. Hillenbrand is clearly an advocate for the main character, relating to us what she passionately feels is a story that is worth retelling. And man does she deliver. Anyone who had parents or grandparents serve in the war should listen to this. It has given me a new appreciation for what my grandfather must feel about his experience.
If this doesn't get made into a movie, I will eat my ipod with mustard.
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