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A journalist associated with the Washington Post, Hoffman meticulously researched the Soviet Union's strategic-weapons posture in the 1980s and the armaments legacy the USSR bequeathed to Russia in the early 1990s. This narrative of his findings proceeds chronologically, from a hair-raising account of the Soviet leadership's genuine, if paranoid, fear that the U.S. might launch a nuclear attack in the fall of 1983, to American efforts to secure nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons in the chaotic years following the disintegration of the USSR. Hoffman's many revelations, arising from his interviews with designers or custodians of Soviet weapons, include description of a system that could launch nuclear missiles by itself if the Soviet leadership were killed in a U.S. first strike; fine-grained detail of the Soviet Union's secret and illegal biological-weapons production; and discussion of Soviet-era accidents, such as a 1979 anthrax outbreak. Revealing Ronald Reagan's and Mikhail Gorbachev's attitudes toward and meetings about strategic weapons, Hoffman's thorough history of this phase in arms control should pique those interested in the policies and technicalities of reducing strategic weapons.--Taylor, Gilbert Copyright 2009 Booklist