Top 11 Best Books About Spies – Thrillers, Memoirs & Biographies
Nothing beats a good book on espionage, be it inspired from real facts or not. You know there are plenty of drama, double standards, plot twists and exciting adventures – you never really know what might happen next. Are they who they say they are? Who is the hero? Where is the catch? All in all, whether you are after a bit of history, some exciting moments from the past or just a good story with spies, here are some of the best rated books about spies out there.
The Black Market Concierge, by Barry Oberholzer
This is one of the best nonfiction spy books out there – chances are it will leave you speechless. The author’s secret life as an informant is worth a movie, as a matter of fact the book will be a basis of a new TV series in 2022. He has managed to infiltrate various crime syndicates all over the world and all of his work has gone public in 2012, getting into headlines all over the world.
He has managed to come up with vital information for the CIA, as well as other intelligence agencies from other countries. He has extracted and provided valuable data from the Middle East, providing support to logistics agencies and supporting against the country’s biggest enemies. This book provides a deep insight into his valuable missions, as well as his double life as an informant.
The book will show you what it feels like to be a spy, working against corruption and terrorism. Exposing corruption at high levels in South Africa was one of Barry Oberholzer’s greatest achievements. Go through this memoir and find out what modern espionage looks like in today’s society – a testimony that will move you, regardless of how picky you are.
A Spy Among Friends, by Ben Macintyre
This is one of the best books on espionage if you are into Kim Philby stories. According to many, this is one of the greatest spies in the entire history, making a great character in the author’s most ambitious work. The spy was used against the Soviet Union and made the difference throughout the Cold War while working secretly for the enemy of the country.
Kim Philby grew up with Nicholas Elliott – best friends, same schools and exclusive clubs. None of them would have thought the other one could be spying for the enemy. But then, Kim Philby put his work above his friendship. Everything coming from Nicholas was transmitted straight to Moscow. He even befriended CIA’s head James Jesus Angleton, gaining access to even more valuable information.
His work led to many failed operations. A web of suspicion got all over him, but he thought of further lies to protect himself. His two friends never expected a betrayal, but Kim managed to cripple the entire agency with his transmissions. All in all, this is a real story that will get you hooked in straight away – lots of suspense and action involved.
The Billion Dollar Spy, by David E. Hoffman
It all started with a random happening. The chief of the CIA was driving out of the American embassy in Russia in February, 1978. An unknown man knocked on his window and gave him an envelope. The contents changed everything – details on various top secret projects of the Soviet Union, as well as technological advancements that no one knew anything about.
The man was Adolf Tolkachev. He was a Soviet engineer whose access to secret data helped the USA reshape the strategy against the Soviet Union. The result? The USA gained full cover over Europe and managed to outweigh the Soviet Union in pretty much any field. Adolf Tolkachev was an exception, after many years of the CIA trying to get agents to work in the Soviet Union.
The motivation? Getting rid of the abusive KGB. The spy took great risks, but so did the Americans employing him. He used secret cameras and even met other agents face to face in parks. This book is based on real events, but it will unfold like a classic espionage thriller. It will give you an interesting experience with no clues about the ending.
Agent Zigzag, by Ben Macintyre
Eddie Chapman was everything. He was a conman, but also a serious criminal. He was one of the best known double agent UK has ever had. He was a traitor, but his loyalty was also through the room. He was a villain, but deep down inside him, he was a hero. Despite all these things, he had an issue – he did not always know where one personality ended and the other began.
The story takes place in 1941. He trained as a German spy in France. He was then sent into Britain. He did not have much on himself – a fun, a poisonous pill, a wireless and the plan to destroy an airplane factory. Instead of doing all these, he got in touch with the MI5. He spent the next four years trying to help the world get rid of Hitler, traveling all over Europe, spreading fake news and keeping his plan straight.
His story also brings in a few moments of love – indeed, he had the time to seduce a few beautiful women as well. The Nazis treated him as a hero. He was even given the Iron Cross. In the UK, he was pardoned for every crime. Both countries helped his mother and his lover. About 60 years after the war was over, the MI5 has released info on Eddie Chapman’s files, making everything public.
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, by Karen Abbott
Karen Abbott talks about the less known history during the Cold War. She tells the story of four different women who have managed to change everything in the war. This story follows four women – an abolitionist, a farm girl, a socialite and a widow. At first, it looks like they have nothing in common. However, they were all spies.
It all started when Belle Boys shot a Union soldier. She then became a courier, but also a spy for the Confederate forces. She seduced men on both sides in order to reach her objectives. Emma Edmonds got a short haircut and she pretended to be a man in order to join the Union forces. Rose O’Neale Greenhow was a widow and got into all kinds of affairs with various politicians to gather intelligence.
Last, but not least, Elizabeth Van Lew was a rich abolitionist. She organized a top notch espionage group right under everyone’s noses. The book brings in data from real sources, as well as interviews with the spies’ descendants. Discover a bunch of stories based on love, lies, war and drama. The book also features almost 40 real pictures and three different maps.
Code Name: Lise, by Larry Loftis
Code Name: Lise is one of the best books about spies if you are into World War II stories. The action takes place in 1942 and follows Odette Sansom. Her father was a war hero and she decided to follow his footsteps in order to help both the UK and France throughout the war. After many failed attempts, she finally managed to land in France and begin her extraordinary missions. This is where she met Peter Churchill too.
As they end up smashing one mission after another, the two fall in love eventually. Meanwhile, they have to constantly watch their backs, as the Germans are hunting them – especially sergeant Hugo Bleicher. The couple was captured later on and ended up in a prison from Paris. They were then taken to Germany and ended up in a concentration camp – tortured, starved and nearly killed.
No matter what happened, Odette and Peter stuck to their principles. They never give up on their hope or love. Bottom line, the author has managed to define real courage like no one else. This is a story about love and patriotism, two things that may seem completely different at first, but also two things that could go hand in hand in extreme situations.
The Cuckoo’s Egg, by Clifford Stoll
If you like technology and espionage, this could be one of the best books on espionage out there. The Internet was not too popular back then. However, someone in particular underlined its real potential in terms of espionage. Fully armed with enough evidence on technology espionage, an American citizen started a sophisticated quest to expose a network of spies.
Now, the story could only lead to one question – would the authorities actually back the fight? Cliff Stoll used to be an astronomer. Later on, he ended up working as a system manager at a laboratory. A few hints and an error made it pretty obvious – an unauthorized user was taking a look at his system and trying to find valuable information.
The hacker had a code name – Hunted. Cliff did not know much about Hunter, apart from the fact that valuable data has been stolen and given away. Cliff ended up in a modern one man hunt. He ended up spying on the actual spy, breaking codes on purpose and trying to confuse the hacker while aiming to reveal his identity.
The Good Spy, by Kai Bird
The Good Spy is among the best nonfiction spy books if you like real stories and a few plot twists here and there. This is the story of a man who has built a bridge between the West and Arabs – a man who might have helped ease the connection between two different civilizations. It all started with an explosion – in the spring of 1983, a bomb killed 63 people outside the American Embassy in Beirut.
This attack put Hezbollah on the map as a political force. But then, it also triggered CIA’s most dedicated officer in the Middle East – Robert Ames. While pretty much every other officer relied on threats and violence, Robert had a different approach – he became good friends with many Arabs working in intelligence. He even managed to befriend Yasir Arafat’s intelligence chief – known as The Red Prince.
The Red Prince – Ali Hassan Salameh – had a deep connection with Robert, which might have been the main reason for consistent peace in the area. Things changed to 180 degrees when assassins killed both of them. The political relationship went down overnight and eventually the attacks from 9/11 ruined the USA, starting the War on Terror.
The Angel, by Uri Bar-Joseph
This is one of the best books about spies if you are into hidden conflicts around the Middle East. This is the first book that exposes Ashraf Marwan’s life and death – a life full of mystery and sensations, as well as a suspicious death. Ashraf was one of Egypt’s senior official, as well as a spy for Israel, providing intelligence that helped Israel defend itself and face potential threats with no issues whatsoever.
Ashraf had access to lots of valuable information. He was the Egyptian president’s son in law, as well as his successor’s advisor. He had access to Egypt’s main secrets. He was also a spy for Mossad – known by the code name The Angel. With him in charge, Egypt had no secrets at all. The spy also helped Israel defend against Syria and Egypt before the attack on Yom Kippur, preventing a catastrophe.
The author has put together this special spy’s life and story. It all ended with his death. While he kept spying on Egypt even after the Yom Kippur War, someone must have talked. He was found dead in London, in 2007. It seems he fell from the fifth floor. His death was investigated as unexplained. The author provides clear evidence on who might have killed him.
Hitler's Spy Chief, by Richard Bassett
Wilhelm Canaris became a prominent figure during World War II. His main role was to lead the Abwehr – a German secret service. He was appointed less than two years after the Nazis took over. However, Wilhelm did not necessarily agree with the Fuhrer and the Nazi vision, so he ended up going against the regime. He strongly believed that Hitler would end up starting a war that Germany just cannot win – so he focused most of his work on preventing it.
In 1938, he was part of a coup attempt, but the plan failed. British PM Neville Chamberlain was also involved. A few years later, he helped England by sabotaging the Nazis prior to the invasion. He also got in touch with General Franco and helped him keep Spain on the safe side of the war. He revealed vital information that ruined Hitler by causing the Nazis to fail in a few significant plans – it looked like the element of surprise was no longer there.
The spy was a double agent for many years. While Gestapo officers were pushing hard to identify potential moles, he has always managed to stay one step ahead of them. By 1944, Wilhelm’s behavior drew SS chief Heinrich Himmler’s attention, who started feeling suspicious after a failed assassination attempt of Hitler. The SS chief finally managed to get some evidence and get Wilhelm Canaris arrested. He was executed just a couple of weeks before the war ended.
Wild Bill Donovan, by Douglas C. Waller
Will Bill Donovan is often considered one of the most exciting spies in the history of the USA – even Franklin Roosevelt appreciated his hard work and skills and made him the top spy in the country. He led the first intelligence agency in the USA – the Office of Strategic Services. He also fathered the modern CIA. He revolutionized the industry and took the USA to a different stage – the art of warfare at a completely different level, something that the Americans were not used to.
This book is based on private archives from the UK and the USA. It is based on thousands of recently declassified reports and documents, as well as interviews with his friends and relatives. The book is written as a detailed biography and makes one of the best nonfiction spy books out there – lots of stories that no one really knows anything about. His personal life is also worth some attention – the son of poor Irish parents, he married and fought in World War I. He became a hero.
He had extramarital affairs, he made a fortune as a lawyer and saw many of his family members die young. He was often reckless, but he always succeeded. From many points of view, this book feels like a fictional thriller – it is not. It is a book based on real events and a real story. It is packed with action and incredible adventures and will definitely make you want to find out more about the famous Wild Bill.
In the end, these are some of the best books about spies – some of them inspired from real stories and others told as memoirs or biographies. It makes no difference what kind of action you are into – any of the above mentioned titles will satisfy your hunger for thriller adventures and incredible double games and plot twists. The list could obviously go longer and cover other great spies from the history, but these are some of the most exciting ones you can read about.
If you are interested in good personal stories check out also our favorite memoirs!