The best and most accurate non-fiction books about Cold War espionage

Who am I?

I am an author and veteran journalist who reported for The Washington Post for more than two decades, and I write frequently about military history and intelligence. My father worked for the CIA, and I was born in Berlin when he was stationed there as a case officer. Later I was based in Germany as a foreign correspondent when the Berlin Wall came down. So it’s not too surprising that I am interested in Cold War espionage and history. As a reporter, author, and reader, I’ve always been attracted to stories off the beaten track, the ones that most people know little or nothing about. 


I wrote...

Betrayal in Berlin: The True Story of the Cold War's Most Audacious Espionage Operation

By Steve Vogel,

Book cover of Betrayal in Berlin: The True Story of the Cold War's Most Audacious Espionage Operation

What is my book about?

Betrayal in Berlin tells the astonishing true story of the Berlin Tunnel, one of the West’s greatest espionage operations of the Cold War. Vogel provides the most vivid account to date of George Blake, the dangerous Soviet mole who betrayed the operation, including information from rare interviews he conducted with Blake himself. Using fresh archival sources as well as interviews with many participants, including numerous key CIA and British SIS officers who had never previously spoken publicly, Vogel’s suspenseful account of the tunnel and the dramatic story behind Blake’s fateful betrayal reads like a thriller.

The books I picked & why

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Molehunt: The Secret Search for Traitors That Shattered the CIA

By David Wise,

Book cover of Molehunt: The Secret Search for Traitors That Shattered the CIA

Why this book?

David Wise was the dean of American espionage writers, the author of more than a dozen well-regarded books about spies before his death in 2018, and Molehunt is my favorite. It tells the story of the James Angleton-inspired to hunt for a supposed mole within the CIA, an enormously damaging affair that paralyzed the agency for years. Wise’s books are so authoritative because of the unmatched sources he had in the intelligence community.

Molehunt: The Secret Search for Traitors That Shattered the CIA

By David Wise,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Molehunt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Details the obsessive internal spy hunt reminiscent of the McCarthy era lead by CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton after he was lead astray by former KGB officer Anatoly Golitsin. 25,000 first printing. $25,000 ad/promo. Tour.


Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed

By Sandra Grimes, Jeanne Vertefeuille,

Book cover of Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed

Why this book?

Sandy Grimes and Jeanne Verterfeuille were part of the CIA team that identified Aldrich Ames, perhaps the most damaging spy in the agency’s history. Not only is the book a riveting account of the detective work that went into Ames’ arrest, it provides a wealth of information about the valuable agents and operations that he betrayed, and the incalculable damage he caused, including the loss of GRU General Dmitriy Polyakov, the highest-ranking spy run by the U.S. during the Cold War.

Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed

By Sandra Grimes, Jeanne Vertefeuille,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Circle of Treason as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

While there have been other books about Aldrich Ames, Circle of Treason is the first account written by CIA agents who were key members of the CIA team that conducted the intense "Ames Mole Hunt." Sandra Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille were two of the five principals of the CIA team tasked with hunting one of their own and were directly responsible for identifying Ames as the mole, leading to his arrest and conviction.

One of the most destructive traitors in American history, CIA officer Aldrich Ames provided information to the Soviet Union that contributed to the deaths of at least…


Wilderness of Mirrors: Intrigue, Deception, and the Secrets That Destroyed Two of the Cold War's Most Important Agents

By David C. Martin,

Book cover of Wilderness of Mirrors: Intrigue, Deception, and the Secrets That Destroyed Two of the Cold War's Most Important Agents

Why this book?

Wilderness of Mirrors, written more than 40 years ago by Martin, the still-distinguished CBS News correspondent, remains a classic of espionage nonfiction. As the title suggests, the book captures the Byzantine world of counterintelligence during the Angleton era. Martin was the first to write knowledgeably about the Berlin Tunnel, and this book is also the first in-depth look at one of the most fascinating, important, and ultimately self-destructive officers of the first decades of the CIA, William King Harvey.

Wilderness of Mirrors: Intrigue, Deception, and the Secrets That Destroyed Two of the Cold War's Most Important Agents

By David C. Martin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wilderness of Mirrors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the dawn of the Cold War, the world's most important intelligence agencies-the Soviet KGB, the American CIA, and the British MI6-appeared to have clear-cut roles and a sense of rising importance in their respective countries. But when Kim Philby, head of MI6's Russian division and arguably the twenty-first century's greatest spy, was revealed to be a Russian mole along with British government heavyweights Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess, everything in the Western intelligence world turned upside down.

Here is the true story of how the American James Bond-the colorful, foulmouthed, pistol-packing, alcoholic ex-FBI agent William "King" Harvey-put the finger…


The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal

By David E. Hoffman,

Book cover of The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal

Why this book?

Hoffman tells the previously little-known story of Soviet military engineer Adolf Tolkachev, whose disgust with the communist regime inspired him to turn over enormously valuable secrets to the CIA station in Moscow beginning in the late 1970s. Hoffman’s careful reporting allows him to describe in meticulous and fascinating detail the remarkable techniques and great risks involved in running an agent in Moscow late in the Cold War.

The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal

By David E. Hoffman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Billion Dollar Spy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WATERSTONES NON-FICTION BOOK OF THE MONTH AUGUST 2018 AND A SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

'An astonishingly detailed picture of espionage in the 1980s, written with pacey journalistic verve and an eerily contemporary feel.' Ben Macintyre, The Times

'A gripping story of courage, professionalism, and betrayal in the secret world.' Rodric Braithwaite, British Ambassador in Moscow, 1988-1992

'One of the best spy stories to come out of the Cold War and all the more riveting for being true.' Washington Post

January, 1977. While the chief of the CIA's Moscow station fills his gas tank, a stranger drops a note into the car.…


The Spy Who Saved the World: How a Soviet Colonel Changed the Course of the Cold War

By Jerrold L. Schecter, Peter S. Deriabin,

Book cover of The Spy Who Saved the World: How a Soviet Colonel Changed the Course of the Cold War

Why this book?

Schecter, a journalist, and Deriabin, a KGB officer who defected to the U.S., tell the inside story of Oleg Penkovsky, the history-changing Soviet GRU colonel who delivered critical information that helped the CIA and President John F. Kennedy avoid nuclear disaster during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The inside account delivers fascinating details about Penkovsky’s motivations, actions, and tragic demise, as well as a gripping narration of how the CIA handled one of the Cold War’s most important intelligence operations.

The Spy Who Saved the World: How a Soviet Colonel Changed the Course of the Cold War

By Jerrold L. Schecter, Peter S. Deriabin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Spy Who Saved the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Examines how Oleg Penkovsky provided U.S. intelligence with data on Soviet nuclear capabilities


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Cold War, espionage, and the Soviet Union?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Cold War, espionage, and the Soviet Union.

The Cold War Explore 168 books about the Cold War
Espionage Explore 123 books about espionage
The Soviet Union Explore 249 books about the Soviet Union

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Spy and the Traitor, The Falcon and the Snowman, and Funeral in Berlin if you like this list.