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

The Books I Picked & Why

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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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