My favorite books on the insanity of the Cold War

Why am I passionate about this?

Giles Milton is the internationally bestselling author of twelve works of narrative history. His most recent book is Checkmate in Berlin: The Cold War Showdown That Shaped the Modern World. His previous work, Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, is currently being developed into a major TV series. Milton’s works—published in twenty-five languages—include Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, serialized by the BBC. He lives in London and Burgundy.

I wrote...

Book cover of Checkmate in Berlin: The Cold War Showdown That Shaped the Modern World

What is my book about?

The lively, immersive story of the race to seize Berlin in the aftermath of World War II that fired the starting gun for the Cold War. Berlin's fate was sealed at the 1945 Yalta Conference: the city, along with the rest of Germany, was to be carved up between the victorious powers--American, British, French, and Soviet. On paper, it seemed a pragmatic solution. In reality, now that the four powers were no longer united by the common purpose of defeating Germany, they wasted little time reverting to their pre-war hostility toward and suspicion of each other. The veneer of civility between Allies and Soviets was to break down in spectacular fashion. Rival systems, rival ideologies, and rival personalities ensured that Berlin became an explosive battleground.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

Giles Milton Why did I love this book?

Agent, double agent, traitor and enigma, Kim Philby was the most notorious British defector of the Cold War. A brilliant Soviet mole, he betrayed almost every key secret to the Russians in the early years of that war.

Macintyre’s story takes us into the heart of the intelligence world: it’s a tale of loyalty, trust, duplicity and betrayal. Philby’s two closest friends inside that world, Nicholas Elliott (of MI6) and James Jesus Angleton (of the CIA), thought they knew this charming and genial individual. Only when it was too late did they discover they had not known him at all.

Macintyre exposes with searing clarity the weakness of the West’s intelligence agencies: the book’s authoritative tone is due, in part, to the cooperation the author received from former officers of MI6 and the CIA.

By Ben Macintyre,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked A Spy Among Friends as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Kim Philby was the most notorious British defector and Soviet mole in history. Agent, double agent, traitor and enigma, he betrayed every secret of Allied operations to the Russians in the early years of the Cold War.

Philby's two closest friends in the intelligence world, Nicholas Elliott of MI6 and James Jesus Angleton, the CIA intelligence chief, thought they knew Philby better than anyone, and then discovered they had not known him at all. This is a story of intimate duplicity; of loyalty, trust and treachery, class and conscience; of an ideological battle waged by men with cut-glass accents and…

Book cover of The Cold War: A World History

Giles Milton Why did I love this book?

Odd Arne Westad’s majestic book is a powerful narrative of the Cold War from beginning to end, taking in all the countries affected by the high-risk brinkmanship of America and the Soviet Union. He questions the idea that the Cold War was a ‘long peace’: for many, it was not peace at all. The author relates how it was particularly violent for the Vietnamese and Koreans, as well as for the thousands of Americans killed in action overseas. The strength of Wested’s book is that he knows both Chinese and Russian: it brings unusual depth and breadth to his wide-ranging account.

By Odd Arne Westad,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Cold War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Odd Arne Westad's daring ambition, supra-nationalist intellect, polyglot sources, masterly scholarship and trenchant analysis make The Cold War a book ofresounding importance for appraising our global future as well as understanding our past' Richard Davenport-Hines, TLS, Books of the Year

As Germany and then Japan surrendered in 1945 there was a tremendous hope that a new and much better world could be created from the moral and physical ruins of the conflict. Instead, the combination of the huge power of the USA and USSR and the near-total collapse of most of their rivals created a unique, grim new environment: the…

Book cover of Bridge of Spies

Giles Milton Why did I love this book?

Giles Whittell’s narrative history tells the true story of three colorful Cold War characters, revealing much about the extraordinary tension and paranoia of that febrile time. William Fisher, aka Rudolf Abel, was a British-born KGB agent arrested in New York City and jailed for his attempt to steal America’s nuclear secrets; Gary Powers was the American pilot captured when his plane was shot down while on a reconnaissance mission over Russia; Frederic Pryor was a young American student in Berlin arrested and held without charge by East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi. Whittell skilfully narrates the interwoven stories of these three men, highlighting the political tensions that brought the United States and the Soviet Union so close to nuclear war.

By Giles Whittell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Who were the three men the Soviet and American superpowers exchanged on Berlin's Glienicke Bridge on February 10, 1962, in the first and most legendary prisoner exchange between East and West? Bridge of Spies vividly traces the journeys of these men, whose fate defines the complex conflicts that characterized the most dangerous years of the Cold War. Bridge of Spies is a true story of three men - Rudolf Abel, a Soviet Spy who was a master of disguise; Gary Powers, an American who was captured when his spy plane was shot down by the Russians; and Frederic Pryor, a…

Book cover of One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War

Giles Milton Why did I love this book?

Michael Dobb’s book describes a pivotal and potentially catastrophic episode of the Cold War. In October 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of nuclear conflict over Khrushchev’s decision to base Soviet missiles in Cuba. Dobbs recounts the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis as a nail-biting chronicle of the Cold War’s most dangerous point of crisis. It includes a gripping account of Khrushchev's plan to destroy America’s Guantanamo naval base and the story of a missing spy plane over Siberia. Solid history, but written like a thriller.

By Michael Dobbs,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked One Minute to Midnight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

October 27, 1962, a day dubbed Black Saturday in the Kennedy White House. The Cuban missile crisis is at its height, and the world is drawing ever closer to nuclear apocalypse.

As the opposing Cold War leaders, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, mobilize their forces to fight a nuclear war on land, sea and air, the world watches in terror. In Bobby Kennedy's words, 'There was a feeling that the noose was tightening on all of us, on Americans, on mankind, and that the bridges to escape were crumbling.'

In One Minute to Midnight Michael Dobbs brings a fresh…

Book cover of 1946: The Making of the Modern World

Giles Milton Why did I love this book?

The year 1946 marked a turning point in world affairs: the Cold War began, the state of Israel was conceived and the independence of India was all but decided upon. It was also the year in which the Chinese Communists gained the upper hand in their fight for power.

Historian and foreign correspondent, Victor Sebestyen, draws on contemporary archival documents to analyse the behind-the-scenes political decision-making. His book is particularly interesting for its wide-reach: the book covers London, Paris, Berlin, and the Soviet Union, as well as the US, Israel, India, and China.

By Victor Sebestyen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 1946 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nineteen forty-six is the year that would signal the beginning of the Cold War, the end of the British Empire, and the beginning of the rivalry between the United States and the USSR. Victor Sebestyen reveals the year’s events by chronologically framing what was taking place in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, with seminal decisions made by heads of state that would profoundly change the old order forever. The map of Eastern Europe would be redrawn, Chinese communists would gain decisive victories in their fight for power, and the world would witness the birth of Israel. 1946 was a…

You might also like...


By FX Holden,

Book cover of Aggressor

FX Holden Author Of Aggressor

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a former journalist and intelligence officer turned writer, so I seek out authenticity in my reading, especially when it comes to war stories. I look for fiction from people who have been there or know how to listen to those who have, and be their voice. When I write, I always put together a team of veterans and specialists in their fields to challenge my work and make sure I get it right, too!

FX's book list on war stories you probably haven’t read yet

What is my book about?

It is April 1st, 2038. Day 60 of China's blockade of the rebel island of Taiwan. The US government has agreed to provide Taiwan with a weapons system so advanced, it can disrupt the balance of power in the region. But what pilot would be crazy enough to run the Chinese blockade to deliver it?

Aggressor is the first novel in a gripping action series about a future war in the Pacific, seen through the eyes of soldiers, sailors, civilians, and aviators on all sides. Featuring technologies that are on the drawing board today and could be fielded in the near future, Aggressor is the page-turning military technothriller you have been waiting for!

5 book lists we think you will like!

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

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Cold War, the Soviet Union, and espionage.

The Cold War Explore 232 books about the Cold War
The Soviet Union Explore 319 books about the Soviet Union
Espionage Explore 546 books about espionage