The best books on the Cold War

The Books I Picked & Why

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

By Ben Macintyre

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

Why 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.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Cold War: A World History

By Odd Arne Westad

The Cold War: A World History

Why 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.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Bridge of Spies

By Giles Whittell

Bridge of Spies

Why 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.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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

By Michael Dobbs

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

Why 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.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

1946: The Making of the Modern World

By Victor Sebestyen

1946: The Making of the Modern World

Why 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.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists

Random Book Lists