The best books on Cold War mysteries

Why am I passionate about this?

Taylor Downing is a historian, writer, and television producer. He has written several best-selling books and has produced more than 200 television documentaries many of which have won awards. Taylor is currently researching and writing a new book on a little-known crisis in World War Two, due for publication in 2022.


I wrote...

1983: Reagan, Andropov, and a World on the Brink

By Taylor Downing,

Book cover of 1983: Reagan, Andropov, and a World on the Brink

What is my book about?

A riveting, real-life thriller about 1983--the year tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union nearly brought the world to the point of nuclear Armageddon. This is an extraordinary and largely unknown Cold War story of spies and double agents, of missiles being readied, intelligence failures, misunderstandings, and the panic of world leaders. With access to hundreds of astonishing new documents, Taylor Downing tells for the first time the gripping but true story of how near the world came to nuclear war in 1983.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Target Is Destroyed: What Really Happened To Flight 007 And What America Knew About It

Taylor Downing Why did I love this book?

A brilliant investigation into one of the great mysteries of the Cold War - why had flight KAL007 drifted 350 miles off course into sensitive Soviet military airspace when it was shot down? Was it a genuine navigational error or could it have been a more sinister spying operation?

By Seymour M. Hersh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Target Is Destroyed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Documents the circumstances surrounding the Soviet attack on, and downing of, a Korean Airlines civilian 747 jet in September, 1983


Book cover of Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster

Taylor Downing Why did I love this book?

Revealing how one small incident escalated into an international tragedy and how the secret Soviet state tried to cover it all up. Higginbotham opens up the mystery and gets right inside this most scary story. It could be great fiction except for the fact that it really happened.

By Adam Higginbotham,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Midnight in Chernobyl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Best Book of the Year
A Time Best Book of the Year
A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of the Year
2020 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence Winner

From journalist Adam Higginbotham, the New York Times bestselling “account that reads almost like the script for a movie” (The Wall Street Journal)—a powerful investigation into Chernobyl and how propaganda, secrecy, and myth have obscured the true story of one of the history’s worst nuclear disasters.

Early in the morning of April 26, 1986, Reactor Number Four of the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station exploded, triggering one of the…


Book cover of Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

Taylor Downing Why did I love this book?

An accident in an Arkansas missile silo and the minute by minute attempt to discover what had happened and to prevent a nuclear explosion. This narrative is brilliantly interwoven with the stories of accidents, mishaps, computer malfunctions and human errors that nearly led to nuclear disaster over four decades of Cold War tension.

By Eric Schlosser,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Command and Control as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Oscar-shortlisted documentary Command and Control, directed by Robert Kenner, finds its origins in Eric Schlosser's book and continues to explore the little-known history of the management and safety concerns of America's nuclear aresenal.

"A devastatingly lucid and detailed new history of nuclear weapons in the U.S. Fascinating." -Lev Grossman, TIME Magazine

"Perilous and gripping . . . Schlosser skillfully weaves together an engrossing account of both the science and the politics of nuclear weapons safety." -San Francisco Chronicle

A myth-shattering expose of America's nuclear weapons

Famed investigative journalist Eric Schlosser digs deep to uncover secrets about the management of…


Book cover of KGB: The Inside Story of its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev

Taylor Downing Why did I love this book?

A deeply revealing insight into the mysterious world of the Soviet secret service written as a collaboration between a top Cambridge historian and a senior KGB officer who was a double agent working for the British MI6. It tells us not only what the KGB got up to but, equally important, how the senior KGB leaders thought. It opens up the paranoia at the top of the Soviet system.

By Christopher Andrew, Oleg Gordievsky,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This history of the world's largest and most powerful intelligence service, the KGB, from its origin after the Russian revolution to the present day, analyzes its operations against subjects as diverse as the EEC, Margaret Thatcher, Solidarity and Libya. This study also provides an insight into Gorbachev's relations with the KGB and examines the disintegration of the Soviet bloc. Christopher Andrew has also written "Secret Service". Gordievsky was a KGB colonel who worked for British intelligence as a penetration agent in the KGB from 1974. He escaped to the West in 1985.


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

Taylor Downing Why did I love this book?

How did Kim Philby con the British establishment for so long that he was solid and reliable while passing on masses of secrets to the Soviets? This biography tells of loyalty and deception, of trust and treason to get behind one of the most enigmatic figures of the Cold War. MI6 and the CIA all believed utterly in Philby, the biggest traitor in the history of spying.

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…


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The Last Bird of Paradise

By Clifford Garstang,

Book cover of The Last Bird of Paradise

Clifford Garstang Author Of Oliver's Travels

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

Two women, a century apart, seek to rebuild their lives after leaving their homelands. Arriving in tropical Singapore, they find romance, but also find they haven’t left behind the dangers that caused them to flee.

Haunted by the specter of terrorism after 9/11, Aislinn Givens leaves her New York career and joins her husband in Southeast Asia when he takes a job there. She acquires several paintings by a colonial-era British artist that she believes are a warning.

The artist, Elizabeth Pennington, tells her own tumultuous story through diary entries that end when World War I reaches the colony with catastrophic results. In the present, Aislinn and her husband learn that terrorism takes many shapes when they are ensnared by local political upheaval and corruption.

The Last Bird of Paradise

By Clifford Garstang,

What is this book about?

"Aislinn Givens leaves a settled life in Manhattan for an unsettled life in Singapore. That painting radiates mystery and longing. So does Clifford Garstang's vivid and simmering novel, The Last Bird of Paradise." –John Dalton, author of Heaven Lake and The Inverted Forest

Two women, nearly a century apart, seek to rebuild their lives when they reluctantly leave their homelands. Arriving in Singapore, they find romance in a tropical paradise, but also find they haven't left behind the dangers that caused them to flee.

In the aftermath of 9/11 and haunted by the specter of terrorism, Aislinn Givens leaves her…


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Interested in the Cold War, nuclear weapons, 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, nuclear weapons, and espionage.

The Cold War Explore 232 books about the Cold War
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Espionage Explore 546 books about espionage