The best thrillers with complex lead characters and philosophical undercurrents

Why am I passionate about this?

I began reading spy and political thrillers at a young age—I was captivated by the thrill and mysteriousness of the clandestine world. I would go on to earn my Master’s in International Affairs, learning French and German along the way. I was a combat pilot and flew all over the globe. At the Pentagon, I regularly liaised with foreign diplomats to create and improve international cooperation and security. I then became a diplomat myself, working for the Defense Intelligence Agency. It was my time with the DIA and working at U.S. embassies in Europe and Africa that was the inspirational capstone for writing Devolution and The Devolution Trilogy.

I wrote...

Book cover of Devolution

What is my book about?

Michael Dolan is a stoic perfectionist and former special operations pilot working a staff job at the Pentagon. After accepting an improbable CIA request to help prevent impending terrorist attacks in Europe, Dolan finds that of the demons he must prevail against, the most terrible are those from within…

When I first conceptualized the trilogy, I wanted to create a storyline where the depth and complexity of Dolan were as compelling and important as the plot. The series has everything readers of the spy thriller genre crave: action, suspense, and mystery. What makes it so unique and captivating, however, is the evolution of Dolan’s dark and labyrinthine psychological struggle as he navigates the challenges of his top-secret missions while confronting the tragedy of his past.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Patriot Games

John Casey Why did I love this book?

Fans of stories like Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games—those who savor a page-turner about an unlikely spy thrust into adversity (only to emerge the strongest and most capable of them all)—understand the draw and value of a main character who succeeds through wit and sheer perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Jack Ryan is known worldwide as the personification of this, and is one of two spy thriller characters I used as inspiration for my development of Michael Dolan, the main character in my trilogy.

By Tom Clancy,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Patriot Games as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Don't Miss the Original Series Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan Starring John Krasinski!

Tom Clancy reveals Jack Ryan’s origins in this electrifying #1 New York Times bestselling thriller that pits the former Marine turned family man against a vicious group of international terrorists.

As an American in London on vacation with his family, Jack Ryan never imagined his quick thinking would prevent an assassination attempt on Britain’s royal family and earn him the gratitude of an entire nation—and the scorn of an ultra-left-wing faction of the IRA. Irish terrorist Sean Miller and his followers in the Ulster Liberation Army intend to…

Book cover of The Bourne Identity

John Casey Why did I love this book?

Jason Bourne is the second spy thriller character that inspired my creation of Michael Dolan. Though there are some similarities, Jack Ryan and Bourne are actually quite different. Unlike Ryan, Bourne possesses all the field skills necessary to succeed and again, unlike Ryan, he is challenged with considerable deficits in understanding himself—where he is from, how he became who he is, and the reasons behind it all. It is through this acute, internecine struggle, the cryptic complexity of the protagonist, that Ludlum succeeded with a character that was and remains wildly popular within the spy thriller world. My shaping of Michael Dolan’s persona and psyche was influenced heavily by those of Jason Bourne.

By Robert Ludlum,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked The Bourne Identity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jason Bourne is back in the forthcoming major motion picture starring Matt Damon and Alicia Vikander. Go back to where it all began for Bourne in his first adventure - The Bourne Identity

He was dragged from the sea, his body riddled with bullets. There are a few clues: a frame of microfilm surgically implanted beneath the skin of his hip; evidence that plastic surgery has altered his face; strange things he says in his delirium, which could be code words. And a number on the film negative that leads to a bank account in Zurich, four million dollars, and…

Book cover of Searching for Eden

John Casey Why did I love this book?

I highly recommend Keith Madsen’s Searching for Eden. It is not a spy thriller, but it is a thrilling story with deep characters, moral, philosophical, and theological undertones, and a level of adventure that far exceeds that of the vast majority of similar titles.

In the book, three Americans are thrown into the turbulent chaos and political turmoil surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. Evan and his friends travel through Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain looking for clues to the Garden's reality. They dig in ancient cemeteries, climb ziggurats, race through war zones, and examine bizarre art carved into human skulls, all the time seeking the original Garden of Eden and therein the secrets to humanity's foundational story.

By Keith Madsen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Evan Jordan's 14-year old daughter dies of cancer, he goes on a quest to find a place where children don't die, and where life is still good. His dying daughter had expressed an interest in the Garden of Eden. Could it be that such a place still exists? He goes searching for that garden, hoping thereby to rediscover the goodness and innocence he lost with his young daughter's death.

Evan's story intersects with those of a beautiful divorced archaeologist (providing his romantic interest) and a 14-year old Hispanic prostitute; both of whom join Evan in his quest. The three…

Book cover of Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation

John Casey Why did I love this book?

Mindsight is an amazing book that explains how one can actively train their brain to recover from mental and other problems. In some cases, this means living medication free and being able to live a normal life.

But why recommend Mindsight alongside spy thrillers? It has to do with the complex and atypical intellect of Michael Dolan, the lead character of my trilogy. Dolan’s past tragedies, the strange method he uses for compartmentalizing his thoughts and the things that bother him, his ability to wall those things up so they cannot bother him—this eventually catalyzes other problems that are far more significant and negative. Siegel’s Mindsight was instrumental for me in creating a psyche for Dolan that was singular, captivating, and problematic—but it also provided my main character an escape route—a way to overcome and heal.

By Daniel J. Siegel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From a pioneer in the field of mental health comes a groundbreaking book on the healing power of "mindsight," the potent skill that allows you to make positive changes in your brain–and in your life.

Foreword by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence

• Is there a memory that torments you, or an irrational fear you can't shake?
• Do you sometimes become unreasonably angry or upset and find it hard to calm down?
• Do you ever wonder why you can't stop behaving the way you do, no matter how hard you try?
• Are you and your child…

Book cover of Transfer of Power

John Casey Why did I love this book?

It was Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp series that, for me, was the most fun to read. As I described the action and adventure of Madsen’s Searching for Eden, so would I describe the same for Transfer of Power and subsequent Rapp stories. This #1 New York Times bestselling series was #1 for a reason—uncompromised action and edge-of-your-seat writing throughout. It was Flynn’s style of writing that gave me the best ideas about how to write my own thrillers. If you love spy novels, do not pass this one up.

By Vince Flynn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On a busy Washington morning, the stately calm of the White House is shattered as terrorists gain control of the executive mansion, slaughtering dozens of people. The president is evacuated to an underground bunker, but not before nearly one hundred hostages are taken. One man is sent in to take control of the crisis. Mitch Rapp, the CIA's top counterterrorism operative, determines that the president is not as safe as Washington's power elite had thought. Moving among the corridors of the White House, Rapp makes a chilling discovery that could rock Washington to its core: someone within his own government…

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Traumatization and Its Aftermath: A Systemic Approach to Understanding and Treating Trauma Disorders

By Antonieta Contreras,

Book cover of Traumatization and Its Aftermath: A Systemic Approach to Understanding and Treating Trauma Disorders

Antonieta Contreras Author Of Traumatization and Its Aftermath: A Systemic Approach to Understanding and Treating Trauma Disorders

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

As a trauma therapist and dedicated researcher, I love uncovering valuable insights within lesser-known books. There are hidden gems, free from the pressure of commercial success, crafted by authors deeply committed to research, understanding, and the art of writing itself. Their dedication resonates with me, as I believe in the profound value of information and the power of critical thinking. Through my own book, Traumatization and Its Aftermath, I aim to emphasize that psychological concepts often lose their depth in translation and my mission is spreading awareness and fostering a deeper understanding of trauma and its intricate facets. With that idea in mind, I chose these five titles. 

Antonieta's book list on uncovering the human experience and exploring the depths of trauma

What is my book about?

A fresh take on the difference between trauma and hardship in order to help accurately spot the difference and avoid over-generalizations.

The book integrates the latest findings in brain science, child development, psycho-social context, theory, and clinical experiences to make the case that trauma is much more than a cluster of symptoms to be tamed, but instead best understood as development gone off course, away from growth and towards (only) survival.

This book prompts a profound shift in perception, inviting to view trauma as an intricate and diverse experience, a point of view that ultimately leads to sharper treatment and, hopefully, more healing. It encourages a transition from asking, "What happened to you?" to the deeper question, "What is your relationship with what happened to you?"

Traumatization and Its Aftermath: A Systemic Approach to Understanding and Treating Trauma Disorders

By Antonieta Contreras,

What is this book about?

The book is comprehensive, bold, and practical-a much-needed resource for the assessment and treatment of trauma. Instead of the traditional focus on the overall importance of healing, Traumatization and its Aftermath decodes why some people don't heal as easily as others, analyzes the various failures of diagnosis, and explains how to make therapeutic interventions truly effective.

This book offers a systemic deep dive into traumatization that clarifies myths and misinformation about the entire spectrum of trauma and provides both clinicians and non-clinicians with the right level of validation, preventive measures, conceptualization methodology, assessment tools, and healing facts that have not…

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