The best books about covert ops in Latin America

Tom Gething Author Of Under a False Flag
By Tom Gething

Who am I?

I’m always delighted when a reader asks, “Did you work for the CIA?” It tells me I achieved the verisimilitude I was striving for in Under a False Flag. I’m also proud that my novel has been included in a university-level Latin American history curriculum. That tells me I got the history right. No aspect of modern history is more intriguing or controversial than the role covert action played, for better or worse, in the Cold War. With the exception of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which took us to the brink of nuclear disaster, the Cold War in Latin America was mostly fought in the shadows with markedly ambivalent achievements.

I wrote...

Under a False Flag

By Tom Gething,

Book cover of Under a False Flag

What is my book about?

October 1972. Will Porter joins the CIA’s secret war against Chile’s Marxist president, Salvador Allende. Working undercover, Will’s job is to manage the dirty money being used to disrupt the Chilean economy and to fund the growing opposition. A budding friendship with university student Ernesto Manning and his freethinking sister Gabriela complicates Will’s job and threatens to blow his cover. In a turbulent world of deceivers and deceived, Will must choose between friendship and betrayal, truth and lies, love and duty. Based on historical events, this compelling novel brings to life a tragic moment that changed the course of a nation.

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The books I picked & why

Bitter Fruit

By Stephen Schlesinger, Stephen Kinzer,

Book cover of Bitter Fruit

Why did I love this book?

This riveting account of the CIA’s first large-scale covert operation in Latin America opened my eyes to what can happen when business interests outweigh political ideals. In 1954 the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Árbenz, proposed agrarian land reforms to benefit the poor indigenous population of the country. United Fruit Company, which owned most of the land under threat of expropriation, used its influence with the Eisenhower administration to raise a red flag. Literally. Grossly exaggerating the specter of Soviet meddling, CIA Director Allen Dulles authorized a false-flag operation to remove Árbenz. Read this book to see how things turned out. 

By Stephen Schlesinger, Stephen Kinzer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Bitter Fruit is a comprehensive and insightful account of the CIA operation to overthrow the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954. First published in 1982, this book has become a classic, a textbook case of the relationship between the United States and the Third World. The authors make extensive use of U.S. government documents and interviews with former CIA and other officials. It is a warning of what happens when the United States abuses its power.

Book cover of The Night Watch: 25 Years of Peculiar Service

Why did I love this book?

David Atlee Phillips played such a major role in covert ops in Latin America I had to make sure he appeared in my novel. After a long and successful CIA career, Phillips wrote this memoir of undercover derring-do. It reads like recruiting propaganda for the agency but what fascinated me was his frankness about the missions he ran and the methods he used. He was publisher of an English-language newspaper in Chile when the CIA recruited him in 1950. A natural storyteller, Phillips describes his undercover shenanigans in Guatemala, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Brazil. By the 1970s he was at Langley HQ, in charge of all Western Hemisphere covert ops, including the actions (discreetly omitted in his memoir) leading to the coup in Chile.

By David Atlee Phillips,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For 25 years David Atlee Phillips stood "the night watch" for the CIA. He directed Western Hemisphere Operations when the Chilean government was overthrown (with CIA help) in 1973.

Phillips details his experiences in 18 countries. Along the way, we learn much about "the company," certainly one of the least understood and most controversial pillars of our defense ever to have been invented.

"Phillips is as skilled a writer as he was a spook, and his astonishingly readable book makes a convincing case for the necessity of an intelligence service such as the CIA." --Joseph C. Goulden.

Book cover of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life

Why did I love this book?

A young Argentine doctor who had traveled to Guatemala to support the Árbenz reforms fled to Mexico after the coup. His name was Ernesto “Che” Guevara. In Mexico City he befriended two Cuban dissidents, Fidel and Raúl Castro. This book got me wondering: Did witnessing the coup in Guatemala drive Che toward the Marxist zealotry he later espoused? In other words, did the CIA help create its own most-wanted enemy in Latin America? Anderson’s splendid biography traces Che’s ideological development from his youthful travels in South America to his final, desperate days when a U.S.-coordinated manhunt tracked him down and trapped him in the Bolivian highlands.

By Jon Lee Anderson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Che Guevara's legend is unmatched in the modern world. Since his assassination in 1967 at the age of 39, the Argentine revolutionary has become an internationally famed icon, as revered as he is controversial. A Marxist ideologue, he sought to end global inequality by bringing down the American capitalist empire through armed guerrilla warfare - and has few rivals in the Cold War era as an apostle of change.

In Che: A Revolutionary Life, Jon Lee Anderson and Jose Hernandez reveal the man behind the myth, creating a complex portrait of this passionate idealist. Adapted from Anderson's masterwork, Che transports…

Book cover of Inside the Company: CIA Diary

Why did I love this book?

Long before Edward Snowden there was Phillip Agee. A former CIA officer, Agee turned whistleblower, publishing this unauthorized account of his life undercover and exposing many of the “Company’s” operations in the process. Agee worked for the CIA in Ecuador, Uruguay, and Mexico. He claimed the turning point came in Uruguay where he listened to the beating of a political prisoner (whose name he had provided to the police) while the police chief turned up the volume of a soccer game on the radio. His matter-of-fact diary included a controversial appendix of agent and officer names and cryptonyms. Incensed at the endangerment of its assets, the CIA sued and pursued Agee, who fled the country and spent the rest of his life denouncing the tactics of his former employer.

By Philip Agee,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The former CIA secret operations officer reconstucts his own and the intelligence agency's clandestine and subversive activities in Third World nations during his twelve-year stint with the world's largest spy organization

Book cover of The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability

Why did I love this book?

The 1973 coup in Chile violently destroyed the freely elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende and installed the brutal 17-year dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. For years afterward suspicions swirled that the U.S. was behind the event. But evidence was largely anecdotal. What is so impressive about this book is Kornbluh’s persistence deploying the Freedom of Information Act to obtain thousands of classified documents related to the coup. Kornbluh connects the dots and reveals the smoking guns. Through facsimiles of actual cables, telexes, and phone memos (many still highly redacted) this dossier allows you to draw your own conclusions about what really happened in Chile.

By Peter Kornbluh,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Pinochet File reveals a record of complicity with atrocity by the U.S. government. The documents, first declassified for the original edition of the book, formed the heart of the campaign to hold Gen. Pinochet accountable for murder, torture and terrorism. The New York Times wrote of the original 2003 edition, 'Thanks to Peter Kornbluh, we have the first complete, almost day-to-day and fully documented record of this sordid chapter in Cold War American History.' With this 40th anniversary edition, the record is even more complete and up-to-date.

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Interested in Latin America, the CIA, and Chile?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Latin America, the CIA, and Chile.

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