The best books on intelligence history

Who am I?

Boris B. Volodarsky is a former intelligence officer, captain of the GRU Spetsnaz, Russian special forces. With the first raising of the Iron Curtain, Boris legally left the Soviet Union with his family. After living in the West for over 30 years, he became a British academic writing books and other academic works on the subject he knew best of all – the history of intelligence. Dr. Volodarsky earned a history degree at the London School of Economics under Professor Sir Paul Preston defending his doctoral thesis there with flying colours. He is contributing articles to the leading newspapers and is often interviewed by television and radio channels in Britain and the USA.


I wrote...

Assassins: The KGB's Poison Factory Ten Years on

By Boris Volodarsky,

Book cover of Assassins: The KGB's Poison Factory Ten Years on

What is my book about?

This book is the second volume of my The KGB’s Poison Factory, first published in 2009 after the infamous poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London by radioactive Polonium-210. It had several reprints in both UK and the USA and was translated into other languages. I was one of the consultants to the British investigation carried out by SO-15 of the Metropolitan police. I also knew both Sasha Litvinenko and his patron, Boris Berezovsky, personally. In the new book I add ten new cases where it was proved without doubt that Russian agents poisoned Kremlin’s opponents in various parts of the world. It covers the time span of several decades.

Why this book is so special? First of all, it presents the Litvinenko case in an entirely new light showing many flaws of the investigation and the following inquest, which made wrong conclusions based on insufficient or manipulated evidence. Another chapter, ‘The Oligarch’, seeks to prove that Boris Berezovsky, a Russian business tycoon who had resided in London for 13 years, did not commit suicide, as the Thames Valley Police investigation wanted to demonstrate, but was murdered by Russian intelligence. My conclusion is supported by Professor Bern Brinkmann, an internationally renowned medico-legal expert and forensic scientist who was employed by members of Berezovsky’s family. Other cases include the murder of the Soviet defector Nikolai Artamonov in Vienna, the poisoning of Sergey Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, and so on, all presented differently from what one can read in popular media.

The books I picked & why

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The Secret World: A History of Intelligence

By Christopher Andrew,

Book cover of The Secret World: A History of Intelligence

Why this book?

This book is written by the best intelligence historian of our times, former Official Historian of the British Security Service (MI5), professor of Cambridge University and founder of Cambridge Intelligence Seminar. It is an intelligence history bible which is a must read for everyone interested in this complex subject, for all scholars, intelligence professionals and students of intelligence. It is also wonderfully written and reliable in most cases.

The Secret World: A History of Intelligence

By Christopher Andrew,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Almost every page includes a sizzling historical titbit ... captivating, insightful and masterly' (Edward Lucas, The Times)

The history of espionage is far older than any of today's intelligence agencies, yet the long history of intelligence operations has been largely forgotten. The first mention of espionage in world literature is in the Book of Exodus.'God sent out spies into the land of Canaan'. From there, Christopher Andrew traces the shift in the ancient world from divination to what we would recognize as attempts to gather real intelligence in the conduct of military operations, and considers how far ahead of the…


The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB

By Christopher Andrew, Vasili Mitrokhin,

Book cover of The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB

Why this book?

Better known as The Mitrokhin Archive, these are the first (and practically only) books, two great volumes, truly based on the secret KGB archives showing Soviet foreign intelligence operations in Europe, the USA, and the rest of the world. They cover the period from the founding of the Cheka (predecessor to the KGB) in 1917 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Again, both books are wonderfully written by Professor Andrew who had worked with Mitrokhin and his archive and represent an academic research of exceptional quality. All scholars, students and intelligence professionals must have these two books in their library. The same concerns all university libraries without any exception.

The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB

By Christopher Andrew, Vasili Mitrokhin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Sword and the Shield is based on one of the most extraordinary intelligence coups of recent times: a secret archive of top-level KGB documents smuggled out of the Soviet Union which the FBI has described, after close examination, as the "most complete and extensive intelligence ever received from any source." Its presence in the West represents a catastrophic hemorrhage of the KGB's secrets and reveals for the first time the full extent of its worldwide network.Vasili Mitrokhin, a secret dissident who worked in the KGB archive, smuggled out copies of its most highly classified files every day for twelve…


Soviet Espionage

By David J Dallin,

Book cover of Soviet Espionage

Why this book?

Anybody, who wants to study intelligence history and specifically the work of Russian Intelligence Services (RIS), must start with this book which covers several important cases in the 1930s. Remarkably, the author is not an intelligence historian and never worked in the archives. David Dallin’s writings that proved to be correct and accurate in most of the cases, were entirely based on his own analysis, newspaper publications and occasional interviews with Soviet defectors.

Soviet Espionage

By David J Dallin,

Why should I read it?

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


Mi6

By Stephen Dorril,

Book cover of Mi6

Why this book?

Unlike the official history of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), better known as MI6, by Keith Jeffery, this book is written without the censorship of the Service presenting the facts as the author, a journalist and academic, considers fit and proper to show. Very well written and covering a considerable period of time with many secret operations, it is a very good book which The Guardian described as ‘A remarkable achievement and an encyclopaedic post-war history which any student of the secret world should read.’

Mi6

By Stephen Dorril,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mi6 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first comprehensive history of the UK government overseas intelligence service, MI6, by an acknowledged expert and author of the highly acclaimed Smear!

Epitomised in the public imagination by James Bond, MI6's svelte and glamorous image has been peeled away by Dorril's searching investigations to reveal a less savoury truth. Here is the story of MI6's recruitment operation after WW2 of former Nazis; anticommunist guerrilla campaigns in the Ukraine and the Baltic States; Operation Stalin which led to mass arrests and executions ordered by Stalin; the European terrorist network 'Gladio'; tunnels built in Vienna and Berlin known as operation 'Gold…


The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue

By Frederick Forsyth,

Book cover of The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue

Why this book?

In 2015 Forsyth published his autobiography entitled The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue. This is another excellent book written in his usual style - full of intrigue and adventures, only this time the author himself is the main protagonist. Besides, all that Forsyth describes in this book is either true or at least very close to the truth including his admitting that for a certain period of time and in certain countries he had been acting as an agent of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. That doesn’t mean, of course, that Forsyth had ever been a spy, but he is certainly writing his spy novels as an insider.

All his books are extremely well written and must be studied by all intelligence professionals as textbooks. Usually, intelligence officers do not like reading because they think their life is so interesting and full of adventures that nothing can be more fascinating. This is wrong. If I were lecturing at the spy school, I would say to my students: read Forsyth.

The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue

By Frederick Forsyth,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

FREDERICK FORSYTH HAS SEEN IT ALL. AND LIVED TO TELL THE TALE...
At eighteen, Forsyth was the youngest pilot to qualify with the RAF.
At twenty-five, he was stationed in East Berlin as a journalist during the Cold War.
Before he turned thirty, he was in Africa controversially covering the bloodiest civil war in living memory.
Three years later, broke and out of work, he wrote his game-changing first novel, The Day of the Jackal. He never looked back.
Forsyth has seen some of the most exhilarating moments of the last century from the inside, travelling the world, once or…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Soviet Union, espionage, and MI5?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Soviet Union, espionage, and MI5.

The Soviet Union Explore 251 books about the Soviet Union
Espionage Explore 124 books about espionage
MI5 Explore 12 books about MI5

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Spy Chiefs, Threat on the Horizon, and Tomorrow to Be Brave if you like this list.