The best books on how the USA views national security

John D. Marks Author Of The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control: The Secret History of the Behavioral Sciences
By John D. Marks

Who am I?

John Marks is co-author of The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, a New York Times best-seller in hard-cover and paperback. He has written for the Washington Post, New York Times, Playboy, Foreign Policy, and Rolling Stone. He was the founder and long-time President of Search for Common Ground, the world’s largest peacebuilding organization that was nominated for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.

I wrote...

Book cover of The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control: The Secret History of the Behavioral Sciences

What is my book about?

A "Manchurian Candidate" would be an unwitting assassin brainwashed and programmed to kill. In this award-winning book, I document in highly readable terms the explosive story of MKULTRA, the CIA's highly secret program of experiments in mind control.  I worked from thousands of pages of CIA documents as well as extensive interviews and research in the behavioral science to produce a book that, in the words of the late Senator Edward Kennedy "accomplished what two Senate committees could not."

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms And The CIA

Why did I love this book?

This is a great book about former CIA Director Richard Helms and the agency he directed.  Helms was the quintessential CIA man, and Powers tells the story of his 30-year career in spying in this beautifully written book, which somehow captures both Helms’ elusiveness and his essence.

By Thomas Powers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Man Who Kept the Secrets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An account of the thirty-year career of the quintessential CIA man details his activities and attitudes as an intelligence agent and official and reveals--objectively and comprehensively--the workings of the CIA itself

Book cover of Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century

Why did I love this book?

Dick Holbrooke was a one-of-a-kind diplomat who, by force of his character, brought peace to Bosnia. He embodied still significant, but declining, American power in the post-Vietnam era, and this book brilliantly captures his character and his exploits.

By George Packer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From one of America's greatest non-fiction writers, an epic saga of the rise and fall of American power, from Vietnam to Afghanistan, told through the life of one man.


Richard Holbrooke was one of the most legendary and complicated figures in recent American history. Brilliant, utterly self-absorbed, and possessed of almost inhuman energy and appetites, he was both admired and detested. From his days as a young adviser in Vietnam to his last efforts to end the war in Afghanistan, Holbrooke embodied…

The Quiet American

By Graham Greene,

Book cover of The Quiet American

Why did I love this book?

This classic novel is the book I read before leaving for Vietnam as a young Foreign Service Officer. Written in 1955, it foretold in hugely insightful terms the quagmire in which the United States would sink into. It demonstrated the reasons why Americans have done so badly in combatting insurgencies.

By Graham Greene,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Quiet American as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Graham Greene's classic exploration of love, innocence, and morality in Vietnam

"I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused," Graham Greene's narrator Fowler remarks of Alden Pyle, the eponymous "Quiet American" of what is perhaps the most controversial novel of his career. Pyle is the brash young idealist sent out by Washington on a mysterious mission to Saigon, where the French Army struggles against the Vietminh guerrillas.

As young Pyle's well-intentioned policies blunder into bloodshed, Fowler, a seasoned and cynical British reporter, finds it impossible to stand safely aside as an observer. But…

Book cover of A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam

Why did I love this book?

As both a military officer and a civilian leader of the pacification program, John Vann personified American involvement – and failure – in Vietnam. In my view, this is the definitive book on the War. If you only are going to read one book on Vietnam, this is the one I would choose.

By Neil Sheehan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Bright Shining Lie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Outspoken, professional and fearless, Lt. Col. John Paul Vann went to Vietnam in 1962, full of confidence in America's might and right to prevail. He was soon appalled by the South Vietnamese troops' unwillingness to fight, by their random slaughter of civilians and by the arrogance and corruption of the US military. He flouted his supervisors and leaked his sharply pessimistic - and, as it turned out, accurate - assessments to the US press corps in Saigon. Among them was Sheehan, who became fascinated by the angry Vann, befriended him and followed his tragic and reckless career.

Sixteen years in…

Reporter: A Memoir

By Seymour M. Hersh,

Book cover of Reporter: A Memoir

Why did I love this book?

Sy Hersh is far and away the best investigative reporter of the last 50 years. This book tells how he got the stories that became some of the biggest national security scandals of our time – from My Lai to Watergate to CIA domestic spying to Abu Ghraib. This is essential reading for anyone interested in either or both journalism or national security.

By Seymour M. Hersh,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Reporter is just wonderful. Truly a great life, and what shines out of the book, amid the low cunning and tireless legwork, is Hersh's warmth and humanity. Essential reading for every journalist and aspiring journalist the world over' John le Carre

In the early 1950s, teenage Seymour Hersh was finishing high school and university - while running the family's struggling dry cleaning store in a Southside Chicago ghetto. Today, he is one of America's premier investigative journalists, whose fearless reporting has earned him fame, front-page bylines in virtually every newspaper in the world, a staggering collection of awards, and no…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in love triangle, the CIA, and soldiers?

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

Love Triangle Explore 68 books about love triangle
The CIA Explore 113 books about the CIA
Soldiers Explore 94 books about soldiers