The best Cold War spy books (non-fiction & fiction)

Who am I?

Tim Tate is a multi-award-winning documentary filmmaker, investigative journalist, and the author of 18 non-fiction books. The Cold War shaped – and continues to shape – the world we live in today. Although the collapse of the Soviet Union theoretically ended the conflict between East and West, in reality, the struggle between the Cold War superpowers of America and Russia rumbles on. Nor have the espionage agencies on either side of the former Iron Curtain fundamentally changed. Their actions during the Cold War run deeply beneath modern tensions. I spent years researching the hidden history of the most important Cold War spy; his extraordinary life and activities provide a unique lens with which to understand Cold War espionage.


I wrote...

The Spy Who Was Left Out In The Cold: The Secret History of Agent Goleniewski

By Tim Tate,

Book cover of The Spy Who Was Left Out In The Cold: The Secret History of Agent Goleniewski

What is my book about?

Polish intelligence chief Michał Goleniewski, codename Sniper, was the West’s most valuable Cold War spy. After he defected to the United States in 1961, he exposed more than 1,600 communist agents ―more than any spy in history. But in 1963, as the CIA descended into a decade of in-fighting, it abandoned Goleniewski and drove him into insanity. Yet Goleniewski also bears some of the blame: he made an entirely bogus claim to be Tsarevich Aleksei Romanoff, heir to the Russian Throne and a supposed Russian Imperial fortune. 

For 50 years, American and British intelligence have erased Goleniewski from Cold War history. Using extracts from CIA and MI5 dossiers, and his Polish intelligence service file, the book reveals the courage and pathos of Goleniewski’s story.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Cold Warrior: James Jesus Angleton - The CIA's Master Spy Hunter

Tim Tate Why did I love this book?

Veteran BBC reporter Tom Mangold’s book was the most thorough and penetrating biography of James Jesus Angleton – the CIA’s legendary Cold War Counterintelligence chief. Drawing on scores of original interviews and internal intelligence records, Mangold reveals the depths of Angleton’s paranoia, alcoholism, and obsessions – and shows how these devastated both the CIA and Britain’s MI5 for more than a decade.

By Tom Mangold,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A biography of the spymaster who ran the CIA's counterintelligence operation for twenty years until his downfall


Book cover of Dead Doubles: The Extraordinary Worldwide Hunt for One of the Cold War's Most Notorious Spy Ring

Tim Tate Why did I love this book?

The Portland Spy Ring was one of the first espionage cases exposed by Michał Goleniewski. Using MI5’s declassified files, Trevor Barnes tells the extraordinary story of how the discovery of a disillusioned British civil servant selling secrets from the Navy’s submarine research base at Portland revealed a shadowy world of deep-cover KGB spies operating under false identities stolen from the dead.

By Trevor Barnes,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

THE PORTLAND SPY RING was one of the most infamous espionage cases from the Cold War. People the world over were shocked when its exposure revealed the shadowy world of deep cover KGB 'illegals' - spies operating under false identities stolen from the dead.

The CIA's revelation to MI5 in 1960 that a KGB agent was stealing crucial secrets from the world-leading submarine research base at Portland in Dorset looked initially like a dangerous but contained lapse of security by a British man and his mistress. But the couple were tailed by MI5 'watchers' to a covert meeting with a…


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

Tim Tate Why did I love this book?

Times journalist and author Ben Macintyre almost single-handedly resurrected the genre of espionage non-fiction. His account of the life and crimes and Kim Philby – the MI6 officer who became the most notorious Cold War defector to the Soviet Union – is a tautly-written and often jaw-dropping account of how one of Britain’s most senior and privileged spies betrayed his friends, colleagues and the most vital secrets of both Britain and the United States.  

By Ben Macintyre,

Why should I read it?

10 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…


Book cover of The Ipcress File

Tim Tate Why did I love this book?

John le Carré is the acknowledged global Colossus of Cold War spy fiction, but Len Deighton’s central character, Harry Palmer, is for me far more redolent of the changing and morally-ambivalent era of espionage in the early 1960s. Whilst the management levels of Britain’s intelligence service are dominated by a privileged – and often compromised – elite, Palmer is the harbinger of a (slowly) coming new generation: working-class spies who mistrust, and are mistrusted by, the Establishment.  

By Len Deighton,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Ipcress File as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Len Deighton's classic first novel, whose
protagonist is a nameless spy - later christened Harry Palmer and made famous worldwide in the iconic 1960s film starring Michael Caine.

The Ipcress File was not only Len Deighton's first novel, it was his first bestseller and the book that broke the mould of thriller writing.

For the working class narrator, an apparently straightforward mission to find a missing biochemist becomes a journey to the heart of a dark and deadly conspiracy.

The film of The Ipcress File gave Michael Caine one of his first and still most celebrated starring roles, while the…


Book cover of The Prodigal Spy

Tim Tate Why did I love this book?

In 1950, McCarthy-ite red-baiting is at its height and communists are being hunted across America. When a US government official is accused of being a spy by the House Un-American Activities Committee, he abandons his family to flee the country. His apparent defection seems to confirm the allegations that he was a Soviet Bloc spy. Almost 20 years later, his son goes behind the Iron Curtain for a painful reunion.  Kanon’s novel is written as a thriller, yet it captures the paranoia of America in the early Cold War, the drabness of Soviet-occupied Prague, and explores profound issues of love and betrayal. 

By Joseph Kanon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It is 1950 and communists are being hunted across America. When Walter Kotlar is accused of being a spy by the House Un-American Activities Committee, his young son Nick destroys a piece of evidence only he knows about. But before the hearing can conclude, Walter flees the country, leaving behind his family...and a key witness lying dead, apparently having committed suicide. Nineteen years later, Nick gets a second chance to discover the truth when a beautiful journalist brings a message from his long-lost father, and Nick follows her into Soviet-occupied Prague for a painful reunion and the discovery of a…


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The River of Eternity

By Bruce Balfour,

Book cover of The River of Eternity

Bruce Balfour

New book alert!

What is my book about?

1184 BCE. Ramesses III, who will become the last of the great pharaohs, is returning home from battle. He will one day assume the throne of the Egyptian empire, and the plots against him and his children have already started. Even a god can die.

Ray was raised with the teenage children of Ramesses as their friend, but his own mysterious past exposes him to threats inside and outside of the Egyptian court. When a prince is killed, Ray is framed for the murder and must run to protect Bull, the oldest son of Ramesses. So begins Ray’s dangerous journey from the snake pit of royal palace intrigue into a violent world of treachery and enemies that will take years to conquer if he can survive.

The River of Eternity

By Bruce Balfour,

What is this book about?

From the national bestselling author of The Forge of Mars and The Digital Dead, an Ancient Egyptian epic adventure thriller series, based on real events, for fans of Wilbur Smith, Steven Saylor, and Paul Doherty.

This is the first book of a series leading up to the event known as The Harem Conspiracy, the assassination of Pharaoh Ramesses III in New Kingdom Egypt (1184 BCE), which was led by members of his own family. Details were drawn from the first recorded judicial trial transcript ever recovered (Judicial Papyrus of Turin plus other fragments of the original papyrus).


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