The best books about Russian espionage

Who am I?

As a child of the Cold War, I was fascinated from an early age by Russia—and the history of U.S.-Soviet relations. I still remember devouring everything I could about many of the events of the 1960’s—the Cuban Missile Crisis, the coup that replaced Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. These and much else from this period inspired me to become a journalist. And while I have had a wide-ranging and occasionally globe-trotting career, returning to the subject of U.S.-Russia relations in Russian Roulette  and the feeling that we made a genuine contribution to contemporary history—was unusually satisfying.

I wrote...

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump

By Michael Isikoff, David Corn,

Book cover of Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump

What is my book about?

Russian Roulette stands as the definitive account of Russia’s attack on the 2016 U.S. presidential election – a sweeping story that has its roots in Soviet Cold War “active measures,” supercharged for the Internet age with an aggressive mix of cyberwarfare, hacks, and social media manipulation. Russia’s assault on American democracy is told against the backdrop of the country’s seduction of one of the two U.S. presidential candidates, Donald Trump, whose decades-long efforts to do business in Russia turned him into a willing recipient of Moscow’s assistance.

And yet, Barack Obama’s  White House – fearful of putting its thumb on the scale in an election it assumed Hillary Clinton was going to win—failed to aggressively respond, even ordering senior U.S. government cyber experts to “stand down” from developing options to punch back at Moscow’s machinations. The book merges investigative journalism with modern history, and became an instant number-one New York Times best-seller upon its release.

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love this book?

There is no better spy yarn than the story of Kim Philby—the Cambridge-educated senior British intelligence official who for decades betrayed his colleagues by running a spy ring that stole reams of sensitive secrets for the Soviet Union. The ability of Philby to hoodwink British and U.S. counter-intelligence sleuths is amazing and Macintyre tells the story brilliantly. My favorite is his accounts of Philby’s booze-filled lunches with James Jesus Angleton of the CIA in which America’s premier mole hunter divulged all sorts of classified secrets to his British counterpart, resulting in anti-Communist guerillas being rolled up by the Soviets throughout Eastern Europe. When Angleton learned the truth, he turned into a paranoid fanatic convinced there were moles under every bed, resulting in a years-long obsession that terrorized the CIA.

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…

Darkness at Noon

By Arthur Koestler,

Book cover of Darkness at Noon

Why did I love this book?

This classic novel is a psychological masterpiece—a thinly veiled fictional account of Stalin’s purges, told through the eyes of a longtime loyal Bolshevik, Rubashov, who under relentless interrogation finally confesses his supposed “crimes,” and point the finger at alleged collaborators, thereby placing the demands of the Party above his personal dignity and the truth. Who prompts a proud man to act in such an abject fashion? It is a book that brilliantly anticipates George Orwell’s better-known 1984, but the themes are eerily similar. 

By Arthur Koestler,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Darkness at Noon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The newly discovered lost text of Arthur Koestler’s modern masterpiece, Darkness at Noon—the haunting portrait of a revolutionary, imprisoned and tortured under totalitarian rule—is now restored and in a completely new translation.

Editor Michael Scammell and translator Philip Boehm bring us a brilliant novel, a remarkable discovery, and a new translation of an international classic.

In print continually since 1940, Darkness at Noon has been translated into over 30 languages and is both a stirring novel and a classic anti-fascist text. What makes its popularity and tenacity even more remarkable is that all existing versions of Darkness at Noon are…

Book cover of Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case

Why did I love this book?

For a generation of liberals and progressives, it was an article of faith that Alger Hiss, a Harvard-educated New Dealer who accompanied Franklin Roosevelt to Yalta, was railroaded by the McCarthyite tactics of the anti-Communist right when was accused – and convicted—about his past as a Communist spy. But Weinstein, who started out his book as a Hiss sympathizer, conducted a thoroughgoing re-evaluation of one of the Cold War’s most celebrated trials and concluded, on the basis of a mountain of evidence, that Hiss was in fact guilty as charged. I devoured this book when it first came out because it stands as a case study of the need to confront hard facts even when they are politically inconvenient. 

By Allen Weinstein,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Although almost a half-century has passed since the jury at Alger Hiss's second trial pronounced him guilty of perjury, the case remains controversial and the verdict leaves questions unanswered. The case has continued to make headlines and attract considerable media attention in the years since Perjury was first published in 1978, and this new edition of the book incorporates evidence available only in the past two decades, bringing the essential public story of the episode up to the present. The author has sought and gained access to many previously undiscovered, unavailable, or ignored sources of documentary and oral evidence, both…

Book cover of The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties

Why did I love this book?

No book exposed the horrors of Josef Stalin’s purges more graphically and with greater power than Robert Conquest’s epic, The Great Terror. The book chronicled how a paranoid Stalin, convinced his power was threatened by his rival Leon Trotsky and his allies, unleashed a wave of terror by his country’s NKVD—a forerunner of the KGB--  that decimated the Soviet leadership and its military with millions of Russians executed or marched to Siberian prison camps. While Stalin’s henchmen staged mock “trials” in Moscow, marked by phony confessions, extracted by torture, liberal apologists in the West sought to justify Stalin’s lunatic crackdown. I read this book in college and it has stayed with me for years-- providing an eye-opening lesson in the willingness of those of all political stripes to turn a blind eye to the evils of totalitarianism.

By Robert Conquest,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Robert Conquest's The Great Terror is the book that revealed the horrors of Stalin's regime to the West. This definitive fiftieth anniversary edition features a new foreword by Anne Applebaum.

One of the most important books ever written about the Soviet Union, The Great Terror revealed to the West for the first time the true extent and nature Stalin's purges in the 1930s, in which around a million people were tortured and executed or sent to labour camps on political grounds. Its publication caused a widespread reassessment of Communism itself.

This definitive fiftieth anniversary edition gathers together the wealth of…

Book cover of Spymaster: My Thirty-Two Years in Intelligence and Espionage Against the West

Why did I love this book?

Kalugin was a major general in the KGB, dispatched to America as a spy under the cover of being a journalist for Radio Moscow. His account of his role in Soviet disinformation and “active measures”—forging letters, planting stories, concocting conspiracy theories—provides a rare insider look into how the KGB did business for decades. Perhaps most chilling is his description of how one of his bosses, former KGB chief turned Soviet premier Yuri Andropov—was guided by Lenin’s words: “We must be ready to employ trickery, deceit, law-breaking, withholding and concealing the truth. There are no morals in politics. There is only expedience.”

By Oleg Kalugin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Oleg Kalugin oversaw the work of American spies, matched wits with the CIA, and became one of the youngest generals in KGB history. Even so, he grew increasingly disillusioned with the Soviet system. In 1990, he went public, exposing the intelligence agency's shadowy methods. Revised and updated in the light of the KGB's enduring presence in Russian politics, Spymaster is Kalugin's impressively illuminating memoir of the final years of the Soviet Union.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Soviet Union, espionage, and spies?

9,000+ 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 spies.

The Soviet Union Explore 283 books about the Soviet Union
Espionage Explore 158 books about espionage
Spies Explore 56 books about spies

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