The best books on secret agents and espionage in WW2

Who am I?

I am a writer of Indian origin and have always been passionate about telling the story of the involvement of Indians in both World Wars. Very few people know that 2.5 million Indian volunteered for the Second World War, the largest volunteer force in history. I have always enjoyed reading stories of intelligence operations in wartime, the role of the Resistance in occupied countries and particularly the role of women in the Second World War. I was drawn to the story of Noor Inayat Khan from all these perspectives.


I wrote...

Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan

By Shrabani Basu,

Book cover of Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan

What is my book about?

This is the riveting story of Noor Inayat Khan, the descendant of an Indian ruler, Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, who became a British secret agent for SOE during World War II. Shrabani Basu tells the moving story of Noor's life from her birth in Moscow - where her father was a Sufi preacher - to her capture by the Germans. Noor was the first woman radio operator to be infiltrated into occupied France, and worked in one of the most dangerous areas in the field. She was betrayed, captured, tortured, but revealed nothing, not even her name. Kept in solitary confinement, chained between hand and feet and unable to walk upright, Noor existed on bowls of soup made from potato peelings. Ten months after she was captured, she was taken to Dachau Concentration Camp and, on 13 September 1944, she was shot. Her last word was 'Liberte'. She was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre.

The books I picked & why

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Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal

By Ben Macintyre,

Book cover of Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal

Why this book?

The story of the double-agent Eddie Chapman – a flamboyant conman, crook, and womaniser – who gets recruited by MI5 and turns into a courageous wartime hero, reads like a thriller. It has all the elements of a great story, combining tales of daring adventure and espionage, and feels almost like the pages of a Le Carre novel, but is in fact a true story, meticulously researched and well presented.


A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII

By Sarah Helm,

Book cover of A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII

Why this book?

While women agents of the SOE have had biographies written about them for years, few knew about the woman who sent them in the field. The story of Vera Atkins, the steely SOE officer from F-section who sent the women agents to France during WWII, filled this much-needed gap. After the war, it was her dogged search for the missing women that uncovered their tragic fate in the concentration camps.


Flames in the Field: The Story of Four SOE Agents in Occupied France

By Rita Kramer,

Book cover of Flames in the Field: The Story of Four SOE Agents in Occupied France

Why this book?

The story of four women agents from the SOE’s French section and their journey to a death camp in France is movingly told. They travel from different directions and come from different backgrounds but meet their tragic fate together. The book captures the spirit of resistance and their heroism.


Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945

By Leo Marks,

Book cover of Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945

Why this book?

A thrilling personal account by the brilliant cryptographer, Leo Marks, who was only 22 when employed by the SOE. It was Marks who gave the special codes to famous SOE agents like Violette Szabo, Noor Inayat Khan, and Nancy Wake before they left for the field. An insight into how the code war between Germany and England played out, often with disastrous consequences.


Carve Her Name with Pride: The Story of Violette Szabo

By R.J. Minney,

Book cover of Carve Her Name with Pride: The Story of Violette Szabo

Why this book?

Originally published in 1956, this book is still worth a read, even though more material on the SOE agents is now available. Violette Szabo’s bravery, her death in Ravensbruck Concentration camp at the age of 23 and her posthumous George Cross collected by her daughter Tania, continues to move and inspire.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in France, World War 2, and espionage?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about France, World War 2, and espionage.

France Explore 584 books about France
World War 2 Explore 967 books about World War 2
Espionage Explore 99 books about espionage

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Madame Fourcade's Secret War, Invisible Agents, and A Woman of No Importance if you like this list.