The best books on spies and espionage in WW2

Who am I?

As a child I found the history and biography books in our school library, and was enthralled. When I got older and discovered historical archives, the tension between public history in books and the secret or forgotten histories tucked away was irresistible. Writing books has taken me to five continents on journeys into everything from medicinal black markets to the traces of a wartime commercial spy network. For my latest book, digging through classified OSS files showed me what amazing stories still lie waiting for us.


I wrote...

Cork Wars: Intrigue and Industry in World War II

By David A. Taylor,

Book cover of Cork Wars: Intrigue and Industry in World War II

What is my book about?

In 1940, with German U-boats blockading all commerce across the Atlantic Ocean, a fireball at the Crown Cork and Seal factory lit the sky over Baltimore. The newspapers said that you could see its glow as far north as Philadelphia and as far south as Annapolis. Rumors of Nazi sabotage led to an FBI investigation and pulled an entire industry into the machinery of national security as America stood on the brink of war.

In Cork Wars, David A. Taylor traces this fascinating story through the lives of three men and their families, who were all drawn into this dangerous intersection of enterprise and espionage. At the heart of this tale is self-made mogul Charles McManus, son of Irish immigrants, who grew up on Baltimore's rough streets. McManus ran Crown Cork and Seal, a company that manufactured everything from bottle caps to oil-tight gaskets for fighter planes. Frank DiCara, as a young teenager growing up in Highlandtown, watched from his bedroom window as the fire blazed at the factory. Just a few years later, under pressure to support his family after the death of his father, DiCara quit school and got a job at Crown. Meanwhile, Melchor Marsa, Catalan by birth, managed Crown Cork and Seal's plants in Spain and Portugal--and was perfectly placed to be recruited as a spy.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Nazi Spies in America: Hitler's Undercover War

By William Breuer,

Book cover of Nazi Spies in America: Hitler's Undercover War

Why this book?

This Times bestseller is a page-turner of true crime that combines our fascination with spy games and a real-world FBI detective story, an epic stretching from the 1920s to a "floodtide of espionage" in the late 1930s and the counterintelligence war through a foiled sabotage mission to blow up U.S. bridges and waterworks (which the FBI's Hoover nearly botched then spun for favorable publicity) to V-E day.

Nazi Spies in America: Hitler's Undercover War

By William Breuer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nazi Spies in America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Recounts Hitler's pre-World War II battle to arm the Third Reich with U.S. military secrets and technology by filling major American cities with spies


The Nazi Spy Ring in America: Hitler's Agents, the FBI, and the Case That Stirred the Nation

By Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones,

Book cover of The Nazi Spy Ring in America: Hitler's Agents, the FBI, and the Case That Stirred the Nation

Why this book?

This is a sort of origin story for Breuer's characters, centered more tightly on a mid-1930s Nazi ring uncovered by the FBI's best investigator, Leon Turrou, and splashed across American newspapers’ front pages in 1938. Jeffreys-Jones' book, released in 2020, also shows why multi-stranded nonfiction has become a popular form.

The Nazi Spy Ring in America: Hitler's Agents, the FBI, and the Case That Stirred the Nation

By Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Nazi Spy Ring in America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the mid-1930s, just as the United States was embarking on a policy of neutrality, Nazi Germany launched a program of espionage against the unwary nation. Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones's fascinating history provides the first full account of Nazi spies in 1930s America and how they were exposed in a high-profile FBI case that became a national sensation.


Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS

By Elizabeth P McIntosh,

Book cover of Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS

Why this book?

McIntosh takes a fresh approach to espionage, putting aside the trench coats and Mata Haris for the real "Code-room Mata Hari" and other little-known heroines of the war. A veteran of CIA and OSS operations herself, McIntosh knows what she's writing about, and draws from more than 100 interviews with other women operatives. She portrays several dozen here, including the China escapades of Julia McWilliams (known today as Julia Child). It also features the Musac project, with broadcasts targeted at Wehrmacht troops with fake German news and music sung by agent Marlene Dietrichn designed to infiltrate their sympathies.

Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS

By Elizabeth P McIntosh,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The daring missions and cloak-and-dagger skullduggery of America's World War II intelligence agency, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), are well documented and have become the stuff of legend. Yet the contributions of the four thousand women who made up one-fifth of the OSS staff have gone largely unheralded. Here for the first time are their fascinating stories, told by one of their own.

A seasoned journalist and veteran of sensitive OSS and CIA operations, Elizabeth McIntosh draws on her own experiences and in-depth interviews with more than one hundred OSS women to uncover some of the most tantalizing stories…


Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945

By Neill Lochery,

Book cover of Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945

Why this book?

Journalist Lochery tracks how spies flowed through perhaps the most important hub of intelligence during the war - Portugal's capital. Neutral Portugal continued to deal with both Allies and the Axis powers throughout the conflict. Thousands of refugees passed through, fleeing Axis-held Europe for the United States. Lochery plumbs Portuguese sources and records of its secret police to show how, for example, the Nazis flipped officials and coerced diplomats in the struggle for Europe's future.

Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945

By Neill Lochery,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Lisbon had a pivotal role in the history of World War II, though not a gun was fired there. The only European city in which both the Allies and the Axis power operated openly, it was temporary home to much of Europe's exiled royalty, over one million refugees seeking passage to the U.S., and a host of spies, secret police, captains of industry, bankers, prominent Jews, writers and artists, escaped POWs, and black marketeers. An operations officer writing in 1944 described the daily scene at Lisbon's airport as being like the movie Casablanca," times twenty. In this riveting narrative, renowned…


Finks: How the C.I.A. Tricked the World's Best Writers

By Joel Whitney,

Book cover of Finks: How the C.I.A. Tricked the World's Best Writers

Why this book?

Whitney gives a literary coda to World War II cloak-and-dagger, showing how its nests of spies and agencies pivoted and metastasised in the years afterward into the Cold War. The CIA took up where the OSS left off. Where Graham Greene and Kim Philby had run the haunts of Lisbon, then-young writers George Plimpton and Peter Matthiessen were cajoled to produce cultural propaganda in Paris and start the Paris Review. The CIA's literary operations continued into the 1960s when it launched a whispering campaign to prevent Pablo Neruda from receiving a Nobel prize, and launched Mundo Nuevo to engage Spanish-language readers.

Finks: How the C.I.A. Tricked the World's Best Writers

By Joel Whitney,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When news broke that the CIA had colluded with literary magazines to produce cultural propaganda throughout the Cold War, a debate began that has never been resolved. The story continues to unfold, with the reputations of some of America's best-loved literary figures-including Peter Matthiessen, George Plimpton, and Richard Wright-tarnished as their work for the intelligence agency has come to light.

Finks is a tale of two CIAs, and how they blurred the line between propaganda and literature. One CIA created literary magazines that promoted American and European writers and cultural freedom, while the other toppled governments, using assassination and censorship…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in espionage, World War 2, and intelligence agency?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about espionage, World War 2, and intelligence agency.

Espionage Explore 124 books about espionage
World War 2 Explore 1142 books about World War 2
Intelligence Agency Explore 91 books about intelligence agency

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The First Global Village, Estoril, and The Portuguese if you like this list.