The best books about spies in the Middle East

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a thriller writer who was born and grew up in Kuwait during a period when the country was threatened with invasion by Iraq. My father was the Preventative Health Officer for the Kuwait Oil Company. At the end of 1960 Ian Fleming visited the country and they became close friends. At the time Britain depended on inside information to prepare for military Operation Vantage. The experiences I had of that time and of that relationship, even as a child, were crying out to be written about. Despite the Middle East being a hotspot for espionage during that period of the Cold War, there’s been relatively little written about it.


I wrote...

Our Man In Kuwait

By Louise Burfitt-Dons,

Book cover of Our Man In Kuwait

What is my book about?

It’s a colonial-era novel that takes place against the background of big power conflict. Set in Kuwait in 1960. The leading character in the story, Gordon Carlisle, lives in the expat community of Ahmadi with little to worry about other than when to next don his dinner jacket. But following contact by an MI6 agent everything changes. Even marriage to his beautiful new wife Anita breaks down as he becomes a suspect in a chain of deaths in the Protectorate. In my story, Ian Fleming’s time in Kuwait is recorded at firsthand as Britain prepares to meet the Iraqi forces head on with Operation Vantage.

World-leading expert on chemical weapons Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE and author of Chemical Warrior describes it as "A brilliant marriage of fact and fiction."

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Lords of the Desert: The Battle Between the United States and Great Britain for Supremacy in the Modern Middle East

Louise Burfitt-Dons Why did I love this book?

This book sums up so much of what went on in the Middle East from the Second World War onwards. As such, James Barr lifts the curtain on British plotting and intrigue in a most readable and thrilling way. It details how America got involved in the middle decades of the twentieth century and much of the rivalry that existed during this period between the secret services. Essential reading to understand some of the present-day political ramifications of the region.

By James Barr,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A path-breaking history of how the United States superseded Great Britain as the preeminent power in the Middle East, with urgent lessons for the present day

We usually assume that Arab nationalism brought about the end of the British Empire in the Middle East -- that Gamal Abdel Nasser and other Arab leaders led popular uprisings against colonial rule that forced the overstretched British from the region.

In Lords of the Desert, historian James Barr draws on newly declassified archives to argue instead that the US was the driving force behind the British exit. Though the two nations were allies,…


Book cover of Beirut Spy

Louise Burfitt-Dons Why did I love this book?

This book is the inside story of the gossip which came out of the St. George Hotel, a famous Beirut meeting place during the 1950s for journalists and travelers and a regular hot spot for spies. It reads like a Bond thriller and no doubt Ian Fleming downed several of his pink gins there before he travelled on to Kuwait. Many Western plots took shape in its bar, including the plan to restore the monarchy in Baghdad, an attempt to overthrow King Hussein, and the assassination of a Syrian president. The value to me of this book is its historical relevance. Destroyed in the civil war that raged through Lebanon, this account of the famous bar somehow defies the bombs and keeps it alive.

By Said K. Aburish,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An insider's account of true espionage, intrigue and conspiracy in the post-war Middle East, which reads like a Bond-esque thriller. Spies, journalists, politicians, tycoons, would-be assassins and oil sheiks mingle in the luxurious St George Hotel bar, the cosmopolitan centre of Beirut. From the 1950's through to its destruction in 1975 due to civil war, the plots, deals, and stories that came out of this famous hotel and its beachside bar make fascinating reading, featuring famous names as Kim Philby, Miles Copeland, Wilbur Crane and James Russell Barracks. Many incidents which went on to shape Middle Eastern history are related…


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

Louise Burfitt-Dons Why did I love this book?

This is a book principally about Kim Philby, the once head of Britain's counterintelligence against the Soviet Union who was exposed as a double agent. There's a lot about this master spy’s activities in the Lebanese capital in the lead-up to his defection to Moscow from there in January of 1963. In 1960 Philby made a tour of the Middle East to write some articles, including stopping in Kuwait which inspired some of the action in my own book. I love any work by Ben Macintyre but this book appealed to me especially. It’s got some great photos in it and, trite as it sounds, I couldn’t put it down.

By Ben Macintyre,

Why should I read it?

12 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 Doomed Oasis

Louise Burfitt-Dons Why did I love this book?

Moving back to fiction, this swashbuckling adventure story moves between Wales and the Middle East. Published in 1960 it is a little dated in style but packs a punch as a fun thriller as much as giving a background into the politics of the region and the development of the oil industry. It has been described by others as more like watching an old black and white movie. However, it still captures some of the essential elements of the time and the harshness of warfare in the boiling heat. 

By Hammond Innes,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A sweeping adventure set in the Arabian Desert, where the shadow of British colonialism threatens to destroy a father and son.

Three years ago, nineteen-year-old David Thomas beat his father to death. Actually, David only punched the old man, but it was hard enough to cause him to have a fatal stroke. And the man wasn’t really David’s father at all: The fight started because David learned that his true father was Col. Charles Stanley Whitaker, a legendary figure who made his fortune in the oil fields of the Arabian Desert.
 
With the help of George Grant, a lawyer he’d…


Book cover of The Fist of God

Louise Burfitt-Dons Why did I love this book?

From a master storyteller comes a fantastic tale. While my own book covers the period when Kuwait was threatened by Iraq in 1961, The Fist of God is set during the actual Iraq War that broke out in 1990. As well as a compelling read, there’s a wealth of knowledge and insight into the intelligence operations of that time in the Middle East. Action takes place between Washington and London, Baghdad and Kuwait. I can only recommend this for readers who have a stomach for harrowing details of the tortures of Saddam Hussein and his minions. But, that said, it’s worth the read as it does illustrate the bravery of spies in the Middle East during this period.

By Frederick Forsyth,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Fist of God as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From behind-the-scenes decision making of the Allies to the secret meeting of Saddam Hussein's war cabinet, from the brave American fliers running dangerous missions over Iraq to a heroic young spy planted deep in the heart of Baghdad, Forsyths incomparable storytelling keeps the suspense at a breakneck pace.

Peopled with vivid characters, brilliantly displaying the intricacies of intelligence operations moving back and forth between Washington and London, Baghdad and Kuwait, and revealing espionage tradecraft as only Frederick Forsyth can, The Fist of God tells the utterly convincing story of what may actually have happened behind the headlines.


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A School for Unusual Girls

By Kathleen Baldwin,

Book cover of A School for Unusual Girls

Kathleen Baldwin Author Of Sanctuary for Seers: A Stranje House Novel

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Loves God Mother to Many Wilderness Adventurer History Enthusiast

Kathleen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

A spy school for girls amidst Jane Austen’s high society.

Daughters of the Beau Monde who don’t fit London society’s strict mold are banished to Stranje House, where the headmistress trains these unusually gifted girls to enter the dangerous world of spies in the Napoleonic wars. #1 NYT bestselling author Meg Cabot calls this exciting historical series "completely original and totally engrossing."

A School for Unusual Girls

By Kathleen Baldwin,

What is this book about?

A School for Unusual Girls is the first captivating installment in the Stranje House series for young adults by award-winning author Kathleen Baldwin. #1 New York Times bestselling author Meg Cabot calls this romantic Regency adventure "completely original and totally engrossing."

It's 1814. Napoleon is exiled on Elba. Europe is in shambles. Britain is at war on four fronts. And Stranje House, a School for Unusual Girls, has become one of Regency England's dark little secrets. The daughters of the beau monde who don't fit high society's constrictive mold are banished to Stranje House to be reformed into marriageable young…


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Interested in espionage, spies, and the Middle East?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about espionage, spies, and the Middle East.

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