The best books on the KGB, Russia and espionage

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been writing about Russia for the past 20 years for all the UK national newspapers, The Spectator and contributed to several TV documentaries. I am fascinated by Russia which is a unique country and has been a major influence on the world for the past 100 years. Based on new documents, my book Londongrad - From Russia with Cash revealed how Russian Oligarchs made their wealth, moved it out of Russia, hid their fortunes and then parked and spent it in London. My new book - Agents of Influence - provides an insight into how the KGB influenced the West based on new archives.


I wrote...

Agents of Influence: How the KGB Subverted Western Democracies

By Mark Hollingsworth,

Book cover of Agents of Influence: How the KGB Subverted Western Democracies

What is my book about?

Agents of Influence reveals for the first time how the KGB subverted, disrupted, and plotted to destabilize the UK, US, and NATO countries during the Cold War using covert operations - disinformation, forgery of documents, honey trapping, surveillance, recruitment of politicians as secret agents and attempts to secretly finance and back US Presidential candidates and Congressmen. Drawing on parallels with Putin's war in Ukraine, this book shows how Russian intelligence operatives are using the same methods today - only the technology is different. And the book concludes with an exclusive interview with a former head of the Ukrainian security service who provides new insights into the war.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West

Mark Hollingsworth Why did I love this book?

This is a painstaking investigation into corruption at the highest level in Putin's Kremlin. 

The book demonstrates in vivid detail how Putin installed a group of former KGB officers in power who then carved up Russia's strategic assets for themselves.

They targeted one company after another, probing weaknesses and exploiting the chequered past of every businessman who had made a fortune in the chaos of privatisation during the 1990s.

By Catherine Belton,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Putin's People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times and Sunday Times bestseller | A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
Named a best book of the year by The Economist | Financial Times | New Statesman | The Telegraph

"[Putin's People] will surely now become the definitive account of the rise of Putin and Putinism." —Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic

"This riveting, immaculately researched book is arguably the best single volume written about Putin, the people around him and perhaps even about contemporary Russia itself in the past three decades." —Peter Frankopan, Financial Times

Interference in American elections. The sponsorship of extremist politics in…


Book cover of The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West

Mark Hollingsworth Why did I love this book?

Based on an unprecedented treasure trove of documents smuggled out of the Soviet Union by former intelligence officer Vasily Mitrokhin, this book demonstrated the KGB operations used in an attempt to destabilise the West during the Cold War - disinformation, forgery of documents, honey trapping, smears, surveillance and recruiting agents of influence and politicians in the UK, NATO countries and the USA.

I am recommending The Mitrokhin Archive because it is based on primary documents.  So many books about espionage are based on memories and speculation, while the Mitrokhin Archive's value is that its assertions and revelations are based on actual KGB documents. 

And so this book was indispensable for my research for my book.

By Christopher Andrew, Vasili Mitrokhin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'One of the biggest intelligence coups in recent years' The Times

For years KGB operative Vasili Mitrokhin risked his life hiding top-secret material from Russian secret service archives beneath his family dacha. When he was exfiltrated to the West he took with him what the FBI called 'the most complete and extensive intelligence ever received from any source'. This extraordinary bestselling book is the result.

'Co-authored in a brilliant partnership by Christopher Andrew and the renegade Soviet archivist himself ... This is a truly global expose of major KGB penetrations throughout the Western world' The Times

'This tale of malevolent…


Book cover of The Art of Betrayal: The Secret History of MI6

Mark Hollingsworth Why did I love this book?

The author is the BBC's Security and Defence Correspondent and his range of contacts enriches this book. 

It is full of anecdotes about the secret world and Russia looms large in his narrative. 

He explores the psychology and motivation of why British and Russian intelligence officers spied for the enemy during the Cold War and there is an excellent chapter on how the UK security services produced some inaccurate intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the Iraq war.

By Gordon Corera,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The secret history of MI6 - from the Cold War to the present day.

The British Secret Service has been cloaked in secrecy and shrouded in myth since it was created a hundred years ago. Our understanding of what it is to be a spy has been largely defined by the fictional worlds of James Bond and John le Carre. THE ART OF BETRAYAL provides a unique and unprecedented insight into this secret world and the reality that lies behind the fiction. It tells the story of how the secret service has changed since the end of World War II…


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

Mark Hollingsworth Why did I love this book?

It is rare for a KGB spy to reveal so many secrets about the Soviet Union and Russian intelligence operations in the West and so this book is a revelation. 

Kalugin was a KGB officer based in the USA in the 1970s and he describes all their dirty tricks - fake letters, disinformation, honey trapping, and even attempts to bug the US Congress.

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.


Book cover of Enemies Within: Communists, the Cambridge Spies and the Making of Modern Britain

Mark Hollingsworth Why did I love this book?

Many people have wondered why so many upper-class Englishmen brought up in the heart and highest echelons of the British Establishment betrayed their country. 

This book provides the answers and examines how their treachery influenced British foreign policy and cultural and political institutions until the end of the Cold War. It also reads extremely well and is full of colourful asides and anecdotes.

By Richard Davenport-Hines,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What pushed Blunt, Burgess, Cairncross, Maclean and Philby into Soviet hands?

With access to recently released papers and other neglected documents, this sharp analysis of the intelligence world examines how and why these men and others betrayed their country and what this cost Britain and its allies.

Enemies Within is a new history of the influence of Moscow on Britain told through the stories of those who chose to spy for the Soviet Union. It also challenges entrenched assumptions about abused trust, corruption and Establishment cover-ups that began with the Cambridge Five and the disappearance of Guy Burgess and Donald…


You might also like...

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…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Soviet Union, espionage, and spies?

11,000+ 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.

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