The best thriller novels that affected the real world

Bob Reiss Author Of The Last Spy
By Bob Reiss

Who am I?

This will sound corny but if writers aren’t dreamers, who is? As a journalist, I got to cover real events, but I was also concerned about what could happen. But how do you write about something you fear will happen, but hasn’t happened yet? How to drive across future consequences when you are limited by that moment’s reality? A journalist will quote leaders, or reports, and hope that does the trick. A novelist can bring characters to life who will one day have to live with a tragedy and their own choices. My short story collection Still Hungry will be published in January 2023.

I wrote...

The Last Spy

By Bob Reiss,

Book cover of The Last Spy

What is my book about?

It’s Russian against Russian in Cold War Washington and no American ever finds out. Ash, Corrina, and David were raised in a mock US town in Siberia, snuck into the US at the height of the cold war, and made interns for famous people. They’ve risen to prominence now as well-placed spies - Ash a prize winning reporter, David a former Undersecretary of State and high-level lobbyist, Corrina a Justice Department lawyer - but the Soviet Union is collapsing.

These three never met their parents. Their memories of home are of a mock town surrounded by barbed wire. Their assignments are getting very odd and they must turn against each other to live. Can’t stay in DC. Can’t go home. Can’t tell anyone who they are. 

The books I picked & why

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By Eugene Burdick, Harvey Wheeler,

Book cover of Fail-Safe

Why this book?

As a Washington journalist time and again I watched sources rely too much on assurances that situations were under control, surprises would probably never happen and technology was utterly reliable. Airplane cockpits were safe. Climate change would never disrupt the world. Disease was under control. Fail-Safe terrified the world and helped ignite a global movement by asking the question, what if – in the nuclear age – the assurances we are fed are wrong. 

Six Days of the Condor

By James Grady,

Book cover of Six Days of the Condor

Why this book?

James Grady was 23 years old when he wrote this cold war spy thriller masterpiece in his loft apartment in Helena, Montana, yet what he imagined came true. He created a secret CIA division so realistically that – The New York Times later found – the Soviet KGB, assuming the division existed, created one of their own. Grady also came up with a unique way to carry out an assassination....which unfortunately was copied by Iranian agents in Washington after the book came out. I love the real connection between the “what if” of thrillers and what is in the world.   

Seven Days In May

By Fletcher Knebel, Charles W. Bailey II,

Book cover of Seven Days In May

Why this book?

Like most readers, I’m scared these days about the future of our democracy. As a reporter I’ve covered trouble spots; like Somalia – where no law existed - and Sudan, where I was in a crowd fleeing at the mere sight of an airplane, fearing bombs. One of my friends lost his wife in a Washington car bombing. Others escaped danger during a Chilean coup. Seven Days in May imagined an attempted coup in the US, and although the setting was decades ago, some forces at play are the same, since human motivation never changes. This book sobered up the nation back then by reminding readers what happens when some of us....any of us...think they know better than everyone else and believe force is the way to go. We could use that reminder now.

Child 44

By Tom Rob Smith,

Book cover of Child 44

Why this book?

As you can guess from the last answer I hate totalitarianism, whether it comes from the right or left. Child 44 pits an average, decent man – who happens to be a Soviet detective in the Stalin era – against the idiocy that comes when politics interferes with justice, and tragedy results. If you think it’s tough when a US detective has to buck a Mayor, or city council member, think how much worse it would be if the impediment to justice is a whole national system. 

On the Beach

By Nevil Shute,

Book cover of On the Beach

Why this book?

Another oldie, copyright 1957. These days, preoccupied with diseases or terrorists, we tend to forget that nuclear war is still possible. It hasn't happened yet so we've relegated it to a back shelf. On the Beach remarkably combined the gentlest writing with a portrait of humankind's final days. It left millions of readers weeping. It galvanized the real world.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Somalia, the Soviet Union, and nuclear warfare?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Somalia, the Soviet Union, and nuclear warfare.

Somalia Explore 7 books about Somalia
The Soviet Union Explore 209 books about the Soviet Union
Nuclear Warfare Explore 21 books about nuclear warfare

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like On the Beach, Molehunt: The Secret Search for Traitors That Shattered the CIA, and The Camel Club if you like this list.