The best books on World War II intelligence history

Who am I?

I am a professor at Mississippi State University and a historian of World War II in general and, more specifically, of WWII intelligence history. My interest stems from a research topic that my Ph.D. advisor recommended and that became the subject of my dissertation – Operation Fortitude, which was the deception plan that provided cover for the Normandy Invasion. While my own research interests are focused on the intelligence history of the Normandy invasion, I am increasingly drawn to intelligence history or novels that showcase the people, technologies, and other theaters of war.


I wrote...

Spies, Lies, and Citizenship: The Hunt for Nazi Criminals

By Mary Kathryn Barbier,

Book cover of Spies, Lies, and Citizenship: The Hunt for Nazi Criminals

What is my book about?

In the 1970s news broke that former Nazis had escaped prosecution and were living the good life in the United States. Outrage swept the nation, and the public outcry put extreme pressure on the U.S. government to investigate these claims and to deport offenders. The subsequent creation of the Office of Special Investigations marked the official beginning of Nazi-hunting in the United States, but it was far from the end.

Drawing from this report as well as other sources, Spies, Lies, and Citizenship exposes scandalous new information about infamous Nazi perpetrators, including Andrija Artukovic, Klaus Barbie, and Arthur Rudolph, who were sheltered and protected in the United States and beyond, and the ongoing attempts to bring the remaining Nazis, such as Josef Mengele, to justice.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of I Worked Alone: Diary of a Double Agent in World War II Europe

Mary Kathryn Barbier Why did I love this book?

As the title of this book indicates, Lily Sergueiew was a double agent during World War II. She volunteered to become a spy for the Germans although she never intended to fulfill that role. She was determined to fight the Germans in her own way – as a double agent in the employ of the British. Sergueiew kept a diary of her activities from when she first approached the Germans until she quit working for the British in late June 1944. After the war, Sergueiew used her diaries to write a memoir in French. Before her death in 1950, she translated her memoir into English, and most of it was published posthumously in France in 1966 and in England in 1968. I recommend this book because it provides insight into why a young woman would choose to fight against the Germans who occupied her beloved France, the training that she underwent, and how she ultimately joined, and then was fired from, the British Intelligence Service. In addition, while there were women who fought in France for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), or the French Resistance, Lily Sergueiew was one of a few (mostly male) Europeans who actively sought out the job of a double agent to fight against the Germans. Sergueiew’s memoir shines a light on a strong woman, who wanted to fight for a just cause in her own way.

By Lily Sergueiew,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

During World War II Nathalie ""Lily"" Sergueiew, a woman of mystery, confidently seduced the German Intelligence Service into employing her as a spy against their British enemy. Little did they know that this striking woman - who turned heads when she walked into a room with her little dog Babs - would in reality work with their enemy against them. Her diary chronicles her years as a double agent for the British from 1940-1945 under the code name Treasure. From the moment she conceived the idea of becoming a double agent, Lily faced challenges on two fronts: first, she had…


Book cover of The London Cage: The Secret History of Britain's World War II Interrogation Centre

Mary Kathryn Barbier Why did I love this book?

Intelligence was collected in multiple ways by all sides during World War II. The British housed German prisoners at a site called the London Cage, which was located in an upper-class London neighborhood. The London Cage was later used as a Nazi war criminal detention site. While in residence, the German prisoners underwent interrogation, in some cases what we would now call “enhanced interrogation” and in others while under the influence of “truth drugs.” As Fry’s book reveals, the post-9/11 “enhanced interrogations” were not the first of its kind. I recommend this book because it demonstrates the lengths to which governments, in this case the British government, would go during wartime to gather actionable intelligence about an enemy.

By Helen Fry,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The first complete account of the fiercely guarded secrets of London's clandestine interrogation center, operated by the British Secret Service from 1940 to 1948

Behind the locked doors of three mansions in London's exclusive Kensington Palace Gardens neighborhood, the British Secret Service established a highly secret prison in 1940: the London Cage. Here recalcitrant German prisoners of war were subjected to "special intelligence treatment." The stakes were high: the war's outcome could hinge on obtaining information German prisoners were determined to withhold. After the war, high-ranking Nazi war criminals were housed in the Cage, revamped as an important center for…


Book cover of Destination Casablanca: Exile, Espionage, and the Battle for North Africa in World War II

Mary Kathryn Barbier Why did I love this book?

This is an exciting new book by Meredith Hindley. Instead of Humphrey Bogart and Rick’s Café, this book features interesting real people, such as the famous singer Josephine Baker, who, although not members of armed forces, still did their part to help the Allied cause. After conducting extensive research in archives and secondary sources, Hindley crafted an engaging narrative in which she connects exiles who gathered information about the Germans with the fight for control of North Africa and the Mediterranean. I recommend this book because it provides a human dimension to the story of the Battle for North Africa.

By Meredith Hindley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the summer of 1940, following France's surrender to Germany, Casablanca was transformed from an exotic travel destination to a key military target. Nazi agents and collaborators soon overran the city looking to capitalize on the new Vichy regime. The resistance was not far behind, as bartenders, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, celebrities, and disgruntled bureaucrats formed a network of Allied spies. Meanwhile, Jewish refugees from Europe flooded the city, hoping to obtain visas to the United States and beyond.

In November 1942, Casablanca's wartime fate changed in 74 hours, when 33,000 American soldiers stormed the beaches of French Morocco as part…


Book cover of The Message

Mary Kathryn Barbier Why did I love this book?

The Message is a novel about five codebreakers and one traitor. Set in China during World War II when the Chinese resistance challenged the Japanese backed puppet government, this is a complex counterintelligence novel, written by a Chinese storyteller, who is no stranger to the Chinese intelligence services. By telling the same story from two different perspectives, Mai Jia, as a colleague recently suggested, intentionally problematized the truth because both versions were plausible. I recommend this book because it provides insight into the multilayered intelligence story of wartime China, it is one of the few books on this topic, and it was written in China and published outside of the country with permission from the government.

By Mai Jia,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A dazzling literary thriller set in Japan-occupied China from the most translated Chinese novelist of our time.

China, 1941.

At the height of the Second World War, Japan rules over China. In Hangzhou, a puppet government propped up by the Japanese wages an underground war against the Communist resistance.

Late one night, five intelligence officers, employed as codebreakers by the regime, are escorted to an isolated mansion outside the city. The secret police are certain that one of them is a communist spy. None of them is leaving until the traitor is unmasked.

It should be a straightforward case of…


Book cover of Night Soldiers

Mary Kathryn Barbier Why did I love this book?

Night Soldiers is the first in the Night Soldiers novel series written by Alan Furst. This is a novel that I assigned to one of my classes, and my students really liked it. Furst wove a complicated story that followed the main character – Khristo Stoianev – from before the war when he was recruited to join the Soviets’ NKVD, to spy training, a mission to Spain during the Civil War, to betrayal and finally his efforts to escape from the bondage imposed by his Soviet masters. I recommend this book not only because my students enjoyed it, but also because it is a captivating story that compels the reader to follow it to the end.

By Alan Furst,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Night Soldiers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Bulgaria, 1934. A young man is murdered by the local fascists. His brother, Khristo Stoianev, is recruited into the NKVD, the Soviet secret intelligence service, and sent to Spain to serve in its civil war. Warned that he is about to become a victim of Stalin's purges, Khristo flees to Paris. Night Soldiers masterfully re-creates the European world of 1934-45: the struggle between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia for Eastern Europe, the last desperate gaiety of the beau monde in 1937 Paris, and guerrilla operations with the French underground in 1944. Night Soldiers is a scrupulously researched panoramic novel, a…


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Coyote Weather

By Amanda Cockrell,

Book cover of Coyote Weather

Amanda Cockrell Author Of Coyote Weather

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Reader Dog walker Lapsed academic

Amanda's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Coyote weather is the feral, hungry season, drought-stricken, and ready to catch fire. It’s 1967, and the American culture is violently remaking itself while the country is forcibly sending its young men to fight in a deeply unpopular war.

Jerry has stubbornly made no plans for the future because he doesn’t think that, in the shadow of Vietnam, the Cold War, and atomic bomb drills, there is going to be one. Ellen is determined to have a plan because nothing else seems capable of keeping the world from tilting. And the Ghost, who isn’t exactly dead, just wants to go home to a place that won’t let him in, the small California town where they all grew up.

Coyote Weather

By Amanda Cockrell,

What is this book about?

Coyote weather is the feral, hungry season in California, when everything is drought-stricken and ready to catch fire. It's 1967 and the American culture is violently remaking itself while the country is forcing its young men to fight in a deeply unpopular war. Jerry has stubbornly made no plans for the future because he believes that, in the shadow of Vietnam, the Cold War and atomic bomb drills, there won't be one. Ellen's determined to have a plan, because nothing else can keep the world from tilting. And the Ghost just wants to go home to a place that won't…


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