50 books like The Secret Agent

By Joseph Conrad,

Here are 50 books that The Secret Agent fans have personally recommended if you like The Secret Agent. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Quiet American

David Hagerty Author Of They Tell Me You Are Wicked

From my list on political crime fiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Chicago in the waning days of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s machine, which politicized everything from schools to loading zones. Everyone—whether they were civil servants or small business owners—had to pledge loyalty to Da Boss, Hizzoner, or suffer the consequences. As a result, I’ve always gravitated to crime stories with a political element, one showing the effects of big conflicts on regular people. And I’ve written about the same. 

David's book list on political crime fiction

David Hagerty Why did David love this book?

Before the U.S. entered the war in Vietnam, Graham Greene forecast its disastrous consequences. His love triangle, set amid the escalating conflict, perfectly captures the naiveté of American interventionism overseas. I love the subtext of the tale, which is narrated by an embittered British journalist. Although it’s never spoken, we intuit that he is addicted to opium and living the life of a dissolute expatriate. Fowler watches in horror as a U.S. diplomat tries to steal both the woman and the country he has adopted. He claims impartiality and indifference until he cannot any longer.

By Graham Greene,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Quiet American as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Graham Greene's classic exploration of love, innocence, and morality in Vietnam

"I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused," Graham Greene's narrator Fowler remarks of Alden Pyle, the eponymous "Quiet American" of what is perhaps the most controversial novel of his career. Pyle is the brash young idealist sent out by Washington on a mysterious mission to Saigon, where the French Army struggles against the Vietminh guerrillas.

As young Pyle's well-intentioned policies blunder into bloodshed, Fowler, a seasoned and cynical British reporter, finds it impossible to stand safely aside as an observer. But…


Book cover of The Bonfire of the Vanities

David Hagerty Author Of They Tell Me You Are Wicked

From my list on political crime fiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Chicago in the waning days of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s machine, which politicized everything from schools to loading zones. Everyone—whether they were civil servants or small business owners—had to pledge loyalty to Da Boss, Hizzoner, or suffer the consequences. As a result, I’ve always gravitated to crime stories with a political element, one showing the effects of big conflicts on regular people. And I’ve written about the same. 

David's book list on political crime fiction

David Hagerty Why did David love this book?

A social satire that perfectly captured the greed and arrogance of the 1980s. Sherman Helmsly is a master of the universe, a rich bond trader with a penthouse in New York, and a randy mistress—until he accidentally runs over a black boy in the Bronx. The result is a political scandal that reaches from the mayor’s office to the tabloids, with many memorable characters and acute parodies of the era. Those who lived in or followed the scandals of the city at the time—from Tawana Brawley to Ivan Boesky—will recognize several real people and stories in this fiction.

By Tom Wolfe,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Bonfire of the Vanities as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An exhilarating satire of Eighties excess that captures the effervescent spirit of New York, from one of the greatest writers of modern American prose

Sherman McCoy is a WASP, bond trader and self-appointed 'Master of the Universe'. He has a fashionable wife, a Park Avenue apartment and a Southern mistress. His spectacular fall begins the moment he is involved in a hit-and-run accident in the Bronx. Prosecutors, newspaper hacks, politicians and clergy close in on him, determined to bring him down.

Exuberant, scandalous and exceptionally discerning, The Bonfire of the Vanities was Tom Wolfe's first venture into fiction and cemented…


Book cover of Lie in the Dark

David Hagerty Author Of They Tell Me You Are Wicked

From my list on political crime fiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Chicago in the waning days of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s machine, which politicized everything from schools to loading zones. Everyone—whether they were civil servants or small business owners—had to pledge loyalty to Da Boss, Hizzoner, or suffer the consequences. As a result, I’ve always gravitated to crime stories with a political element, one showing the effects of big conflicts on regular people. And I’ve written about the same. 

David's book list on political crime fiction

David Hagerty Why did David love this book?

Even after reading dozens of news articles about the civil war in Bosnia, I didn’t understand it—until I read Dan Fesperman’s mystery novel Lie in the Dark, which explains the conflict in personal terms. His detective, Vlado, searches for one killer amidst a city full of them. Along the way, he learns that the war is being fought over more than just land or power. It indoctrinated me to the true aims of the war: the spoils.

Book cover of The Zero

David Hagerty Author Of They Tell Me You Are Wicked

From my list on political crime fiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Chicago in the waning days of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s machine, which politicized everything from schools to loading zones. Everyone—whether they were civil servants or small business owners—had to pledge loyalty to Da Boss, Hizzoner, or suffer the consequences. As a result, I’ve always gravitated to crime stories with a political element, one showing the effects of big conflicts on regular people. And I’ve written about the same. 

David's book list on political crime fiction

David Hagerty Why did David love this book?

The Zero captures the paranoia and confusion following 9/11, before we knew who attacked us or why. The story’s amnesiac investigator stumbles from one confusing clue to the next, much as we all did in those dark days. As he tries to piece together the truth from the literal scraps left behind at the World Trade Center, he also seeks insight into his own identity, and into the nation’s.

By Jess Walter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

National Book Award Finalist 

The breakout novel from a writer of extraordinary talent: In the wake of a devastating terrorist attack, one man struggles to make sense of his world, even as the world tries to make use of him

Brian Remy has no idea how he got here. It’s been only five days since terrorists attacked his city, and Remy is experiencing gaps in his life—as if he were a stone being skipped across water. He has a self-inflicted gunshot wound that he doesn’t remember inflicting. His son wears a black armband and refuses to acknowledge that Remy is…


Book cover of Joyful Militancy: Building Thriving Resistance in Toxic Times

Jesse Cohn Author Of Underground Passages: Anarchist Resistance Culture, 1848-2011

From my list on how might one live an anarchist life.

Why am I passionate about this?

I knew I was an anti-authoritarian before I had words for it, and my education in social justice has been long and slow. I have been researching and writing about anarchism for the better part of three decades, and am now a board member of the Institute for Anarchist Studies. Anarchy is a subject that engages me both at the level of intellectual passion, what lights up my mind, and on a visceral level, in my revulsion at the inequalities and iniquities in this world and my yearning for a fully emancipated way of life.

Jesse's book list on how might one live an anarchist life

Jesse Cohn Why did Jesse love this book?

When I opened this book, I knew immediately that I was among friends. This is a handbook for constructing the kind of life in which joyful effects—associated with comradeship and mutual empowermentmight flourish. Eminently practical and down-to-earth, but also informed by a philosophical tradition stretching back through the anarchists to Baruch Spinoza in which life is not reducible to the “recipes” of self-help books but is a creative search for wider possibilities, for the “capacity to participate in something life-giving.” Written in contact with Indigenous and feminist social movements, this is also a guide to avoiding the kinds of blockages and dead ends on which such movements often founder.

By Nick Montgomery, Carla Bergman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Absolutely what we need in these days of spreading gloom." —John Holloway, author of Crack Capitalism

"A guide to a fulfilling militant life." —Michael Hardt, co-author of Assembly

"Rigid radicalism" is the congealed and debilitating practices that suck life and inspiration from the fight for a better world. Joyful Militancy investigates how fear, self-righteousness, and moralism infiltrate and take root within liberation movements, what to do about them, and ultimately how tenderness and vulnerability can thrive alongside fierce militant commitment.

Carla Bergman co-edited Stay Solid: A Radical Handbook For Youth.

Nick Montgomery is an organizer and writer currently at Queen's…


Book cover of Them: Adventures with Extremists

Elizabeth Greenwood Author Of Love Lockdown: Dating, Sex, and Marriage in America's Prisons

From my list on true crime-adjacent stories.

Why am I passionate about this?

When asked to describe the nonfiction genre I work in, I often say “true crime-adjacent,” meaning that while there is crime in my books, I’m more interested in the people, circumstances, and culture in which those crimes occur than the act itself. I love books that go deep into character analysis and motivation, as well as the author’s inclination toward the subject. These true crime-adjacent books are all-absorbing, thought-provoking page-turners, with stories so wild you won’t believe they’re completely real. 

Elizabeth's book list on true crime-adjacent stories

Elizabeth Greenwood Why did Elizabeth love this book?

I always describe this as “the book I wish I’d written,” and was completely formative in defining the kind of nonfiction writing I do. Ronson hangs out with conspiracy-minded groups who on the outset would likely hate each other (neo-Nazis and Jihadists, for example) but all believe the same thing: a cabal of powerful people run the world. It shows that Qanon and its ilk are nothing new, and somehow Ronson walks the line of being with repugnant people yet also reveling in their inherent ridiculousness. 

By Jon Ronson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A wide variety of extremist groups -- Islamic fundamentalists, neo-Nazis -- share the oddly similar belief that a tiny shadowy elite rule the world from a secret room. In Them, journalist Jon Ronson has joined the extremists to track down the fabled secret room.

As a journalist and a Jew, Ronson was often considered one of "Them" but he had no idea if their meetings actually took place. Was he just not invited? Them takes us across three continents and into the secret room. Along the way he meets Omar Bakri Mohammed, considered one of the most dangerous men in…


Book cover of Going Dark: The Secret Social Lives of Extremists

Cynthia Miller-Idriss Author Of Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right

From my list on radicalization and extremism.

Why am I passionate about this?

I first became interested in how societies grapple with extremism when I studied abroad in Germany and learned about post-World War II education about the Holocaust. I then spent two decades studying and writing about how German schools were working to combat rising far-right extremism in the 1990s and 2000s. Today, I find there is much to learn globally, including in my own country of the U.S., from the German approach to combating extremism, which is rooted in the idea of “defensive democracy”—the notion that we can’t only combat the fringe itself, but also must equip the mainstream with the tools to be resilient to it.

Cynthia's book list on radicalization and extremism

Cynthia Miller-Idriss Why did Cynthia love this book?

Ebner’s brave, undercover research within extremist online milieus has really helped extremism researchers disentangle how extremists operate online, how they organize networks, and how they think. There’s no better place to start for anyone who wants to understand the culture, recruitment tactics, ideologies, and modernization of youth-driven extremist scenes and movements in the dark and gamified ‘alt tech’ world online. 

By Julia Ebner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A TELEGRAPH BOOK OF THE YEAR

'Engaging and visceral ... Reads like a thriller' Financial Times
'Riveting and often deeply disturbing ... A punch to the stomach' Sunday Times
'Ebner has done some gutsy, thought-provoking research' Sunday Telegraph
'Fascinating and important' Spectator

By day, Julia Ebner works at a counter-extremism think tank, monitoring radical groups from the outside. But two years ago, she began to feel she was only seeing half the picture; she needed to get inside the groups to truly understand them. She decided to go undercover in her spare hours - late nights, holidays, weekends - adopting…


Book cover of The Devil’s Historians: How Modern Extremists Abuse the Medieval Past

K. Patrick Fazioli Author Of The Mirror of the Medieval: An Anthropology of the Western Historical Imagination

From my list on the use and abuse of the medieval past.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m not ashamed to admit that my childhood fascination with the distant past was sparked by hours of leafing through The Kingfisher Illustrated History of the World and countless viewings of the “Indiana Jones” movies. Today, I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities at Mercy College and an archaeologist specializing in the eastern Alpine region during Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. The author of three books and numerous scholarly articles, my research interests include ceramic technology, social identity, and the appropriation of the medieval past by modern ideologies.    

K.'s book list on the use and abuse of the medieval past

K. Patrick Fazioli Why did K. love this book?

If you want to understand why everything you think you know about the Middle Ages is (probably) wrong, go pick up a copy of The Devil’s Historians, which chronicles how everyone from the Brothers Grimm and George R. R. Martin to ISIS and Donald Trump have invented a medieval past that reflects their own ideological preoccupations rather than historical reality. With chapters on nationalism, gender, race, and religion, Amy Kaufman and Paul Sturtevant’s book sharply contrasts the one-dimensional Middle Ages found in pop culture and political propaganda with the more complicated, even contradictory, medieval world revealed by contemporary scholarship. 

By Amy Kaufman, Paul Sturtevant,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Amy S. Kaufman and Paul B. Sturtevant examine the many ways in which the medieval past has been manipulated to promote discrimination, oppression, and murder. Tracing the fetish for "medieval times" behind toxic ideologies like nationalism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, misogyny, and white supremacy, Kaufman and Sturtevant show us how the Middle Ages have been twisted for political purposes in every century that followed. The Devil's Historians casts aside the myth of an oppressive, patriarchal medieval monoculture and reveals a medieval world not often shown in popular culture: one that is diverse, thriving, courageous, compelling, and complex.


Book cover of Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism

David Ellerman Author Of Neo-Abolitionism: Abolishing Human Rentals in Favor of Workplace Democracy

From my list on a fair and just private property market economy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Ever since my graduate student days in philosophy and economics, I have slowly come to understand more and more the case for workplace democracy based on normative principles (i.e., the inalienability, property, and democratic principles), not just the obvious consequentialist or pragmatic arguments based on increased productivity (people working jointly for themselves), less worker alienation, and eliminating the divide down the middle of most enterprises between employers and employees. In addition to two decades of teaching university economics, I have co-founded several consulting companies dedicated to implementing these principles in practice, the Industrial Cooperative Association in Massachusetts (now the ICA Group) and the Institute for Economic Democracy in Slovenia, where I have retired.

David's book list on a fair and just private property market economy

David Ellerman Why did David love this book?

This short book by the late Staughton Lynd is the best summary of the radical principles upon which America was founded. Lynd goes deep into the intellectual history of the underlying principles in English and European history. In spite of writing such an important book and perhaps due to his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War, Lynd was not given tenure as a historian at Yale University. He then became a labor lawyer and lived the rest of his life as a labor activist.

By Staughton Lynd,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now an established classic, Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism was the first book to explore this alternative current of American political thought. Stemming back to the seventeenth-century English Revolution, many questioned private property, the sovereignty of the nation-state, and slavery, and affirmed the common man's ability to govern. By the time of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine was the great exemplar of the alternative intellectual tradition. In the nineteenth century, the antislavery movement took hold of Thomas Paine's ideas and fashioned them into an ideology that ultimately justified civil war. This updated edition contains a preface by the author, which…


Book cover of Hegemony How-To: A Roadmap for Radicals

Raina Lipsitz Author Of The Rise of a New Left: How Young Radicals Are Shaping the Future of American Politics

From my list on American politics for open-minded readers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been obsessed with politics and social justice since I was a kid, have been writing professionally for over a decade, and have twice interviewed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I wrote The Rise of a New Left because I was covering a new generation of political candidates who were challenging old orthodoxies, and I was curious about the leftward shift in U.S. politics: where it came from, who was driving it, how deep it went, and how durable it might be. I try to convey a broader and more nuanced view of the American left and give young women and people of color the credit they deserve for reinvigorating it.

Raina's book list on American politics for open-minded readers

Raina Lipsitz Why did Raina love this book?

Essentially a field manual for progressive organizers, this personal and engaging book offers hard-won insights into what works, what doesn’t, and how left-wing organizations can break the too-common cycle of isolation and marginalization and broaden their reach. Smucker imparts valuable lessons without being hectoring or pedantic; he is admirably generous and self-critical, and he writes like a real person rather than a jargon-spewing robot. This book reminded me why I got interested in politics in the first place and renewed my faith in our power to change our communities.

By Jonathan Matthew Smucker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hegemony How-To as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A guide to political struggle for a generation that is deeply ambivalent about power. While many activists gravitate toward mere self-expression and identity-affirming rituals at the expense of serious political intervention, Smucker provides an apologia for leadership, organization, and collective power, a moral argument for its cultivation, and a discussion of dilemmas that movements must navigate in order to succeed.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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