100 books like The Thirty-Nine Steps

By John Buchan,

Here are 100 books that The Thirty-Nine Steps fans have personally recommended if you like The Thirty-Nine Steps. 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 Spy Who Came in From the Cold

Henry Rozycki Author Of Walk the Earth as Brothers

From my list on novels that describe what war does to young men.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am the child of Holocaust survivors who chose not to talk about it. The effects were clear and stark – my mother crying out with nightmares, my father doing everything in his power not to be noticed by authorities – but I was not allowed to know their sources. Though my lottery number was 76, I missed going to Vietnam by a year as the draft ended; I watched so many of my peers come back either damaged or at least profoundly changed. I never wish I experienced war in all its hellaciousness, but from early adolescence, I have wondered how I would have acted.

Henry's book list on novels that describe what war does to young men

Henry Rozycki Why did Henry love this book?

I have read virtually all of Le Carre’s books because I don’t believe anyone goes so deeply into the psyche of men who enlisted in the fight for perhaps noble reasons but who now continue on almost as automatons. They have not only lost their idealism, their morality and even humanity are either gone or hanging by a thread. It is what I imagine is the furthest edge of what can happen to young soldiers who don’t die—just keep soldiering.

I don’t think anyone has done it better.

By John le Carré,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked The Spy Who Came in From the Cold as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Our Kind of Traitor; and The Night Manager, now a television series starring Tom Hiddleston.

The 50th-anniversary edition of the bestselling novel that launched John le Carre's career worldwide

In the shadow of the newly erected Berlin Wall, Alec Leamas watches as his last agent is shot dead by East German sentries. For Leamas, the head of Berlin Station, the Cold War is over. As he faces the prospect of retirement or worse-a desk job-Control offers him a unique opportunity for revenge. Assuming the guise of an embittered…


Book cover of Crime and Punishment

Sam Martin Author Of To John Love Lauri

From my list on questioning reality.

Why am I passionate about this?

I look to books as an enlightening way to escape. I’ve always sought out things that paint the world in different hues than what is often presented in reality. When the lines between what you’re told and what it really is become blurry, I like to find the truth that is often available by reading between the lines. 

Sam's book list on questioning reality

Sam Martin Why did Sam love this book?

A classic must-read for anyone who is satiated by oxygen. I love the psychology of the main character. His decline after committing an atrocity is notable for its detail. The concern shown for him by his friends and family, who do not know the truth, feels natural and warranted in spite of the reader's knowledge.

Is it possible to feel empathy for someone who commits such an act? In a strange way, I found myself questioning my own biases on the topics of crime and punishment after reading this classic. 

By Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (translator)

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Crime and Punishment as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hailed by Washington Post Book World as “the best [translation] currently available" when it was first published, this second edition has been updated in honor of the 200th anniversary of Dostoevsky’s birth.

With the same suppleness, energy, and range of voices that won their translation of The Brothers Karamazov the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky offer a brilliant translation of Dostoevsky's astounding pyschological thriller, newly revised for his bicentenniel. 

When Raskolnikov, an impoverished student living in the St. Petersburg of the tsars, commits an act of murder and theft, he sets into motion a story that is…


Book cover of Smiley's People

Ray C Doyle Author Of The Defector's Diary

From my list on mystery thrillers ripped from news headlines.

Why am I passionate about this?

I guess my real interest in writing about the good and bad in crime and politics and the good and bad characters involved started with my first job as a junior in a local newspaper. The 60s was a time of great change. I was in the right place at the right time and got involved in reporting local government politics. I graduated later to cover Britain’s role within the EU in Brussels. I was fascinated, not so much by the politics but by the politicians and fellow news reporters involved. They inspired the creation of my fictional character, Pete West, a hardboiled political columnist. 

Ray's book list on mystery thrillers ripped from news headlines

Ray C Doyle Why did Ray love this book?

The first and best of my list from the master spy himself.

It is a complicated plot that is skillfully and gradually laid bare in what starts as a murder investigation by a retired MI6 agent and ends as a political coup for the ‘Circus’ (MI6).

A great read from the start; I think this is one of Le Carre’s best and one that helped influence me in my writing. The book is much better than the TV or movie versions, and le Carre’s characterisation of Smiley is superb.

By John le Carré,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Our Kind of Traitor; and The Night Manager, now a television series starring Tom Hiddleston.

Tell Max that it concerns the Sandman...

A very junior agent answers Vladimir's call, but it could have been the Chief of the Circus himself. No one at the British Secret Service considers the old spy to be anything except a senile has-been who can't give up the game-until he's shot in the face at point-blank range. Although George Smiley (code name: Max) is officially retired, he's summoned to identify the body now…


Book cover of Great Expectations

Richard Vetere Author Of She's Not There

From my list on classic coming-of-age set within the last century.

Why am I passionate about this?

Richard Vetere’s teleplay adaptation of his published stage play The Marriage Fool, starring Walter Matthau, Carol Burnet, and John Stamos, now streaming on Amazon. He co-wrote the movie The Third Miracle, which is a screenplay adaptation of his own novel. It was produced by Francis Ford Coppola, directed by Agnieszka Holand, and stars Ed Harris and Anne Heche released by Sony Picture Classics. His screenplay Caravaggio, an adaptation of his own published stage play, won the Golden Palm Award for Best Screenplay at the Beverly Hills International Film Festival in 2021. In 2005, the Frank Melville Library at Stony Brook University created the Richard Vetere Collection, an archive of his work.  

Richard's book list on classic coming-of-age set within the last century

Richard Vetere Why did Richard love this book?

You cannot mention a coming-of-age novel without mentioning this classic.

Pip is an orphan who meets an escaped prisoner in a graveyard, does him a good deed, then is made a gentleman from an inheritance he knows nothing about. All of us enter our youth with great expectations and some of us are lucky enough, or unlucky, to meet our own beautiful Estella or the damaged and doomed Miss Havisham or the worldly and wise attorney Mister Jaggers.

Set in London where the worlds of extreme poverty and privilege co-exist side by side, we experience this world firsthand as Pip does wondering, all the time, if we can survive it unscathed. Ignore all other movie adaptations since they will only disappoint. Screen the 1946 version directed by David Lean. It is a great film.

By Charles Dickens,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Great Expectations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'His novels will endure as long as the language itself' Peter Ackroyd

Dickens's haunting late novel depicts the education and development of a young man, Pip, as his life is changed by a series of events - a terrifying encounter with an escaped convict in a graveyard on the wild Kent marshes; a summons to meet the bitter, decaying Miss Havisham and her beautiful, cold-hearted ward Estella; the sudden generosity of a mysterious benefactor - and he discovers the true nature of his 'great expectations'. This definitive edition includes appendices on Dickens's original ending, giving an illuminating glimpse into a…


Book cover of Murder Must Advertise

Linda Howe-Steiger Author Of Terroir: A Morgan Kendall Wine Country Mystery

From my list on cozy mysteries that have a secondary ethical theme.

Why am I passionate about this?

Born in Ohio, transplanted to Northern California, I’ve played many roles in life, including college teacher, environmental writer, urban planner, political activist, and mom. In the evening, when my body aches with tiredness, but my brain won’t stop churning on whatever subject I wrestled with that day, I love a good but “meaty” little cozy—one with a clever puzzle, something to make me smile, and a secondary theme that goes a bit into an important, really engaging topic. Then I snuggle down and enjoy my kind of decompression reading. After retirement, I started to write my own “cozies plus.” I hope you enjoy my picks.  

Linda's book list on cozy mysteries that have a secondary ethical theme

Linda Howe-Steiger Why did Linda love this book?

A bit dated, but fun.

“Advertising” used to be considered a good field for English majors, because they have “a way with words.” But advertising has morphed. It’s become “marketing” or “public relations” or “publicity”—more about graphics now, than words. Different.

Lord Peter Wimsey however still has “a way with words” in this cozy, so he goes undercover in a London advertising agency to investigate a suspicious death. With PG Wodehouse-like verbal hi-jinks, he ingratiates himself into the copywriting department, composing jingles about cleansers and such.

Silliness ensues. Then an interesting question arises: are there ethics in this business where people are rewarded for telling lies to sell what nobody actually needs? In such a culture, can Peter discover the truth? Can the words of any advertiser be trusted? 

By Dorothy L. Sayers,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Murder Must Advertise as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Think MadMen in prewar London' The Guardian

The tenth book in Dorothy L Sayers' classic Lord Peter Wimsey series, introduced by bestselling crime writer Peter Robinson - a must-read for fans of Agatha Christie's Poirot and Margery Allingham's Campion Mysteries.

Victor Dean fell to his death on the stairs of Pym's Advertising Agency, but no one seems to be sorry. Until an inquisitive new copywriter joins the firm and asks some awkward questions...

Disguised as his disreputable cousin Death Bredon, Lord Peter Wimsey takes a job - one that soon draws him into a vicious network of blackmailers and drug…


Book cover of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Bruce Stachenfeld Author Of Faythe of North Hinkapee: The Saga of a Young Woman’s Quest for Justice and Love in Colonial America

From my list on irrepressible, exciting and heroic female lead characters that you will never forget.

Why am I passionate about this?

I made up Faythe of North Hinkapee by being a jerk! I was ranting about how bad a "best seller" book I had read was. My wife looked at me and said, "So, could you write a bestseller?" I was challenged, and then, somehow, this book just tumbled out. It was about a girl in Colonial Timesher family burned as witchesvowing vengeance and how she gets it. My wife looked at me and said: “My God, that could be a bestseller!’ My kids also loved the story. For about twenty years, I planned to write it, and after a ton of work, I finally finished.

Bruce's book list on irrepressible, exciting and heroic female lead characters that you will never forget

Bruce Stachenfeld Why did Bruce love this book?

This book blew me away! 

Lisbeth Salander, the lead female character, is one of the most beautifully drawn, exciting, indomitable, and powerful women I have ever read about in a story. She is not just strong, she is also brilliant – as a super-hacker on the internet to boot.

Thankfully there were two sequels as I could read book after book with her in it.  

By Stieg Larsson,

Why should I read it?

23 authors picked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder - and that the killer is a member of his own tightly-knit but dysfunctional family.

He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet's disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history.

But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and…


Book cover of Treasure Island

Len Travers Author Of The Notorious Edward Low: Pursuing the Last Great Villain of Piracy's Golden Age

From my list on curing you of DPS (Disney Pirate Syndrome).

Why am I passionate about this?

Let's face it: pirates of the Golden Age are just cool. No one would actually want to encounter them, but they have been the stuff of escapist dreams since childhood. Adventure, fellowship, treasure–the “romantic” aspects of piracy are what make these otherwise nasty individuals anti-heroes par excellence. As an adult and academic and as an occasional crewman on square riggers, I adopted pirates as a favorite sub-set of maritime history. As with other aspects of the past, I view the history of pirates and piracy as really two narratives: what the records tell us happened and why and what our persistent fascination with them reveals about us.

Len's book list on curing you of DPS (Disney Pirate Syndrome)

Len Travers Why did Len love this book?

In my humble opinion, this is the greatest adventure tale in the English language!

Robert Louis Stevenson practically invented pirates for the modern world, particularly his chief antagonist, the crippled but formidable Long John Silver. Highly intelligent, cunning, crafty, ruthless, yet somehow appealing, Silver set the standard for all pirate heroes to come.

Whenever I get bogged down studying pirates, I turn to Treasure Island to remember what it is to enjoy my subject!

By Robert Louis Stevenson,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked Treasure Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

Penguin presents the audio CD edition of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Following the demise of bloodthirsty buccaneer Captain Flint, young Jim Hawkins finds himself with the key to a fortune. For he has discovered a map that will lead him to the fabled Treasure Island. But a host of villains, wild beasts and deadly savages stand between him and the stash of gold. Not to mention the most infamous pirate ever to sail the high seas . . .


Book cover of Murder on the Orient Express

Kitty Murphy Author Of Death in Heels

From my list on murder mysteries to brighten your day.

Why am I passionate about this?

I adore crime fiction, especially mysteries. They make sense. In the real world, crime rarely has the resolution of fiction, and almost never has Belgian detectives with very neat moustaches, or old ladies solving a who-dunnit… I grew up reading these books, mentally inhaling everything from Christie to Rankin to McDermid, and now I spend my days writing brutal but quite silly murders solved by a woman who would really rather wear an old grey fleece and jeans than a sparkly dress, and her friends, the fictional TRASH drag family. Murder mysteries are fun – perfect escapism. In a world so messed up as ours is right now, don’t we need to escape into fiction?

Kitty's book list on murder mysteries to brighten your day

Kitty Murphy Why did Kitty love this book?

I hate this book for all the reasons I love it: because it’s perfect.

It’s a perfect crime novel and a perfect mystery, with perfectly awful characters, set in a perfectly fabulous situation, and as a mystery writer I know I will never ever top Christie’s brilliance but oh my, any chance I have, I fall into this story.

Romance. Deception. Murder. Shiny things.

Genius.

Forget the movie, pick up the real thing. Poirot at his best.

By Agatha Christie,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Murder on the Orient Express as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE MOST WIDELY READ MYSTERY OF ALL TIME—NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE DIRECTED BY KENNETH BRANAGH AND PRODUCED BY RIDLEY SCOTT!

“The murderer is with us—on the train now . . .”

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. Without a shred of doubt, one of his fellow passengers is the murderer.

Isolated by the storm, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer among a dozen of the dead man’s…


Book cover of The Day of the Jackal

Rob Hart Author Of Assassins Anonymous

From my list on versatility of the assassin genre.

Why am I passionate about this?

Assassins are always compelling characters. They fit within that archetype of the gunslinger and the private eye and the ronin samurai, highly-skilled characters with a strict moral code who take the law into their own hands to deliver justice in an unjust world. But more than that, they’re fantastic vehicles for exploring the moral gray areas of the world. As a concept, it’s pretty straightforward: kill someone and collect a paycheck. But I’m always looking for books that do something new and special with the genre. 

Rob's book list on versatility of the assassin genre

Rob Hart Why did Rob love this book?

If you want to understand the assassin genre, then you can’t forget the classics, and this is an all-timer.

The Jackal is the assassin to end all assassins—mysterious, brutally efficient, and terrifying. Forsyth writes with a level of realism that’ll make you believe that if you cross the wrong person, someone like the Jackal could end up knocking on your door… 

By Frederick Forsyth,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Day of the Jackal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Day of the Jackal is the electrifying story of the struggle to catch a killer before it's too late.

It is 1963 and an anonymous Englishman has been hired by the Operations Chief of the O.A.S. to murder General De Gaulle. A failed attempt in the previous year means the target will be nearly impossible to get to. But this latest plot involves a lethal weapon: an assassin of legendary talent.

Known only as The Jackal, this remorseless and deadly killer must be stopped, but how do you track a man who exists in name alone?


Book cover of Six Days of the Condor

Jonathan Payne Author Of Citizen Orlov

From my list on spy thrillers for readers of literary fiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a reader and writer of thrillers, especially espionage, but I also love literary fiction, including contemporary writers like Kazuo Ishiguro, Mohsin Hamid, and Amor Towles. And I enjoy reading classic writers including Gogol, Dostoyevsky, and Kafka. So, when it comes to reading thrillers, I gravitate towards those that are very well written, with precise prose and evocative imagery. This is my crossover list of the best five spy thrillers for readers of literary fiction. If you’re a literary reader interested in dabbling in a bit of espionage, these five books would be a great place to start.  

Jonathan's book list on spy thrillers for readers of literary fiction

Jonathan Payne Why did Jonathan love this book?

This spot very nearly went to the great John le Carre, perhaps his brilliant The Little Drummer Girl.

Grady’s debut is not as complex or as dense as le Carre, but it holds a special place in my heart, partly because of its back story.

Grady was a young congressional staffer in my adopted hometown of Washington, DC when he dreamed up a covert CIA unit whose role is to monitor foreign intelligence operations by scouring books and magazines from around the world.

When the novel was adapted into the movie Three Days of the Condor, it was seen by KGB generals who—assuming it was based on truth—set up a similar unit of their own. Amazing but true.

By James Grady,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Six Days of the Condor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'From the bottom of the stairwell Malcolm could only see that the room appeared to be empty. Mrs Russell wasn't at her desk. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed that Dr. Lappe's door was partially open. There was a peculiar odour in the room . Malcolm tossed the sandwich bags on top of Walter's desk and slowly mounted the stairs.

'He found the sources of the odour. As usual, Mrs Russell had been standing behind her desk when they entered. The blast from the machine gun in the mailman's pouch had knocked her almost as far back…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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