The most recommended books about the CIA

Who picked these books? Meet our 113 experts.

113 authors created a book list connected to the CIA, and here are their favorite CIA books.
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What type of CIA book?


Irreparable Harm

By Frank Snepp,

Book cover of Irreparable Harm: A Firsthand Account of How One Agent Took on the CIA in an Epic Battle Over Free Speech

Hannah Gurman and Kaeten Mistry Author Of Whistleblowing Nation: The History of National Security Disclosures and the Cult of State Secrecy

From the list on U.S. national security culture and the exposure of secrets.

Who are we?

We are historians of U.S. foreign relations who have written extensively on the Cold War and national security. Both of us were interested in whistleblowing yet knew relatively little about its history. Turns out, we were not alone. Despite lots of popular interest in the topic, we soon discovered that, beyond individual biographies, barely anything is known about the broader history of the phenomenon. With funding from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Council, we led a collaborative research project, which involved historians, literary scholars, and political theorists, as well as whistleblowers, journalists, and lawyers. One of the fruits of the project, Whistleblowing Nation, is the first comprehensive, interdisciplinary history of U.S. national security whistleblowing.

Hannah's book list on U.S. national security culture and the exposure of secrets

Why did Hannah love this book?

CIA officer Frank Snepp was one of the last American officials to leave Vietnam in 1975. But when he published a damning critique of the U.S. war effort in a book (A Decent Interval), it ignited a controversy that was widely covered in the press and led all the way to the Supreme Court. Snepp was charged with causing 'irreparable harm' to national security and ordered to surrender all profits from the publication. His account of the events around the court case are of course subjective but nonetheless speaks to a central paradox around the first amendment: freedom of speech is essentially suspended for national security officials. The legacy of Snepp’s case continues to cast a long shadow, affecting individuals as varied as Edward Snowden and John Bolton in our day.

By Frank Snepp,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Among the last CIA agents airlifted from Saigon in the waning moments of the Vietnam War, Frank Snepp returned to headquarters determined to secure help for the Vietnamese left behind by an Agency eager to cut its losses. What he received instead was a cold shoulder from a CIA that in 1975 was already in turmoil over congressional investigations of its operations throughout the world.

In protest, Snepp resigned to write a damning account of the agency’s cynical neglect of its onetime allies and inept handling of the war. His expose, Decent Interval, was published in total secrecy, eerily evocative…

Air America

By Christopher Robbins,

Book cover of Air America

Tom Vater Author Of The Man With The Golden Mind

From the list on Laos and the CIA's covert war there.

Who am I?

I’m a writer and journalist with an eye on South and Southeast Asia. I first visited beautiful, land-locked, and sleepy Laos in 2000, as the country reluctantly reemerged from post-revolutionary isolation. I researched and co-wrote The Most Secret Place on Earth, a feature documentary on how the CIA created a clandestine army to fight Laotian and Vietnamese communists, rigged elections, and eventually destroyed much of the country with carpet bombing. This slice of secret history forms the narrative backbone of my novel. The Man with the Golden Mind is a spy thriller, as well as an ode to one of the most isolated countries in the world.

Tom's book list on Laos and the CIA's covert war there

Why did Tom love this book?

From 1965 onwards, the USA, conducted a covert anti-communist war in Laos. While the CIA created a clandestine hilltribe army, the air support for these troops was provided by Air America, ostensibly a private airline that was owned by the agency. Small spotter planes flew to 100s of airstrips across Laos to distribute troops, aid and weapons while collecting vast amounts of opium grown by the mercenaries the US had hired, later refined into heroin and sold to US troops fighting in Vietnam. Robbins’ book, which is somewhat revisionist, nonetheless brilliantly tracks the history of the airline from its beginnings in 1950s Indochina and demonstrates the courage of its pilots who frequently flew under fire and whose motto was "Anything, Anywhere, Anytime, Professionally".

By Christopher Robbins,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The incredible inside story of the world's most extraordinary covert operation.

Air America - a secret airline run by the CIA - flew missions no one else would touch, from General Claire Cennault's legendary Flying Tigers in WW II to two brutal decades cruising over the bomb-savaged jungles of Southeast Asia. Their pilots dared all and did all - a high-rolling, fast-playing bunch of has-beens and hellraisers whose motto was 'Anything, Anywhere, Anytime'. Whether it was delivering food and weapons or spooks and opium, Air America was the one airline where you didn't need reservations - just a hell of…


By James Rollins,

Book cover of Amazonia

E.A. Field Author Of IRL

From the list on fantasy and sci-fi to take you on an adventure.

Who am I?

I grew up on fantasy stories, with Tolkien being the first author I can really remember loving. I have read widely in the genre and love to explore the subgenres of fantasy as well. I have a great group of writing partners and readers who discuss the fantasy and sci-fi genres with me at length. I think all great fantasy stories have some element of what it is to love or be loved and find a place in the world. I am an avid traveler as well and often dream up stories in far away places. 

E.A.'s book list on fantasy and sci-fi to take you on an adventure

Why did E.A. love this book?

I love Amazonia because it brings together the jungle setting that I feel adds a lot of danger and stress to the characters as well as a scientific puzzle.

I love survival stories when the protagonists are “tough” and these US Rangers meet their match. It also features a furry sidekick and who doesn’t love that? 

By James Rollins,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the author of ALTAR OF EDEN and MAP OF BONES comes another fantastic mystery adventure, this time set deep in the Amazon jungle.

Out of the inhospitable Amazon rainforest a man stumbles into a missionary village. Soon the CIA operative and former Special Forces soldier, his eyes wide with terror, is dead. The photograph of Agent Clark's corpse in the Brazilian morgue shows two intact upper limbs, yet Agent Clark had only one arm, the other lost to a sniper's bullet.

Nathan Rand's father led a scientific mission into the rainforest and never returned - the same expedition that…

Louisiana Longshot

By Jana DeLeon,

Book cover of Louisiana Longshot

Kat Bellemore Author Of Dead Before Dinner

From the list on murder mysteries that leave you guessing until the end.

Who am I?

I am a New Mexican mystery writer who can’t get enough of a humorous whodunit. Of course, it can’t be just any mystery. It has to be smart, make me second guess myself, and make me laugh. I’ve seen every episode of Murder She Wrote, Psych, and Monk, to name just a few. I love reading authors like Agatha Christie and Richard Osman. Originally, I began as a romance author and my husband didn’t understand it, considering I didn’t even like reading or watching romances. I’m finally where I belong.

Kat's book list on murder mysteries that leave you guessing until the end

Why did Kat love this book?

I’ve never been to Louisiana, but this mystery made me feel I’d been transported to the bayou.

I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t survive in Sinful, Louisiana, and CIA assassin, Fortune Redding, felt the same way. I couldn’t stop laughing as she stumbled her way through the book, attempting to remain undercover, even as a dead man’s bones washed up in her backyard.

And of course this story wouldn’t be the same without the elderly sidekicks, Ida Belle and Gertie, pushing their way into her life, and into her heart.

By Jana DeLeon,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Louisiana Longshot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It was a hell of a long shot....

CIA assassin Fortune Redding is about to undertake her most difficult mission ever-in Sinful, Louisiana. With a leak at the CIA and a price placed on her head by one of the world's largest arms dealers, Fortune has to go off-grid, but she never expected to be this far out of her element. Posing as a former beauty queen turned librarian in a small bayou town seems worse than death to Fortune, but she's determined to fly below the radar until her boss finds the leak and puts the arms dealer out…


By Philip E. Tetlock, Dan Gardner,

Book cover of Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction

David F. Hendry Author Of Forecasting: An Essential Introduction

From the list on getting an insight into forecasting.

Who am I?

Accurate and precise forecasting is essential for successful planning and policy from economics to epidemiology. We have been keen to understand why so many forecasts turn out to be highly inaccurate since making dreadful forecasts ourselves, and advising UK government agencies (Treasury, Parliament, Bank of England) during turbulent periods. As simple extrapolation often beats model-based forecasting, we have been developing improved methods that draw on the best aspects of both, and have published more than 60 articles and 6 books attracting more than 6000 citations by other scholars. Our recommended books cover a wide range of forecasting methods—suggesting there is no optimal way to look into the future.

David's book list on getting an insight into forecasting

Why did David love this book?

This is a book that brings forecasters down to earth with a bang – we are not all super-forecasters! There is no magic involved in forecasting – seeing into the future is impossible. But Tetlock and Gardner show that good decision-making should be based on a set of guidelines that can be adapted to any situation. The writing is slick, given one of the authors is a science journalist, and it provides salutary reading for any would be practical forecaster. 

By Philip E. Tetlock, Dan Gardner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The international bestseller

'A manual for thinking clearly in an uncertain world. Read it.' Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow
What if we could improve our ability to predict the future?

Everything we do involves forecasts about how the future will unfold. Whether buying a new house or changing job, designing a new product or getting married, our decisions are governed by implicit predictions of how things are likely to turn out. The problem is, we're not very good at it.

In a landmark, twenty-year study, Wharton professor Philip Tetlock showed that the average expert was only…

Castro's Secrets

By Brian Latell,

Book cover of Castro's Secrets: Cuban Intelligence, The CIA, and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy

Lachlan Page Author Of Magical Disinformation

From the list on spy books set in Latin America.

Who am I?

I lived in Latin America for six years, working as a red cross volunteer, a volcano hiking guide, a teacher, and an extra in a Russian TV series (in Panama). Having travelled throughout the region and returning regularly, I’m endlessly fascinated by the culture, history, politics, languages, and geography. Parallel to this, I enjoy reading and writing about the world of international espionage. Combining the two, and based on my own experience, I wrote my novel, Magical Disinformation, a spy novel set in Colombia. While there is not a huge depth of spy novels set in Latin America, I’ve chosen five of my favourites spy books set in the region.

Lachlan's book list on spy books set in Latin America

Why did Lachlan love this book?

Intelligence expert, professor, and former National Intelligence Officer for Latin America, Dr. Brian Latell, offers insight into Cuban Intelligence and their—largely—successful infiltration of the US security apparatus. Based on interviews with high-level defectors, the book delves into Castro’s mindset with assassination plots and uncover operations emanating from both sides of the Florida Straits as well as a behind-the-scenes look at some key events of the Cold War.

It’s very interesting to learn more about Castro’s mindset beyond the news headlines and how he managed to maintain power after the revolution. However, the real bombshell is an anecdote given by a former Cuban radio operator during the 1960s. I won’t give anything away, but it certainly adds fodder to the JFK assassination, giving one something to think about without falling into a deluge of conspiracy theories. Compelling reading from a true expert in the area.

By Brian Latell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Castro's Secrets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Published to glowing reviews, thisriveting narrative takes us back to when the Cuban Revolution was young and offers a new and surprising look at Fidel Castro. Drawing on interviews with high-level defectors from Cuban intelligence, Cuba expert Brian Latell creates a vivid narrative that chronicles Castro's crimes from his university days through nearly 50 years in power. As Cuba's supreme spymaster Fidel built up an intelligence system that became one of best and most aggressive anywhere. Latell argues that the CIA grossly underestimated the Cubans' extraordinary abilities to run moles and double agents and to penetrate the highest levels of…

The Handler

By M. P. Woodward,

Book cover of The Handler

James E. Mack Author Of Asset Seven

From the list on spy reads by real life spies.

Who am I?

I spent over two decades on the front lines of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, working for many organisations and agencies around the globe. Having survived shootings, bombings, double agents, and kidnap attempts, I now prefer to write about such things rather than experience them! I grew up reading spy thrillers from the likes of Gerald Seymour and Frederick Forsyth and retain a passion for the genre. And there’s nothing better than reading a new novel, getting lost in the plot, and appreciating the realism or authenticity the author brings to the story. I hope you enjoy the books I’ve recommended that were written by real-life spies.

James' book list on spy reads by real life spies

Why did James love this book?

Another experienced intelligence officer, M.P. Woodward has created a terrific cast of characters for his series that begins with The Handler.

Once again, there’s a healthy dose of authenticity drawn from Woodward’s background that helps drive the plot forward.

A CIA operative, Meredith Morris-Dale, is assigned to extract an Iranian nuclear scientist with vital intelligence. The scientist, however, will only agree to the extraction if Meredith's ex-husband and former disgraced CIA paramilitary, John, carries out the operation.

Throw in internal CIA politics, Russian and Iranian spies, and the strained relationship of the divorced couple now working together and you have a terrific plot that races along.

By M. P. Woodward,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A disgraced former CIA operative must go back in the field with only his ex-wife as his handler in this electrifying thriller from a former intelligence officer.

Meredith Morris-Dale is a CIA case officer and a damn good one...even if this last mission did go terribly wrong. Now she has been summoned back to Langley where she expects to be fired. Instead, she is met by the Deputy Director with stunning news. 

A single well-placed CIA mole in Iran’s uranium enrichment program has kept the terrorist nation from building a bomb by sabotaging the performance of their covert centrifuge arrays.…

Book cover of The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control: The Secret History of the Behavioral Sciences

Andreas Killen Author Of Nervous Systems: Brain Science in the Early Cold War

From the list on the history of torture.

Who am I?

I have been fascinated by this topic ever since the first newspaper stories exposing American involvement in torture began to appear in the early years of the so-called War on Terror. This fascination has persisted up to the present, as it remains clear – given recent accounts of Ron DeSantis’ time at Guantanamo – that this story refuses to die. Equally fascinating to me have been accounts revealing the extent to which this story can be traced back to the origins of the Cold War, to the birth of the National Security State, and to the alliance between that state and the professions (psychology and behavioral science) that spawned “enhanced interrogation.”

Andreas' book list on the history of torture

Why did Andreas love this book?

In the wake of Senate hearings into CIA scandals in the mid-1970s, former State Department official turned investigative reporter Marks used an FOIA request to gain access to a trove of agency files that he used to uncover the full story of the American intelligence community’s decade-long dive into research on LSD, hypnosis, and sensory deprivation during the first decade of the Cold war.

A marvelous example of how to uncover “secret history.” I also love the connections he draws between Fifties’ era mind control research and Sixties' era consciousness expansion.

By John D. Marks,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Search for the Manchurian Candidate as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A 'Manchurian Candidate' is an unwitting assassin brainwashed and programmed to kill. In this book, former State Department officer John Marks tells the explosive story of the CIA's highly secret program of experiments in mind control. His curiosity first aroused by information on a puzzling suicide. Marks worked from thousands of pages of newly released documents as well as interviews and behavioral science studies, producing a book that 'accomplished what two Senate committees could not' (Senator Edward Kennedy).

A Better War

By Lewis Sorley,

Book cover of A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

James McLeroy Author Of Bait: The Battle of Kham Duc

From the list on the Vietnam War from a commando who served there.

Who am I?

In 1965, I voluntarily enlisted in the Army as a draft exempt, 26-year-old high school teacher. After completing the infantry officer, airborne, ranger, jumpmaster, special forces, and jungle warfare courses, in 1967 I was assigned to a Special Forces A-team in I Corps, Vietnam. In 1968, I volunteered for SOG, a top-secret recon-commando unit at a small, remote SF jungle camp that was later attacked by 3,000 to 4,000 North Vietnamese Army troops. With a master’s degree in history, I have since studied all aspects of the Vietnam War. Gregory Sanders, also a Vietnam veteran, and I researched, wrote, and in 2019 published a unique tactical, operational, and strategic narrative and analysis of that battle titled BAIT: the Battle of Kham Duc

James' book list on the Vietnam War from a commando who served there

Why did James love this book?

This is the best military history of the war from mid-1968 to 1974 during the MACV command of General Abrams. It is essential for understanding the U.S. troop withdrawal period and the combat performance of the revitalized South Vietnamese Army. With his Vietnam staff service, CIA experience, and Ph.D. in history, Sorley provides a unique revisionist narrative and in-depth analysis of those critical but ignored and misinterpreted years. 

By Lewis Sorley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

FIRST HARVEST EDITION. 2000 Harcourt trade paperback, Lewis Sorley (Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam). Neglected by scholars and journalists alike, the years of conflict in Vietnam from 1968 to 1975 offer surprises not only about how the war was fought, but about what was achieved. Drawing from thousands of hours of previously unavailable (and still classified) tape-recorded meetings between the highest levels of the American military command in Vietnam, A Better War is an insightful, factual, and superbly documented history of these final years. - Amazon

Book cover of Strangeworlds Travel Agency: Volume 1

Sinéad O'Hart Author Of The Starspun Web

From the list on middle grade to sweep you into another world.

Who am I?

All my books (I hope!) sweep the reader into another world – it’s one of my favourite themes in the books I love to read, as well as write. When I was about seven, I first read some of the books which would shape my life, including Elidor by Alan Garner and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine l’Engle, which brought me right out of my own life and into worlds as varied as the frightening interstellar realm of Camazotz and the battlefields of Elidor. I’ve been trying to capture that sense of ‘being swept away’ in my own work ever since.

Sinéad's book list on middle grade to sweep you into another world

Why did Sinéad love this book?

L.D. Lapinski’s incredible Strangeworlds series will definitely sweep you into another world – into as many other worlds as you can count! Step into your suitcase and go on a journey to somewhere beyond imagining with Lapinski’s amazing cast of characters. When Flick stumbles into a dusty old shop and meets a young man named Jonathan Mercator, it’s the beginning of a life-changing adventure – across the multiverse – for them both.

By L.D. Lapinski,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Perfect for fans of The Train to Impossible Places and Nevermoor, this “utterly delightful” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) middle grade fantasy follows a young girl who uses a travel agency’s magical suitcases to travel to different worlds.

When twelve-year-old Flick Hudson accidentally ends up in the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, she uncovers a fantastic secret: there are hundreds of other worlds just steps away from hers. All you have to do to visit them is just jump into the right suitcase. Then Flick gets the invitation of a lifetime: join Strangeworlds’s magical travel society and explore other worlds.

But, unbeknownst to…

Live to See Tomorrow

By Iris Johansen,

Book cover of Live to See Tomorrow

Angela Greenman Author Of The Child Riddler

From the list on women of courage and strength.

Who am I?

I am a writer and an internationally recognized communications expert who grew up poor, homeless, and oppressed by fear and violence. I am a woman who crashed through the glass ceiling and had an exciting career with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency where I became a leader on the international stage. During my troubled times growing up, I fantasized about being an elite operative who got the bad guys and traveled the world. That’s why I wrote about one. I know how hard it is to be a strong woman. That’s why I celebrate them. 

Angela's book list on women of courage and strength

Why did Angela love this book?

Catherine Ling, the main character, is a CIA operative. Her strength and smarts enabled her to survive the streets of Hong Kong as a child until she was brought into the CIA at age fourteen. On top of having a woman as the main character who is tough and skilled—which I love—Iris Johansen weaves an exciting story of how Catherine must rescue an imprisoned woman journalist in Tibet. Two strong and brave women, exotic locations, and suspense that won’t quit…do I need to say more?

By Iris Johansen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Live to See Tomorrow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author Irs Johansen comes Live to See Tomorrow, a thriller featuring CIA agent Catherine Ling

Catherine Ling is one of the CIA's most prized operatives. Raised on the unforgiving streets of Hong Kong, she was pulled into the agency at the age of fourteen, already having accumulated more insight and secrets than the most seasoned professionals in her world. If life has taught her anything, it is not to get attached, but there are two exceptions to that rule: her son Luke and her mentor Hu Chang.

When Luke was kidnapped at the…

A Catskill Eagle

By Robert B. Parker,

Book cover of A Catskill Eagle

Rob Avery Author Of Close-Hauled

From the list on a hard-nosed detective series.

Who am I?

I grew up in California when cameras had flashcubes, skateboards had clay wheels, and kids longed for a lime-green Schwinn Stingray. Sailing, surfing, beach parties, and rock music were staples of my youth. Over time, we lost the Beatles but found the Allman Brothers, Zeppelin, and The Who. Disco had not yet destroyed us. I ditched the skateboard but kept sailing. Later, I became a criminal defense attorney. My profession inspires me to write realistic mystery/thriller novels. My sailing provides the setting. My goal is to give readers a solid, entertaining tale while bringing them to warm waters and island cultures and putting a little sand between their toes.

Rob's book list on a hard-nosed detective series

Why did Rob love this book?

Spenser is a hard-nosed private detective living and working in Boston. When his girlfriend Susan runs off to California with another man, Spenser feels betrayed but understands. She has her freedom. Then his best friend, Hawk, is falsely arrested and jailed in the new man’s town. This sets off a firestorm of murder and violence as Spenser first frees Hawk and then they both attempt to free Susan from an abusive, if consensual, relationship. And then the CIA gets involved. A Catskill Eagle is the twelfth of forty Spenser novels written by Parker.

By Robert B. Parker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Susan's letter came from California: Hand was in jail, and she was on the run. Twenty-four hours later, Hawk is free, because Spenser has sprung him loose—for a brutal cross-country journey back to the East Coast. Now the two men are on a violent ride to find the woman Spenser loves, the man who took her, and the shocking reason so many people had to die. . . . 

Praise for A Catskill Eagle

“Entertaining.”—The San Diego Union-Tribune

“His best mystery novel.”—Time

A Question of Standing

By Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones,

Book cover of A Question of Standing: The History of the CIA

Yakov Ben-Haim Author Of The Dilemmas of Wonderland: Decisions in the Age of Innovation

From the list on making decisions when you don’t know what’s going on.

Who am I?

I am a retired university professor. My research, in which I am still actively engaged, deals with decision-making under deep uncertainty: how to make a decision, or design a project, or plan an operation when major relevant factors are unknown or highly uncertain. I developed a decision theory called info-gap theory that grapples with this challenge, and is applied around the world in many fields, including engineering design, economics, medicine, national security, biological conservation, and more.

Yakov's book list on making decisions when you don’t know what’s going on

Why did Yakov love this book?

This is an interesting collection of essays on the history of the CIA.

A spy agency thrives on deceit and uncertainty, making plans and taking actions when the adversary also thrives on those same elements.

Arranged in chronological order, the essays cover nearly 20 different incidents, describing the challenges, uncertainties, goals, and decisions made by both high-level political decision-makers and practitioners in the field.

Topics covered include early stages in the development of the CIA (founded in 1947), including covert action against the Soviet Union in the 1950s, the Bay of Pigs (1961), the Iran-Contra affair (mid-1980s), up to more recent events with bin Laden, fake news, and more.

By Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Question of Standing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Question of Standing deals with recognizable events that have shaped the history of the first 75 years of the CIA. Unsparing in its accounts of dirty tricks and their consequences, it values the agency's intelligence and analysis work to offer balanced judgements that avoid both celebration and condemnation of the CIA.

The mission of the CIA, derived from U-1 in World War I more than from World War II's OSS, has always been intelligence. Seventy-five years ago, in the year of its creation, the National Security Act gave the agency, uniquely in world history up to that point, a…

Cold Warrior

By Tom Mangold,

Book cover of Cold Warrior: James Jesus Angleton - The CIA's Master Spy Hunter

Hugh Wilford Author Of America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East

From the list on history about the CIA.

Who am I?

I'm a British-born American historian, currently residing in Long Beach, California. I’ve published three books on the CIA, lectured about it for the Great Courses, and am now writing The CIA: An Imperial History for Basic Books, due to appear in 2023. Why spies? I’ve always loved spy novels and movies but my historical interest was piqued years ago when I stumbled across the weird story of how the CIA secretly funded various American artists and writers in the so-called Cultural Cold War. Decades on, I’m still fascinated by the subject: there’s so much human drama involved, and it’s a great lens through which to examine recent American and world history.

Hugh's book list on history about the CIA

Why did Hugh love this book?

The history of the CIA features many fascinating personalities and there are several excellent spy biographies, Thomas Powers on Richard Helms, for example, or Randall Woods on William Colby. But the most complex and compelling of all figures in the Agency’s past must surely be the legendary head of counterintelligence, James Angleton. Again, there are numerous works on Angleton and his obsessive hunt for a top-level Soviet agent in the CIA, but I enjoyed and benefited most from Tom Mangold’s Cold Warrior, an astonishingly detailed and penetrating portrayal of America’s real-life George Smiley.

By Tom Mangold,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Cold Warrior as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A biography of the spymaster who ran the CIA's counterintelligence operation for twenty years until his downfall

Book cover of The Brotherhood of the Rose

Gary Jonas Author Of Modern Sorcery

From the list on non-fantasy novels for fantasy readers.

Who am I?

My mother instilled a love of reading in me, and from an early age, I read everything from Agatha Christie to Edgar Rice Burroughs to Louis L’Amour to Marvel Comics. Stories are stories no matter how they’re classified, and genre is primarily a marketing tool to help readers find things they like. When I started writing, I often blended genres because I liked so many things. As I type this, I have 29 novels published with #30 on the way. The novels include science fiction, fantasy, horror, and thriller under my name, westerns as Dan Winchester, and a cozy mystery as Angie Cabot. Go figure.

Gary's book list on non-fantasy novels for fantasy readers

Why did Gary love this book?

On one level, this novel is about Chris and Saul, two orphans raised by Eliot, a CIA operative, to become world-class assassins. After an international incident, Eliot decides Chris and Saul must be eliminated. Solid and engaging on that level, of course. But on a deeper level, it’s about two young men who trust their “father,” the one person who ever cared about them, only to feel the sting of his betrayal rock them to their core. The emotion makes the action matter. Everything is personal. The accurate tradecraft, killer action, and depth of character all combine to make this one of my favorite books. Fantasy readers will appreciate the secret society aspect of the assassins as well as the amazing action set-pieces.

By David Morrell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Riveting...Crackling...It really moves."
They were orphans, Chris and Saul--raised in a Philadelphia school for boys, bonded by friendship, and devoted to a mysterious man called Eliot. He visited them and brought them candy. He treated them like sons. He trained them to be assassins. Now he is trying desperately to have them killed.
Spanning the globe, here is an astonishing novel of fierce loyalty and violent betrayal, of murders planned and coolly executed, of revenge bitterly, urgently desired.

Memorial Day

By Vince Flynn,

Book cover of Memorial Day

J.T. Brannan Author Of The Thousand Dollar Man

From the list on thrillers with fast-paced action scenes.

Who am I?

I’m a thriller author – and a former karate champion, bouncer, and soldier – and I’ve always loved action, both on the page and on the screen. My whole life, I’ve enjoyed books that deliver the same kind of visceral thrills as a blockbuster action movie. Pacing is the key here, and I feel that too many books can drag in places. And that’s why plotting is also so important – because you need a story that really hooks the reader in, to provide a reason for the action. This is what all the novels on my list accomplish so well, and also what I try and achieve in my own work.

J.T.'s book list on thrillers with fast-paced action scenes

Why did J.T. love this book?

My personal favorite of Vince Flynn’s action-packed Mitch Rapp series, this sees the CIA counter-terror agent foil a plot by al-Qaeda to detonate a stolen nuclear device in Washington D.C. Flynn knows how to write a rattling yarn, and the pace is frenetic, moving like a freight train towards its explosive climax – exactly how an action thriller should be.

By Vince Flynn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When the CIA receives word about an upcoming terrorist attack, they immediately look towards their superagent Mitch Rapp to do whatever it takes to protect American lives in this “page-flipping extravaganza” (Publishers Weekly) from the #1 New York Times bestselling author Vince Flynn.

Just as Washington, DC, prepares for a grand Memorial Day tribute to the veterans of World War II, the CIA receives intelligence about a potential major terrorist attack. Racing to Afghanistan, Mitch Rapp leads a commando raid on an Al-Qaeda stronghold in a remote border village—and defuses plans for a nuclear strike on the nation’s capital. But…

Book cover of The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran

Eric Lob Author Of Iran's Reconstruction Jihad: Rural Development and Regime Consolidation after 1979

From the list on Iranian history, politics, and culture.

Who am I?

I am a professor of politics and international relations with a focus on Iran. My passion for the country started while studying Persian or Farsi with an exceptional professor in graduate school. During that time, I had the privilege of traveling to Iran three times to study the language and conduct research on rural politics. This period coincided with the Green Movement uprising, a pivotal moment in the country. Since then, I have been enthralled by Iranian history, politics, and culture. Their richness and complexity make it a subject that can be studied and appreciated for a lifetime.              

Eric's book list on Iranian history, politics, and culture

Why did Eric love this book?

Importantly, this book reminds the reader that the Iranian Revolution and others are rare and unpredictable events in human history that breed chaos and uncertainty. The book systematically and convincingly debunks the conventional explanations for the revolution related to static structures and processes in the government, military, economy, society, and culture. Instead, the book argues that what ultimately turned the tide of the revolution was the agency of activists who purposively created and exploited these structures and processes, translated initial fear into intensified outrage, drew power in numbers, and became convinced that success in the form of regime change was possible.       

By Charles Kurzman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, would remain on the throne for the foreseeable future: This was the firm conclusion of a top-secret CIA analysis issued in October 1978. One hundred days later the shah--despite his massive military, fearsome security police, and superpower support was overthrown by a popular and largely peaceful revolution. But the CIA was not alone in its myopia, as Charles Kurzman reveals in this penetrating work; Iranians themselves, except for a tiny minority, considered a revolution inconceivable until it actually occurred. Revisiting the circumstances surrounding the fall of the shah, Kurzman offers rare insight into…

Make Them Cry

By Smith Henderson, Jon Marc Smith,

Book cover of Make Them Cry

Frank Romans Author Of Warriors of Ameraulde

From the list on keeping you turning the pages in anticipation.

Who am I?

I love a book that pulls you into the story, one where maybe you see yourself in the characters. As a boy, I loved to read and would lose myself in books. I find I am drawn to many different types and genres, but especially military or crime dramas. My favorites include historical references and in my own writing I often place characters in an actual historical event, but with a fictional outcome. The most important thing to me is creating a character who is interesting enough to make the reader want more. My personal military experiences were used to begin my first novel while the characters came to life.

Frank's book list on keeping you turning the pages in anticipation

Why did Frank love this book?

Diane Harbaugh is a female, strong, badass similar to Jason Bourne. You’re going to love her. Making them cry is an action-packed romp through disillusioned agents, informants, and cartels. Diane navigates on the edges through multiple scapes, all while trying to keep her reputation intact. She must deal with unscrupulous bosses while trusting a rogue CIA agent and a cartel informant. Every time she gets out of trouble, more trouble finds her. This book is worth your time.

By Smith Henderson, Jon Marc Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For fans of The Border and Jason Bourne, Make Them Cry is an explosive action thriller about a DEA agent sucked into a dangerous turf war on the US-Mexico border.


It’s hard to make Diane Harbaugh flinch. A former prosecutor notorious for her aggressive tactics, she’s now a DEA agent who interrogates witnesses so effectively, she has them confessing in tears. But when she hears from Gustavo, a high-ranking cartel member with an invaluable secret about the international black market, she’s thrown for a loop. She heads to Mexico to meet him, and her entire understanding of justice and duty…

The Gray Man

By Mark Greaney,

Book cover of The Gray Man

Ted Galdi Author Of Black Quiet: A Cole Maddox Action Thriller

From the list on action thrillers with rule-breaking heroes.

Who am I?

I’ve written several action thrillers about main characters who defy the rules. In my opinion, the key to these stories is giving your protagonist a good cause to break the rules for. Readers don’t want to get behind someone who wreaks havoc just to entertain himself. However, readers can identify with someone who’s pursuing an admirable goal and will stop at nothing to achieve it. These stories shouldn’t motivate anyone to break the law in real life. They serve as a metaphor for going against convention to overcome obstacles. Hopefully, my books, and those of other authors, encourage people to take on challenges in ways they haven’t yet considered.  

Ted's book list on action thrillers with rule-breaking heroes

Why did Ted love this book?

In The Gray Man, a highly skilled, former CIA operative tries to rescue a colleague and his family while various teams of elite assassins try to stop him however they can.

The Gray Man – AKA Court Gentry or Sierra Six – doesn’t follow anybody’s orders, even those of the most powerful institutions on the planet. Though rebellious, he has morals and only applies his skillset for good.

My favorite part of this book were the action scenes. I liked how big they were, but also the variety of arenas, weapons, and opponents. Also, the Gray Man takes a serious beating through the chapters. Because he’s hurt, but still kicking, the fights progressively get more challenging for him, and more dramatic.

By Mark Greaney,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Gray Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE FIRST GRAY MAN NOVEL FROM #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR MARK GREANEY - now a Netflix original film starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans

'Hard, fast, and unflinching-exactly what a thriller should be.' Lee Child

To those who lurk in the shadows, he's known as the Gray Man. He is a legend in the covert realm, moving silently from job to job, accomplishing the impossible and then fading away. And he always hits his target.

But there are forces more lethal than Gentry in the world. Forces like money. And power. And there are men who hold these…

America's Great Game

By Hugh Wilford,

Book cover of America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East

Randall Fowler Author Of More Than a Doctrine: The Eisenhower Era in the Middle East

From the list on American (mis)adventures in the Middle East.

Who am I?

I'm a Communication professor at Fresno Pacific University and former Fulbright grantee to Jordan. Growing up in west Texas I was always fascinated with other countries. I encountered Arabic in college, and I quickly fell in love with a language and society that reminded me so much of my home—in fact, the word “haboob” is used by Texas farmers and Bedouin herders alike to describe a violent dust storm. While I was teaching English in Amman, I realized how much I enjoy learning how different cultures come to understand one another. My driving passion is to explore the centuries-long rhetorical history tying Americans and Middle Easterners together in mutual webs of (mis)representation, and this topic has never been more relevant than today.

Randall's book list on American (mis)adventures in the Middle East

Why did Randall love this book?

A deeply interesting dive into the world of espionage and the early days of the CIA, this accessible book by Hugh Wilford provides an excellent entry point into the exciting movements, people, and ideologies that crosscut the Middle East in the years after World War II. Focusing especially on personalities like Kim Roosevelt and Miles Copeland, this book shows why many Arabs even today suspect the CIA may be behind far more than it lets on. For American audiences, this book will provide an intriguing journey into a world that is unfamiliar to most and fascinating to all, illuminating the role U.S. spy agencies played in creating the modern Middle East.

By Hugh Wilford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked America's Great Game as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the 9/11 attacks to waterboarding to drone strikes, relations between the United States and the Middle East seem caught in a downward spiral. And all too often, the Central Intelligence Agency has made the situation worse. But this crisis was not a historical inevitability,far from it. Indeed, the earliest generation of CIA operatives was actually the region's staunchest western ally.In America's Great Game , celebrated intelligence historian Hugh Wilford reveals the surprising history of the CIA's pro-Arab operations in the 1940s and 50s by tracing the work of the agency's three most influential,and colourful,officers in the Middle East. Kermit…