The best books about intelligence officers

12 authors have picked their favorite books about intelligence officers and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

John Le Carré is one of the reasons I became a spy thriller writer. Like Joseph Conrad who wrote great novels that happened to be set at sea, Le Carré writes literary novels set in the world of spies. Spare, authentic, intensely realistic, this book plunges you deep into the duplicitous world of spy tradecraft, reeling you in with a brilliant plot, spot-on characterizations and line after line of dialogue you’ll want to quote. The story depicts Alex Leamas, a burnt-out British agent who defects in a scheme to eliminate a powerful East German spymaster, but what it's really about are the choices we make—and the costs. This book made me realize that genre could be a tool and not a walled-in garden.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

By John Le Carré,

Why should I read it?

8 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…

Who am I?

I never planned to be a spy thriller writer. One day an editor suggested I write genre fiction. “Pick a genre you read just for fun,” he said. For me, that was spy novels. I had some background (military intelligence, journalist in Europe, Africa, etc.) and John Le Carré had shown that spy novels could be serious fiction. An encounter in the Amazon jungle sparked my first spy thriller, Hour of the Assassins. Then came Scorpion, Homeland, and the rest. What’s the attraction? Intelligence agents lie better than most because their lives depend on it. But if you dig hard enough, you get small truths. Big ones too.


I wrote...

Blue Madagascar

By Andrew Kaplan,

Book cover of Blue Madagascar

What is my book about?

Casey Ramirez was a throwaway kid from the mean streets of Central Los Angeles. Now a Homeland Security Special Agent, the future of America may depend on what she does next.

A Presidential candidate commits suicide, and no one knows why. A mysterious man is killed during a jewel heist on the French Riviera. Intelligence agencies around the world are scrambling. U.S. Homeland Security sends Casey, the one woman who might be able to solve the secret of Blue Madagascar before it's too late. The trail will lead her on a cat-and-mouse chase across Europe. But others are interested—and they will kill to get it.

Black List

By Brad Thor,

Book cover of Black List: A Thriller

I found Black List to be a murder mystery that captivated me from beginning to end. The plot twists kept me guessing as to the final outcome, and just when I thought I had it figured out, the book took another turn and drew me deeper into the plot. This page-turning thriller pits Scot Harvath, a counterterrorism agent, against a secret government deep-state conspiracy that wants him dead. They’ve placed him on the ‘black list,’ a list of most wanted terrorists. I found this book to be a high-octane thriller, and one of the best mystery novels I’ve ever read.

Black List

By Brad Thor,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Somewheredeep inside the United States government is a closely guarded list. Members of Congress never get to see it-only the President and a secret team of advisers. Once your name is on the list, it doesn't come off...until you're dead. Someonehas just added counterterrorism operative Scot Harvath's name.

SomehowHarvath must evade the teams dispatched to kill him long enough to untangle who has targeted him and why they want him out of the way. Somewhere, someone, somehowcan put all the pieces together. The only question is; will Harvath get to that person before the United States suffers the most withering…

Who am I?

I’m a mystery writer and I’ve had 16 award-winning novels published. I also love to read mystery and thriller novels, and I read them voraciously. I’m best known for my highly-acclaimed J.T. Ryan mysteries and I was a Finalist for the Author Academy Award. Also, many of my books were Featured Novels of the International Thriller Writers Association. I’m also a multi-year nominee for the Georgia Author of the Year Award. 


I wrote...

The Media Murders

By Lee Gimenez,

Book cover of The Media Murders

What is my book about?

Before breaking an explosive story, a famous New York Times reporter dies under suspicious circumstances. Then a well-known TV reporter commits suicide. Suspecting foul play, the FBI’s John Ryan and Erin Welch investigate. As they probe the mysterious deaths, they uncover a shocking truth: Reporters are being murdered to suppress the news. More shocking is who they suspect is responsible for the killings. Can John Ryan and Erin Welch survive as they try to expose the conspiracy? Or will they be murdered by the assassins sent to keep them from revealing the truth?

American Assassin

By Vince Flynn,

Book cover of American Assassin

Vince Flynn has a unique ability of highlighting his main character in such a realistic way that the character is facing you and waiting for your next question.  His description of action-oriented scenes leaves no doubt as to the severity and authenticity of what is happening to hold you glued to the pages. I'm left with great anticipation for his next book using the same main character. My goal is consistent with Vince Flynn's.

I've been told that my characters "jump off the page and slap you in the face."

American Assassin

By Vince Flynn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Now a major motion picture starring Dylan O'Brien (Maze Runner), Taylor Kitsch (True Detective) and Michael Keaton.

Tensions in the Middle East are simmering when Central Intelligence Agency Director Irene Kennedy pays a visit to Syracuse University, where she hopes to recruit none other than Mitch Rapp, a student who has quickly climbed up the academic and athletic ranks. At first glance, he appears like any other smart, good-looking American college kid. Under the surface, however, a tempest rages.

Nine months later, after gruelling training, Mitch finds himself in Istanbul on his first assignment. He hits his target but quickly…

Who am I?

In college I minored in Military History and spent over twenty active duty years in the military. My earlier books were primarily murder/mystery stories, and I had the urge to write a historical romance. The War between States (not civil but ruthless) has always enthralled me. I visited most of the battlefields in the East and Southeast but never in the West. I researched the war’s end and found the last battle at Palmetto Ranch near Brownsville, Texas was near my home in San Antonio. Strange things happened on this dysfunctional battlefield. Little did I realize the involvement of Mexico, France, and Spain and their attempts to influence this conflict.


I wrote...

In Defense of Patch Schubert

By John Clark Payne,

Book cover of In Defense of Patch Schubert

What is my book about?

The story starts on the Palmito Ranch battlefield in South Texas, thirty-three days after Lee surrendered to Grant. Confederate Private Patch Schubert’s best friend is killed, and Patch takes his Enfield rifle with the initial “S” carved in the rifle butt. Patch is inexperienced in matters of love and violence. He meets Rosa, his first sexual encounter when paired with a young Mexican mercenary to capture a Union prisoner. Several atrocities occur that will catch up and haunt him. The war ends and they plan to reunite after he musters out. By the time Patch arrives, the daring young Rosa had disappeared on a mission to a dangerous port city orchestrated by her adventurous and politically-wired father.

Memorial Day

By Vince Flynn,

Book cover of Memorial Day

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.

Memorial Day

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.


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.


I wrote...

The Thousand Dollar Man

By J.T. Brannan,

Book cover of The Thousand Dollar Man

What is my book about?

The Thousand Dollar Man is a myth. An urban legend, his appearance prayed for by the poor and downtrodden of the United States. They say he goes from town to town, helping people who have problems. Any kind of problems.

They put adverts in their local paper, put notices up in the local stores, always hoping that one day he will walk through their town and see them, act upon them. And if he does – and as long as the client can gather the money to pay – their problems will disappear. All he asks for is one thousand dollars a job. Whatever it is. Whatever it takes.

The Bureau and the Mole

By David A Vise,

Book cover of The Bureau and the Mole: The Unmasking of Robert Philip Hanssen, the Most Dangerous Double Agent in FBI History

This is a solemn, unflinching portal into the creepy, complicated life of former FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who picked his nation’s pockets of secrets from 1979 to 2001 and sold them to the KGB and SVR in Washington, D.C. 

Vise’s book achieves a novelistic feel because he has a brilliant eye for the telling detail. For example, he could have just written that Hanssen’s wife Bonnie worried that he failed to make it home for Sunday supper on February 18, 2001 (the day of his arrest). But Vise builds dramatic tension, noting that Hanssen was always on time, that Bonnie phoned his cell phone (it was dead), served one of her specialties (Moroccan beef over rice), and prayed he had not died of a heart attack (because he suffered arrhythmia).

The Bureau and the Mole

By David A Vise,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Called "a first-rate spy story" (Entertainment Weekly), The Bureau and the Mole is the sensational New York Times best-seller that tells the inside story of FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Philip Hanssen, a seemingly all-American boy who would become the perfect traitor, jeopardizing America's national security for over twenty years by selling top-secret information to the Russians. Drawing from a wide variety of sources in the FBI, the Justice Department, the White House, and the intelligence community, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David A. Vise tells the story of how Hanssen employed the very sources and methods his own nation had entrusted to…

Who am I?

I knew nothing about spies – except that James Bond preferred his martinis shaken, not stirred – until 2009, when federal agents hauled Jim and Nathan Nicholson into the federal courthouse I covered as an investigative reporter for The Oregonian newspaper. Since then, I’ve taken a deep dive into the real world of spies and spy catchers, producing The Spy’s Son and writing another cool spy case into Newsweek magazine. Now I’m hooked. But with apologies to 007, I prefer my martinis stirred. 


I wrote...

Book cover of The Spy's Son: The True Story of the Highest-Ranking CIA Officer Ever Convicted of Espionage and the Son He Trained to Spy for Russia

What is my book about?

The Spy’s Son chronicles the crimes of Jim Nicholson, a CIA officer who orchestrated two plots to sell U.S. secrets to Russia.

The first of those plots began in Malaysia in 1994, when Jim found himself in a pinch for money. He secretly turned to Russia’s foreign spy service (the SVR). The Russians paid the globetrotting spy $300,000 before the FBI arrested him in 1996, and he was sentenced to 23 years in prison. In 2006, Jim renewed his clandestine meetings with the SVR with the help of his son Nathan, who smuggled his messages out of the prison visiting room. But FBI agents caught onto that plot, too, and their investigation turned Nathan into the central figure in a somber, painful story of love, family, and betrayal.

See No Evil

By Robert Baer,

Book cover of See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism

Top CIA case officer Robert Baer takes us on missions with him to destroy terrorist networks in the Middle East. For most of the book he operates fast and furious—until he runs into a different kind of enemy—CIA political correctness, careerism, and more. His book strikes home the importance of spies with boots on the ground and how technical gizmos and doodads can’t replace that. Suspenseful and spooky, this memoir will haunt the reader long after turning the last page. 

See No Evil

By Robert Baer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked See No Evil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

See No Evil is the astonishing and controversial memoir from one of the CIA's top field officers of the past quarter century. Robert Baer recounts his career as a ground soldier in the CIA's war on terrorism, running agents in the back alleys of the Middle East, with blistering honesty. He paints a chilling picture of how terrorism works on the inside and provides compelling evidence about how Washington sabotaged the CIA's efforts to root out the world's deadliest terrorists. See No Evil is an unprecedented examination of the roots of modern terrorism and the CIA's failure to acknowledge and…


Who am I?

I’m a NYT and international bestselling author, with the movie rights to one of my books purchased by Vin Diesel. My books have been translated into 13 languages, and I’ve published with three of the Big Five publishers: Simon and Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette UK. My writing has been called “action packed…harrowing…adrenaline laced” by The New York Times. I wasn’t a SEAL, but I completed Hell Week, qualified as a pistol and rifle expert, blew up stuff, and practiced small-unit tactics during Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training. Secretly, I’m a dark chocolate thief.


I wrote...

Seal Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy Seal Sniper

By Stephen Templin, Howard E. Wasdin,

Book cover of Seal Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy Seal Sniper

What is my book about?

When the Navy sends their elite, they send the SEALs. When the SEALs send their elite, they send SEAL Team Six—a secret unit tasked with counterterrorism, hostage rescue, and counterinsurgency.

In this dramatic, behind-the-scenes chronicle, Howard Wasdin takes listeners deep inside the world of Navy SEALs and Special Forces snipers, beginning with the grueling selection process of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL - the toughest and longest military training in the world.

Digital Fortress

By Dan Brown,

Book cover of Digital Fortress

Ah, Dan Brown. Love him or hate him, he’s a paragon of the modern thriller. Let’s go way back to 1998. It was pre-DaVinci Code, and he released his first novel, Digital Fortress. For the time period, it was a unique idea. A woman cryptologist at the NSA gets embroiled in a high-stakes murder mystery and the only way through is to solve the code. There are a lot of issues with this book, primarily that the author couldn’t be bothered to check his work and misuses bits and bytes throughout the whole novel which makes the code-breaking premise ridiculous. But to be fair, this was 1998 and for a first novel, it’s still a fun ride. So, if you’re a Dan Brown fan or love a fast-paced easy read give it a try. If you have even a basic understanding of how encryption works you may…

Digital Fortress

By Dan Brown,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A former National Security Agency programmer threatens to release a mathematical formula that will allow organized crime and terrorism to skyrocket, unless the code-breaking computer that is used to keep them in check but that violates civil rights is not exposed to the public.

Who am I?

I’m just a book-loving girl working in a corporate world who’s sick to death of the inaccurate representations of technology in fiction. FYI, tracing a phone call is instantaneous, no need to keep that pesky murderer on the line these days. Technology is so ingrained in our daily lives and most people have very limited knowledge of what it actually does, so I became fascinated with the idea of using real modern-day tech in murder mysteries. I got so obsessed with the idea I decided to write it. No Sci-Fi of future tech, it may seem farfetched, but all the electronic wizardry used in my novels is real and accurately represented.


I wrote...

There is No Cloud

By Kat Wheeler,

Book cover of There is No Cloud

What is my book about?

Cameron Caldwell is living her best life…. Well sort of. Turns out moving to New York City isn’t exactly like Sex and the City. But she does have her dream job working for the world's largest Smart Home Technology company. Her job is basically herding cats with an expense account. The monotony of being a corporate sales rep is made tolerable by her two supportive work besties Bill and Phil. But when Cameron discovers something strange in one of her customer's technology her life takes a dramatic turn. Partnering with NYC homicide detective Will Justus, Cameron uses her insider knowledge to help solve a series of murders with the same technology used to commit them.

The Hit

By David Baldacci,

Book cover of The Hit

The Hit is my favorite of David Baldacci's many novels. It's a page-turning, pulse-racing action thriller with one of the best plots I've ever read. I found Will Robie, the main character in the book, a riveting personality. He's a U.S. government agent and the man the government calls on to eliminate the worst of the worst. No one can match Robie's talents as a hitman. No one, except Jessica Reel. A fellow assassin, Reel is every bit as lethal as Robie. And now she's gone rogue, turning her gun sights on other members of their agency. I found the captivating characters, the plot line, and the relentless pace of this novel a great read. It kept me on the edge of my seat from the first page to the last.

The Hit

By David Baldacci,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Hit is David Baldacci's blockbuster follow up to The Innocent, the smash-hit bestseller featuring U.S. government assassin, Will Robie.

YOU SEND A KILLER TO CATCH A KILLER.

Government hitman Will Robie is an elite killer. Called on by the US authorities to assassinate enemies of the state, his formidable skill set makes him an irreplaceable asset to his employers. But when he's given his next target, he knows he's about to embark on his toughest mission yet.

Reports indicate fellow assassin Jessica Reel has gone rogue, leaving a trail of deaths in her wake including her handler. To stop…


Who am I?

I’m a mystery writer and I’ve had 16 award-winning novels published. I also love to read mystery and thriller novels, and I read them voraciously. I’m best known for my highly-acclaimed J.T. Ryan mysteries and I was a Finalist for the Author Academy Award. Also, many of my books were Featured Novels of the International Thriller Writers Association. I’m also a multi-year nominee for the Georgia Author of the Year Award. 


I wrote...

The Media Murders

By Lee Gimenez,

Book cover of The Media Murders

What is my book about?

Before breaking an explosive story, a famous New York Times reporter dies under suspicious circumstances. Then a well-known TV reporter commits suicide. Suspecting foul play, the FBI’s John Ryan and Erin Welch investigate. As they probe the mysterious deaths, they uncover a shocking truth: Reporters are being murdered to suppress the news. More shocking is who they suspect is responsible for the killings. Can John Ryan and Erin Welch survive as they try to expose the conspiracy? Or will they be murdered by the assassins sent to keep them from revealing the truth?

The Mission Song

By John Le Carré,

Book cover of The Mission Song

A man bereft of connection to the modern world is used, agreeing to be so, by the spy world with consequences neither he nor his handlers predicted. A wonderful journey undercutting & exposing Western misuse of Africa and African rights. Nobody writes the ordinary man stepping up to a great task in thrillers better than Le Carré. Le Carré uses intellect as demonstration of character, and in so doing, he finds redemption in morals needed to achieve a thriller’s conclusion.

The Mission Song

By John Le Carré,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Mesmerising' Sunday Times

As an interpreter of African languages, Bruno Salvador is much in demand. He makes it a principle to remain neutral - no matter what he hears. But when he is summoned on a secret job for British Intelligence, he is told he will have to get his hands dirty. His mission is to help bring democracy to the Congo - democracy that will be delivered at the end of a gun barrel.

The Mission Song is an excoriating depiction of a corrupt world where loyalty can be bought and war is simply an opportunity to settle old…


Who am I?

I have been to, and loved, North, Central, and especially East Africa for over fifty years. Only six times have I been to Africa on holiday; more often, perhaps twenty or more times, as a television producer. Working in Africa gains a perspective of reality that the glories of vacation do not. Each has its place, each its pitfalls like stalled plane rides with emergency landings in the bush or attacks by wildlife. But, in the end, the magic of the “otherness,” what an old friend called “primitava” captures one’s soul and changes your life.


I wrote...

Kidnapped on Safari

By Peter Riva,

Book cover of Kidnapped on Safari

What is my book about?

"Peter Riva’s singular ability to both entertain and inform is captured in this literary tour-de-force; a page-turner in every sense of the term."—David Ariosto, author of This is Cuba: An American Journalist Under Castro's Shadow and executive producer of Intelligence Squared

“Best of all, Riva delivers rat-a-tat action, rarely letting up, building to a nail-biter conclusion. Move over Jason Bourne. Baltazar is here." — Mary Glickman, bestselling author of Home in the Morning and National Jewish Book Award finalist for One More River

20 Years in the Secret Service

By Rufus W. Youngblood,

Book cover of 20 Years in the Secret Service: My Life with Five Presidents

This is an excellent memoir of a Secret Service Agent that served under five presidents, from Truman to Nixon. Youngblood provides great stories about working with President Johnson; he also spends a lot of time on the assassination of President Kennedy. I worked closely for over eight years with the Secret Service, and Rufus Youngblood had an outstanding reputation and was held in the highest esteem.

20 Years in the Secret Service

By Rufus W. Youngblood,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 20 Years in the Secret Service as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When shots rang out in Dallas on November 22, 1963, U.S. Secret Service Agent Rufus W. Youngblood immediately lunged over the seat of the vice president's car and bravely used his body to shield Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. Faced with the unknown, Youngblood maintained this protective position as they sped toward Parkland Hospital. Throughout that fateful day, he vigilantly remained by LBJ's side to ensure his safety.

This candid memoir includes Youngblood's first-hand account of the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath, as well as highlights from his twenty-year career in the Secret Service during which he protected Presidents Truman,…

Who am I?

During my twenty-nine nears in the federal government, I maintained a Top Secret clearance while being a CIO, Chief Architect, & Director of various things with the White House, US Congress, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice, where I served in a senior management role for the National Security Division, the agency responsible for serving as the liaison between the Attorney General and the Intelligence Community. Today, my passion is writing about my White House experiences, in both fiction and non-fiction.


I wrote...

White House Usher: Stories from the Inside

By Christopher Beauregard Emery,

Book cover of White House Usher: Stories from the Inside

What is my book about?

White House Usher: Stories from the Inside was published in October 2017, with a Second Edition released December 2020. The book is a memoir detailing the authors time managing the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. 

Foreword written by former First Lady Barbara Bush.

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