The best books on intelligence services 📚

Browse the best books on intelligence services as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Kim Philby: A story of friendship and betrayal

Kim Philby: A story of friendship and betrayal

By Tim Milne

Why this book?

Kim Philby’s most personal betrayal was not of Nicholas Elliott, as suggested in Ben McIntyre’s A Spy Among Friends , but his school friend and another MI6 colleague Tim Milne , the nephew of Winnie the Pooh author AA Milne, whom he falsely accused of being a spy in order to deflect attention from himself. Milne’s memoirs were finally permitted to be published four years after his death and provide a fascinating and fresh glimpse into both Philby and Burgess especially Milne’s teenage European travels with Philby and his August 1948 visit to Philby in Turkey where he remembered fellow…

From the list:

The best books on Guy Burgess of the Cambridge Spy Ring

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Book cover of MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949

MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949

By Keith Jeffery

Why this book?

The Secret Intelligence Service, SIS and also known now as MI6, is one of Britain’s most secret organisations, and as such has provoked intrigue, mystique, and fascination; all partly fuelled by Ian Fleming’s successful James Bond novels. But whilst there is some crossover at points with the fictional world, the official history makes it plain that much of its work was mundane. That does not lessen our interest in the organisation. This book provides the first authorised recognition that SIS existed, but also the first glimpse into its clandestine activities. Told chronologically rather than thematically, there is a sense of…

From the list:

The best books on intelligence and espionage

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Book cover of Smiley's People: A George Smiley Novel

Smiley's People: A George Smiley Novel

By John Le Carré

Why this book?

This is also a controversial choice, given that le Carré fans are largely split between The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. But for me, Smiley’s People is the true pinnacle of le Carré’s work with Smiley completely developed and totally in charge while the plot is based on a single, very credible intelligence operation that brings the Tinker Tailor trilogy to a riveting end. John le Carré studied at the University of Bern, where the key part of the operation takes place and went on to work for the British Security Service…

From the list:

The best spy thrillers by former members of MI6

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Book cover of Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews

Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews

By Michael Smith

Why this book?

This is the biography of Frank Foley who worked for the most secret of organisations the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS /MI6). From serving in the Intelligence Corps in the First World War, he went become the British passport officer in Berlin in the 1920s and 1930s, a cover for his real role with British intelligence. Foley ran spy networks across Germany, often gaining scientific secrets for the British as the Nazis rose to power and threatened the stability and peace in Europe. Foley lived in the midst of the regime, witnessed the events in Germany, and was able to send…

From the list:

The best books on spies and their greatest stories

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Book cover of The Human Factor

The Human Factor

By Graham Greene

Why this book?

Describing any book as the best of its kind is controversial but few writers in any genre can match one of the true literary giants of the 20th century. Greene worked for MI6 in West Africa during the Second World War before coming back to England where he worked alongside Kim Philby countering German spies based in Portugal and Spain. Elements of his sympathy for Philby, a KGB agent at the heart of MI6, are evident in The Human Factor, where MI6 officer Maurice Castle finds himself embroiled in an investigation into leaks to the KGB from…

From the list:

The best spy thrillers by former members of MI6

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Book cover of Legacy

Legacy

By Alan Judd

Why this book?

My selections are based on good writing and authenticity, even Fleming peppered his Bond books with elements of the real thing that no one but insiders would know, like ‘M’ writing his memos in green ink on blue notepaper. Alan Judd who served as a British army officer before joining MI6 has written a series of books about Charles Thoroughgood, a former army officer who like Judd himself ‒ his real name is Alan Petty ‒ then joined MI6. Every one of them is a gem, reeking of authenticity. A former colleague of Judd even told me that one of…

From the list:

The best spy thrillers by former members of MI6

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