20 books directly related to intelligence services 📚
All 20 intelligence services books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.
Kim Philby: A story of friendship and betrayal
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…
MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949
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…
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…
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…
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…
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…
Dr. No is so much more sinister than you remember him in the movie that began the James Bond series in 1962. He is a reclusive Chinese-German millionaire who lives on a Jamaican island where an MI-6 agent has gone missing. M calls on James Bond to find the missing agent and upon arrival is treated to a basket of poisoned fruit and a deadly centipede is left in his bed while he’s asleep. Dr. No has pincers for hands which just adds to the tension as Bond closes in. The menacing villain forces Bond to navigate his way through…
Charles Cumming is often cited as a worthy successor to John le Carré, and anyone who enjoys the work of the Doyen of British spy fiction should enjoy this particular example of his work; my favourite book from Cumming.
Thomas Kell (like my agent Jack Tate in my novel) is a disgraced MI6 agent who longs to come back in from the cold from where he’s been banished. When MI6’s top spy in Turkey is killed in what looks like a car accident Kell grabs his chance for professional redemption when his masters at MI6 feel he might be the…
Wilderness of Mirrors: Intrigue, Deception, and the Secrets That Destroyed Two of the Cold War's Most Important Agents
David C. Martin,
Why this book?
Wilderness of Mirrors, written more than 40 years ago by Martin, the still-distinguished CBS News correspondent, remains a classic of espionage nonfiction. As the title suggests, the book captures the Byzantine world of counterintelligence during the Angleton era. Martin was the first to write knowledgeably about the Berlin Tunnel, and this book is also the first in-depth look at one of the most fascinating, important, and ultimately self-destructive officers of the first decades of the CIA, William King Harvey.
Made to be Broken: SAS Hero Turns Manchester Hitman
Why this book?
At the start of this book, Rick Fuller has hit rock bottom. I won’t go into why for those who haven’t read it but it shows a real determination for someone to overcome tragedy and get themselves back into a functioning state while dealing with loss. The action throughout this book is very believable and Lauren North’s transformation throughout the series has inspired me to write about a strong female lead.
Unlike the official history of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), better known as MI6, by Keith Jeffery, this book is written without the censorship of the Service presenting the facts as the author, a journalist and academic, considers fit and proper to show. Very well written and covering a considerable period of time with many secret operations, it is a very good book which The Guardian described as ‘A remarkable achievement and an encyclopaedic post-war history which any student of the secret world should read.’
Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media
Why this book?
A highly perceptive if rather depressing examination of how the British media works, how expensive investigative journalism has largely given way to opinion columns and trivia about so-called celebrities, how stories are often not stories, how papers dress up partisan opinion as fact. In short, an exposure of the falsehoods, distortion, and propaganda that have corrupted the media. Nick Davies was a journalist at the Guardian.
I’ve loved Le Carre’s books since The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and I’ve learned from each of them. I chose this one for several reasons. It was published in 2017, and I believe it was the last one published during his lifetime. One of his contributions is that he wrote the best interrogation scenes ever done, and this book is all interrogation. A favorite character, Peter Guillam is under investigation for his role in the events of the Cold War spying and those of George Smiley, Alec Leamas, et al. The book shows us in detail…
A second Graham Greene book but no apologies! Greene split his novels between the serious, like The Human Factor, and what he called ‘entertainments.’ Our Man in Havana, a black comedy, sits very firmly in the second category with Greene drawing inspiration from Garbo and Ostro, two German agents and skilled fabricators he dealt with during the Second World War, to ridicule his former profession. The British secret service’s ‘Man in Havana’ is James Wormold, a cash-strapped vacuum cleaner salesman, who creates an entirely false network of intelligence agents. When they produce the plans for a supposed top-secret…
It’s simply a great and well-crafted story and one that grabbed me well before I knew I wanted to write. British agent Alec Leamas is burned out and believes the Cold War is over for him, but then he’s given a chance at revenge by posing as an East German defector. All the while, Western espionage methods aren’t looking any morally better than the enemy’s, and Leamas feels it. No heroes here, just underdogs and survivors—a revelation at the time. A classic for so many reasons.
This twisty tale of a British spy and double agent Magnus Pym is also a thinly disguised portrayal of his early life. Before turning to writing, John Le Carre worked as an intelligence officer for both MI5 and MI6. Unlike Fleming's glamorous portrayal of spies, his heroes were often depicted as lonely, tragic figures. The fact he knew the inside of the system gives his books extra gravitas.
When Charles Cumming published Typhoon in 2009, China's Xinjiang province was a festering wound for the Chinese Communist Party, with the local Uyghur population sporadically resisting subjugation by their Han overlords. Now it is a full-blown police-state with mass Uyghur detention camps that amount to genocide, according to many human rights groups. Cumming shrewdly chose Xinjiang tensions as the spark for a rogue CIA scheme to destabilize the Beijing regime. Knowing what is currently happening in Xinjiang, it is hard for me now to re-read the novel with the same sense of nostalgia for the authentically rendered places in the…
OK you’ve got me! Ian Fleming was never an MI6 officer. But forget the sneers from so-called ‘experts’ that he knew nothing about how MI6 operates. Certainly, Bond’s activities have very little in common with those of his real ‘Secret Intelligence Service’ counterparts. Nevertheless, the criticism of Fleming is misplaced. He spent the Second World War as a senior aide to Admiral John Godfrey, the British Director of Naval Intelligence, and was not only in charge of liaison with MI6, he frequently worked directly with MI6 Chief Stewart Menzies, known as ‘C’ rather than James Bond’s ‘M’, although the then…
Though Deighton has gone on to write several hugely popular and better-known spy stories, none of them beats Funeral In Berlin for sheer fun. Narrated by its nameless, smart-ass protagonist, who works for an obscure and underfunded British intelligence agency, the book has all the Cold War suspense, plot twists, and dubious characters you could wish for. Swiftly paced and told with great irreverent humor, it’s terrific entertainment.
Well, in my opinion, pick any LeCarre spy novel and you're already winning at life. The slowness with which they sometimes seem to move becomes like a morphine dripline direct into your veins, and by the time you realize exactly what sort of gray-on-gray world the characters inhabit, and what qualities at first ambiguous but later crucial allow them to act with ambiguous heroism, you'll get a true flavor of MI6.