The best spy books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about spies and why they recommend each book.

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Agent 9

By James Burks,

Book cover of Agent 9: Flood-A-Geddon!

In this fast-paced action-adventure, super-secret agent Agent 9 has to stop King Crab and his diabolical plans to melt the polar ice caps and build a massive water park. If that doesn’t grab your attention, I have no doubt that James Burks’ wonderful and dynamic illustrations will. There are chase scenes, explosions, and humor on every page that’ll surely keep the reader hooked with every turn. I love how Agent 9 has to address her own personal struggles so she can level up and win the day. A very welcome addition to any children’s graphic novel bookshelf.

Who am I?

I am a professional dabbler who has tried things from beekeeping, duck herding, race car driving, coding, and filmmaking. But I am famously known as the author and illustrator of imaginative and fun children’s books and comics. My latest book is the hilarious supervillain graphic novel Mischief and Mayhem. It’s a story about Missy who gets kicked out of superhero boot camp and ends up as a supervillain (a nice and friendly one). I’ve always enjoyed reading about unexpected heroes and characters who flip the script. We all have challenges in our lives and when we face them head-on is when we truly find the heroes in ourselves.

I wrote...

Mischief and Mayhem #1: Born to Be Bad

By Ken Lamug,

Book cover of Mischief and Mayhem #1: Born to Be Bad

What is my book about?

Mischief and Mayhem are your respectably heinous villains. They’ll spoil new movies, steal cake from parties they weren’t invited to, and hit the good citizens where it’ll dirty them most—their toilet paper. But before Mischief and Mayhem were ever supervillains, they were just Missy and Gizmo, fresh recruits at Superhero boot camp. Except Missy lied on her hero application and has exactly zero superpowers, just her brainpower. Humiliated when caught and kicked out, she has only one fellow camp recruit who is willing to stand by her—Melvira.

Melvira has her own villainous agenda, and it involves helping Missy cross the line into villainy as her new alter ego, Mischief. But something about Melvira doesn’t sit right with Missy, and soon she’ll be called upon to battle her former best friend.

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You

By Ally Carter,

Book cover of I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You

This delightful series is so much fun it rates a 'must have' on my list of girls' spy schools. The spy school is housed in a charming old mansion, complete with secret passages and hidden elevators. It is attended by carefully-selected, super-smart young women who train to become the Gallagher girls—spies extraordinaire. Naturally, there is a counterpart boys’ spy school. With a touch of romantic angst, this series does not disappoint. The girls are each distinct, memorable, and tons of fun.

Who am I?

Spy stories have always captivated me. This fascination grew after I learned that throughout history, many women worked behind the scenes as key spies. How cool is that? So, I decided to write a girls' spy school set in Jane Austen's world. Junior Library Guild said this about A School for Unusual Girls, “An outstanding alternative history series entry and a must-have for teen libraries.” Scholastic licensed the series for their school book fairs. Ian Bryce, the producer of Spiderman, Transformers, Saving Private Ryan, and other blockbusters, optioned it for film. To date, more than 600,000 copies of my award-winning historical novels are in the hands of readers around the globe.

I wrote...

A School for Unusual Girls: A Stranje House Novel (Stranje House, 1)

By Kathleen Baldwin,

Book cover of A School for Unusual Girls: A Stranje House Novel (Stranje House, 1)

What is my book about?

A secret spy school set amidst Jane Austen’s high society.

Stranje House is one of Regency England’s dark little secrets—daughters of the beau monde who don't fit society's constrictive mold are banished to Stranje House to be reformed into marriageable young ladies. Or so their parents think. In truth, headmistress, Emma Stranje, has plans for these young ladies—plans that entangle the girls in the dangerous world of spies and diplomacy in the Napoleonic war.

Game Over, Pete Watson

By Joe Schreiber, Andy Rash (illustrator),

Book cover of Game Over, Pete Watson

This zany story about a gamer is packed full of laughs. Pete is looking forward to the release of a new game, but when he sells his dad’s old gaming console to afford the new game, things go really wrong, really fast. Let’s just say that was no gaming console he sold and now his dad is trapped in a video game. Pete has to save his dad, (and the world) by entering the game and winning! 

While I usually don’t like the whole getting-sucked-into-the-game trope, it totally works for this silly style of humor. Illustrations along the way don’t just break up the text, they add to the laughs.

Who am I?

I am a middle grade teacher who loves to read. Many of my students prefer to play video games. In fact, some of them have a real aversion to reading. Since I know reading ability is a huge factor in a student’s academic success, I’m always looking for great books to get students to put down their controllers and read. When I couldn’t find many, I was inspired to write the CROSS UPS TRILOGY. I’m confident that the books on this list will lure young gamers into their covers with gaming themes, humor, and relatable characters. 

I wrote...

Tournament Trouble

By Sylv Chiang, Connie Choi (illustrator),

Book cover of Tournament Trouble

What is my book about?

Cross Ups 1: Tournament Trouble is about Jaden, a twelve-year-old gamer who wants to prove he is the best at his favorite game, Cross Ups IV. Problem? His mom doesn’t know he plays this violent game – she’d never allow it. An invitation to compete at a tournament compels Jaden and his friends to hatch a plan to get him there. But his mom isn’t the only roadblock. Annoying siblings, bullies at school, and his best friend Cali’s family problems keep getting in the way.

The humorous, fast-paced novels in the Cross Ups Trilogy include illustrations by Connie Choi to keep reluctant readers engaged.

The Falcon and the Snowman

By Robert Lindsey,

Book cover of The Falcon and the Snowman: A True Story of Friendship and Espionage

This book is an Edgar-winning masterwork of narrative nonfiction, a blistering account of Cold War espionage committed by a pair of twentysomethings in Southern California. Christopher Boyce, who had access to CIA files while working for the defense contractor TRW, secretly copied files and gave them to his friend Andrew Daulton Lee, who sold them to Soviet officials in Mexico City. The United States disrupted the plot and sent Boyce and Lee to prison. 

My publisher sent author Robert Lindsey an advance copy of my book, who wrote such a flattering blurb about it that I felt the need to thank him. We met in Carmel, California, where Lindsey signed my copy of The Falcon and the Snowman. Coincidentally, I later got to know Chris Boyce as I wrote stories about him in The Oregonian after his release from prison.

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...

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

By Bryan Denson,

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.

Forbidden City (City Spies 3)

By James Ponti,

Book cover of Forbidden City (City Spies 3)

Let me begin by saying that if you haven’t yet read the first two books in the City Spies series, please get on it. Packed with adventure, fantastic characters, and brilliant plots twists, the entire series is a complete treat. As with the two previous installments, the book follows a diverse group of international kids who’ve been brought together to keep the world safe from the nefarious Umbra, a secret organization bent on world domination. The plot of this adventure revolves around team member, Paris, when he’s sent undercover to an international chess tournament to keep tabs on the son of a North Korean nuclear physicist. Like a well-played game of chess, the story relies on clever tactics, keen insights into your opponent, and good old-fashioned strategy.

Who am I?

I love games; board games, card games, head games*; any kind of situation in which employing strategy is the only way forward. And yet, I’m not a big game player—aside from word games. I’m also endlessly fascinated by the mechanisms of power and how societies arrange themselves. The marriage between writing and understanding politics (in the traditional, not the partisan sense) is my true north. Writing a book in which a chess-like game provides the foundation felt inevitable for me, for what game better explores the dynamics of power and strategy? *I don’t play head games, but I do find manipulation fascinating fodder for writing.

I wrote...

The Verdigris Pawn

By Alysa Wishingrad,

Book cover of The Verdigris Pawn

What is my book about?

The heir to the Land should be strong. Fierce. Ruthless. Yet Beau is the exact opposite. With little control over his future, Beau is kept locked away, spending his days studying his family’s glorious history, and learning to master an outlawed chess-like game. Until the day he meets a girl who shows him the secrets his father has kept hidden. 

For the first time, Beau questions everything he’s been told. After teaming up with a fiery runaway boy, they set off in search of a rebel who might hold the key to setting things right. But it just might be Beau who wields the power he seeks... if he can go from pawn to player before the Land tears itself apart.

His Quiet Agent

By Ada Maria Soto,

Book cover of His Quiet Agent

Asexual characters need a lot more visibility, especially with positive representation. This book in particular captures how people see certain people as not "normal" because of different sexuality. Gay romance books are often expected to have sex in them, but this one staying true to asexual themes shows that a sexless romance can be just as valid. It's a slow-burn connection that develops into a deep, unforgettable relationship between men who come to understand each other by looking past their differences and taking the time to learn about the other.

Who am I?

I'm Kieran Frank, author of sexless romances. I write books with asexual characters because they're underrepresented. I write them with positive representation to avoid harmful stereotypes, and I highlight the nuances of a-spec people without sounding too preachy. I don't claim to be an expert in asexuality, but I'm passionate about writing asexual themes because it's what I want to see more of in fiction. Men are often expected to enjoy sex, especially at a younger age. I can personally relate to the harmful pressure, which is another reason I write asexual books. It can help combat toxic views that societies have instilled in many people.

I wrote...

Squishy Crushy Something

By Kieran Frank,

Book cover of Squishy Crushy Something

What is my book about?

Jayden never expected to develop a squish on a boy, never mind a crush. It started with Kail: looks, popularity, and awesomeness. But three years later, Jayden’s squish on Kail has grown into a crush, leading Jayden to make risky decisions. But Jayden used to be friends with nerdy Ollie before Ollie got too religious, driving Jayden away. Now, Ollie is back, and he seems much more open-minded—and much more attractive. Jayden can’t help but develop a squish. But could it turn into a crush?

Jayden is caught between two squishy crushes—the boy he knows is toxic, and the potential crush that could make or break a friendship. The right choice could bring him happiness, but the wrong choice could cost him everything.

A Spy Among Friends

By Ben Macintyre,

Book cover of A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

Times journalist and author Ben Macintyre almost single-handedly resurrected the genre of espionage non-fiction. His account of the life and crimes and Kim Philby – the MI6 officer who became the most notorious Cold War defector to the Soviet Union – is a tautly-written and often jaw-dropping account of how one of Britain’s most senior and privileged spies betrayed his friends, colleagues and the most vital secrets of both Britain and the United States.  

Who am I?

Tim Tate is a multi-award-winning documentary filmmaker, investigative journalist, and the author of 18 non-fiction books. The Cold War shaped – and continues to shape – the world we live in today. Although the collapse of the Soviet Union theoretically ended the conflict between East and West, in reality, the struggle between the Cold War superpowers of America and Russia rumbles on. Nor have the espionage agencies on either side of the former Iron Curtain fundamentally changed. Their actions during the Cold War run deeply beneath modern tensions. I spent years researching the hidden history of the most important Cold War spy; his extraordinary life and activities provide a unique lens with which to understand Cold War espionage.

I wrote...

The Spy Who Was Left Out In The Cold: The Secret History of Agent Goleniewski

By Tim Tate,

Book cover of The Spy Who Was Left Out In The Cold: The Secret History of Agent Goleniewski

What is my book about?

Polish intelligence chief Michał Goleniewski, codename Sniper, was the West’s most valuable Cold War spy. After he defected to the United States in 1961, he exposed more than 1,600 communist agents ―more than any spy in history. But in 1963, as the CIA descended into a decade of in-fighting, it abandoned Goleniewski and drove him into insanity. Yet Goleniewski also bears some of the blame: he made an entirely bogus claim to be Tsarevich Aleksei Romanoff, heir to the Russian Throne and a supposed Russian Imperial fortune. 

For 50 years, American and British intelligence have erased Goleniewski from Cold War history. Using extracts from CIA and MI5 dossiers, and his Polish intelligence service file, the book reveals the courage and pathos of Goleniewski’s story.


By Oleg Kalugin,

Book cover of Spymaster: My Thirty-Two Years in Intelligence and Espionage Against the West

Kalugin was a major general in the KGB, dispatched to America as a spy under the cover of being a journalist for Radio Moscow. His account of his role in Soviet disinformation and “active measures”—forging letters, planting stories, concocting conspiracy theories—provides a rare insider look into how the KGB did business for decades. Perhaps most chilling is his description of how one of his bosses, former KGB chief turned Soviet premier Yuri Andropov—was guided by Lenin’s words: “We must be ready to employ trickery, deceit, law-breaking, withholding and concealing the truth. There are no morals in politics. There is only expedience.”

Who am I?

As a child of the Cold War, I was fascinated from an early age by Russia—and the history of U.S.-Soviet relations. I still remember devouring everything I could about many of the events of the 1960’s—the Cuban Missile Crisis, the coup that replaced Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. These and much else from this period inspired me to become a journalist. And while I have had a wide-ranging and occasionally globe-trotting career, returning to the subject of U.S.-Russia relations in Russian Roulette  and the feeling that we made a genuine contribution to contemporary history—was unusually satisfying.

I wrote...

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump

By Michael Isikoff, David Corn,

Book cover of Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump

What is my book about?

Russian Roulette stands as the definitive account of Russia’s attack on the 2016 U.S. presidential election – a sweeping story that has its roots in Soviet Cold War “active measures,” supercharged for the Internet age with an aggressive mix of cyberwarfare, hacks, and social media manipulation. Russia’s assault on American democracy is told against the backdrop of the country’s seduction of one of the two U.S. presidential candidates, Donald Trump, whose decades-long efforts to do business in Russia turned him into a willing recipient of Moscow’s assistance.

And yet, Barack Obama’s  White House – fearful of putting its thumb on the scale in an election it assumed Hillary Clinton was going to win—failed to aggressively respond, even ordering senior U.S. government cyber experts to “stand down” from developing options to punch back at Moscow’s machinations. The book merges investigative journalism with modern history, and became an instant number-one New York Times best-seller upon its release.

Whittaker Chambers

By Sam Tanenhaus,

Book cover of Whittaker Chambers: A Biography

The Alger Hiss case riveted America in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His trial and conviction convince many Americans that Communist espionage had been a serious problem and the case made Richard Nixon a national figure. His chief accuser, Whittaker Chambers, was a fascinating, tormented, talented man and writer. Tanenhaus’s biography portrays him with all his virtues, warts, and contradictions.

Who am I?

For more than fifty years I have been fascinated by the relationship between the Communist Party of the United States and the Soviet Union. When Russian archives were opened to Western scholars after the collapse of the USSR, I was the first American to work in a previously closed archive where I discovered evidence that American communists had spied for the Soviets. Our understanding of twentieth-century history has been transformed by the revelations about the extent to which Soviet spies had infiltrated American institutions. Excavating long-buried secrets is a historian's dream!

I wrote...

Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America

By John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, Alexander Vassiliev

Book cover of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America

What is my book about?

Based on material from the KGB archives, the most complete account of Soviet espionage in America from the 1930s to the 1960s, demonstrating that virtually all those accused of spying during the Cold War, including the Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, and Lauchlin Currie were guilty - but exonerating Robert Oppenheimer. More than 500 Americans were involved with the KGB and GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence), and many of them are named for the first time in this book.

American Spy

By Lauren Wilkinson,

Book cover of American Spy

This book is probably best known for making Barack Obama’s summer reading list. The story of a Black American woman working for the FBI who gets recruited by the CIA for a Cold War mission to befriend, and ultimately undermine, the revolutionary president of Burkina Faso is the type of historical fiction I love, a spy thriller based on true events and taken directly from the headlines of the 1980s. Wilkinson brilliantly weaves together a story of race, class, gender, identity, and above all patriotism and loyalty.

Who am I?

I’ve been a journalist since high school and I spent 33 years as a reporter for The Washington Post, mostly as a foreign correspondent based in Asia, Africa, and Paris. My book Out Of America chronicled my three years as a correspondent in Africa during some of its most tumultuous events, the Somalia intervention, and the Rwanda genocide. I’ve always thought a well-crafted novel often captures a place or a time better than nonfiction — books like The Quiet American about the Vietnam War, and The Year of Living Dangerously about Indonesia. I now teach a university course on The Role of the Journalist in Popular Fiction, Film and Comics.

I wrote...

Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa

By Keith B. Richburg,

Book cover of Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa

What is my book about?

Keith B. Richburg was an experienced and respected reporter who had paid his dues covering urban neighborhoods in Washington D.C. and won praise for his coverage of Southeast Asia. But nothing prepared him for the personal odyssey that he would embark upon when he was assigned to cover Africa. In this powerful book, Richburg takes the reader on an extraordinary journey that sweeps from Somalia to Rwanda to Zaire and finally to South Africa. He shows how he came to terms with the divide within himself: between his African racial heritage and his American cultural identity. Are these really my people? Am I truly an African-American?

The answer, Richburg finds, after much soul-searching, is that no, he is not an African, but an American first and foremost.

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