The most recommended books about women spies

Who picked these books? Meet our 39 experts.

39 authors created a book list connected to women spies, and here are their favorite women spies books.
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What type of women spies book?


Book cover of Double Agent Victoire: Mathilde Carré and the Interallié Network

Stew Ross Author Of Where Did They Put the Gestapo Headquarters?-The False War & Vichy: Volume One A Walking Tour of Nazi-Occupied Paris, 1940−1944

From my list on the German occupation of France, 1940−1944.

Why am I passionate about this?

I received my B.S. in geology and spent my career in commercial banking. How did I go from banking to becoming an author? I learned to write as a banker back in the “good old” days when the loan officer had to write their own credit memorandum. I enjoyed it so much I told myself, “One day, I'm going to write a book.” Then I found a book called Walks Through Lost Paris by Leonard Pitt. As my wife and I walked through the streets of Paris, I said, “I can write a book like this.” And so I did. We're about to publish our sixth book in an anticipated series of nine.

Stew's book list on the German occupation of France, 1940−1944

Stew Ross Why did Stew love this book?

I recommend this book because it introduces the reader to one of the first organized resistance networks in Paris. As a double agent, Mathilde Carré (nom de guerre: Victoire) was also known as “The Cat.” She was ultimately responsible for the arrest of hundreds of Interallié agents (including her boss, Roman Czerniawski).

This book has it all. The author weaves the stories of collaborationists (e.g., Bonny-Lafont), SOE double agents (e.g., Henri Déricourt), and Abwehr spy catchers (e.g., Hugo Bleicher) around intricate counter-intelligence plots involving British and German spy agencies. You will meet Czerniawski again as he became a double agent after his arrest by the Germans and worked for the Allies in Operation Double Cross. It’s a great foundation to begin your study of the resistance movement in Paris.

By David Tremain,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Mathilde Carre, notoriously known as La Chatte, was remarkable for all the wrong reasons. Like most spies she was temperamental, scheming and manipulative - but she was also treacherous. A dangerous mix, especially when combined with her infamous history of love affairs - on both sides. Her acts of treachery were almost unprecedented in the history of intelligence, yet her involvement in the 'Interallie affair' has only warranted a brief mention in the accounts of special operations in France during the Second World War. But what motivated her to betray more than 100 members of the Interallie network, the largest…

Book cover of Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth-Century Britain

Boris Volodarsky Author Of The Birth of the Soviet Secret Police: Lenin and History's Greatest Heist, 1917-1927

From Boris' 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Intelligence historian Voracious reader Writer Lecturer Filmmaker

Boris' 3 favorite reads in 2023

Boris Volodarsky Why did Boris love this book?

I must admit I bought this book for purely professional interest because my own new book project deals with women and espionage.

As with all such works, I quote Nadine Akkerman, "the debt owed to those who have already prepared the ground is immense". It is hard to express my gratitude in better words. My time to study it and my expenses were fully justified because the book is very well-researched and well-written and at least for me it contains plenty of absolutely new useful material for my own work.

Indeed, with the exception of Mata Hari (and, er, well, maybe, Anna Chapman) even an intelligence historian, not to mention an ordinary reader, may probably decide that women had no place in the world of espionage. I do not speak of those who are fans of Jason Matthews’s Red Sparrow but I have in mind not erotic fiction but serious…

By Nadine Akkerman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It would be easy for the modern reader to conclude that women had no place in the world of early modern espionage, with a few seventeenth-century women spies identified and then relegated to the footnotes of history. If even the espionage carried out by Susan Hyde, sister of Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, during the turbulent decades of civil strife in Britain can escape the historiographer's gaze, then how many more like her lurk in the archives?

Nadine Akkerman's search for an answer to this question has led to the writing of Invisible Agents, the very first study to analyse…

Book cover of Sweet Tooth

Lee Polevoi Author Of The Confessions of Gabriel Ash

From my list on the Cold War told in the first person.

Why am I passionate about this?

I read Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for the first time many years ago, while traveling aboard a Canadian National Railway train from Montreal to British Columbia. Something about the contrast between the majestic Canadian Rockies and the dark alleys of John Le Carré’s Berlin brought the Cold War fully to life and set me on the path to writing a novel of my own set during that time. (Living through some of those tense years of superpower stand-offs didn’t hurt.) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is told in third-person, but many Cold War novels written in the first person do a masterful job of evoking that troubled era. 

Lee's book list on the Cold War told in the first person

Lee Polevoi Why did Lee love this book?

From this novel’s opening lines—“My name is Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) and almost forty years ago I was sent on a secret mission for the British Security Service”—Ian McEwan draws readers into the dreary and yet ominous world of Cold War England, circa 1974. 

The story purrs along like a well-oiled machine. Serena has an affair with an older man that ends badly, but not before her ex-lover sets her on an eventful career path with MI5.

Soon she’s recruited for an operation called “Sweet Tooth,” in which government channels funds are channeled to “acceptable” novelists so they can counter the effects of Soviet propaganda. 

In McEwan’s skillfully crafted prose and narrative power, we’re plunged deep inside this undercover world. 

By Ian McEwan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The year is 1972, the Cold War is far from over and Serena Frome, in her final year at Cambridge, is being groomed for MI5. Sent on Operation Sweet Tooth - a highly secret undercover mission - she meets Tom Haley, a promising young writer. First she loves his stories, then she begins to love the man. Can she maintain the fiction of her undercover life? And who is inventing whom? To answer these questions, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage - trust no one.

Book cover of Restless

Linda Stewart Henley Author Of Kate's War

From my list on young women in WW II in the UK.

Why am I passionate about this?

Two of my three novels have young women protagonists. I find young adulthood a fascinating time in women’s lives and I enjoy creating a character and putting her in a historical setting. The Second World War offers fertile ground for storytelling, and I grew up south of London after the war. My father’s unpublished memoir, in which he describes an event that he experienced in the war, inspired me to write about it, but I told the story through the eyes of the protagonist, Kate. 

Linda's book list on young women in WW II in the UK

Linda Stewart Henley Why did Linda love this book?

I liked this story with two women protagonists because of its drama. The book had me mesmerized from beginning to end. One reason may be that I listened to the audiobook with the actress Rosamund Pike as narrator. She knew how to portray all the accents, from the (male) aristocrat Lucas Romer to the young woman spy Eva Delectorskaya.

I liked the dual timeline, with Eva’s adult daughter learning about her mother’s shocking hidden past as it is slowly revealed. I like books about mother/daughter relationships, and this is one of the better ones in that regard. But what kept me interested above all was the slow unfolding of the information and Eva’s haunted life. 

By William Boyd,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Eva Delectorskaya,' I said mystified. ' Who's that?' 'Me,' she said. 'I am Eva Delectorskaya.' What happens to your life when everything you thought you knew about your mother turns out to be an elaborate lie? During the long, hot summer of 1976, Ruth Gilmartin discovers that her very English mother Sally is really Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian emigre and one-time spy. In 1939 Eva is a beautiful twenty-eight year old living in Paris. As war breaks out, she is recruited for the British Secret Service by Lucas Romer, a mysterious, patrician Englishman. Under his tutelage she learns to become…

Book cover of The Queen of Paris: A Novel of Coco Chanel

Catherine A. Hamilton Author Of Victoria's War

From my list on inspired by heroic women from around the world.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a native Oregonian of Polish descent, I was born in the small town of Sweet Home, Oregon. After finishing high school, I moved to Portland where I graduated from Lewis and Clark College with a Master’s degree in psychology. I spent twelve years as a psychotherapist, publishing over a dozen articles. After joining a writing group and trying my hand at fiction, my stories, articles, and poems have been published in magazines and newspapers—including Sarasota Herald-Tribune, The Oregonian, Catholic Sentinel, Dziennik Związkowy, and The Polish American Journal. My debut novel, Victoria’s War, won CIBA’s Hemingway Award for 20th Century Wartime Fiction and was #1 Best Seller on Amazon Kindle Unlimited in German Historical Fiction.

Catherine's book list on inspired by heroic women from around the world

Catherine A. Hamilton Why did Catherine love this book?

We all know the name of the woman behind the perfume—Coco Chanel, right? But how many of us know the story behind this legendary woman? Very few! I didn’t really know the first thing about her! Still, I loved her! In The Queen of Paris, I got to know the woman who created Chânél No.5 and designed the first “little black dress.”

And I learned why Chânél No. 5 is made in Pairs. The secret is this: because the jasmine used in making this particular perfume is only grown in France! No more spoilers! Except to say that Ewen’s Coco enticed me from the start with gossip and truths about one of the most successful women in the fashion industry—and what lengths she was willing to go to save her life’s work during WWII.

A riveting historical novel that I would read again!

By Pamela Binnings Ewen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A Barnes & Noble Pick of Best Indie eBooks of 2020
An iBooks Bestseller in Fiction
A Pop Sugar Pick of Books set in Paris

Legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel is revered for her sophisticated style—the iconic little black dress—and famed for her intoxicating perfume Chanel No. 5. Yet behind the public persona is a complicated woman of intrigue, shadowed by mysterious rumors. The Queen of Paris, the new novel from award-winning author Pamela Binnings Ewen, vividly imagines the hidden life of Chanel during the four years of Nazi occupation in Paris in the midst of WWII—as discovered in recently…

Book cover of The Mysterious Private Thompson: The Double Life of Sarah Emma Edmonds, Civil War Soldier

Julian Sher Author Of The North Star: Canada and the Civil War Plots Against Lincoln

From my list on Civil War plots against Lincoln from Canada.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been an investigative journalist for four decades and the author of eight books. From covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to biker gangs or online child predators, I have always tried to encourage people to question their assumptions and popular beliefs. When I was a history student at McGill University in Montreal, I came across a plaque to Jefferson Davis, the leader of the slave South, on the walls of one of our major department stores. Why were we honoring the Confederates more than a century after the Civil War? That quest led me to dig into the myths about the Civil War and the fight against slavery.

Julian's book list on Civil War plots against Lincoln from Canada

Julian Sher Why did Julian love this book?

I am always fascinated by the life-changing choices people make during crucial turning points in history. How certain are you that–depending on where you were born and what race, class, or gender you were–that you would have sided with Lincoln against slavery?

Emma Edmonds was a feisty New Brunswick farm girl who rebels against the 19th-century restrictions against women by disguising herself as a man to become a very successful bible salesman. She finds herself in the US when the Civil War breaks out, and even though it is not her country or her cause, she decides to enlist (as a man!) in the Union Army. Gansler does an excellent job of capturing Edmonds’ conflicted emotions, turmoil and troubles as she tries to hide her identity for two years wearing a man’s uniform. She also navigates the difficult exaggerations and lies around Edmonds’ story. A serious yet exciting read. 

By Laura Leedy Gansler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Resurrecting a lost hero of the Civil War, The Mysterious Private Thompson tells the remarkable story of Sarah Emma Edmonds (1841-98), who disguised herself as a man and defended her country at a time of war. Drawing on Edmonds's journals and those of the men she served with, Laura Leedy Gansler recreates Edmonds's experience in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, including both the First and the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Peninsula Campaign, and the Battle of Fredericksburg, during which she served with distinction in combat as a "male" nurse and braved enemy fire as…

Book cover of Red Joan

Jeannette de Beauvoir Author Of Dead in the Water

From Jeannette's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Storyteller Voracious reader Poet Indoor girl

Jeannette's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Jeannette de Beauvoir Why did Jeannette love this book?

Based on the real-life story of Melita Norwood—a woman who in her eighties was unmasked as the KGB's longest-serving British spy—this novel really has it all: it’s a mystery, historical fiction, and a spy thriller.

It takes on complex and difficult questions around living out one’s values and the unintended consequences of doing so, and challenges a lot of the assumptions we tend to make about other people’s motives. Or even our own.

By Jennie Rooney,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'If you loved William Boyd's Restless, you'll enjoy this' Viv Groskop, Red

Cambridge University in 1937 is awash with ideas and idealists - to unworldly Joan it is dazzling.

After a chance meeting with Russian-born Sonya and Leo, Joan is swept up in the glamour and energy of the duo, and finds herself growing closer and closer to them both.

But allegiance is a slippery thing. Out of university and working in a government ministry with access to top-secret information, Joan finds her loyalty tested as she is faced with the most difficult question of all: what price would you…

Book cover of Merciless Charity

Nicholas Harvey Author Of Deadly Sommer

From my list on kick-ass females of sea and sky.

Why am I passionate about this?

My wife is a beautiful, intelligent, and determined woman. She took up rock climbing in her forties. She rides a motorcycle on and off-road. She scuba dives with sharks, she’s jumped out of an airplane, and she strapped crampons on her feet when I said we’re climbing a snow-covered mountain. One of my best friends in the world is from Finland. Typical of Finns, and Scandinavians in general, he has a dry wit and keen observations and thoughts which he delivers matter-of-factly in few words. Combining these two with a sprinkling of my own imagination produced Nora Sommer.

Nicholas' book list on kick-ass females of sea and sky

Nicholas Harvey Why did Nicholas love this book?

Former Olympian and U.S. Army helicopter pilot, Charity is another heroine who is as comfortable under sail as she is behind the collective of an AH-64 Apache. An operative used for dangerous tactical ‘kill’ missions, Charity battles her demons borne out of captivity and torture in Afghanistan, to keep her aggression under control.

An emotionally tormented loner, Charity kicks some serious ass.

By Wayne Stinnett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What can be done to stop madness from sweeping the world when political indecision is the norm? When the nation's leaders lack the backbone to stand up to them, what can stop an enemy that knows no rules? Charity.Charity Styles is a former Olympian and U.S. Army helicopter pilot. Captured and tortured by terrorists in Afghanistan after the opening blows of the War on Terror, Charity has a score to settle. Now working for the Department of Homeland Security, she is offered the opportunity to make a real difference.Critical memories of her ordeal are buried deep in Charity’s subconscious. When…

Book cover of Wise Gals: The Spies Who Built the CIA and Changed the Future of Espionage

Kate Andersen Brower Author Of Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon

From my list on rule-breaking, risk-taking, bad a$# women.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I covered the White House as a young reporter I was always more interested in understanding what was happening in the upstairs residence than in what briefings we were getting from the president’s advisers in the Roosevelt Room. I was raised with the understanding that in the end everyone is equal and that no one, no matter how powerful they are, gets out of the human experience. I think that’s what makes me interested in iconic women, from Elizabeth Taylor to Betty Ford. There’s nothing I like better than reading their letters and trying to understand what made them tick, and how they navigated their complicated and very public lives.

Kate's book list on rule-breaking, risk-taking, bad a$# women

Kate Andersen Brower Why did Kate love this book?

The New York Times writer Gail Collins once wrote, “One of the tricks to being a great historical figure is to leave behind as much information as possible.”

Unfortunately, that means many voices have gone quiet as generations pass. Nathalia uncovers some of their untold stories in this book about the women who helped create the CIA. As she makes clear in her book, these stories were doubly difficult to tell because the women she’s writing about had made their careers out of being able to keep secrets.

But she does a remarkable job at getting to the heart of it, using archival research and interviews with current and former agents. The sacrifices these women made are nothing short of jaw-dropping.

By Nathalia Holt,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


'As much le Carre as it is Hidden Figures.' AMARYLLIS FOX, author of Life Undercover

'A sweeping epic of a book [which] rescues five remarkable women from obscurity and finally gives them their rightful place in world history ... A book you won't regret reading. Five women you won't forget.' KATE MOORE, author of The Radium Girls

'As entertaining as it is instructive.' GENERAL STANLEY MCCRYSTAL

The never-before-told story of a small cadre of influential female spies in the precarious early days of…

Book cover of Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS

David A. Taylor Author Of Cork Wars: Intrigue and Industry in World War II

From my list on spies and espionage in WW2.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a child I found the history and biography books in our school library, and was enthralled. When I got older and discovered historical archives, the tension between public history in books and the secret or forgotten histories tucked away was irresistible. Writing books has taken me to five continents on journeys into everything from medicinal black markets to the traces of a wartime commercial spy network. For my latest book, digging through classified OSS files showed me what amazing stories still lie waiting for us.

David's book list on spies and espionage in WW2

David A. Taylor Why did David love this book?

McIntosh takes a fresh approach to espionage, putting aside the trench coats and Mata Haris for the real "Code-room Mata Hari" and other little-known heroines of the war. A veteran of CIA and OSS operations herself, McIntosh knows what she's writing about, and draws from more than 100 interviews with other women operatives. She portrays several dozen here, including the China escapades of Julia McWilliams (known today as Julia Child). It also features the Musac project, with broadcasts targeted at Wehrmacht troops with fake German news and music sung by agent Marlene Dietrichn designed to infiltrate their sympathies.

By Elizabeth P McIntosh,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The daring missions and cloak-and-dagger skullduggery of America's World War II intelligence agency, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), are well documented and have become the stuff of legend. Yet the contributions of the four thousand women who made up one-fifth of the OSS staff have gone largely unheralded. Here for the first time are their fascinating stories, told by one of their own.

A seasoned journalist and veteran of sensitive OSS and CIA operations, Elizabeth McIntosh draws on her own experiences and in-depth interviews with more than one hundred OSS women to uncover some of the most tantalizing stories…