New in Nonfiction: Spine-Tingling True Spy Stories

If you find spy stories thrilling and captivating, the Abbot Public Library has recommendations from our newest collection additions.

Our previous post on nonfiction spy stories introduced brilliant British historian and writer Ben Macintyre. His series of books on 20th century espionage were very highly regarded.

Agent Sonya: Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy is Ben Macintyre’s newest book, very much anticipated by his numerous readers and fans. It is a story of the most celebrated female spy (alias Agent Sonya), who had worked for the Soviet Union. Her long (1907-2000), very effective espionage work, full of many accomplishments, and her colorful personal life make her an excellent subject for a nonfiction spy thriller. Ben Macintyre has excelled at creating a narrative centered around this very complex and extraordinary person. You can find a review in The New York Times here. Reserve a print copy for Curbside Pickup or check it out in ebook format on Overdrive.

Atomic Spy: The Dark Lives of Klaus Fuchs by Nancy Greenspan is a biography of one of the most infamous spies of the Cold War, another true-life story of a spy who belonged to the same ring as Agent Sonya. 

A brilliant scientist and a Nazi fighter, Klaus Fuchs immigrated to Great Britain and soon joined the atomic bomb research project… at the same time handing the materials over to the Russians. Unlike previous biographies of Klaus Fuchs, Greenspan’s book features a biographical account of a very complex character, portraying him as a passionate person with very strong ideological beliefs that motivated him to share secrets with Cold War enemies of the British and Americans. Very well researched due to access to numerous German, British, and American archives, as well as Fuchs’s correspondences, the story, full of tension, captures readers entirely. Here is The New York Times review.

In addition to spies, the library also owns books on American spymasters and the Intelligence Agency itself, their accomplishments and failures:

Dead Doubles: The Extraordinary Worldwide Hunt for One of the Cold War’s Most Notorious Spy Rings by Trevor Barnes is an incredible story of the CIA and the British Intelligence Service cooperation in cracking the most damaging spy ring of the Cold War in the 1960s. Barnes uses tools and his skills as a fiction writer to make this real-life story as fast-paced and compelling as fiction.

The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War: A Tragedy in Three Acts by Scott Anderson, war correspondent and writer, is a story of the spying world during WWII and, later, the Cold War, through the eyes and lives of four remarkable, very talented American spies who helped shape the earliest CIA operations. Read The New York Times review here.

The Spymasters: How the CIA Directors Shape History and the Future by Chris Whipple is a fascinating behind-the-scenes story of the CIA recounted through the actions of its directors. The book is well-documented and based on interviews with every living CIA director. It delivers an informative history of the agency, describing how it works and what the director’s job is.

Reflecting on some of the operational failures, the author proposes some reforms to improve the agency’s performance. Here is a NYT review.

As always, these books can be reserved through the library, either in print or digital format, and sometimes both. 

Digital downloads are available through Overdrive/the Libby app with your library card. 

To obtain a print copy, please carefully read the instructions for Curbside Pickup.


Spies Among Us

Spy thrillers – books and movies – are compelling, entertaining, and spine-tingling. The genre is extremely popular and has gained numerous fans. If you are among them or just curious why other people find the genre so captivating and enjoyable, try some of the titles from this list of suggestions.

If you have a subscription to Prime Video, you may have seen The Americans, a spy series released by FX Network that ran for six seasons. It’s a spy thriller about two KGB agents – a married couple – posing as Americans during the peak of the Cold War in the early 1980s. Although watching all six seasons of the show is a serious commitment, the series is well-written and masterfully done, keeping the viewer’s unabated interest up until the very last scene. 

The story is very realistic, and there are no James Bond-esque characters or elements. There are no cartoonish villains or superheroes either; the characters are complex and multilayered. Even though the struggle between the good and evil is definitely present, it all makes the series a very compelling and gripping affair to watch. 

If you enjoyed this series, try the following items from Abbot Public Library’s digital collection.

On the book front, let us introduce the works by the British historian, biographer, and author Ben Macintyre. His books about espionage in the 20th century – all of them superb – made various bestseller lists and collected numerous literary awards.

Though he writes nonfiction, his true-life spy stories read like fictional spy thrillers: written in a suspenseful tone, they are fast-paced, captivating, and impossible to put down until the end.  

Deep and thorough research is the foundation of Macintyre’s writing, and enables him to put characters in full social context, providing many real-life details pertaining to the time and place of the event, and making his stories fascinating and compelling.

The Spy and The Traitor is a thrilling real-life spy story about the events that took place in the USSR at the peak of the Cold War (the same as the setting for The Americans, mentioned above).

The story is about a high-ranking KGB operative (and double agent) Oleg Gordievsky, who not only successfully worked for MI6 for many years, but also managed to successfully escape to London right on the brink of his exposure.

Macintyre’s amazing sharp eye for detail and talent for observation help him describe thrilling scenes, such as spy’s escape route, and capture a reader’s interest even further.

Another story about a double agent, this time the narrative centers around the famous Kim Philby, a high-ranking MI6 operative also secretly working for the KGB for over 30 years, and who managed to safely escape to Moscow at the last moment.

The author finds ways to make the familiar story of Kim Philby captivating, and tries to answer some questions that were not previously researched. One of the questions that the author ponders is what makes people become spies or double agents. What personal qualities does a person possess to enjoy this vocation?

Popular fiction author Daniel Silva has written quite a few spy thrillers. His The Other Woman is a mesmerizing and highly imaginative fictional spy story, based on real people and relationships in the spy world. It also has a connection to one of Macintyre’s books, but it would not do to give away a plot twist.

A couple more true-life spy stories from Ben Macintyre; this time, about WWII-era spies: 

If you are fascinated by the spy thriller genre, Overdrive/Libby and hoopla have a multitude of true-life, as well as fictional, spy stories for you. They are all available with your library card.

And if you enjoy Macintyre’s works in particular, you have something to look forward to: his new spy story, Agent Sonya, will be released in September 2020.