Learn More About Real-Life Spies

Posted on August 15, 2018

by April S

The truth is often stranger than fiction. When it comes to true spy stories this phrase couldn’t be more perfect. After all, who would believe the CIA trained pigeons, ravens and cats to spy on people during the cold war? Initially, you’re probably thinking – really, says who? How could this possibly be true? According to the Smithsonian website, the CIA did indeed train animals to aid in the game of espionage. From ravens planting transmitters on windowsills to cats eavesdropping on conversations – it sounds kind of far-fetched, but it’s apparently true. And believe it or not, animals have been used to aid military intelligence dating all the way back to ancient Greece.

Sure, like most people, I have enjoyed the occasional spy novel, movie or television show. But, I’ll freely admit that I wouldn’t know the first thing about what it’s really like to be a spy or what their job entails.

More now than ever before, I’ve found myself wanting to explore the intriguing true stories behind some of those bestselling novels and movies. From the multitude of spy stories out there – how much of it is completely made up, embellished or based on real events? Then, by accident, while surfing the internet, I stumbled across an article about a recent CNN show, “Declassified: Untold Stories of American Spies,” which looks really interesting.

If only there were more hours in the day. The last movie I watched all the way through was probably five years ago. When you’re taking care of small children, mostly everything else takes a back seat. However, like many other working parents, I do still take the time to read on my lunch hour, which is typically the only respite in a day often filled with chaos. Even if you’re incredibly busy these days, I do hope you’ll find the time to enjoy at least one of the compelling books listed below.

Nonfiction Spy Books

Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America by Jack Barsky

Deep Undercover: My Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America” by Jack Barsky

An ex-Soviet KGB agent details his primary mission to work undercover in the United States for over a decade and discusses his change of allegiance and defection from the KGB.

Also available in eBook and eAudio.

How to Catch a Russian Spy: The True Story of an American Civilian Turned Double Agent by Naveed Jamali and Ellis Henican

How to Catch a Russian Spy: The True Story of an American Civilian Turned Double Agent” by Naveed Jamali and Ellis Henican

In this armchair spy story brought to life, the author, a young American amateur and covert double agent who helped the FBI bust a Russian spy in New York, shares his one-of-a-kind story of how a post-college adventure became a real-life US counter-intelligence coup.

Also available in Audio and eAudio.

A Cool and lonely courage : the untold story of sister spies in Occupied France / Susan Ottaway

A Cool and Lonely Courage: The Untold Story of Sister Spies in Occupied France” by Susan Ottaway

Tells the story of British special agents Eileen and Jacqueline Nearne, two sisters who risked everything to fight for freedom in Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War, in a riveting tale that details Jacqueline’s work as a courier for the French resistance and Eileen’s capture by the Gestapo and internment at the Ravensbrüch concentration camp.

Also available in eAudio.

A Spy Named Orphan : The Enigma of Donald Maclean by Roland Philipps

A Spy Named Orphan: The Enigma of Donald Maclean” by Roland Philipps

Draws on previously classified files and unseen family papers to document the story of one of the most treacherous spies of the Cold War era and a key member of the infamous “Cambridge Five” spy ring.

The Good Spy : The Life and Death of Robert Ames by Kai Bird

The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames” by Kai Bird

Drawing on extensive interviews with Ames’ widow and quotes from his private letters, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer presents a brilliant narrative of the making of America’s most influential and effective intelligence officer in the Middle East.

Also available in eBook and eAudio.

Agent Zigzag : a true story of Nazi espionage, love, and betrayal by Ben MacIntyre

Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love and Betrayal” by Ben MacIntyre

A gripping portrait of the ultimate double agent draws on recently declassified documents to recount the remarkable exploits of the enigmatic Eddie Chapman, Agent Zigzag, a criminal, con man, and philanderer trained by the Nazis as a spy who became a British agent at the heart of the German Secret Service.

Also available in eBook and eAudio.

Agent M: The Lives and Spies of MI5's Maxwell Knight by Henry Hemming

Agent M: The Lives and Spies of MI5’s Maxwell Knight” by Henry Hemming

Drawing on declassified documents, family archives and original interviews, a biography follows the great MI5 spymaster and inspiration for the James Bond character M, who did more than any other to break up British fascism during World War II, and also reveals, for the first time in print, the names and stories of the men and women recruited by him.

Queen of Spies: Daphne Park, Britain's Cold War Spy Master by Paddy Hayes

Queen of Spies: Daphne Park, Britain’s Cold War Spy Master” by Paddy Hayes

Documents the true story of the female British secret intelligence officer to share insights into the significance of her achievements in a male-dominated organization, offering intimate narratives of her Cold War-era missions and her celebrated appointment as one of the SIS’s elite Area Controllers.

Spies in the Family by Eva Dillon

Spies in the Family” by Eva Dillon

A veteran magazine journalist and daughter of a high-ranking American intelligence officer traces the story of her family’s influential relationship with the family of the CIA’s highest-ranking double agent at the height of the Cold War.

The last goodnight : a World War II story of espionage, adventure, and betrayal / Howard Blum

The Last Goodnight: A World War II Story of Espionage, Adventure and Betrayal” by Howard Blum

Presents a portrait of American debutante and World War II spy Betty Pack that draws on recently declassified files to explore her MI-6 career and key role in successful Allied missions.

Toledo Library Blog Posts Featuring Spies in Fiction and Nonfiction

Mission Accomplished: True Stories of Great Spies and Spycraft

A Brief History of the Spy Fiction Genre

Looking for More Books Focusing on Spies?

Five Books About Espionage – Tor.com

8 New Spy Books to Add to Your Reading List This Year – Signature

8 Novels and Nonfiction Books to Help You Understand the Cold War – Culture Trip

Top 10 Books About Spies – The Guardian

15 Nonfiction Spy Books More Thrilling Than John le Carré – Early Bird Books

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