It’s easy to see why people who like spy stories are so devoted to the genre. All of the best spy novels are exciting. They’re also dangerous and sometimes a little bit sexy. It’s not just night vision goggles that they look at in a new way. Their heroes speak at least seven languages and drive at least four expensive cars, all of which are well above the speed limit, as we might add. Plus, admit it: you’ve always thought you’d be a great spy, even though you didn’t want to admit it.
Well, that’s great! The best spy novels of all time are on this list. If you want to live out your dreams through reading, we’ve got you covered. These books will take you back in time and around the world. They range from old-fashioned classics of the genre to cutting-edge modern techno-thrillers. Toppling governments and scaling buildings from the comfort of your favorite reading chair are just some of the things you’ll be able to do.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré
One of Le Carré’s best-known books, “The Spy Who Loved Me,” has made him famous around the world. The third of Le Carré’s spy novels, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, is about a British Intelligence unit called “The Circus.” It is based on le Carré’s own experience working for MI5 and MI6 in the 1950s and 1960s. The story is about Agent Leamas, who is called to do one last thing. He goes undercover as a defector to East Germany in order to bring down the German Intelligence Unit.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is another well-known spy book. It takes place in the same fictional world as le Carré’s other spy books. Our story is about George Smiley, a former agent for The Circus who is now retired. He is called back into action to look for a member of the Circus who is a traitor. Smiley has to question everyone around him, even his most trusted friends, to find the mole who has cost the Circus so much money. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is peak le Carré at his best. It’s one of the best spy novels to show the danger and paranoia of betrayal.
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
Fisherman save Jason Bourne, the only survivor of an attack on the sea. When he wakes up, he has amnesia and can’t remember anything about himself or his past life except for the flashbacks. With only the information for a bank account, he goes out to try to figure out who he is. There is a panic when it becomes clear that Bourne had a very different life than most people think. It’s not clear what to be afraid of. Is it his past, or what he has to do next?
Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
This award-winning book, which is also Ken Follett’s first bestseller, tells the story of a German spy who is called “The Needle” because he always kills his victims with a needle-pointed blade. To save Nazi forces, he is the last German intelligence agent left. D-Day is a plan by the Allies to get them out of the way. MI5 wants him the most when he makes a big discovery that could change everything. To avoid being tracked down by British intelligence, The Needle flees. But then he meets someone he didn’t expect, and it could be the thing that ends his life. In this nail-biting race against time, we are reminded that even cold-blooded killers can get heartaches.
The Innocent by Ian McEwan
The Innocent is the story of Leonard Marnham, a 25-year-old British post office engineer who helps the U.S. spy on the Soviets by tapping their phone lines. It’s set in Cold War Berlin. In the middle of his work, he meets Maria Eckdorf, who is older and has been divorced. They start dating. However, Leonard gets caught up in a complicated cover-up when a ghost from Maria’s past comes to visit him. This man used to be very quiet, but now he has two very dangerous secrets. One of them has to go.
Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews
Afterwards, Dominika Egorova is forced to become a student at Russia’s top-secret “Sparrow School,” even though she doesn’t want to be there. There, she learns how to get enemy operatives into situations where she can get information from them. Her next target is Nathan Nash, who works for the CIA. It turns out that Nash sees Egorova coming, and what happens next is a thrilling chase that is filled with seduction and lies. Red Sparrow was written by a former CIA operative, and it is said to be one of the best books about espionage. The 2018 movie of the same name is worth reading if you like it.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
This Pulitzer Prize-winning first novel is about a captain in the South Vietnamese army who flees to the United States when Saigon fell in 1975. Following a trip to Los Angeles with the General he advises and his friends, the group finds it isn’t easy to get around in the United States the way they thought it was going to be. Because he’s a communist informant, the main character has a good reason to stay in the U.S. while the rest of the group is getting tired of their new home and wants to go back home. The Sympathizer is about a character who is always on the fence, from his mixed Vietnamese and French heritage to his duplicitous espionage.
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
She was a young FBI officer when she was sent to Burkina Faso, Africa, in 1986. She was sent there because communism was gaining ground there. Her main goal? People like Thomas Sankara, who was the real-life former president of Burkina Faso, are the only ones who can be charismatic. In spite of her displeasure with how the mission is run, she accepts the job. She will also have to deal with the fallout when the mission is over. American Spy is a clever blend of spy thriller and historical fiction that will show you a side of the Cold War that many people don’t know about.
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
As soon as Fleming wrote his first book, Casino Royale, the world’s favorite secret agent, 007, came into being. Bond is the name, and Baccarat is the game he plays as he tries to get rid of Le Chiffre, a Russian Secret Service agent. The stakes are high because he wants to make Le Chiffre go broke (which, as you can imagine, makes for some very sore losers). Life-or-death stakes rise even more when attempts to settle scores are thrown out of the window. Is Bond’s embrace from the female agent the haven he thinks it is? It’s the best place to start if you want to learn about how the myth and the legend came about.
The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
The ocean is the setting. Russia and the United States are the two teams that play. The reason why? When the Red October suddenly and mysteriously changed direction, it was the captain of a Soviet sub. That’s what happens in “The Red October,” one of the best espionage stories ever written. The submarine literally slips under the radar. The game of cat and mouse ensues, but there are two cats in this game: Russia and America. Tom Clancy’s first book, The Hunt for Red October, came out in 1984 and launched his career into the stratosphere. It also marks the first appearance of young CIA agent Jack Ryan, and it still stands the test of time today.