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I Spy 9 True Tales About Spies

Sarah Woodruff is an Ed/Lib Marketing Manager at Simon & Schuster. She long ago embraced the art of reading multiple books in a variety of genres at once, and is always eager to talk about them. You can find her at @swoodswords.

Spies are not just deceptive shapeshifters executing kills and lurking in shadows; they are often intelligent, creative, cunning, and resourceful, mastering multiple languages and roles. They wholeheartedly believe in their causes and are willing to sacrifice their lives for whichever country they’ve chosen to defend. Lucky for us, their stories also make for some exceptionally immersive reading.

Bonus: if you like a good color-coordinated bookshelf, every one of these book covers falls under a red, black, and white scheme. If that’s not the mark of a well-read spy, I don’t know what is.


How to Catch a Russian Spy
by Naveed Jamali

This book reassures me that I’m not the only one who fantasizes about what it might be like to be a spy. In HOW TO CATCH A RUSSIAN SPY, Pakistani-American Naveed Jamali goes one step farther: he recruits himself, convincing the FBI of his critical worth due to his parents’ research business. With their access to obscure journals and government reports, the Jamali family business entices a repeat Russian customer. Why wouldn’t the FBI be interested in the items this customer requests? Why wouldn’t they trust someone with no espionage experience to not only build rapport with a potential spy but also try to tempt him into committing a punishable offense by offering up government secrets? Jamali’s story is a memorable race to the finish.

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How to Catch a Russian Spy
Naveed Jamali

With an epilogue on recent Russian spying, a “page-turner of a memoir” (Publishers Weekly) about an American civilian with a dream, who worked as a double agent with the FBI in the early 2000s to bring down a Russian intelligence agent in New York City.

For three nerve-wracking years, from 2005 to 2008, Naveed Jamali spied on America for the Russians, trading thumb drives of sensitive technical data for envelopes of cash, selling out his beloved country across noisy restaurant tables and in quiet parking lots. Or so the Russians believed. In fact, Jamali was a covert double agent working with the FBI. The Cold War wasn’t really over. It had just gone high-tech.

“A classic case of American counterespionage from the inside…a never-ending game of cat and mouse” (The Wall Street Journal), How to Catch a Russian Spy is the story of how one young man’s post-college-adventure became a real-life intelligence coup. Incredibly, Jamali had no previous counterespionage experience. Everything he knew about undercover work he’d picked up from TV cop shows and movies, yet he convinced the FBI and the Russians they could trust him. With charm, cunning, and bold naiveté, he matched wits with a veteran Russian military-intelligence officer, out-maneuvering him and his superiors. Along the way, Jamali and his FBI handlers exposed espionage activities at the Russian Mission to the United Nations.

Jamali now reveals the full riveting story behind his double-agent adventure—from coded signals on Craigslist to clandestine meetings at Hooter’s to veiled explanations to his worried family. He also brings the story up to date with an epilogue showing how the very same playbook the Russians used on him was used with spectacularly more success around the 2016 election. Cinematic, news-breaking, and “an entertaining and breezy read” (The Washington Post), How to Catch a Russian Spy is an armchair spy fantasy brought to life.

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I Spy 9 True Tales About Spies

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A Spy Among Friends
by Ben Macintyre

My mouth might have dropped open when I first heard about Kim Philby. For years, this British spy fooled colleagues and his country into thinking he was a patriot, even when two of his close friends were found to be Russian spies; in 1963, Philby was ferried to Moscow, revealing his own role as a Soviet spy. Think about the amount of processes developed and missions executed that are now worthless, efforts that were doomed to fail. Think about the years of unknowingly tainted, untrustworthy information. As CIA officer Miles Copeland Jr. says in a 2014 New Yorker article about the betrayal, “We’d have been better off doing nothing.” This book dives into all of this and more, including Philby’s friendships with James Jesus Angleton, head of CIA counterintelligence, and Nicholas Elliott, fellow MI6 officer.

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A Spy Among Friends
Ben Macintyre

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True Believer
by Kati Marton

Spies are the reason neither Russia nor the United States attacked the other during the Cold War; that’s what I’ve taken from this book anyway, discovering both the insurmountable power and the necessity behind the undercover information-gathering era. Developments in technology and coded messages are just as interesting as the deep dive into the life of Noel Field, an American who agrees to spy for Stalin. Noel’s complexities, motivations, and impact are deftly explored by former NPR and ABC News correspondent and author Kati Marton. “In a plot twist worthy of John Le Carré,” the flap copy reads, and as a John Le Carré fan, I wholeheartedly agree.

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True Believer
Kati Marton

“Kati Marton’s True Believer is a true story of intrigue, treachery, murder, torture, fascism, and an unshakable faith in the ideals of Communism….A fresh take on espionage activities from a critical period of history” (Washington Independent Review of Books).

True Believer reveals the life of Noel Field, once a well-meaning and privileged American who spied for Stalin during the 1930s and forties. Later, a pawn in Stalin’s sinister master strategy, Field was kidnapped and tortured by the KGB and forced to testify against his own Communist comrades.

How does an Ivy League-educated, US State Department employee, deeply rooted in American culture and history, become a hardcore Stalinist? The 1930s, when Noel Field joined the secret underground of the International Communist Movement, were a time of national collapse. Communism promised the righting of social and political wrongs and many in Field’s generation were seduced by its siren song. Few, however, went as far as Noel Field in betraying their own country.

With a reporter’s eye for detail, and a historian’s grasp of the cataclysmic events of the twentieth century, Kati Marton, in a “relevant…fascinating…vividly reconstructed” (The New York Times Book Review) account, captures Field’s riveting quest for a life of meaning that went horribly wrong. True Believer is supported by unprecedented access to Field family correspondence, Soviet Secret Police records, and reporting on key players from Alger Hiss, CIA Director Allen Dulles, and World War II spy master, “Wild Bill” Donovan—to the most sinister of all: Josef Stalin. “Relevant today as a tale of fanaticism and the lengths it can take one to” (Publishers Weekly), True Believer is “riveting reading” (USA TODAY), an astonishing real-life spy thriller, filled with danger, misplaced loyalties, betrayal, treachery, and pure evil, with a plot twist worthy of John le Carré.

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The Spy Who Was Left Behind
by Michael Pullara

No, I don’t only like this book because the murdered CIA officer, Freddie Woodruff, shares my last name—but that was definitely what first caught my eye. Is our big family secret that many of us are in the CIA? Sadly, that theory didn’t pan out, but this gripping read sure did. Freddie was an American stationed in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, but his death was pinned on a local drunk, a tragedy devoid of political wrongdoing. Yet deaths involving government officials on foreign soil can never be as simple as they seem. THE SPY WHO WAS LEFT BEHIND offers an alternate course of events and motives, with interesting evidence including a meeting between Woodruff and Aldrich Ames, a CIA agent soon deemed KGB spy.

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The Spy Who Was Left Behind
Michael Pullara

The shocking true story of international intrigue involving the 1993 murder of CIA officer Freddie Woodruff by KGB agents and the extensive cover-up that followed in Washington and in Moscow.

On August 8, 1993, a single bullet to the head killed Freddie Woodruff, the Central Intelligence Agency’s station chief in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Within hours, police had a suspect—a vodka-soaked village bumpkin named Anzor Sharmaidze. A tidy explanation quickly followed: It was a tragic accident. US diplomats hailed Georgia’s swift work, and both countries breathed a sigh of relief.

Yet the bullet that killed Woodruff was never found and key witnesses have since retracted their testimony, saying they were beaten and forced to identify Sharmaidze. But if he didn’t do it, who did? Those who don’t buy the official explanation think the answer lies in the spy games that played out on Russia’s frontier following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Woodruff was an early actor in a dangerous drama. American spies were moving into newborn nations previously dominated by Soviet intelligence. Russia’s security apparatus, resentful and demoralized, was in turmoil, its nominal loyalty to a pro-Western course set by President Boris Yeltsin, shredded by hardline spooks and generals who viewed the Americans as a menace.

At the time when Woodruff was stationed there, Georgia was a den of intrigue. It had a big Russian military base and was awash with former and not-so-former Soviet agents. Shortly before Woodruff was shot, veteran CIA officer Aldrich Ames—who would soon be unmasked as a KGB mole—visited him on agency business. In short order, Woodruff would be dead and Ames, in prison for life. Buckle up, because The Spy Who Was Left Behind reveals the full-throttle, little-known thrilling tale.

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Strangers on a Bridge
by James B. Donovan

I tend to struggle with courthouse dramas, but STRANGERS ON A BRIDGE completely changed my stance on them. Getting glimpses of accused Russian spy Colonel Abel’s demeanor throughout his New York City–based trial and listening to James B. Donovan amend his morals to defend and develop a certain comradery with the man is both a riveting and informative piece of the 1960s Cold War climate. Assembled from Donovan’s journals, memories, and court transcripts, the book also provides fodder for the movie BRIDGE OF SPIES.

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Strangers on a Bridge
James B. Donovan

This insider account of the dramatic Cold War spy exchange on the bridge connecting East and Wester Berlin is part memoir, part espionage thriller, and now the subject of a major motion picture. Directed by Steven Spielberg with a script written by the Coen brothers and starring the acting talents of Tom Hanks, Alan Alda, and Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies is guaranteed to be one of this fall's hottest films.

Release Date: October 16, 2015

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13 Books You’ll Want to Read Before They Hit the Big Screen

By Emma Volk | July 14, 2015

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The Devil's Chessboard
by David Talbot

How do you fit Allen Dulles’ decade as CIA director into one book? It’s not easy. This volume weighs in at over 600 pages, stuffed with fascinating facts about topics like counterintelligence, Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and McCarthyism, and Nazi-controlled cartels, with references to critical spy cases including that of Noel Field. Much of the focus is on Allen Dulles and his CIA agenda, his political opinions and struggles, and his methods for achieving his goals, no matter what the cost.

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The Devil's Chessboard
David Talbot

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Agent 110
by Scott Miller

For a shorter, more focused account of Allen Dulles’ efforts in the intelligence field, AGENT 110 provides a great entry point. Think pre-CIA, when the OSS was working to set the stage for larger intelligence-gathering government organizations. Dulles was in charge of setting up an OSS outpost in Switzerland during WWII, using code number 110 to communicate with his spies. Switzerland was teeming with spies of all nationalities during this time period, providing an exciting backdrop for a man like Dulles. The book opens with a helpful timeline and principal characters list, and showcases photographs of Dulles and his cohorts, including the “mysterious German agent” Hans Bernd Gisevius.

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Agent 110
Scott Miller

The “lively and engrossing” (The Wall Street Journal) story of how OSS spymaster Allen Dulles built an underground network determined to take down Hitler and destroy the Third Reich.

Agent 110 is Allen Dulles, a newly minted spy from an eminent family. From his townhouse in Bern, Switzerland, and in clandestine meetings in restaurants, back roads, and lovers’ bedrooms, Dulles met with and facilitated the plots of Germans during World War II who were trying to destroy the country’s leadership. Their underground network exposed Dulles to the political maneuverings of the Soviets, who were already competing for domination of Germany, and all of Europe, in the post-war period.

Scott Miller’s “absorbing and bracing” (The Seattle Times) Agent 110 explains how leaders of the German Underground wanted assurances from Germany’s enemies that they would treat the country humanely after the war. If President Roosevelt backed the resistance, they would overthrow Hitler and shorten the war. But Miller shows how Dulles’s negotiations fell short. Eventually he was placed in charge of the CIA in the 1950s, where he helped set the stage for US foreign policy. With his belief that the ends justified the means, Dulles had no qualms about consorting with Nazi leadership or working with resistance groups within other countries to topple governments.

Agent 110 is “a doozy of a dossier on Allen Dulles and his early days spying during World War II” (Kirkus Reviews). “Miller skillfully weaves a double narrative of Dulles’ machinations and those of the German resistance” (Booklist) to bring to life this exhilarating, and pivotal, period of world history—of desperate renegades in a dark and dangerous world where spies, idealists, and traitors match wits and blows to ensure their vision of a perfect future.

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Fair Game
by Valerie Plame Wilson

I remembered hearing about Valerie Plame in the news, but I didn’t grasp the sacrifice and devastation of her controversial tale until Netflix recommended that I watch the movie adaptation, Fair Game. Left with some unanswered questions and the need for more details from Valerie herself, I turned to her memoir, which reconstructs the events that led the government to reveal her status as a CIA operative, ending her career and endangering her open missions and overseas contacts.

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Fair Game
Valerie Plame Wilson

On July 6, 2003, four months after the United States invaded Iraq, former ambassador Joseph Wilson's now historic op-ed, "What I Didn't Find in Africa," appeared in The New York Times. A week later, conservative pundit Robert Novak revealed in his newspaper column that Ambassador Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was a CIA operative. The public disclosure of that secret information spurred a federal investigation and led to the trial and conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, and the Wilsons' civil suit against top officials of the Bush administration. Much has been written about the "Valerie Plame" story, but Valerie herself has been silent, until now. Some of what has been reported about her has been frighteningly accurate, serving as a pungent reminder to the Wilsons that their lives are no longer private. And some has been completely false -- distorted characterizations of Valerie and her husband and their shared integrity.

Valerie Wilson retired from the CIA in January 2006, and now, not only as a citizen but as a wife and mother, the daughter of an Air Force colonel, and the sister of a U.S. marine, she sets the record straight, providing an extraordinary account of her training and experiences, and answers many questions that have been asked about her covert status, her responsibilities, and her life. As readers will see, the CIA still deems much of the detail of Valerie's story to be classified. As a service to readers, an afterword by national security reporter Laura Rozen provides a context for Valerie's own story.

Fair Game is the historic and unvarnished account of the personal and international consequences of speaking truth to power.

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Red Notice
by Bill Browder

When I read RED NOTICE, I was on an island in Colombia at night, staring out at an inky black ocean from a nearly empty pool deck, trying to convince my friends that it was okay to care more about finishing this book than our vacation. While it may not technically fall under the spy category, shady behavior is certainly whisked up behind the scenes, espionage tactics are used, and political are battles waged. Bill Browder, an American-born businessman living in London, opened an investment fund and asset management company in Russia in the 90s. Suddenly he was fighting to expose corruption and to avenge his Russian lawyer’s death. The book begins with a chilling author’s note, saying, “Everything in this book is true and will surely offend some very powerful and dangerous people.”

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Red Notice
Bill Browder

New York Times bestseller

THE BOOK THAT EXPLAINS WHY RUSSIANS WANTED TO MEET WITH THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN

“Part John Grisham-like thriller, part business and political memoir.” —The New York Times

“[Red Notice] does for investing in Russia and the former Soviet Union what Liar’s Poker did for our understanding of Salomon Brothers, Wall Street, and the mortgage-backed securities business in the 1980s. Browder’s business saga meshes well with the story of corruption and murder in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, making Red Notice an early candidate for any list of the year’s best books” (Fortune).

This is a story about an accidental activist. Bill Browder started out his adult life as the Wall Street maverick whose instincts led him to Russia just after the breakup of the Soviet Union, where he made his fortune.

Along the way he exposed corruption, and when he did, he barely escaped with his life. His Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky wasn’t so lucky: he ended up in jail, where he was tortured to death. That changed Browder forever. He saw the murderous heart of the Putin regime and has spent the last half decade on a campaign to expose it. Because of that, he became Putin’s number one enemy, especially after Browder succeeded in having a law passed in the United States—The Magnitsky Act—that punishes a list of Russians implicated in the lawyer’s murder. Putin famously retaliated with a law that bans Americans from adopting Russian orphans.

A financial caper, a crime thriller, and a political crusade, Red Notice is the story of one man taking on overpowering odds to change the world, and also the story of how, without intending to, he found meaning in his life.

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I Spy 9 True Tales About Spies

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