What to Read When You Are Surrounded by Spies


This week WikiLeaks revealed details of CIA hacking programs. Between that and the news that John le Carré is back with a new novel this fall, The Legacy of Spies, we felt that the book list most relevant to this moment is a book list about spies. Here are a few of our favorite spy novels. Watch your back!


The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen is a wonderful spy novel by an incredible writer. And, check out our recent interview with Nguyen.


Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan is a novel about writing and espionage and manipulating the cultural conversation. The book comes highly recommended by Rumpus Books Editor Brian Hurley.


Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson tells the story of disinformation, Vietnam, and disillusionment. Also, highly recommended by our Books Editor, who is not a spy… we think.


What spy novel list would be complete without everyone’s favorite spy, Harriet? Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh is such a charming book that talks about truth and story in a way that is accessible for everyone.


Although not exactly about spies in the traditional sense, The Animal Too Big to Kill by Shane McCrae has an element of the spy. McCrae writes about a black poet who was raised by his white supremacist grandparents. And as our Poetry Editor Brian Spears notes, “there is a look behind the curtain aspect to it.”


In Finks, Joel Whitney examines how the CIA colluded with literary magazines and writers like Peter Matthiessen, George Plimpton, and Richard Wright to create propaganda during the 1960s. It’s a disturbing look at the line between surveillance and freedom and the lies we believe about our culture. Oh and you should also read this article about the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the CIA.