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Spy Life: Fiction and Fact

Spy Life: Fiction and Fact

August 24, 2021

Espionage fiction is a staple in the world of thrillers. One of the best-known and most-beloved spies is, of course, Ian Fleming’s famous James Bond. A British Secret Service agent, code name 007, the character was created back in the ’50s. Seven decades later, the Bond franchise still enthralls readers, new and old.

Since Fleming’s death in the ’60s, many authors have been commissioned to write continuous works, including a prequel to how James Bond became a 007, a Young Bond series, and of course, who can forget the action-packed, blockbuster films?

But why do we love spy fiction? Because we know that real people live the spy life, despite their dealings being clouded in mystery. Our curiosity about the secret, the hidden, is what drives us to seek out fiction to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

Over the past year, however, I’ve being reading up on the nonfiction spy world, and I’ve been captivated by reality vs. fiction. If you’re interested in looking at nonfiction espionage, here are my five top picks to get you started. In no particular order:

  1. Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA by Amaryllis Fox 
    Live Undercover offers a look at a spy’s life, both undercover and without cover. It’s a fast-paced read that pulls you into Fox’s life growing up, how she was recruited, her steps into the CIA's clandestine services, and her experiences. This title is also available as a kit for a book group.
  2. Agent Sonya: Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy by Ben Macintyre 
    Ben Macintyre is a master researcher, and he leaves no stone unturned in the story of Ursula Burton, a housewife with three children in a sleepy village in the British countryside, who turned out to be a high-ranking Soviet intelligence officer. She was instrumental in helping Russia obtain the scientific data that brought nuclear power to the country. This title is also available as a kit for a book group.
  3. Gray Day: My Undercover Mission to Expose America’s First Cyber Spy by Eric O’Neill
    Cyber expert Eric O’Neill shares his investigation into Robert Hanssen, who at only 26 years old went undercover, untrained, to collect evidence against his boss, a spy for the Russians for almost two decades. This story will pull you straight into the world of cyberespionage. 
  4. The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell: A Dyslexic Traitor, An Unbreakable Code, and the FBI’s Hunt for America’s Stolen Secrets by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee
    Brian Regan stole more than 200,000 pages of government secrets with the intention to sell them to China, Iraq, and Libya for millions. When Agent Steven Carr received a package of coded letters sent to the Libyan consulate, the complex coded messages were made even more baffling by Regan's dyslexia. This story is easy to read and very insightful.
  5. Code Name: Lise – The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy by Larry Loftis
    Odette Samson was a British Spy who operated in occupied France as part of the UK’s clandestine Special Operations Executive (SOE). Ultimately captured, she was one of only a few to survive Nazi imprisonment. This story showcases her tenacity and strength. Expect to get sucker-punched a time or two by the feelings evoked here.

Lisa P.
Information and Reader Services Department

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