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10 Best Ben Macintyre Books (2024)

Best Ben Macintyre BooksHistory of Success

Ben Macintyre is a British author and historian known for his many historical espionage writings. He is also one of the columnists for The Times as of now where he shares his thoughts on historical happenings as well as controversial events of our day. As you can guess, he has achieved a lot of success as his books hold multiple bestseller titles and five of them have been made into documentaries for BBC.

Ben’s family history is more than impressive thanks to his father Angus Donald Macintyre. Angus had been a tutor in the University of Oxford’s Magdalen College before he was chosen as the Principal of Hertford College, Oxford. He also served as the head editor for the Oxford Historical Monographs in the seventies and as an editor of The English Historical Review for about ten years. Despite his father’s history with Oxford though, Ben would graduate from Cambridge’s history department.

Best Ben Macintyre Books

The Spy and the Traitor


A Complete Turn-Around

Kicking off this article with one of the best selling books by Ben Macintyre, we have The Spy and the Traitor. It is a real story from one of the Cold War conflicts England and Soviet Russia had. What is really interesting is that the author does not spare any expenses to talk with anyone involved in the event who is still alive which also includes one of the main characters Mr. Oleg Gordievsky.

Mr. Oleg Gordievsky was a secret agent for the Soviet information agency KGB. He would go on to switch sides with the MI6 project that was aimed to keep England safe by placing undercover agents in critical positions. All the intel Gordievsky provided the English with potentially saved the whole world from complete nuclear annihilation and might have played a part in the fall of the Soviets.

Can a Man Change History?

From what I gather, this book is about the place of individuals in times of great conflict between nations. It includes a protagonist who single-handedly changed the course of history after all and it was all thanks to him taking a stand against things he saw as problematic. I would say it is a sure thing The Spy and the Traitor is among the best novels by Ben Macintyre and I highly advise giving it a chance.

A Spy Among Friends


Going Behind Their Backs

Second on our list is a piece amid the most popular Ben Macintyre books, A Spy Among Friends. Staying loyal to its title, it talks about the life of a man named Kim Philby and what is maybe one of the greatest betrayals of known human history. It is also a book involving the Cold War and it even revolves around the MI6 intelligence operation that we talked about.

Kim Philby was maybe the best spy to ever have walked the earth. He rose through the ranks of Britain’s intelligence operations until he became the head of operations during the cold war, he knew everything going on in England, and he even earned the trust of CIA’s head officer James J. Angleton. Yet, unbeknownst to Angleton and his childhood friend from MI6 who protected him against everything- he had been working for the Soviets.

Open Your Mind

Reading this kind of a book can really open up someone’s perspective of the past as it certainly did with mine. We had a story of a man staying true to himself and his values in the previous title, in this one we have almost the exact opposite. Philby goes as far as to backstab his dearest friend in the name of a cause that he is just a pawn in. Inspecting the psychological aspects of these books is fascinating.

Operation Mincemeat


Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

We are continuing our Ben Macintyre book list with the book Operation Mincemeat, the first piece in the article that takes place in a war. The Second World War happened during an era of rapid technological breakthroughs. As new communication and intelligence technologies were developed, research on counter-techs that aimed to turn them obsolete would immediately start. And at times, desperate choices had to be made for the survival of nations.

Two men, Charles Cholmondeley from MI5 and Ewen Montagu of the British Naval Intelligence came up with a disturbing but genius idea to help their countries get the upper hand in the ongoing war. In 1943, allies were planning on invading Sicily as it was a critical geologic location. NAZIs, however, foresaw this and the allies had to deceive them into thinking they were wrong. The duo’s solution to this was to dress up a corpse with false documents as bait.

Depth of Character

Operation Mincemeat is a prime example of what moral decisions can be taken during times of prevalent, widespread stress. Another thing I really admired about the book was how deep this one of the best books by Ben Macintyre went with the depth of the characters. We are not just limited by the actions these men decided to take. Instead, we are allowed to witness the finest details of their motives and personalities.

Agent Zigzag


An Agent of All Sides

Going forward with the top Ben Macintyre books, I will now go over Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal. I usually try to explain what you can expect from a book before I talk about its content but this piece achieves this with just its title alone. It is a story of yet another Second World War double agent who worked with nearly everyone involved in the war and had his MI5 files recently declassified.

German-trained Eddie Chapman was delivered to London via parachute, with the sole purpose of blowing up an airplane factory. Eddie had different plans for himself though, he would go on to join England’s MI5 team and work as a double agent for them. He was so good at his job that he managed to work all around Europe with different personas and even received an Iron Cross from the very Nazis he was planning to assassinate the leader.

A Real Human Being

I think Agent Zigzag deserves the best Ben Macintyre book title the most in-between all of the books that I have gone over so far. It is a work of excellent character creation, flawless research, and the most important aspect of them all, it is moving. Historical figures like Chapman are hard to relate to for us, we are much more used to seeing them as mythological figures. The author turns the scale upside down though and gives us a real human being.

Agent Sonya


Unassuming Threat

Agent Sonya is a very exciting piece with being the latest Ben Macintyre book that we have included in the list. It was published just two years ago in twenty-twenty and it shares with us the story of, as the title states, one of the most daring and perhaps the most subtle wartime spies in history. The author gives us a story of the peculiar Ursula “Sonya” Burton, using her diaries, letters, and secret documents as his source.

If you were living in the English village of Cotswolds during ninety-forty-two by any chance, Ursula Burton would seem to you as an average village woman with her machinist husband and three children. She only had a slight foreigner accent and a closed-off attitude. However, she and her husband were veteran agents of the Soviet Union. Ursula ran a comms network in Europe and she was hunted down by all parties of the Second World War and then some more.

Balancing the Scales

In the end, Agent Sonya would complete her mission with utmost success and deliver top-secret scientific developments to aid the Soviet Union in building their very own nuclear weapons. To sum up, Ben Macintyre’s new book tells us the story of a legendary spy who changed the course of humanity. A spy who could have been the main contributor to the Soviet Union’s nuclear arming and the eventual Cold War.

Double Cross


The Real History

As we are halfway through the article, I will present you with one of the best rated books by Ben Macintyre titled Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies. The phrase “True Story” might have come off to you as pretentious or an exaggeration. Yet I can assure you that it fits in perfectly with the contents of the book.

The book includes the not-so-widely known Double Cross Operation run by the English to efficiently turn German spies into double agents. This might come off as a bit shocking to you already but there is more. Macintyre also reveals the identity of an unknown yet very impactful spy who singlehandedly saved the existence of the Double Cross through a selfless sacrifice.

Beyond Informative

Double Cross is by far one of the most eye-opening books that I have read in terms of modern warfare. It is beyond informative with all of the previously-withheld information that it shares and the peek it allows us into the world of early intelligence units. It also tells the story from the point view of highly critical people of power which just drags you into the story.

Rogue Heroes


A Story Kept Secret

The next piece that we will take a look at among our Ben Macintyre book reviews is Rogue Heroes, a story hardly ever told before. The source of material for the book comes from the Special Air Service itself as they have finally decided to publicly share some contents of their secret archives. Archives that also include the story of how and by whom was this military division founded in the first place.

David Sterling and his men were sent to fight in the Western Desert of Egypt in the blazing summer weather of nineteen-forty-one. The ambitious David Sterling would come off with a controversial plan that could help them out on a major scale if it was to be successful. He wanted to put together a small group of undercover soldiers to disrupt the enemy lines. In spite of every opposing voice, Winston Churchill would give Sterling the go-ahead, founding the SAS.

Lacking the Thrill

I am not really sure how I feel about this book and this is usually not a good sign. Sure, it is a tale of courage and heroism and it includes a war of wits which is always a good addition if it is portrayed properly. I would still say it is a long way from being the best Ben Macintyre book as I feel it does not contain the usual thrill of the author’s work.

The Napoleon of Crime


The Original Criminal Mastermind

Next up among our best Ben Macintyre books is a book that takes us further down our history compared to the author’s usual works, The Napoleon of Crime. It is the biography of a crime legend from the Victorian Era and a case study of one of the first and perhaps the best “modern” criminal masterminds. The man who inspired countless crime writers to write the perfect villain.

Adam Worth was a genius of his time who knew how to use his intelligence for his own benefit. He was at the heart of the unspoken, illegal activities in London and he was a respected member of Victorian society which also added more to his fearsomeness. He designed and overlooked criminal activities in London, Paris, New York, and even South Africa until he was betrayed.

Not Many Records

I am sure you will not have a hard time guessing that a genius crime lord as Adam Worth would not leave records of his activities. Well, he does not. This is a very big problem with the book and it is all the more intensified with the book actually being more than decent, even with the narrow historical records at hand.

The Englishman’s Daughter


Away From the Machine Gun

Nearing the end of our Ben Macintyre books ranked article, I will introduce you to The Englishman’s Daughter. It is a story from the First World War as you probably expect but this time, the story told in the book is far away from the battlefield or intelligence operations. It is a story of those that were left behind.

During the war, inhabitants of the French village named Villeret decided to provide shelter to four English soldiers who fell behind the enemy lines on the Western Front. While the soldiers enjoy the safety they have, one of them named Private Robert Digby falls in love and impregnates the beautiful Claire Dessenne of the village. Their child, however, will be involved in an undeserved betrayal.

Extensive Research

The lengths Ben Macintyre will go to find accurate writing material for his books is beyond impressive for me. And he goes completely overboard with this piece as he is not learning the events from a secret archive but does so from various testimonies of the villagers and the personal mails of the four British men involved in the event. Searching to find the absolute truth is a quality of Macintyre I am grateful for.

For Your Eyes Only


A Classic of Our Time

The last one of the Ben Macintyre books that I have in order for you is a very different piece than the rest of the author’s work, For Your Eyes Only. It was published in twenty-eighteen along with an exhibition that shares the same name. It takes into hand the pinnacle of our day’s espionage fiction, James Bond along with the famous writer of the series Ian Fleming.

It explores the real-world inspirations that led to the creation of the iconic series. Before all, it talks about Fleming’s past as an undercover agent during the Second World War. Then it goes on to elaborate on the different role models on which Fleming based his characters, including James Bond himself as well as his assisting squad, lovers, and enemies.

Recognition to Where it is Due

Today, the James Bond character is most dominantly known from the series’ countless movie adaptations. In this sense, it is refreshing to see the written source of the character get the attention that it deserves. The book lacks quite a number of interesting aspects that we are used to seeing from the author. However, I still think this piece could be one of the best Ben Macintyre books for getting into the writer.

Final Thoughts


Ben Macintyre is a journalist before anything else. He does not hold back from meddling in intelligence agency activities if it means he will uncover secrets or end debates on a character that he is working with. The knowledge he possesses as a result of his years of experience as a journalist and research writer also brings his work to a whole another level. If nothing else, he is a voice to be heard about the twentieth century’s intelligence warfare.

Robert Hazley

Robert is a science fiction and fantasy geek. (He is also the best looking Ereads writer!) Besides reading and writing, he enjoys sports, cosplay, and good food (don't we all?). Currently works as an accountant (would you believe that?)