The Very best Reads of 2023: A Holiday Gift Guide

Holiday break Specific REPORT – In this period of offering, your friendly community Cipher Brief “Undercover” staff – which spends the bulk of the calendar year publishing e book critiques and interviews with authors and publishers – offers our annual listing of textbooks to take into account when you are buying for the close friend who has everything or the family member who is really interested in intelligence, international coverage, nationwide security, and/or spy fiction. Our record also could possibly be beneficial if you’re wanting to drop some hints to Santa for things you’d like to uncover in your own stocking this yr.

In which TO Commence?

The clear spot to start is in the e book evaluate portion of The Cipher Quick. Throughout 2023, we released evaluations of 45 guides. That selection of guides is too unwieldy for this checklist, so we thought we’d pare it down and concentrate on those people which earned the optimum honors of 3.5 or 4 Trench Coats (The Cipher Brief’s score process for singling out excellence.) But even that did not set substantially of a dent in the workload – given that 27 of our 45 publications scored all those optimum rankings.

Editor’s notice: the Trench Coat ratings are entirely established by our volunteer reviewers – so your mileage could fluctuate. You may appreciate a book that only snared two Trench Coats from our reviewer – or dislike a person that gained 4.  But Cipher Quick reviewers bring a wealth of encounter and an eagle eye to the approach, so we suspect you are probably to agree.

Whilst we really don’t have the bandwidth to summarize even 27 guides, here are some standouts that our reviewers cherished the most. The the vast majority of the publications we reviewed had been non-fiction – so let’s transform that on its head and commence with some stellar novels.

OUR Most loved FICTION Textbooks

Cipher Quick qualified and veteran CIA Russia hand Paul Kolbe seriously preferred the latest novel from previous CIA analyst David McCloskey named Moscow X. In Paul’s overview he wrote that he was “intrigued by and in the long run immersed, in a wonderful plot seasoned with common tradecraft, new methodologies and powerful people.” If you are intrigued by McCloskey – verify out the interview he did with us for our Deal with Stories podcast.

We turned to Rob Richer, a former higher-rating CIA clandestine service officer (and Cipher Brief professional) with tons of encounter in the Center East to critique The Peacock and the Sparrow a novel prepared by a further former CIA officer, I.S. Berry.  Richer praised Berry’s skill to capture the “political complexity and inside sensitivities” of Bahrain and prose so sharp audience can “see the streets explained in their mind’s eye, to perception the ambiance, and (even) envision the smells.”

The Cipher Temporary has on get in touch with, Dr. Ken Dekleva, a former Point out Office Regional Clinical Officer/Psychiatrist, to assistance us assessment various espionage novels. He awarded The Lifeless Drop by James Roth, a reliable 3.5 trench coats. That book is about a northern Virginia teen who stumbles throughout a useless drop that sales opportunities to a complicated tale of KGB vs CIA chilly war espionage.

Before in the year, Dr. Dekleva reviewed: A True American Patriot: A Novel by retired CIA officer Dan O’Connor. The novel has two protagonists – “Doc” – who Dekleva describes as a combination of “Secret Assistance agent and CIA paramilitary officer” and “the Professor” who is “gifted in math, physics, unique overseas languages, and diplomacy.” Together they confront terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and a lot more. By the way, we convert to Dr. Dekleva not just mainly because of his capability to examine the personalities of the people in the publications he testimonials – but he is also a novelist on his own correct acquiring prepared The Negotiators Cross and The Last Violinist.


There are so many excellent titles to pick from. Calder Walton, Assistant Director of the Harvard Center’s Utilized Historical past and Intelligence projects, was out with Spies: The Epic Intelligence War Involving East and West this summer season, so we turned to Daniel Hoffman, a previous senior CIA officer, a few-time station main and Cipher Brief professional to break it down for us. Dan identified it to be a “fascinating heritage of cloak and dagger espionage” which “lifts the veil on the multifarious clandestine operations Russia and the West executed from a single an additional for above a century.” If you want to know more about how that book came to be, Walder reveals some of the secrets of his scholarship in this Cover Stories podcast.

Then there was a guide by Andrew Hoehn and Thom Shanker, Age of Risk, where they resolve the easy challenge described in the subtitle of “Keeping The us Harmless in an Period of New Superpowers, New Weapons, and New Threats.”  George Galdorisi, a former naval officer and bestselling writer of fiction and non-fiction in his own correct, reviewed the e book for us and known as it a “clear-headed and perfectly-reasoned argument that the U.S. policy, intelligence and armed service constructions, lots of of which day again to the conclude of Entire world War II, are no for a longer time enough to offer with today’s, and in particular tomorrow’s, threats.” Just kidding about that “simple solution” part. But if you want to know extra about Age of Danger check out our job interview with the authors for the Cover Tales podcast back again in May.

That leads us to the not too long ago released: Conflict: The Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine written by retired 4-star common (and Cipher Quick qualified) David Petraeus and British historian Lord Andrew Roberts. We leaned on the skills of Ben Griffin, the Chief of the Military Background Division of the U.S. Armed service Academy, for his consider on the ebook. He observed it a “thought-provoking e book which will attraction to policymakers, armed service leaders, and people intrigued in the research of war and approach.”

One more fan preferred is By All Signifies Out there: Memoirs of a Life in Intelligence, Special Operations and System by Cipher Transient Expert Dr. Michael Vickers. Cipher Short COO Brad Christian liked the guide so a lot that he’s hoping Vickers will run for president.

A recurring theme in some of the books we reviewed was the function of girls in intelligence and military services operations.  Lots of of individuals roles ended up laudatory – like all those described in Valiant Women of all ages: The Amazing American Servicewomen Who Served Acquire World War II by Lena Andrews, which was reviewed for us by previous senior CIA officer (and TCB pro) Linda Weissgold, and Gals in Intelligence: The Concealed History of Two Globe Wars by Helen Fry – which was reviewed by the aforementioned Lena Andrews (an example of how we try to faucet the deep experience of individuals to assessment books for us.)  

Other women who have been topics of textbooks reviewed in The Cipher Quick had been not deserving of emulating – for example Ana Montes, a Defense Intelligence Company official (reviewed in this article) who spied for Cuba and was the issue of two guides reviewed in TCB: Code Name Blue Wren by Jim Popkin (who also joined us in this Protect Stories podcast) and “Queen of Cuba” by former FBI exclusive agent Pete Lapp, which was reviewed for us by retired CIA senior counterintelligence executive (and Cipher Transient professional) Mark Kelton.

We could go on and on about some terrific – and practically good — books reviewed in The Cipher Short – but time, house and strength recommend we halt in this article.  But to locate other textbooks that fit your personalized interests – or all those of your gift recipients – test out the shelves full of textbooks reviewed around the past year and prior to at this hyperlink.

What is NEW IN 2024?

We’re so glad you questioned.  There are some intriguing new textbooks coming out in the new 12 months that we’re seeking forward to looking at (and reviewing).

In early January glance for God, Guns, and Sedition: Far-Right Terrorism in America by Cipher Brief qualified Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware (reviewed by Philip Mudd.) In February, glimpse for The Beverly Hills Spy: The Double-Agent War Hero Who Assisted Japan Assault Pearl Harbor by Ronald Drabkin (reviewed by TCB qualified Joe Augustyn). 

Later on that thirty day period, there will be The Achilles Entice: Saddam Hussen, The CIA, and the Origins of America’s Invasion of Iraq by Steve Coll, and March will see the publication of  2054: A Novel, a futuristic search at synthetic intelligence blended with a violent partisan divide in the long term could lead to an existential menace to America. That reserve is by Cipher Brief qualified Admiral James Stavridis and Elliot Ackerman.

Within just the checklist above, are just some of the great books we have reviewed in The Cipher Transient. To discover the comprehensive record going again some 5 a long time – go to our web page.  And really don’t forget to subscribe to the Cover Stories podcast, in which we do interviews with authors, publishers, agents and Hollywood movers and shakers.

One Extra Thing

If you think you have the chops to be a Cipher Brief reviewer – fall us a take note. Allow us know of your pursuits and area of specialty in an electronic mail to: [email protected]. 

You really don’t have to have a individual forthcoming e book in head – just let us know that you are intrigued and we will try out to match up the suitable guides with the appropriate possible reviewers.

Check out out our Reviewer Suggestions.

You will be aware that we always try out to discover reviewers with deep abilities and passions of their very own to match that of the books’ authors. If you imagine you have what it normally takes to be a Cipher Temporary reviewer, e-mail us at [email protected]

We have obtained lots of excellent books (and a several negative types) on the horizon – and will need fantastic reviewers to assistance us kind them out.

Complete disclosure:  The Cipher Temporary participates in the Amazon Affiliate method and may well make a small commission from purchases built by way of inbound links. That doesn’t improve the cost you fork out – we just get a extremely, quite compact slice of Jeff Bezos’ earnings. 

Examine far more professional-driven countrywide protection insights, standpoint and evaluation in The Cipher Short because National Security is Everyone’s Organization

Resource connection

Holiday break Specific REPORT – In this period of offering, your friendly community Cipher Brief “Undercover” staff – which spends the bulk of the calendar year publishing e book critiques and interviews with authors and publishers – offers our annual listing of textbooks to take into account when you are buying for the close friend who…