The Lives of Double Agents

The story of the Jordanian spy who betrayed the CIA and blew himself up is stranger than fiction. From Kim Philby to Ian Fleming’s Vesper Lynd, VIEW OUR GALLERY of famous double-crossers.



The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
By John Le Carré

From the Cold War master spy novelist, this is the quintessential novel about the treacherous world of double agents. Le Carré builds a political chessboard in his account of a British agent who fails to protect double agents in Cold War Berlin. Instead of getting the boot, Leamas is told to merely play the part of a failure, and he finds himself deep in Communist territory, in a dangerous game with his enemies. And who better to write a spy story than Le Carré himself, who was working for British Intelligence when the Berlin Wall went up? The novel has gained recognition as the “finest spy story ever written,” and was faithfully adapted into a superb film starring Richard Burton as Alec Leamas.


Our Man in Havana
By Graham Greene

Sick of predictable spy tales? You’re sure to get lost in Greene’s rendition of a vacuum salesman unexpected rise to wealth when a fellow Brit asks him to spy on Cuba for the British Secret Service. Instead of delving into his tasks, Jim Wormold pretends that sketches of vacuum cleaner parts as coded reports of military construction sites, and fabricates expense accounts and informants. The secret service remains aloof to his tricks, and continues sending him money—and even a secretary and radio operator—but every man gets caught in a lie at some point. Or does he? Wormold proves he is not the man the men who enlisted him thought, and provides constant surprises and entertainment. A witty spoof on spy lit, Greene provides a fun read about a clever double agent. Alec Guinness makes an appearance as Wormold in Carol Reed’s 1960 adaptation.


Casino Royale
By Ian Fleming

This novel gave birth to the one and only Bond, James Bond, arguably the most popular spy of all time. He is “what every man would like to be and what every woman would like to have between her sheets,” said Raymond Chandler, and he was right. In the first Bond adventure, 007 hunts Soviet trade union treasurer Monsieur Le Chiffre through a baccarat game and a near-lethal car chase, and the agent almost loses his composure over the two-timing original Bond girl: Vesper Lynd. Watch the 2006 adaptation with the stunning Eva Green, who wins for sexiest double agent ever. Or pick up a copy of the novel for a more intimate, gritty take on the world’s most famous spy.

Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal
By Ben McIntyre

It reads like a spy thriller, but is in fact the true story of Eddie Chapman, the notorious British double agent of World War II. Captured by the Germans on the Isle of Wight, Chapman quickly agreed without a second thought to work for them as a spy. Yet when he parachuted into England with a mission to sabotage an aircraft factory, he surrendered immediately and joined MI5. Extensive research feeds McIntyre’s bold account of Chapman’s life. Though it is never clear what side the agent was on, it is clear that he risked his life daily, and McIntyre explains how and why in exhilarating scenes that seem as if the author shadowed the agent in every mission.



Unlike many spy films, Billy Ray’s Breach doesn’t need to maintain suspense by keeping the audience guessing about who might be a double agent. As Attorney General John Ashcroft announces it, we learn from the opening moments that real-life spy Robert Hanssen had been feeding information to the Soviets for more than two decades. Ray is able to “to create palpable tension even though the outcome is known,” the Los Angeles Times says, with Ryan Phillippe playing an agency newbie who must match “wits with [Hansson] on a potentially life-and-death level.” Hansson is played by Chris Cooper, and “part of Cooper's success with Hanssen's character that he, in a sense, plays all his contradictions as if they don't exist, casually creating layers of complexity as if they were the most natural things in the world.”

Night Soldiers: A Novel
By Alan Furst

Sweeping across 1930s Europe, Furst deftly captures the intrigue of the Spanish Civil War in his dramatic novel about a young boy recruited into the Soviet intelligence service after his brother’s murder. Furst integrates cultural detail to an unparalleled depth while telling a fascinating story of tenacity and determination as Khristo Stoianev fights his way to freedom. Known for his knack for capturing the sinister atmosphere of 1930s Europe, Furst takes readers deep into the world of espionage and double agents.



Finally, the ultimate spy thriller show that has delighted fans for soon-to-be eight seasons. There are too many double agents, treacherous spies, and other duplicity in this series to even keep track, but viewers return for the fast-paced action and the steady gaze of star Kiefer Sutherland. “In almost every episode,” of 24, Fox’s real-time drama, “a new double agent is exposed like a flap on an Advent calendar,” the New York Times writes. Tune in to the new season to see who will betray whom this time.