25 Top Cold War Books: 1947 - 1991

The cold war was a time of great tension and hostility between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was managed by several key presidents including John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

This era, which lasted from 1947 to 1991, was marked by several key events, including the Cuban missile crisis, the building of the Berlin Wall, and ended with the fall of the Soviet Union.

If you're interested in learning more about this fascinating period in history, then check out these 25 must read books about the Cold War.

Cold War Books

1. The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War

The Spy and the Traitor

Written by: Ben Macintyre

Published: 2018

Pages: 384

For anyone interested in true stories of espionage and intrigue, The Spy and the Traitor is a must-read.

This account of how British intelligence operative Oleg Gordievsky helped the West win the Cold War is fascinating, suspenseful, and ultimately inspiring. You'll learn how he became a spy, how he transferred information from the Soviet Union to Britain and many other accounts of his time as a spy that will keep your heart pounding.

Deemed a traitor by his own country, Gordievsky risked everything to do what he believed was right.

His story is a testament to the power of one individual to make a difference.

2. The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal

The Billion Dollar Spy

Written by: David E. Hoffman

Published: 2015

Pages: 336

In 1978, Adolf Tolkachev, Soviet electronics engineer with access to high-level military intelligence, approached the CIA with a shocking offer: he would provide information to the United States in exchange for cash.

Over the next seven years, Tolkachev supplied the CIA with thousands of pages of detailed data on Soviet weapons systems, becoming one of the most valuable spies in U.S. history.

But as the KGB closed in on him, Tolkachev began to fear for his life and wondered if he could trust his American handlers to get him out safely.

The Billion Dollar Spy is a true story of Cold War espionage and betrayal by acclaimed journalist David E. Hoffman.

3. Above and Beyond: John F. Kennedy and America's Most Dangerous Cold War Spy Mission

Above and Beyond

Written by: by Casey Sherman, Michael J. Tougias

Published: 2018

Pages: 360

In October 1962, the world came to the brink of nuclear war when the Soviet Union attempted to place nuclear missiles in Cuba. The resulting Cuban Missile Crisis was a stark reminder of the dangers of international conflict and the importance of diplomacy.

JFK's handling of the crisis earned him praise from allies and adversaries, demonstrating his skill as a leader and negotiator.

In this book, you'll read more about two vital U-2 pilots, Rudy Anderson and Charles Maultsby, who were crucial in the outcome of the crisis.

Both put their lives on the line for a top-secret mission. The first flew over Cuba to photograph missiles put in place there by the Soviet Union. The other flew over the North Pole to gather radioactive air samples to prove that the Soviets conducted nuclear tests and had to enter Soviet airspace to get it.

At one time, both U-2 airplanes went missing.

The book offers a fascinating look at both missions and how they impacted the thirteen-day Cuban Missile Crisis outcome.

4. 1983: The World at the Brink

1983: The World at the Brink

Written by: Taylor Downing

Published: 2018

Pages: 400

In 1983, the world was on the brink of a nuclear disaster. The Cold War was in full swing, and relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were at an all-time low.

But it wasn't just the superpowers that were locked in a tense standoff; on September 1, 1983, Korean Air Lines Flight 007 flew into Soviet airspace and was shot down by the Soviets. All 269 passengers on board were killed, including 62 Americans.

It was one of the deadliest incidents of the Cold War, and it brought the two countries to the brink of war.

Taylor Downing takes us back to that critical year in the Cold War in this book. Downing discusses everything that happened on both sides and how, in the end, the crisis was averted.

5. Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis

Nuclear Folly

Written by: Serhii Plokhy

Published: 2021

Pages: 464

In October 1962, the world watched in horror as the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded. For thirteen days, the United States and the Soviet Union teetered on the brink of nuclear war, with the world's future hanging in the balance.

In his book Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Serhii Plokhy tells the story of this harrowing period through the eyes of those who lived it.

From John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev to Fidel Castro, Plokhy brings readers inside one of the most dangerous crises in history.

6. Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage

Blind Man's Bluff

Written by: Sherry Sontag, Christopher Drew, Annette Lawrence Drew

Published: 1998

Pages: 432

The Cold War was a time of nuclear brinkmanship and intense espionage between the United States and the Soviet Union. Few people know that one of the most vital fronts in this conflict was underwater, as each side vied for control during the Cold War.

In Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, author Sherry Sontag tells the story of America's submarine chasers and their dangerous game of cat and mouse with Soviet submarines.

This reads like a spy novel but is a nonfiction true-life suspense tale about modern history and naval warfare.

7. Betrayal in Berlin: The True Story of the Cold War's Most Audacious Espionage Operation

Betrayal in Berlin

Written by: Steve Vogel

Published: 2019

Pages: 544

One of the most daring secret missions during the Cold War was Operation Gold. The plan was for the British and the United States to build a tunnel into Soviet-occupied Berlin.

It would allow both countries access to east Berlin and acquire strategies from the Soviets, including their proposals with nuclear bombs.  

However, a double agent foiled the plans.

This book tells the story from the beginning. You'll read about the plan to dig a 1,500-foot tunnel, how the Soviet spy became involved, and what happened afterward.

8. The Cold War: A New History

The Cold War: A New History

Written by: John Lewis Gaddis

Published: 2005

Pages: 333

The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis is a groundbreaking work that tells the story of the Cold War from start to finish. Gaddis is a leading historian on the subject, and his book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand this crucial period in world history.

The Cold War was a time of great tension and conflict, and Gaddis's book captures this perfectly. You’ll read about the early days with JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis to the time in the 1980s when it was Regan and Gorbachev leading their respective countries.

If you're interested in learning more about the Cold War, this book is for you.

9. Checkmate in Berlin: The Cold War Showdown That Shaped the Modern World

Checkmate in Berlin

Written by: Giles Milton

Published: 2021

Pages: 400

This book takes you back to the beginning of the Cold War in 1945. You'll start by learning about what happened at the Yalta Conference and the important decisions.

Giles Milton then takes you through the struggle over control of Berlin as the relationship between the West and the Soviets continued to break down.

You'll learn all about the individuals key to the story, the decisions they made, and how they impacted created the Cold War.

10. Red November: Inside the Secret U.S.-Soviet Submarine War

Red November

Written by: W. Craig Reed

Published: 2010

Pages: 400

In this book, Red November, W. Craig Reed provides a riveting account of the little-known submarine war between the United States and the Soviet Union. It’s the second book about this underwater war on our list.

Drawing on previously classified documents, Reed tells the story of American and Soviet submarines stalking each other in the chilly waters of the North Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

It is a nonfiction tale of courage, ingenuity, and perseverance and how close the world came to a nuclear conflict.

11. The Cold War: A World History

The Cold War: A World History

Written by: Odd Arne Westad

Published: 2017

Pages: 710

In his new book, The Cold War: A World History, Odd Arne Westad provides a comprehensive overview of the Cold War period from 1945 to 1991. Drawing on recently declassified documents from archives worldwide, Westad paints a detailed picture of the global struggle for dominance.

While many people think this was only between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, Westad argues that this was more of a global conflict than just a war between these two countries.

He takes us through why everyone from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle Easter were also involved. It's a great read to understand better the timeline and the global impact of the Cold War.

12. Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency from the Cold War Through the Dawn of a New Century

Body of Secrets

Written by: James Bamford

Published: 2001

Pages: 736

The National Security Agency (NSA) is one of the most secretive organizations globally. It's so secret that most people know very little about it.

Many don't realize that the NSA was created more than 60 years ago with just one goal in mind: to protect America's national security.

In this book, James Bamford takes a close look at the NSA and explores what makes it unique. You'll read about their work on some of the most critical world events, including those during the Cold War.

You will also find a new afterword about the agencies right before the September 11 attacks.

13. The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War—A Tragedy in Three Acts

The Quiet Americans

Written by: Scott Anderson

Published: 2020

Pages: 562

The Quiet Americans tells the story of four CIA spies recruited in the early days of the Cold War. These men helped conduct spy missions worldwide to try to stop the KGB.

Time and time again, their missions were unsuccessful due to irresponsible decisions made within the highest levels of the government.

Scott Anderson does a deep dive into the lives of these four men. You'll read about what they did during the Cold War and how each reacted to the decisions made by the government that they were forced to follow.

14. The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy

The Dead Hand

Written by: David E. Hoffman

Published: 2009

Pages: 592

The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy is a nonfiction book by David E. Hoffman. The book chronicles the history of the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union and its impact on the world today.

It describes how the arms race led to the development of nuclear weapons and how these weapons continue to pose a threat to global security.

The book also discusses the legacy of the arms race and how it has shaped the world we live in today.

It is a fascinating look at one of the most important periods in history, and it is essential reading for anyone interested in cold war books.

15. The Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics That Helped America Win the Cold War

The Moscow Rules

Written by: Antonio J. Méndez, Joanna Mendez, Matt Baglio

Published: 2019

Pages: 272

The Moscow Rules is a nonfiction book written about (and by) CIA Agent Antonion Mendez. The book details the secret CIA tactics used by Mendez and others that helped America win the Cold War.

These tactics included using safe houses, identifying swaps, and dead drops to communicate without being detected by the enemy.

The book also discusses the importance of maintaining cover and the need for spycraft and tradecraft to be successful.

The Moscow Rules is an essential read for anyone interested in learning more about the Cold War and the strategies used by the CIA to win it.

>> More books about the CIA

16. Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missle Crisis

Thirteen Days

Written by: Robert F. Kennedy

Published: 1968

Pages: 224

This book chronicles the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a thirteen-day standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Kennedy was present for the duration of the crisis, and his account provides an inside look at the negotiations and deliberation that took place during those thirteen days.

The book also offers insight into Kennedy's thinking on foreign policy and the Cold War.

Overall, Thirteen Days is a gripping tale of one of the most dangerous moments in world history, and it provides valuable insights into both the Cold War and Kennedy's Presidency.

17. The Berlin Wall: A World Divided, 1961-1989

The Berlin Wall

Written by: Frederick Taylor

Published: 2007

Pages: 512

This nonfiction book chronicles the construction of the Berlin Wall and its impact on the people who were divided by it.

Frederick Taylor interviewed hundreds of people who lived on both sides of the wall, and his research is impeccable. He shows how the wall divided families and friends and prevented East Germans from escaping to the West and how the West used the wall to help people better understand the issues within the Communist regime.

The Berlin Wall was a symbol of the divisions between East and West during the Cold War, and this book is an essential guide to understanding this important piece of the Cold War.

>> More books about the Berlin Wall

18. From Cold War to Hot Peace: The Inside Story of Russia and America

From Cold War to Hot Peace

Written by: Michael McFaul

Published: 2018

Pages: 496

As a former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul has a unique inside perspective on the relationship between Russia and America. The book chronicles the history of the two countries, from the Cold War to the present day, and offers an insightful look at the challenges and opportunities.

While there have been many books written about the Cold War, McFaul's is one of the few that offers an intimate look at how relations between the two countries have evolved.

This makes it an essential read for anyone interested in understanding the complex relationship between Russia and America.

19. The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War

The Free World

Written by: Louis Menand

Published: 2021

Pages: 880

In this book, Louis Menand offers a fascinating and insightful history of the intellectual and cultural scene in the United States during the Cold War. He highlights how artists and thinkers responded to the political and social climate of the times, often using their work as a form of resistance.

This led to a new wave of conservatism, championed by figures such as Joseph McCarthy.

However, Menand also shows how artists and intellectuals challenged this narrow-mindedness, pushing boundaries, and expanding the cultural conversation.

Menand discusses work between the end of World War II through the Vietnam era. He also includes works by artists in the United States and throughout Europe.

20. One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War

One Minute to Midnight

Written by: Michael Dobbs

Published: 2008

Pages: 384

In October 1962, the world came closer than ever to nuclear war. The United States and the Soviet Union squared off in a tense standoff that brought the world to the brink of disaster for thirteen days.

The crisis began when American spy planes discovered Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, just ninety miles from the coast of Florida.

The Kennedy administration responded by ordering a blockade of the island, pledging to stop further weapons shipments. Meanwhile, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev refused to back down, vowing to defend Cuba.

In this book, you’ll read an hour-by-hour account of how these two superpowers faced off for thirteen days as Cuban leader Fidel Castro urged them to find a peaceful resolution.

21. The Compatriots: Dissidents, Hackers, Oligarchs, and Spies - The Story of Russia's Uncontrollable Emigres

The Compatriots

Written by: Andrei Soldatov, Irina Borogan

Published: 2019

Pages: 368

In this book, Moscow-based journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan tell the story of Russia's emigres, including dissidents, hackers, oligarchs, and spies, many of who have fled the country since the Soviet Union collapsed.

These individuals have been instrumental in shaping the course of Russian history, often working against the Kremlin's interests.

Soldatov and Borogan offer a fascinating look at the lives of these exiles and their impact on Russian politics and society.

The Compatriots is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the complex interplay between Russia and the West.

22. Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire

Three Days in Moscow

Written by: Bret Baier, Catherine Whitney

Published: 2018

Pages: 397

In Three Days in Moscow, Bret Baier and Catherine Whitney chronicle Ronald Reagan's historic meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow in 1988. The summit was a turning point in the Cold War, and the authors provide a detailed account of the events that led up to it.

Reagan had been a staunch critic of the Soviet Union, but he was also eager to find a way to end the arms race. After months of negotiations, the two leaders finally met in Moscow.

During their three-day summit, they discussed various issues, including nuclear disarmament and human rights. Regan delivered a speech at Moscow State University to finish the visit, which was a historical event.

In this book, you'll learn how these two influential leaders worked to agree upon terms to end the Cold War.

23. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956

Iron Curtain

Written by: Anne Applebaum

Published: 2012

Pages: 566

The Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum tells how the Soviet Union took control of Eastern Europe after World War II and the effects that this had on the people who lived there.

Applebaum begins by describing the conditions in Eastern Europe after the war when the Soviet Union was in control of much of the region.

The war had ravaged many Eastern European countries, and their people were hungry and desperate. In addition, they were forced to follow a new set of rules that meant many had to give up much of what they worked for over the years.

Applebaum's research is based on documents released by Eastern European countries that gave her a powerful yet heartbreaking look at this time for citizens in these countries.

24. Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall


Written by: Ann Funder

Published: 2004

Pages: 328

Ann Funder's book, Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, offers a fascinating and harrowing look at life in East Germany under the rule of the Stasi, the secret police agency of the German Democratic Republic (also known as East Germany).

Funder interviewed a wide variety of people who had lived through the Stasi regime, and her book provides a moving and often chilling account of their experiences.

One of the most striking things about the book is how it brings to life the everyday reality of living under surveillance and constant fear.

The stories told by Funder's interviewees offer a rare insight into what it was like to live in a society where even your closest friends and family could not be trusted.

25. The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union

The Last Empire

Written by: Serhii Plokhy, Сергій Плохій

Published: 2014

Pages: 520

On December 26, 1991, the Soviet Union was officially dissolved, ending seventy years of communist rule. The last empire had come to an end.

In this book, Serhii Plokhy tells the story of the five months after the fall of the USSR.

Plokhy paints a vivid picture of the confusion and uncertainty that surrounded during those months and the hope and excitement that came with the prospect of change.

He also discusses the legacy of the Soviet Union and its impact on the lives of ordinary people.