Best Spy Stories from the Cold War

When kids are little and adults ask them what they want to be when they grow up, they often say things like ‘fireman,’ ‘astronaut,’ and ‘dancer.’ But do you think any kid ever says ‘spy?’ I ask this because it seems like so many of the most famous spies start off in other professions. Or they are spies out of necessity because of a war. Or in the case of Cold War history, the lack of a war.

The Cold War was not a war in the traditional sense. It didn’t involve thousands of armed men fighting it out on battlefields, but instead was the name for the period of geopolitical tension between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies, after World War II. Because a war involving direct battle with nuclear weapons is called a hot war, this period of indirect conflict that had no actual large-scale battles was instead named the Cold War. It is generally considered to span from the 1947 Truman Doctrine to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

That’s a long time to not actually be fighting. And in those forty-something years, that is a heck of a lot of spying. Cold War spies account for some of the most audacious, long-lasting spy missions in history. You’ve probably seen The Americans, and maybe you thought it was fake, but it’s not that far from the truth. The real-life spies involved in the long history of the Cold War were in it to win it. Since the end of the Cold War, there have been a ton of incredible Cold War history books written about all aspects of that period in history. But I always find the ones about spies to be the coolest. Not that I could ever be a spy. For starters, I’m a terrible liar and I hate to travel. And spies need to have nerves of steel. I have nerves of Jell-O. So I’ll have to stick to reading spy books. And you can enjoy them too: here are 10 of the best spy stories from Cold War history.