I list below, in categories corresponding roughly to the chapters in my textbook, Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, 6th ed (2022), books (and a few articles) that I believe valuable to all students of diplomacy. Those dealing with embassy substitutes, such as representative offices, are included under ‘Modern bilateral diplomacy’. The list is obviously not exhaustive. I have tried to restrict myself to recommending my own books to categories where I think other works are a bit thin on the ground. See also my Book Reviews and the ‘Further reading’ at the bottom of the ‘Updating’ pages for each chapter of the textbook.

This page also contains sections on ‘Novels by Former Diplomats and Intelligence Officers’ and ‘Political Thrillers and Historical Novels (by other writers)’.

Novels about diplomacy and espionage written by former officers or – like Graham Greene – those who were still active in an unofficial capacity, have a special authenticity. As well as being enjoyable to those with a taste for the genre, they sometimes provide real insights into the minds and procedures of their crafts.

  • Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)
    Secret Intelligence Service officer in the First World War, first in Switzerland and then in Russia; and in the American OSS (later CIA) in the Second World War. His novel Ashenden, based on his Swiss experience, was adapted for the cinema by Hitchcock as ‘Secret Agent’ (1936) (ODNB; Jeffery, MI6).
  • Stendhal (1783-1842)Real name Henri Beyle, French consul at the then Austrian imperial port of Trieste only briefly (winter of 1830-1) because the authorities took exception to his liberal views, and then at Civitavecchia near Rome (where the papal authorities were persuaded to swallow similar reservations), 1831 until his death. The publication of the first of his two most famous novels, Le Rouge et le Noir (translated usually The Red and the Black but sometimes Scarlet and Black), had coincided with the announcement of his appointment to Trieste. The second, La Chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Parma), was written while he was on a prolonged leave from Civitavecchia, of which he was not fond.
    The Red and the Black
    The Charterhouse of Parma
  • Graham Greene (1904-91) Ministry of Information (London), 1940-1; Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)), 1941-4 and thereafter unofficially in part-time service at least until the 1980s while publicly making pro-Soviet statements as a cover (brilliant article by Michael Shelden in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).
    Stamboul Train
    A Gun for Sale
    The Ministry of Fear
    The Third Man and the Fallen Idol
    The Confidential Agent
    The Quiet American

    Our Man in Havana
    The Honorary Consul
    The Human Factor (Greene’s last major novel and described in the ODNB as his ‘most explicit treatment of the world of espionage’; on the New York Times best-seller list for six months.)
  • Kenneth Benton(1909-99)
    Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) officer from 1937 until 1968; find more information about him here.
    Sole Agent
    Spy in Chancery
    Vengeance in Venice
    Greek Fire
    Twenty-Fourth Level
  • Charles Forsyte (1920-2009)
    Real name: Gordon Charles George Philo. Long-serving and well regarded British intelligence officer. He was appointed with diplomatic cover at three British overseas posts in the decades after the Second World War: Istanbul (third secretary 1954), Ankara (second secretary 1957), and Hanoi (consul-general 1968); and as a liaison officer to the Malaysian government at KL, 1963. Between these postings and after his final foreign tour, he occupied influential positions at Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) headquarters in London until his retirement in 1978. He was in charge of training new entrants to SIS when David Cornwell (‘John le Carré’) switched from the Security Service (MI5) to SIS (MI6) in 1960. Diplomatic Death and Murder with Minarets are set in the British Consulate-General in Istanbul and the British diplomatic apartments complex in Ankara respectively, both of which he evidently knew well. The first of these novels is much the best. Philo was a keen amateur magician, and – astonishing to report – after his death his private notebook on the subject was found by Marco Pusteria in a second-hand bookshop in Cromer on the north Norfolk coast (FFB: The Detective Novels of Charles Forsyte, 17 October 2014; Marco Pusteria, ‘Spies, Magic, Manuscripts’, 20 July 2013;  The Times [obituary], 18 March 2009;  Foreign Office List, subsequently Diplomatic Service List).
    Diplomatic Death (1961)
    Diving Death (1962), published in the US under the title Dive into Danger
    Double Death (1965)
    Murder with Minarets (1968)
  • John le Carré (1931-)
    Real name David Cornwell. Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) agent with cover as second secretary in the British embassy in Bonn in the early 1960s and then briefly as a ‘political consul’ (his own description) in the large consulate-general in Hamburg (Author’s official website ; FO List 1965; Adam Sisman, John le Carré: The Biography; Observer Profile). I have reviewed the Sisman biography here. The very interesting speech he gave at the Olof Palme prize ceremony in Stockholm on 30 January 2020 can be read here.
    The ‘Smiley’ novels:
    Call for the Dead
    A Murder of Quality
    The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
    The Looking Glass War
    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    The Honourable Schoolboy
    Smiley’s People
    The Secret Pilgrim
    And others by le Carré:
    A Small Town in Germany
    The Mission Song
    The Tailor of Panama
    A Perfect Spy
    Absolute Friends
    Our Game
    he Night Manager
    The Russia House
    The Constant Gardener
    Our Kind of Traitor
    A Legacy of Spies
    Agent Running in the Field
  • Stella Rimington
    Former Director-General of MI5 and first to be publicly named. See her official website and autobiography.
    The Geneva Trap
    Present Danger
    Dead Line
    At Risk
    Illegal Action
    Secret Asset
  • Lawrence Durrell (1912-90)
    Junior Press Officer British Emb Cairo, 1941; Press Attaché at British Information Office, Alexandria, 1942-5; Director of PR, Overseas Information Service on Rhodes, 1945-7; British Council lecturer, Cordoba Argentina, 1947-9; 1st Secretary (Information), British Embassy Belgrade, 1949-52; Press Adviser to British colonial administration in Cyprus, 1954-6.
    Bitter Lemons  Not a novel but the best of what has been described as his ‘foreign residence genre’, this one set in Cyprus as the troubles of the then British colony started in the mid-1950s. The chapter on ‘How to Buy a House’ is a real page-turning account of the negotiating skills employed on Durrell’s behalf by the Turkish Cypriot estate agent (realtor) Sabri Tahir.
    The following slender volumes are the collections of Durrell’s hilarious short stories, narrated through the voice of the fictional diplomat ‘Antrobus’. Justly famous, they were inspired chiefly by Durrell’s time at the British embassy in Belgrade:
    Esprit de Corps: Sketches from Diplomatic Life
    Stiff Upper Lip
    Sauve Qui Peut
    They can also be obtained collected, in whole or in part, in one volume:
    The Best of Antrobus
    Antrobus Complete
  • Olivia Manning (1908-80)
    Married to a British Council lecturer (‘cultural diplomat’). Olivia Manning’s six novels set in Second World War Roumania, Greece, and the Middle East, now collectively known as the Fortunes of War [the Balkan Trilogy plus the Levant Trilogy] and adapted for television in 1987, are regarded as classics. I was interested to see in the very full piece on Manning in Wikipedia that she and her husband lived for a short time in Bucharest in early 1940 with John Hugh (‘Adam’) Watson, 3rd Secretary in the British Legation and later quite a well known writer on diplomacy.
    The Balkan Trilogy
    The Levant Trilogy
    Fortunes of War
  • Alan Judd
    Real name Alan Edwin Petty. Widely believed by spook-watchers to be a former senior officer in MI6, a suspicion I recall forming myself when some years ago I read his Quest for C: Sir Mansfield Cumming and the Founding of the British Secret Service (1999). The vagueness of his entries in the Diplomatic Service List between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s is something of a give-away. The only number that says anything about him other than his rank (entering as 2nd Secretary and leaving as Counsellor) and his attachment to the ‘F.C.O.’ is the one that notes his posting as ‘Consul (Economic)’ at the British Consulate-General in Johannesburg in 1980. Hmmm. He made a hit with his first novel, A Breed of Heroes, which appeared shortly after this interlude in South Africa. This piece provides useful background on ‘Alan Judd’ and his many articles in The Spectator can be read here.
    A Breed of Heroes
    Short of Glory
    The Noonday Devil
    The Devil’s Own Work
    The Kaiser’s Last Kiss
    Dancing with Eva 
    Uncommon Enemy
    Inside Enemy
  • Anne Telscombe
    Real name Marie Dobbs (née Catton). She was the wife of Joe Dobbs, who served at the British embassy in Moscow for 14 years over four different postings between 1947 and 1974 and was regarded as Britain’s leading Kremlinologist during the Cold War. ‘Anne Telscombe’ was an Australian journalist who fetched up in Moscow and collaborated with Dobbs (then an ‘Information Officer’) on the embassy’s Russian-language weekly, Britansky Soyuznik (The British Ally) until this feared organ of British propaganda was slowly strangled by the Soviet authorities and expired at the end of 1948 (V. O. Pechatnov, ‘The Rise and Fall of Britansky Soyuznik’, Historical Journal, 41(1), 1998). After they married and she could no longer work she took to writing novels based on their postings. I am grateful to Jane Barder for alerting me to this novelist.
    Miss Bagshot Goes to Moscow
    The Listener
    Miss Bagshot Goes to Tibet
  • Charles Cumming
    Cumming had a brief encounter with MI6 when an attempt was made to recruit him  as a young graduate and has since established himself as a leading writer of spy thrillers. I have just finished A Foreign Country, which is a real page-turner. Read more about him here.
    A Spy By Nature
    The Hidden Man
    The Spanish Game
    The Trinity Six
    A Foreign Country