The Greatest Reads of 2023: A Vacation Reward Information

HOLIDAY SPECIAL REPORT – On this season of giving, your pleasant neighborhood Cipher Temporary “Undercover” group – which spends the majority of the yr publishing ebook critiques and interviews with authors and publishers – presents our annual listing of books to think about if you find yourself shopping for for the pal who has every little thing or the member of the family who’s actually fascinated about intelligence, overseas coverage, nationwide safety, and/or spy fiction. Our listing additionally may be helpful should you’re trying to drop some hints to Santa for stuff you’d like to seek out in your individual stocking this yr.


The plain place to start out is within the ebook evaluate part of The Cipher Brief. Throughout 2023, we published reviews of 45 books. That variety of books is just too unwieldy for this listing, so we thought we’d pare it down and concentrate on these which earned the very best honors of three.5 or 4 Trench Coats (The Cipher Temporary’s score system for singling out excellence.) However even that didn’t put a lot of a dent within the workload – since 27 of our 45 books scored these highest rankings.

Editor’s word: the Trench Coat rankings are solely decided by our volunteer reviewers – so your mileage might differ. It’s possible you’ll love a ebook that solely snared two Trench Coats from our reviewer – or hate one which earned 4.  However Cipher Temporary reviewers convey a wealth of expertise and an eagle eye to the method, so we suspect you might be prone to agree.

Whereas we don’t have the bandwidth to summarize even 27 books, listed below are some standouts that our reviewers beloved probably the most. Nearly all of the books we reviewed have been non-fiction – so let’s flip that on its head and begin with some stellar novels.


Cipher Temporary knowledgeable and veteran CIA Russia hand Paul Kolbe actually preferred the newest novel from former CIA analyst David McCloskey referred to as Moscow X. In Paul’s evaluate he wrote that he was “intrigued by and in the end immersed, in a terrific plot seasoned with traditional tradecraft, new methodologies and compelling characters.” If you’re intrigued by McCloskey – check out the interview he did with us for our Cowl Tales podcast.

We turned to Rob Richer, a former high-ranking CIA clandestine service officer (and Cipher Brief expert) with tons of expertise within the Center East to evaluate The Peacock and the Sparrow a novel written by one other former CIA officer, I.S. Berry.  Richer praised Berry’s ability to seize the “political complexity and inside sensitivities” of Bahrain and prose so sharp readers can “see the streets described of their thoughts’s eye, to sense the environment, and (even) think about the smells.”

The Cipher Temporary has on name, Dr. Ken Dekleva, a former State Division Regional Medical Officer/Psychiatrist, to assist us evaluate a number of espionage novels. He awarded The Dead Drop by James Roth, a stable 3.5 trench coats. That ebook is a few northern Virginia teenager who stumbles throughout a useless drop that results in a posh story of KGB vs CIA chilly warfare espionage.

Earlier within the yr, 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 Service agent and CIA paramilitary officer” and “the Professor” who’s “gifted in math, physics, unique overseas languages, and diplomacy.” Collectively they confront terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and extra. By the way in which, we flip to Dr. Dekleva not simply due to his potential to research the personalities of the characters within the books he critiques – however he’s additionally a novelist on his personal proper having written The Negotiators Cross and The Last Violinist.


There are such a lot of good titles to select from. Calder Walton, Assistant Director of the Harvard Heart’s Utilized Historical past and Intelligence tasks, was out with Spies: The Epic Intelligence War Between East and West this summer season, so we turned to Daniel Hoffman, a former senior CIA officer, three-time station chief and Cipher Brief expert to interrupt it down for us. Dan found it to be a “fascinating historical past of cloak and dagger espionage” which “lifts the veil on the multifarious clandestine operations Russia and the West performed towards each other for over a century.” If you wish to know extra about how that ebook got here to be, Walder reveals among the secrets and techniques of his scholarship on this Cover Stories podcast.

Then there was a ebook by Andrew Hoehn and Thom Shanker, Age of Danger, the place they clear up the straightforward downside talked about within the subtitle of “Protecting America Secure in an Period of New Superpowers, New Weapons, and New Threats.”  George Galdorisi, a former naval officer and bestselling author of fiction and non-fiction in his personal proper, reviewed the book for us and referred to as it a “clear-headed and well-reasoned argument that the U.S. coverage, intelligence and army constructions, lots of which date again to the top of World Battle II, are not sufficient to take care of right now’s, and particularly tomorrow’s, threats.” Simply kidding about that “easy answer” half. However if you wish to know extra about Age of Danger try our interview with the authors for the Cover Stories podcast again in Could.

That leads us to the just lately revealed: Conflict: The Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine written by retired 4-star basic (and Cipher Brief expert) David Petraeus and British historian Lord Andrew Roberts. We leaned on the experience of Ben Griffin, the Chief of the Navy Historical past Division of the U.S. Navy Academy, for his tackle the ebook. He found it a “thought-provoking ebook which can enchantment to policymakers, army leaders, and people within the research of warfare and technique.”

One other fan favourite is By All Means Available: Memoirs of a Life in Intelligence, Special Operations and Strategy by Cipher Temporary Knowledgeable Dr. Michael Vickers. Cipher Temporary COO Brad Christian beloved the ebook a lot that he’s hoping Vickers will run for president.

A recurring theme in among the books we reviewed was the position of ladies in intelligence and army operations.  A lot of these roles have been laudatory – like these described in Valiant Women: The Extraordinary American Servicewomen Who Helped Win World War II by Lena Andrews, which was reviewed for us by former senior CIA officer (and TCB expert) Linda Weissgold, and Women in Intelligence: The Hidden History of Two World Wars by Helen Fry – which was reviewed by the aforementioned Lena Andrews (an instance of how we attempt to faucet the deep experience of oldsters to evaluate books for us.)  

Different girls who have been topics of books reviewed in The Cipher Temporary weren’t worthy of emulating – for instance Ana Montes, a Protection Intelligence Company official (reviewed here) who spied for Cuba and was the topic of two books reviewed in TCB: Code Name Blue Wren by Jim Popkin (who additionally joined us on this Cover Stories podcast) and “Queen of Cuba” by former FBI particular agent Pete Lapp, which was reviewed for us by retired CIA senior counterintelligence government (and Cipher Brief expert) Mark Kelton.

We might go on and on about some nice – and practically nice — books reviewed in The Cipher Temporary – however time, house and power recommend we cease right here.  However to seek out different books that suit your private pursuits – or these of your present recipients – try the cabinets filled with books reviewed over the previous yr and earlier than at this link.


We’re so glad you requested.  There are some fascinating new books popping out within the new yr that we’re wanting ahead to studying (and reviewing).

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

Later that month, there can be The Achilles Trap: 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 have a look at synthetic intelligence mixed with a violent partisan divide sooner or later may result in an existential menace to America. That ebook is by Cipher Temporary knowledgeable Admiral James Stavridis and Elliot Ackerman.

Inside the listing above, are simply among the nice books we’ve reviewed in The Cipher Temporary. To search out the entire listing going again some 5 years – visit our website.  And don’t neglect to subscribe to the Cover Stories podcast, the place we do interviews with authors, publishers, brokers and Hollywood movers and shakers.


Should you suppose you’ve the chops to be a Cipher Temporary reviewer – drop us a word. Tell us of your pursuits and space of specialty in an e mail to: [email protected]

You don’t must have a selected forthcoming ebook in thoughts – simply tell us that you’re and we are going to attempt to match up the precise books with the precise potential reviewers.

Try our Reviewer Guidelines.

You’ll word that we all the time attempt to discover reviewers with deep experience and pursuits of their very own to match that of the books’ authors. Should you suppose you’ve what it takes to be a Cipher Temporary reviewer, e mail us at [email protected]

We’ve bought loads of good books (and some dangerous ones) on the horizon – and want good reviewers to assist us type them out.

Full disclosure:  The Cipher Temporary participates within the Amazon Associates program and should make a small fee from purchases made by way of hyperlinks. That doesn’t change the value you pay – we simply get a really, very small slice of Jeff Bezos’ earnings. 

Learn extra expert-driven nationwide safety insights, perspective and evaluation in The Cipher Brief as a result of Nationwide Safety is Everybody’s Enterprise

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Articles