Eight Nonfiction Authors Thriller Writers Should Read

Eight Nonfiction Authors Thriller Writers Should Read

I write political thrillers and my books also tend to feature the large, complex, secretive institutions in Washington such as Congress, the Pentagon, CIA, FBI, and NSA, and because of this, I’ve had to do a fair amount of research on their operations, history, and machinations. Below is a list of authors and books that have been particularly helpful to me in understanding the world I write about and that I think other thriller writers would find interesting and enlightening.

James Bamford, The Puzzle Palace

James Bamford is the definitive source for anyone writing about the largest, best-funded, most secretive intelligence agency in the country: the National Security Agency. He also wrote Body of Secrets and The Shadow Factory.

Curt Gentry, Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets

Curt Gentry not only tells you about the FBI’s somewhat twisted founding father, it also provides fiction writers considerable insight into how and why the modern FBI operates the way it does today.

David IgnatiusBody of Lies

David Ignatius is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who writes for the Washington Post and frequently appears on news channels such as CNN. There is arguably no one who has a better grasp of how intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, operate. In addition to reading his articles in the Post, I’d suggest you read his novels, such as Body of Lies and Spiro, in which he uses fiction as a vehicle for providing even more insights into how things really work in the shadowy world of America’s spies.

Annie JacobsenThe Pentagon’s Brain

Annie Jacobsen is the one to read if you want to incorporate cutting-edge, covert government technology into your thrillers—the sort of things that blur the boundary between real science and science fiction.

Michael Lewis, The Big Short

Michael Lewis (author of The Big ShortBoomerangFlash Boys, and many others), more than anyone else, has opened my eyes to the denizens of Wall Street and their greedy shenanigans. If you’re writing anything involving big banks and big bucks, he’s your guy.

Jane Mayer, Dark Money

Nonfiction Authors Thriller Writers Should Read

Dark Money is the go-to source for understanding how money is used in politics to twist elections and get laws passed. Any story about lobbyists, corruption in politics, super PACs, and so forth, requires picking up a Mayer book.  

James RisenPay Any Price

James Risen, like David Ignatius, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. He writes for The New York Times, and similar to Ignatius, often writes about D.C. institutions and intelligence agencies. His book Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War was fascinating, especially the part about billions of dollars in cash being sent to Iraq and then essentially vanishing into thin air. His 2010 article on the Chinese attempting to bribe an Afghan politician to acquire certain mineral rights was useful when I wrote Viking Bay.

David Talbot, The Devil’s Chessboard

Talbot’s book about Allen Dulles and the CIA was an education not only in terms of things the CIA did to manipulate foreign regimes, but also insofar as the power struggles that took place—and probably still do—among the agency, Congress, and the White House.

If you know of other nonfiction writers who’ve influenced your thrillers and you think thriller writers should read, particularly those writing about D.C. institutions and politics, send me an email via my website: mikelawsonbooks.com. I’d love to hear from you.

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