12 Best John Le Carre Books

John le Carré was a British-Irish novelist best known for his espionage novels.  He left a tremendous literary legacy in the form of his novels. A prolific novelist who focused on the intrigues of the international spy community and condensed complicated internal conflicts into highly entertaining stories. He has written more than a dozen books over almost six decades.

This article will give you detailed insights into the best Le Carre books, his top readings, and the elements in his writing that make him an extraordinary writer of all time. 

List of 12 Best Books by John Le Carré

Using moral ambiguity and the experiences of Cold War spies, Le Carré elevated their novels to a new level of artistic achievement. Here is a list of thirty-one best thrillers to get you started if you’ve never read any of his books before.

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is Le Carré’s book. The book was released in 1963 and met with critical acclaim and commercial success. The novel won the Society of Authors’ Award in 1964 and has been adapted for cinema three times. The main reason for its success was le carré’s work as a spy himself during his stint with MI5, which allowed him to use real-life experiences as inspiration for this now-classic piece of literature.

It is a modern classic in which Le Carré brilliantly paints a whole vision of a spying world. It is a spy novel by British author Le Carré. The book was ranked 57th on the list of 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century by Modern Library.

The book has sold more than five million copies worldwide since its publication in 1974. 

It is a spy novel. Smiley’s People was the first Smiley novel that Le Carré wrote after completing The Spy Who Came in from the Cold now-classic; the book features Smiley as he uncovers who ordered Karla to have his agent, Mundt, killed. Smiley meets an apparition of Karla, Smiley’s nemesis. Smiley’s People was made into a tv movie in 1982, featuring Alec Guinness as Smiley. 

Call for the Dead was published in 1961 and is considered one of Le Carré’s best-selling books due to his writing style and character development. It is also part of a top-rated series called “The George Smiley Books Series.”  Call for the Dead could be considered a detective story or even espionage because it revolves around a spy named George Smiley, who spends most of his time investigating a murder mystery to find out who committed that crime. The book has received great reviews and continues to be read today by many people.

The Constant Gardener is a political spy novel. The main plot is about Justin Quayle, an English horticulturist whose activist wife Tessa is murdered. The book starts with Tessa being found dead in her car near Nairobi, but the plot goes back to explain what happened before her death. The book has an unexpected twist at the end of a disappointing kind for a reader who expects the truth to come out quickly. The novel is set in the 1960s and 1970s when The Cold War was still intense between the United States and the Soviet Union.

6. The Russia House

The Russia House is a 1989 spy novel. The book was later made into a 1990 movie starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer. The plot concerns the author of sensational memoirs about the Soviet Union, working with the Intelligence agency of Great Britain to expose an entire network of KGB spies operating in Britain.

This book is worth reading if you are into spy novels or just like a good story. The book is not about spying on people and their struggles between love, friendship, betrayal, and loyalty. The book is full of action so that you won’t be bored reading this fantastic Le Carré novel.

7. A Legacy of Spies

A Legacy of Spies novel was published on 24th July 2017. It is John Le Carre’s 22nd novel, and a best-selling book later adapted into a film in 2011. 

A Legacy of Spies’ book success and its best-selling status can be attributed to the resurgence in Le Carré’s popularity, which has been prevalent since Tinker Tailor Soldier was adapted for film. In addition, A Legacy of Spies is a good read with a gripping storyline that will appeal to many readers.

8. The Honourable Schoolboy

The Honourable Schoolboy is a book written by John Lee Carre. The story tells about The Honourable Jerry Westerby, an undercover journalist sent on a dangerous assignment to Hong Kong, just as the city is handed over from British rule to China.

The Honourable Schoolboy is the seventh book in The Honorable Schoolboy series. The setting takes place primarily in London, Hong Kong, and Switzerland. The book was first published on 21st June 1977 in the United Kingdom. The story revolves around Jerry Westerby, a journalist who The Circus asked to investigate the possible defection of The General. The novel shared The New York Times bestseller list with The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John Le Carre in 1977 and 1978.

9. A Perfect Spy

A Perfect Spy was first published in 1986. A Perfect Spy has been called “one of the two or three most complex spy novels ever written.” The book deals with trust, espionage, and betrayal while maintaining a strong sense of personal identity. A Perfect Spy is told from an intimately subjective point of view which gives depth to both characters and actions.

The story is about A Perfect English Spy, Magnus Pym. The book captures the essence of A Perfect English Spy’s time in A Perfect World, A Perfect Life, and A Perfect War. Magnus Pym is an unfaithful husband, an absent father, a sexual deviant, and possibly a traitor. He causes a Horrible Tragedy by his actions that lead to the death of two people innocent of any crime or suspicion. The book shows how a Perfect English Spy’s mind works. A Perfect English Spy cannot see the gravity of his actions and accepts no responsibility for his actions. 

10. The Night Manager

The Night Manager is a current novel initially published in 1993. The genre of The Night Manager is a mystery novel, espionage, and thriller. The book achieved much success when published but became a classic in 1993.

The book was adapted into a 6-episode miniseries; it ran on BBC One and AMC, premiered on the 31st of March 2016.

11. Agent Running in the Field

After Agent Running in the Field became a bestseller, Le Carré is the name on everyone’s lips. Agent Running in the Field is a non-fiction account of spycraft and espionage. Agent Running in the Field was first published as a fictional novel before being released as an audiobook with additional commentary from John Le Carre. Agent Running in the Field  became an instant New York Times  bestseller after its debut on December 13, 2018

Agent Running in the Field is a powerful spy thriller that tells the tale of Agent Trewin’s rise within British Intelligence. Agent Trewin is sent to Afghanistan. He becomes embroiled in a dangerous game of espionage that forces Agent Trewin to consider if he should do everything by the book or become Agent Running in the Field. Agent Trewin’s story highlights the dangers of struggling to balance professional honor with emotional entanglements.

12. Silverview

Silverview is the last masterpiece published by John Le Carre in 2021. It is the mesmerizing tale of a meeting between innocence and experience and between public responsibility and individual morality that Silverview is based on. When you no longer recognize your nation, what do you owe to it, wonders John le Carré in this last complete masterpiece from the finest historian of our time.

Final Thoughts About Best Selling Books By John Le Carre

If you haven’t read any of John le Carré’s books, you’ve probably heard of him because of the numerous Oscar, Bafta, and Emmy-winning film and television adaptations of his books, including recent hits Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Little Drummer Girl, and The Night Manager, which have all been adapted into films and television shows.

Le Carré is widely regarded as the finest spy novelist to have ever put pen to paper. He is responsible for creating one of the most unforgettable characters in literature: George Smiley, the dumpy and ill-dressed anti-James Bond.

He authored more than a dozen novels, short stories, non-fiction books and continued to write till the end of his life. Agent Running in the Field, his last book, was published in October of this year. His ability to maintain his position at the top of the espionage genre for so long is a tremendous accomplishment. As numerous reviewers have pointed out, however, le Carre’s books transcend simple classification and may be read in any literary genre while maintaining their grip on the reader.


In what order should I read John Le Carre’s books?

The order you should read John Le Carre books are:

1. Silverview
2. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
3. Call for the Dead
4. A Perfect Spy
5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

What is considered John le Carre’s best book?

With so many excellent novels and fantasy fiction books, it is difficult to claim which one is the best John Le Carre Book. However, it can be said that “A Perfect Spy,” is one of the best books people have ever reviewed as the best John Le Carre Book. 

What should I read before the legacy of spies?

I would recommend starting with “Call for the Dead” and “A Perfect Spy.” Then read “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” which is by far the greatest of the bunch, and go chronologically from that point on.

What was John Le Carre’s latest book?

Silverview is John Le Carre’s latest book published to date. It was published in October 2021. The renowned espionage novelist’s last full-length work is a precisely plotted cat and mouse chase from an East Anglian bookstore to the former Soviet Union.

About John Le Carre

John le Carré (1931-2020) was a British novelist whose espionage novels defined the genre. His books’ believability and plausibility have captivated millions of readers across the globe. Le Carre, whose actual name was David Cornwell, started writing while working as an MI5 spy agent for the British intelligence agency in the late 1950s. His thrillers, including complex characters and sophisticated plotting, gained popularity when “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” became an immediate success. He then quit his job as a spy agent to devote his time exclusively to writing.

The majority of le Carré’s works are espionage novels set during the Cold War (1945–91). British Intelligence operatives are portrayed as unheroic political bureaucrats who are conscious of the moral complexity of their job and are more interested in psychological than physical drama. His novels emphasize the fallibility of Western democracy and the secret agencies defending it, often suggesting the potential of moral equivalency between the east and the west.

December 2020 marked the end of a distinguished literary career that included globally recognized books in every decade from the 1960s to the present. As a result of his work being embraced by both fans and critics alike and having been adapted for cinema and television many times, Le Carré has become one of the most famous and influential writers of all time.

Occupation: Novelist and a Former Spy Agent

Education: University of Bern Lincoln College, Oxford (BA)

Genre: Spy Fiction


  • “Edgar Award for Best Novel” (1965, 1984)
  • “Edgar Awards for Best Television Feature/Mini-Series Teleplay” (1992)
  • “International Booker Prize” (2011)
  • “USC Scripter Award” (2017)
  • “Producers Guild of America Award for Best Long-Form Television” (2017)
  • “Audie Award for Thriller/Suspense” (2018)

Similar Posts