A political thriller is a suspenseful novel that centers around political intrigue and typically follows protagonists that work within governments or the military.
The themes that run throughout these novels include corruption, revolution, war, rebellion, terrorism, and organized crime.
The birth of the ‘political thriller’ genre came off the back of spy novels, which followed espionage and infiltration within governments, particularly during periods of international conflict. It wasn’t until the Cold War that the public became more concerned about how governments are run and how they are influenced, creating mass political intrigue and creating space for a new literary genre.
The Vietnam and Korean wars generated skepticism throughout America and anti-government movements were widespread, advocating for America’s withdrawal from both countries.
Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, published in 1955 follows America’s engagement with Vietnam and is often considered the first political thriller ever written.
Since then, thousands of books have been published under this genre and it has become one of the most popular literary genres out there.
Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp series, also known as the film adaptation American Assassin, follows the work of assassin Mitch Rapp who is tasked with responding to the rising threat of Islamic terrorism in America.
It follows him on his journeys across America, Europe, and the Middle East, leaving a line of victims behind him.
Vince Flynn’s writing style is gripping, suspenseful, and interesting and if you’re fascinated by politics or international governance, his novels will be a brilliant addition to your reading list.
If you’ve enjoyed Flynn’s work or you’re just interested in the sound of the topic, these 20 book recommendations will be perfect for you.
House of Cards by Michael Dobbs
This brilliant novel follows Francis Urquhart on his journey to becoming Prime Minister of Britain. His intense ambition and hunger for power are so strong that nothing – not even his colleagues or friends – will stand in his way.
When his story becomes linked with Mattie Storin’s, a hard-core reporter with a drive to find the most scandalous stories, Francis’ life begins unraveling and his reputation is toyed with.
House of Cards is a fantastic novel combining greed, power, authority, scandal, and corruption, to highlight the inconsistencies of British politics.
Absolute Power by David Baldacci
The iconic political thinker and suspense writer, David Baldacci stuns readers with yet another best-seller. Absolute Power is the riveting tale of power, murder, and conspiracy within the White House.
It’ll make you question the legitimacy of American political systems and allow you to indulge in one of the most gripping crime novels available. If you want something that mixes crime and politics, this book is for you.
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
The Bourne Identity novels make up a long, 18-book series that was adapted into a series of films of the same name, starring Matt Damon.
Jason Bourne suffers from amnesia and can’t remember where he is or how he obtained so many bullet wounds. This action-packed story tells of this man’s journey back to reality, as he faces assassins, danger, and enemies at almost every corner.
The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
One of the books in Clancy’s iconic Jack Ryan series, The Hunt for Red October follows the Soviet submarine that is journeying west and into danger. The Russians are trying their best to retrieve it and the Americans desperately want their hands on it – but who will get there first?
Utilizing the real tension that existed between America and Russia following the Cold War, Clancy puts a fantastic spin on modern politics to create this suspenseful story set underwater.
Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst is at the center of the story, gathering all the information possible about this submarine and how to obtain it. He works against the Russian submarine commander, our other narrative lead, which creates a fantastic two-sided narrative.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré
This famous book follows George Smiley and his attempts to discover which of the intelligence officers in MI6 is in fact a Soviet mole.
John le Carré is one of the most well-decorated and recognized authors in British history. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was written in 1974 and is still one of the highest-rated novels in the genre.
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
Set in the center of the Cold War, American intelligence officer Marie is a young black woman working in a white-male-dominated industry.
She faces subtle discrimination and racism throughout her time with the FBI but soon lands the job everyone wants their hands on. She is challenged with gathering information about Thomas Sankara, the president of Burkina Faso who preaches Communism and poses a threat to America.
American Spy is a fantastic tale of espionage, power, racism, and ideology.
The Terminal List by Jack Carr
When James Reece discovers that his closest friends are not killed in an act of war by the enemy but rather an organized plan carried out by the government he serves, his allegiance changes.
He must get to the bottom of this conspiracy and unpack the layers of secrecy that he once swore to protect.
The Terminal List is a brilliant, gripping novel centering on the corruption of authorities.
Eye for an Eye by Ben Coes
Eye for an Eye combines American, Middle Eastern, and Asian politics in this almighty political thriller that uncovers moles, secrets, and corruption of global governments.
Combining physical skills with those needed to infiltrate foreign intelligence systems, Dewey Andreas is given a huge project and the lives of everyone around him are at risk.
The Gray Man by Mark Greaney
This is the novel that inspired the long-awaited film adaptation starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans.
The Gray Man follows a mysterious CIA operative who is hired to kill and will stop at nothing to hit every target. He’s the best in the industry but the American government has other plans for him and when his colleagues and superiors turn against him, he has no way out and is forced to go on the run.
Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter
A veteran of the Vietnam War, Bob, wants nothing more than to be left alone. He hopes to leave all of that behind him but a military organization has heard about his skill and persuades him to help with an assassination plot.
But Bob soon realizes he’s been set up and must now track down those who tricked him and set things right before the conspiracy reaches the government. Point of Impact is a brilliant, action-packed story that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Red Widow by Alma Katsu
Afraid that her CIA career may be reaching its end, Lyndsey is willing to take any job to prove herself.
She is recruited as part of an internal investigation to identify a mole in the Russian division of the CIA. She has a reputation for doing brilliant work within the intelligence force and recruited some of the best agents ever seen.
At the same time, the story details the life and career of Theresa, another agent whose husband was killed mysteriously. She lives with intense grief and the high-profile legacy that her husband left turns the heads of everyone in the division.
Red Widow follows the lives of both of these women as they interact, work individually, and fight their own battles.
The Killing Floor by Lee Child
He knows he’s innocent but evidence piles up against him. He must use his expertise to fight against the system but Georgian regulations are not going to make it easy.
The Lions of Lucerne by Brad Thor
Set in rural Utah, 30 CIA agents are brutally killed and the president has been taken hostage by a terrifying terrorist organization that has been threatening the security of the country for years.
But there’s one person that has a theory – one that contradicts all the news stories. He doesn’t believe this terrorist organization is to blame and he is determined to prove himself right.
But the more he uncovers, the more he threatens the security and safety of his superiors and ends up making enemies left, right, and center.
The Lions of Lucerne is a fantastically written novel filled with conspiracy, political motives, and mystery.
The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon
Sergeant Shaw returns from the Korean war, celebrated and praised for his contribution to warfare. He maintains a certain set of skills, skills that qualify him as an assassin but Communist powers control him.
Condon merges humor, crime, espionage, action, and political control, with a dangerously accurate satire of the American political structure.
The Manchurian Candidate is brilliantly critical, and funny, and will keep you guessing until the last word.
Hard Fire by J.B. Turner
Black ops veteran, Jon Reznick, is well-known for taking action and control. After losing a close friend, Jon is furious with the system and will spend his life hunting the person responsible if he has to.
Regardless of whether the government approves, Jon follows the clues that lead him on a dangerous path, one that crosses with the Mafia, and the FBI, and puts his life at risk numerous times.
As his relationships develop, he is forced to choose between people and his aspirations. Hard Fire is a great novel that mixes action and drama with political complexity, making for a gripping and enthralling read.
While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams
Avery works as a law clerk for Justice Wynn, her life is mundane and hardly worth living. But when Justice Wynn has a medical emergency, Avery is trusted with all the documents left behind and uncovers a plethora of clues that lead her down a legal minefield that peaks with the top of the medical field and the government.
While Justice Sleeps is a fantastic novel constructed through layers of information, character development, and secrets. As each chapter peels off another layer, the reader gets closer and closer to the core of the story.
Death of a Citizen by Donald Hamilton
Matt worked as a special agent during World War II on behalf of the American government. He has opted to leave his past behind him and has started a new life in Santa Fe, refusing to let the horrors of the war affect him.
But when his daughter goes missing, he must use the skills he refuses to use in order to get her back.
Warning Light by David Ricciardi
Zac Miller, an analyst working with the CIA, happens to be on a flight that must emergency land in Iran. Zac must use his skills to save the surveillance mission but he can’t help diving deeper and deeper into the case.
Warning Light details the journey Zac takes across continents to save a mission he was never involved with in the first place, and the people, organizations, and the danger he encounters will help him to understand his true potential.
The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva
The Kill Artist is the first in Silva’s Gabriel Allon series.
Gabriel, who previously worked as an Israeli intelligence officer now lives a quiet life. But he is forced back into the field when a previous enemy comes back on the scene. Not only does the novel detail Gabriel’s past but the plot is politically charged and provides valuable insight into the international relationships in the Middle East.
The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
This political classic, written by one of the leading authors in the genre, tells of the seventh assassination attempt of Charles de Gaulle.
The Day of the Jackal goes into incredible detail about the assassination plan, the political implications, and of course, the event itself.
Political thrillers are some of the most-read books ever written. Many action film lovers read political thrillers because of their suspenseful, action-packed plot lines. This, mixed with the typical governmental and political undercurrent that is guaranteed in this genre, draws millions to political thrillers every day.
Hopefully, you’ve found some inspiration in this article, there are plenty of political thrillers out there to explore!
David Baldacci has frequently been referenced as the most popular writer of political thrillers. He has written a broad range of novels that span multiple stories, characters, and situations.
What is a political thriller?
A suspenseful story with a strong grounding in politics or international relations. These novels frequently center around government officials and detail the action behind top-secret missions or international conflicts.
Is Vince Flynn still writing books?
No – Vince Flynn died in 2013 at the age of 47.
What are some of the main themes in political thrillers?
Suspense, politics, international conflict, espionage, murder, action, corruption, terrorism, war, and danger are all some of the themes you can expect from political thrillers.
What are the most popular political thriller and spy thriller books?
1. The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy (1984)
2. The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum (1980)
3. The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth (1971)
4. The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon (1959)
5. Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy (1989)
6. The Ghost by Robert Harris (2007)
7. The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy (1991)
8. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré (1963)
9. Seven Days in May by Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey (1962)
10. The Pelican Brief by John Grisham (1992)
11. Executive Orders by Tom Clancy (1996)
12. The Firm by John Grisham (1991)
13. The Quiet American by Graham Greene (1955)
14. The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins (1975)
15. Red Rabbit by Tom Clancy (2002)
16. The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum (1986)
17. The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum (1990)
18. The Bourne Legacy by Robert Ludlum (2004)
19. The Devil’s Alternative by Frederick Forsyth (1979)
20. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré (1974)