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Top 5 books on secret statecraft, chosen by Rory Cormac

Author, professor and historian Rory Cormac selects five books on intelligence and covert action

How to Stage a Coup author Rory Cormac picks his top five books dealing with intelligence and covert action.

1. The Secret State: Preparing for the Worst, 1945-2010 by Peter Hennessy

Hennessy is the historian’s historian. His classic book on top-secret preparations for nuclear war is terrifying, revelatory and morbidly entertaining in equal measure.  

2. The Zinoviev Letter by Gill Bennett

As a former chief historian of the Foreign Office, Bennett knows her way around secret archives. Although a tale of spies, conspiracy and subversion from the 1920s, The Zinoviev Letter has particular resonance in our supposedly post-truth world of today.  

3. We Are Bellingcat: An Intelligence Agency for the People by Eliot Higgins 

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Spying is the world’s second oldest profession, existing well before states ever did. Today Bellingcat not only exposes secret statecraft, but reminds us that such activity is not limited to states. 

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4. Secret Wars: Covert Conflict in International Politics by Austin Carson 

How To Stage A Coup by Rory Cormac is out now (Atlantic, £20)

Secret wars are loud, visible and not especially secret. Carson explains why states “collude in the fiction of secrecy” when funding and arming rebel fighters – an important topic given the demise of secrecy in our era of smartphones and big tech.  

5. Queen Victoria’s Journals by Queen Victoria

Now fully digitised, the diaries of Queen Victoria are a surprising treasure trove of monarchical meddling. She loved spy craft and secretly used her relatives across Europe to further her own interests: a real royal spymaster.

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