My Must-Read Book Collection: Spy Novels

I find it extremely difficult when people approach me and ask for a book recommendation. It’s an impossible task because the sheer number of books in each genre is mind-boggling! And to pick one at random and tell someone to read it is akin to a crime in my head.

So I’ve decided to share my must-read book collection with the world in a very methodical way. Every month, I will pick one category and share some of the best books I’ve read in that genre. So anytime you feel the craving to read a book and are looking for some help, you know where to find it!

And the category I’m going to start off with is: Spy Novels

Spy-Novels

A good spy novel is one which grips you from the get-go. A lot of writers have tried their hand at this genre but few manage to make a mark. The reason behind this is a good spy novel combines elements of heavy research, good story and solid characters. This combination takes a writer who is super-smart, tenacious and has a solid writing style.

Across the years, I have read a lot of spy novels which attempt to take the reader into the cloak and dagger world of espionage. But only the following novels managed to capture my entire attention and transport me to the realm of secrecy, shadows and suspense!

1. The Deceiver

The Deceiver

A classic spy novel by the legendary Frederick Forsyth. The Deceiver takes the reader into the life of a British Secret agent by the name of Sam McCready and his most successful missions.

This spy novel is a particular favorite of mine because the four missions of Sam in the book show the different skills and tactics required from an actual spy who works undercover. The author doesn’t mince words when describing the ethical dilemmas and the cold inhuman decisions which are a part and parcel of a spy’s life.

Another interesting theme described is the importance of relying on human intelligence as opposed to gadgets and drones. Sam in his various missions demonstrates how a superior human agent can always exploit the loopholes in technology and thereby makes a strong case for using humans in covert operations.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

(Other awesome spy novels by the same author: The Fist of God , The Afghan )

2. The Matarese Circle

the-matarese-circle

The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum is a lesser known spy novel by the legendary author who created the Bourne series. This spy novel pits the protagonists Brandon Scofield (US Intelligence) and Vasili Taleniekov ( Soviet KGB) against a mysterious organization called Matarese.

Matarese is a dynasty which has it’s secret origins around 100 years back and is led by an evil mastermind. The natural enemy spies who hate each other must combine forces to save their respective nations from falling prey to Matarese!

I love this book because it is a solid example of spy fiction which transports you to the Cold-War era and the filled with suspicion and a wariness resulting from long battle. And it’s one of the few books which forces the natural enemies in the spy world to collaborate towards a common goal!

I remember losing all sense of time when reading this novel and having a grim look on my face till I reached the end of the novel. Action, superior intelligence strategies and amazing characters make this an unputdownable book!

PS: Ludlum is extra awesome because he follows this novel with a sequel called Matarese Countdown which is equally gripping with a CIA protagonist and a ruthless new villain!

Rating: 4 / 5

(Other awesome spy novels by the same author: The Ambler Warning, The Covert-One Series )

3. The Company

the-company robert littell

Don’t read this book unless you are a serious espionage fan and can spare a week. Because it’s extremely addictive and is a mammoth read (900 pages!) which can piss off your near and dear ones as they try to get your attention.

The Company is a definitive novel by Robert Littell about the infamous CIA(Central Intelligence Agency) which showcases its history from 1950 to 1995. This is a must-read for all those wanting to understand the dynamics of intelligence history and the moves of the big players following World War-II.

The CIA’s involvement in the defection of Burgess and MacLean from Britain to the Soviet Union(thus ending Britain as a superpower), the Suez Canal crisis, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis are covered extremely well. Also the arming of rebels in Afghanistan to combat Russia and the Gulf War are featured with a very good amount of detail.

The best part of the novel is that you end up learning all these things without realizing them as you are caught in the gripping story-line and associate yourself with many characters as the novel progresses. You get to know a large number of young men and women recruited while still in college and their battle with themselves and the world as they rise through the ranks of the Company.

Don’t miss the character called The Sorcerer (Harvey Torretti), a heavy-drinking chief of the Berlin office in the early Cold War days. He re-defines the trope of badass spy who can be drunk as a fish while carrying out super-complicated covert operations.

Rating: 5 / 5 

 

4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

George Smiley: Short, fat and boring.

Atleast that’s what James Bond fans would call him. This John LeCarre novel is close to my heart because it sheds all the fancy glamorous bits of what we associate with the world of spies.

The hero of the novel is a disciplined intelligence professional who was forced to retire. He is called upon to hunt down a Soviet mole in the “Circus”, the highest echelon of the British Secret Intelligence Service.

This is not an easy book to read as you don’t have all the answers to the puzzle before the characters. The timeline is non-linear, and contains many subplots. As a reader, you will be left observing the actions of the characters and you must put together the pieces yourself!

But at the end of it, you’ll realize it’s totally worth it. You learn the psychological approaches to interrogation along with many intelligence operations details which other novels never capture. And of course you’ll fall in love with Smiley, the legendary spymaster as he battles his way through the darkness cast by the shadows of his enemies.

Rating: 4 / 5

(Other awesome spy novels by the same author: The Honourable Schoolboy, Smiley’s People)

5. The Key to Rebecca

The Key To Rebecca

The Key To Rebecca is my most favorite Ken Follett book. The novel starts in 1942 as the World War II is raging, and the now legendary German general Erwin Rommel is having success after success with his famous Afrika Corps.

The Nazis are planning to invade Cairo and Rommel wishes to urgently hack into the British intelligence from their Headquarters in Cairo. So Rommel sends a master spy known only as the “Sphinx,”into British occupied Egypt. Then begins the roller coaster ride as the Sphinx tries to outwit his opponents and faces many obstacles.

I absolutely love this book because it was the first ever spy novel which kept me up all night! It’s a fantastic thriller which keeps you on edge as you start rooting for the anti-hero Sphinx as he devilishly wades through dangerous waters. A must, must-read indeed!

Rating:  4.5 /5 

(Other awesome spy novels by the same author: Eye of the Needle, Triple)

Over to You

Hope this post introduced you to some books which were new to you. Don’t forget to give them a try and let me know what you thought of them. And if you have any favorite spy novels which you think are a must-read, tell me about them in the comments!

Cheers!

What is My Calling in Life?

What is the Purpose of Life? Why am I here?

What is my Calling in Life?

These are the questions we might have asked ourselves at one point or another in our life. They carry so much power because they get us to focus on the crux of our reason for exist and help define our direction in life.

More and more people are growing weary of pursuing a traditional 9 to 5 job. They are beginning to realize that they have a limited time on this planet and it’s much better to do something meaningful than chase after the trappings of money, fame and power.

This has led to the search for a calling in life. A Calling is what gives you the purpose to carry out actions; it makes them meaningful while giving you fulfillment. But to discover this is not an easy task. It requires extensive soul-searching and dedication.

Agapi Stassinopoulos had written a brilliant article on Huffington post which inspired me to write this post and elaborate on the theme mentioned there. She talks about the importance of answering five crucial questions at various stages in life if you want to discover your calling. These questions also help you to check if you’re on the right track.

“I don’t know what my calling is, but I want to be here for a bigger reason. I strive to be like the greatest people who have ever lived”

Will Smith

What am I here to Learn?

Learn
PC: TheRodinHoods

Unfortunately as people grow up, they forget to ask themselves this question. Just think about it. As a kid you always knew what you wanted next. Your innate curiosity and enthusiasm made you constantly explore and seek new things to learn about.

But as you grew up, you started taking things for granted.  Complacency set in. You began to learn what others thought you should. Blind following replaced active curiosity. Fear of ridicule replaced bold energy.

The wise men have often told us that we’re all here to learn lessons from life. These might vary for every individual but they help each one in the evolution of his/her being. That curiosity which propelled you as a kid still exists. It is not dead yet. All that is needed is for you to ask yourself what lessons you wish to learn.

This realization will definitely help you to discover your calling.

 What am I here to Teach?

teach_first1
PC: LondonFirst

You might say I don’t really want to teach anyone! But whether you realize it or not, every moment of our existence is spent in either learning from others about new things or teaching others what we know.

Teachings need not be given out from a stage. An innocent conversation among friends in a pub, a harsh scolding to shake someone up from their laziness or even a funny joke about life can be enough to trigger powerful teachings which might affect the listener.

So ask yourself what are you teaching those around you without being conscious of it? Do people naturally gravitate to you when they need advice on a particular topic? Are you considered a natural expert on something?

You never know when the answer might lead you to become a visionary in a field which has been calling out to you!

What am I here to Overcome?

Overcome Obstacles

Just as we are gifted with unique strengths, we all have our share of weaknesses and fears. Your ability to find your calling will depend on asking yourself what these are how you’ll overcome them.

When you start replacing “I am afraid of” and “I can never do that” with “I won’t let it hold me back” and “I may fail but I’ll definitely try”, you start creating opportunities out of obstacles. As rapper 50 cent calls it ‘You begin to turn shit into sugar’

By doing this you will open yourself to new vistas previously unexplored. The very things you fear will help you find that elusive purpose in life you have been searching all along. Your calling is hidden in your deepest fears waiting to be discovered. Move ahead boldly and make it yours!

What am I here to Complete?

puzzle_incomplete-1

We all seek fulfillment don’t we? Have you ever wondered why we use that specific word “ful –fill –ment”? Because the word signifies the need to finish, the need to complete what we started. To become whole again by adding your contributions to this world.

Another dimension to this question is to realize this completing does not refer to external activities. The outer work is there to fill the inner void. What burning desire in you compels you to action? What is that thing you seek to find by doing all the activities that you do?

The moment you find that thing seeking completion, you can be sure you have found your calling. Your quest will become clearer as the shadows of uncertainty fade away giving way to the light of your wisdom.

What am I here to Express?

Martin Luther King

This is probably the toughest among all questions to find the answer to. It will require you to look inwards and listen to your heart.

Your life is an expression of your intent. All your thoughts and words are already aligned in giving this unique expression its own form. What’s needed is for you to find what you are already expressing without your knowledge.

It may be a value, belief or a vision. Your expression will be hidden in the depths of your actions. The difficult part is to name it and embrace it. The moment that happens you will fearlessly announce your message to the entire world.

 “Non- Violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind” – Mahatma Gandhi

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed” – Martin Luther King Jr

See how the expressions of these two great souls reflect their lives?

Persist and Don’t Give Up

Jobs quote

You will face difficulties. You will have to tolerate others telling you to play safe and stick to the conventional paths. Heck, you might even have to face loneliness in your journey. But if you persist long enough, you will definitely stumble onto your true calling in life.

Remember, what differentiates successful people from others is their ability to stay longer with the problem than ignoring it or running away from it.

I hope you find the answer to these questions and find your true calling in life.

Cheers!

What Stops Me From Achieving Goals?

Listen to this.

‘From the minute I set my goals, I have worked very hard. I did all the things which I felt would bring me closer to my goals. I have stuck them in a prominent place where I remind myself of them every day! But the more I keep pushing myself and trying to reach them, the more they seem elusive. What stops me from achieving my goals?’

‘What am I doing wrong??’

If you are someone who can relate to this, trust me you are not alone. These questions have haunted me too! I used to wonder what it was that I was doing wrong and after a long time, it struck me.  I almost always knew what I needed to do to achieve my goals. The problem was in the way I approached the process of achieving them.

In most of my failed goals, these were the traits which stood out.

Stress, Fatigue, Impulsive Action, Laziness, Impatience

What is common among these traits? They all represent extremes. This is the ugly truth about most of our goals. Either we are in too much of a hurry to achieve them. Or we try so hard that they cause burnout and we give up on them. Both of these extremes rarely yield results.

Watch out for these danger signs before you begin to chase your goals.

Instant Gratification

Instant Gratification
Photo by Sam Davis(Flickr)

“Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan…”

Tom Landry

It is human nature to want things here and now. Especially in today’s age where internet is flooded with messages such as ‘Lose Weight in 15 days’, ‘Become a millionaire in a month’, it is hard to remain focused and persist with our action plan.

The reality is, anything worth achieving takes time and consistent effort. Most successful people treat their life as a marathon which consists of maintaining a long and steady rhythm in effort combined with a laser-like focus.

Your goals should reinforce your purpose and motivate you to go through the grind. If you start finding that instead of pushing you forward, they are compelling you to seek instant results and making you lose focus, it’s time to take a long hard look about whether they’re worth it.

Burn-out

Burnout Girl
PC: Helga Weber

“Great Work is not ordinarily done in busyness”

Elizabeth Skoglund

This is one of the extremes which you should be very careful about. Often people set over-arching goals which require them to stretch their limits all the time. As human beings, we are capable of achieving whatever we set our minds to. But this doesn’t mean we push ourselves so hard that we break.

When you try to achieve too many goals at once, the process will overwhelm you. Very soon, before you realize you will start getting frustrated with the lack of results. This often leads to becoming wary of your own efforts and the beginning of procrastination.

The end result? You will lose trust in the power of goals and become content with a complacent existence which may end up making you mediocre.

A better way is to plan goals in such a way that they remain aligned to your overall purpose in life. And smart people always set a limited number of goals which allow them to manage their energy levels without suffering burnout. Learn from them and remember the 80-20 rule. Focus 80% of your energy on the 20% of goals which will make a difference in your life!

Rewarding Yourself Too Early / Never Rewarding Yourself

Balance
Pc: WinnieFredxoxo

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony”

Thomas Merton

For some of you, there will be an over-enthusiastic fellow waiting inside of you who will pounce at each small milestone and tempt you saying ‘Go on! You have already achieved this much! Go and celebrate! In fact celebrate double!!’

We all know how this usually ends. The celebration becomes a party and the party results in a bad hangover. By this time, all the momentum that had been built in you slowly dissipates bringing you to square one. Very few people recover from this temporary high and begin their uphill battle. Most just give up.

The opposite is equally true, if not more dangerous. Unless your goals have milestones where you stop and unwind, it will be very difficult to sustain the enthusiasm and keep going. Whenever you get the feeling you have been at it too long, give yourself a well-deserved break and swing back into action.

Remember the secret which will help you avoid both these extremes is balance.

Seeking Approval of Others

Disapproval
Pc: Daniela Vladimirova

“People striving for approval from others become phony”

Ichiro Suzuki

This behaviour is seen when you become obsessed with getting recognized by others for your goals. Or even worse, you start setting goals to please others and gain their approval.

It’s natural for us as social creatures to want to be recognized and accepted. Achievement and recognition are the pillars which drive all the successful people. But there is a subtle difference here.

The moment you let your goals be defined by other people’s standards, you begin to suffer. Because no matter how hard you try, others will always have their own opinion of how you ought to be doing things and what you need to be chasing in life.

An important component of achieving goals is the amount of control on your actions. As long as you are able to define your own standards and live upto them, you will succeed. But the moment you fall into the trap of pleasing others and begin to change your goals, you will be writing your own downfall.

Fear

Fear on dice

“Fear stifles our thinking and actions. It creates indecisiveness that results in stagnation. I have known talented people who procrastinate indefinitely rather than risk failure. Lost opportunities cause erosion of confidence, and the downward spiral begins”

Charles Stanley

Perhaps the biggest reason why goals fail is fear. It is also easy to succumb to your fears and convince yourself that you are not good enough or that you will try next year.

The funny thing about fear is it grows stronger every moment you allow it to live. It thrives on inaction and doubt and makes you begin to doubt your own potential.

Don’t fall for it.

If you have set goals which are ambitious, allow them to take you to paths unexplored. Remind yourself that the very reason you set such audacious goals is because you wanted to conquer fear and move past your limitations.

Don’t let your failure in the past or dread of the future prevent you from taking action. Take inspiration from the steady ant which marches carrying food weighing thousand times its weight. Observe how it moves with absolute focus and overcoming all obstacles to reach its destination.

Such an attitude of calm mindfulness and continuous determination will definitely make your goals a reality.

Over to You

I hope that this advice helps you in beating some of those obstacles which stop you from achieving your goals. Remember the acronym SMART of goal setting? It’s popular because it works! So keep your goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound.

Doing that and avoiding the extremes mentioned here will ensure you achieve almost all of your goals!

Cheers!