What makes a thriller a political thriller? Political thrillers often feature protagonists who work with or for the government, especially the military. Inevitably, they stumble across something they shouldn’t and end up fighting for their lives, the fate of the world, or both.
Using Goodreads ratings as a guide, we have compiled a list of the most popular political thriller books. Some you have undoubtedly heard of, and possibly even read, before; others may be new to you but are no less exciting. Even better, each book is the first of a series. Once you find something that makes your pulse pound and your palms sweat, you can jump straight into another book with the same characters and the same style of action, intrigue, and suspense. In no particular order, here are some of the most popular political thrillers, according to the number of Goodreads rankings they received.
David Baldacci's The Camel Club is the first entry in the thriller series of the same name. Its stars are a quartet of conspiracy enthusiasts who meet to debate and discuss what they think is "really" going on — until the day they find themselves embroiled in a very real, very deadly plot to destroy the world. After their inaugural adventure, the Camel Club continues to solve crimes, including political assassinations, terrorist bombings, and a whole lot worse.
An amnesiac with unexplained millions in the bank and the skillset of a killer: Jason Bourne's action-packed quest for answers is the basis of one of the best, most popular thrillers ever publishers. Robert Ludlum's original trilogy—The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum—is by far the best-known portion of the series, thanks in part to big-budget Hollywood adaptations. However, authors Eric Van Lustbader and Brian Freeman have contributed a combined twelve additional thriller books to this iconic series.
Jack Reacher killed multiple people as a military policeman. And yet, it is a murder that he didn't commit that lands him in trouble. After his inexplicable arrest in small-town Georgia, Reacher must rely on his professional talents and a sympathetic police officer to clear his name. Lee Child's "Jack Reacher" series has been thrilling audiences for nearly twenty-five years, and this is where it all began.
The General's Daughter is one of Nelson DeMille's most popular works. It introduces readers to Paul Brenner, an army investigator charged with solving the murder of an impeccable officer who was hiding a deadly secret life. Ten years after this explosive, unforgettable novel was published, DeMille penned a sequel, Up Country, that expanded the "Paul Brenner" universe with another tale of military murder and mysterious pasts.
Tom Clancy's "Jack Ryan" series currently has twenty entries and was the inspiration for films and TV shows alike. But it all started with one incredible, groundbreaking book: The Hunt for Red October. Ryan, an intelligence analyst for the CIA, is tasked with finding a rogue Soviet submarine before anyone else does. Failure to succeed in this mission could spell the end of the world as Ryan knows it.
The "Wolf Hall" trilogy is based on true events—specifically, the reign of England's King Henry VIII and his willingness to turn an entire nation upside-down to get what he wants. This series explores the role and ultimate fate of Thomas Cromwell, Henry's chief minister, who risks it all to please an unpleasable monarch. Seamlessly blending fact with fiction, Hilary Mantel's award-winning Wolf Hall provides a new and intimate perspective on a contentious moment in English history.
Also written by Nelson DeMille, "John Corey" stars a New York homicide detective who keeps finding himself on dangerous adventures, even when not on the job. In his debut, Corey is staying on Long Island to recover from gunshot wounds when a friend asks him to investigate two other shootings: the deaths of an inoffensive Midwestern couple. The series includes a total of seven books, plus a prequel and a crossover with award-winning thriller writer Lisa Scottoline.
Six kids with extraordinary abilities struggle for freedom and purpose in James Patterson's "Maximum Ride" series. Named for its young protagonist, "Maximum Ride" features plenty of shocking twists and heart-pounding action scenes. On a deeper level, it explores how far an unscrupulous government will go to attain power, and how far an embattled teenager will go to protect herself and the world that seemingly only wants to exploit her abilities.
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Eileen Gonzalez is a freelance writer from Connecticut. She has a Master’s degree in communications and years of experience writing about pop culture. She contributes to Book Riot and Foreword Reviews, and she occasionally tweets at @eileen2thestars.