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Publisher's Summary

The “master storyteller” (San Francisco Chronicle) behind the New York Times best seller The Spy and the Traitor uncovers the true story behind the Cold War’s most intrepid female spy.

“[An] immensely exciting, fast-moving account.” (The Washington Post)

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Foreign Affairs • Kirkus Reviews Library Journal

In 1942, in a quiet village in the leafy English Cotswolds, a thin, elegant woman lived in a small cottage with her three children and her husband, who worked as a machinist nearby. Ursula Burton was friendly but reserved, and spoke English with a slight foreign accent. By all accounts, she seemed to be living a simple, unassuming life. Her neighbors in the village knew little about her.

They didn’t know that she was a high-ranking Soviet intelligence officer. They didn’t know that her husband was also a spy, or that she was running powerful agents across Europe. Behind the facade of her picturesque life, Burton was a dedicated Communist, a Soviet colonel, and a veteran agent, gathering the scientific secrets that would enable the Soviet Union to build the bomb.

This true-life spy story is a masterpiece about the woman code-named “Sonya”. Over the course of her career, she was hunted by the Chinese, the Japanese, the Nazis, MI5, MI6, and the FBI - and she evaded them all. Her story reflects the great ideological clash of the twentieth century - between Communism, Fascism, and Western democracy - and casts new light on the spy battles and shifting allegiances of our own times.

With unparalleled access to Sonya’s diaries and correspondence and never-before-seen information on her clandestine activities, Ben Macintyre has conjured a pause-resisting history of a legendary secret agent, a woman who influenced the course of the Cold War and helped plunge the world into a decades-long standoff between nuclear superpowers.

©2020 Ben Macintyre (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“[Ben] Macintyre at once exalts and subverts the myths of spy craft.” (The New Yorker)

“Macintyre is fastidious about tradecraft details.... [He] has become the preeminent popular chronicler of British intelligence history because he understands the essence of the business.” (David Ignatius, The Washington Post)

“Macintyre writes with the diligence and insight of a journalist, and the panache of a born storyteller.” (John Banville, The Guardian [UK])

What listeners say about Agent Sonya

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A celebration of communism

I made it about 5 chapters into this boring slog before I finally started to give up and skip ahead. The book is first off just incredibly dull. I love history books - but this is just drivel - like someone who read a spy book once while vacationing in East Germany and then decided their write a book themselves. The author clearly loves communism - sure he’ll throw in a tiny comment here or there so he can claim his view is balanced - but he clearly loves communism. Which is good since I’m returning the book and he won’t be mad at losing that money. Even with the love for a system that murdered 100-million people in the last 100 years this was still incredibly dull. F-

32 people found this helpful

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Wanted to love it

The Spy and the Traitor was one of the best books I’ve ever read. I was hoping this would be similar. It was good, but it was so extensive and covered so many years that inevitably there were an incredible amount of contacts/code names/double and triple agents. It was hard to follow at some points. I still enjoyed it but there was more rewinding to re-listen than I usually do.

7 people found this helpful

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Spies rebealed

As always McIntyre writes a sharp biographical and revealing historical account of spies. I love his works! And will be a big fan in a world where spies abound.

6 people found this helpful

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Shockingly Good

This is a shocking dissertation on the ineptitude of British and American counterintelligence from WW2 through the early stages of the Cold War. It also paints a vivid picture of the naïveté of the communists of the 20th century. Even when confronted by the evil of Communism and Socialism they blindly followed this lie to the Gulag and into despair.

Great narration and it shows how a young German Jew at the height of persecution almost destroyed the world.

4 people found this helpful

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educational

First time author for me. When I got this book I thought it was going to be historical fiction, a spy story of a Soviet spy during World war II. But it was more of a documentary of a real life spy. While it didn't have the suspense of a fictional spy novel it was still interesting and educational.

When you think of Soviet spies you might first think that most of them were Russian. But when you think it through, especially in listening to this book, you realize that prior to World War II, the communist movement was worldwide. Therefore, the spies could have, and did, come from everywhere.

In this case, 'Sonya' was a German Jew that came of age in Berlin after World War I and saw the inequities of the Weimar Republic, the poor and disenfranchised, and blamed it on the government and that conceptually communism was the fairest way to go. She became a lifelong die hard communist. Throw Hitler and fascism, Jewish persecution on top of that and you had someone who dedicated their life to right that injustice. This book tells her story and the environment she operated in. It's quite the story really.

2 people found this helpful

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Unexpectedly interesting

Well written and narrated, a solid story having a beginning, middle, and true conclusion. I was expecting another fluffy winding story with so many Russian names thrown-in that I lost track of the players, but this book was like an arrow fired from beginning to end; I may have cheered the conclusion.

2 people found this helpful

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One of the author’s best works

An extraordinary life story, beautifully told by a master of the genre. This is Ben MacIntyre at his best. A true pleasure to read!

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Trump should thank her for his presidency

In a roundabout way this is very true- Vladimir Putin has “thanked her” for her service-he has stated that Russian surveillance is unparalleled- without Ursula Kuczynski and Klaus Fuchs the secrets of the Manhattan Project and the atom bomb would never have reached the Russians- this changed the dynamics of world power that exists today-something to definitely ponder and think about

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A thoroughly account of the life of a super spy

A flabbergasting tour de Force of a soviet super spy well hidden in an english countryside woman. Mother, worker, lover....spy. A magnificent account of the cold war sought through the eyes of an incredible woman, born as a product of WWII. Well written and marvelous read by an excellent voice. Truly recommended audiobook indeed.

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An incredible story

I enjoy Macintyre’s books. This one is the first I’ve listened to that’s narrated by the author himself, and his voice isn’t as pleasant as the narrator of the other audiobooks. But the story is gripping and was unfamiliar to me. Good to remember that WWII and Cold War spy adventures are not just Bond-type macho adventures.

1 person found this helpful