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Agent Sonya

Moscow's Most Daring Wartime Spy
Written by: Ben Macintyre
Narrated by: Ben Macintyre
Length: 14 hrs and 14 mins
4.8 out of 5 stars (6 ratings)

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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.

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 20th 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 captivating 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

What listeners say about Agent Sonya

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Work-life balance gone awry

Those familiar with Ben Macintyre’s previous books such as Operation Mincemeat and Agent Zigzag will find the style here very similar. The author uses an enthralling and exciting spy story about a unique individual to help describe some very important historic events of the 20th century. Agent Sonya/Ursula Kuczynski was, prior to this book, not very well known to the western side of the iron curtain. Klaus Fuchs is probably the better-known protagonist historically. She was and remains a huge hero to the Russians and their allies. Ursula’s primary motivation seems to have been a ruthless dedication to communism. She was undoubtedly very lucky but had an amazing knack of being in the right place at the right time. It is telling that her children, by three separate fathers, Misha/Michael, Nina and Peter, all had had thoughts about whether they were just cover for Ursula’s espionage career. At times she certainly used them as convenient tradecraft devices and just dumped them when necessary, for example by putting Misha in boarding school. However, there was clearly a very loving and altruistic side to her. She was very devoted to her friends, unless they were purged by Stalin, but that was her honed survival instinct coming to the fore. She retained very strong feelings for first husband Rudy and her various spy lovers and other husbands even after the initial passion had left those relationships. An incredible ability to compartmentalize the various aspects of her life was demonstrated throughout as well as unbelievable time management skills. It is an interesting thought experiment to try and imagine what kind of a person she would have been in today’s world. This is certainly up there with his other works and very well read by the author.

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  • Robert Bell
  • 2020-09-30

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.

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  • Virginia
  • 2020-09-30

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.

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  • Marina
  • 2020-09-26

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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  • Rodney
  • 2020-10-17

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-

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  • Aaron E. Michel
  • 2020-10-13

Hard to believe

How these protagonists can ignore the destructive nature of socialism is hard to believe. In their own choices they show how nature moves us along regardless of our stupidity.

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  • Aliza
  • 2020-10-05

A spectacular study of a superb spy

This is the second book of Ben MacIntyre’s that I have read. And I fully plan to go back and read all the others. I don’t believe there must be any other book that describes with the warmth, delicacy, detail, and acuity the life of any spy. This is a study of nuances, but an ideologue who must betray so many for her understanding of the greater good. Anyone who has secretly felt that they live a double life for any reason can probably identify with many facets of Ursula’s life. Highly recommended!

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  • Suzanne Vaught
  • 2020-10-05

awesome read

loved it highly recommend it. i enjoyed learning about a woman id never heard of. fascinating