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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 (109 ratings)

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Agent Sonya

Written by: Ben Macintyre
Narrated by: Ben Macintyre
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Publisher's Summary

New York Times Best Seller

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

“[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 façade 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 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

What the critics say

“[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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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.

3 people found this helpful

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Exceptional story

While I don't sympathize with Sonya and her life choices, I absolutely admire her resolve and determination. The story itself is amazing and it grabbed me from the beginning to the very end. It made me aware of historic facts I did not know previously. Overall I consider it to be a very well told life story and not simply a spy novel. I couldn't recommend it enough to anyone even remotely interested in 20th century history.

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Macintyre Is the King of writing about spies

His books almost read like novels. He paints a well delineated picture of the spies, their life and times. You get the full context and the jeopardy. Spies are very singular courageous people, who put their lives on the line to support their beliefs about how society to operate.

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Incredible Story

Every bit as exciting as a fictional spy thriller- only it actually happened! The reading of it by the author was excellent as well. I wasn’t familiar with Macintyre before now but will look him out in future.

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Fantasy

Suspenseful, consuming, and educational at the same time. A romp through some of the most interesting history of the mid-20th century

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This was an excellent read.

I was drawn into Ursula's life from the get go. Ben Macintyre wrote her story so that I could put myself in Agent Sonya's shoes, in her time and place. So that though I know what she did was wrong, I could empathize with many of her decisions.

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Another tour de force by Macintyre

The fictional characters of Le Carré, Flemming, or Deighton have nothing on the real life characters that MacIntyre brings to life in his books. Agent Sonya has now taken her place in my growing library of MacIntyre's books next to Oleg Gordievsky, Paddy Mayne, Kim Philby, and Major Martin. Can't wait for his next book, and I don't care what it will be.

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Couldn't Stop Listening

Incredible true story, reads like a spy thriller! In addition to what the other reviewers have said I will add that I am not a student of communist or Soviet or WW2 History, and have at best a passing knowledge. The author does a great job circling back to remind the reader of the importance of other actors without derailing rhe pace of the narrative.

I immediately searched for more from Ben MacIntyre

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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-

37 people found this helpful

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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.

12 people found this helpful

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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.

7 people found this helpful

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  • CDB1
  • 2020-12-11

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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  • pedro filipuzzi
  • 2021-05-23

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.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Stevon
  • 2021-01-30

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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  • Mike
  • 2020-12-17

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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  • Ellen
  • 2020-12-16

Loved this Book

Ben Macintyre does it again . He’s written a thoroughly researched book that pulled me in from the very first page. His writing is very engaging and the narrator is perfect. Highly recommend this book.

2 people found this helpful

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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!

2 people found this helpful

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  • MM
  • 2021-09-25

Dear Ben, leave narration to the pros

You overemphasize the final phrase or word in every other sentence, and these words and phrases are repeated (and repeated...).

As for the content, you seem to have lost your objectivity and developed a crush on this female spy, and the book has suffered. Stick with males, and let the superb John Lee do the talking.

1 person found this helpful