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Publisher's Summary

The incredible story of the greatest female spy in history, from one of Britain's most acclaimed historians.

In the quiet Cotswolds village of Great Rollright in 1944, a thin and unusually elegant housewife emerged from her cottage to go on her usual bike ride. A devoted mother of three, attentive wife and friendly neighbour, Sonya Burton seemed to epitomise rural British domesticity.

However, rather than pedalling towards the shops with her ration book, Sonya was heading for the Oxfordshire countryside to gather scientific secrets from a nuclear physicist. Secrets that would enable the Soviet Union to build the atomic bomb.

Far from an obedient homemaker, Sonya Burton was a dedicated communist, a decorated colonel and a veteran spy who risked her life to keep the Soviet Union in the nuclear arms race. Her husband was also a Soviet agent, and her children had three different fathers from lovers she'd encountered throughout her incredible career.

In Agent Sonya, Ben Macintyre reveals the astonishing story behind the most important woman spy in history and the huge emotional cost that came with being a mother, a wife and a secret agent at once.

©2020 Ben MacIntyre (P)2020 Penguin Audio

What listeners say about Agent Sonya

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  • DFK
  • 28-04-21

Interesting story of a dedicated communist spy

This story is interesting and presents a sympathetic history of Ursula Hamburger (code name Sonya). Sympathetic, because her ideals were sincere, her dedication was sincere, and the ills of society that would inspire someone to become a communist were real and still are. Only we know how it turned out, how it is truly hard to build a just society with freedom but also with a fairer distribution of wealth. Fighting fascism was a big part of her noble effort, and we can’t deny her heroism on that account. The story also touches on how someone copes with betrayal - in Sonya’s case, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, so that her beloved Moscow formed an alliance with the fascists. How could they?! The invasion of Finland by the Soviets was also a big disappointment to Sonya. And, Stalin’s evil. Sonya’s reactions and ways of coping with these betrayals of her values are interesting. People are often faced with such a sense of betrayal of values (clergy who prey on young victims comes to mind). How do we reconcile the ideal with the reality? Sonya made some difficult choices to do so, not necessarily admirable, but they make for a fascinating story. The ineptitude of some of the very important espionage organizations is also interesting (even if we already know about it from other books). The writing was good, overall, though sometimes the jumping around in time for the various characters could be confusing. Also, here and there some facts were repeated, so a better editing would be in order. For example, we learn about Ursula getting a 2nd Red Banner once somewhere in the middle of the book, and then at the very end, when telling some last details. Ben Macintyre is a reasonable narrator for his own work, but a professional narrator might have made it more dramatic.

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  • Jayceon1888
  • 17-09-20

Another Great Story

I’ve been waiting on this audiobook to be released and was not disappointed. If you like any of Ben McIntyre’s other books then this is another great story told in the same way as his others. A lot of research has went into it and just like others from Ben it’s takes you back in time and you feel like you’re there watching this unfold. Another 5 star book

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  • Anonymous User
  • 28-10-20

An extraordinary story

An extraordinary story. Very well written and read. Completely absorbing, all the more so because it is a story based on facts that sometimes read like fiction.

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  • AJP
  • 19-10-20

Superb

Another brilliant book from Ben Macintyre. A fascinating story of a remarkable spy and some incompetent British spy catching! The book is excellently narrated by the author and I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in spies and history.

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  • John Corcoran
  • 15-10-20

An Interesting Story Underpinned by Sadness

Ben MacIntyre recounts in his usual interesting and engaging style the story of 'Sonya'. Her commitment is undoubted. One is left wondering though, if Ben has not succumbed to the desire to in some ways to lionise his subject matter. She was a rigid ideologically driven woman who was, it seems clear, perfectly prepared to sacrifice all who loved her for what she rationalised as a higher cause. The fate of her first husband Rudi is heart breaking, his continued loyalty to Marxism Leninism is simply incomprehensible, and is a testimony to the psychological damage of ideological possession. The undoubted sufferings of her children, particularly her eldest son Michael, are rather underplayed I feel. In the end her sacrifices were of little value, the God she created was an idol, and her life, whilst interesting and undoubtedly filled with disciplined commitment was founded on a deception, which she refused to personally acknowledge.

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  • Reviewer
  • 03-10-20

hmmmm

Have loved all of Ben Macintyre's books and they never fail to entertain and they are never boring. But.....I am obviously the odd one out as I found this listen quite hard going. Just couldn't warm to the main protaganist and couldn't have cared what happened to her. Hey ho I am obviously in the minority.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-05-21

Brilliant book,

So well written and spoken.
Very hard to take a break from listening.
Look forward to the next book by Ben.

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  • Richard
  • 15-04-21

Utterly engaging from start to finish. It is amazing how much impact one woman had on the shape of the world.

If you have any interest in history this engaging book is definitely for you. Also if you just like a thriller.

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  • Morris
  • 03-04-21

Better than fiction

This is a brilliant book about an incredible woman who lived a quite unbelievable life. As they say, you couldn't make this stuff up. Whatever you think of her politics, Ursula Kuczynski led the most extraordinary life during some of the most turbulent years of the twentieth century. Ben Macintyre's prose is lucid and succinct, and his narration is clear and moving. I had to laugh at some of his more deadpan comments.

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  • I. Price
  • 04-03-21

Excellent!

Another tour de force by Ben Macintyre. A story of communism, espionage, love and duty.

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  • merlin d magician
  • 19-02-21

incredible........ what an amazing tale!

this is an amazing journey into the life and world of agent Sonya aka Ursula Burton...... for the first time I have been able to understand how the cold war espionage war began out of the ashes of ww2s intense spy games.........well written, and well narrated by the author......enjoy able and fascinating up till the very end.....

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-11-20

Good story.

Great story. Well read. Hard to view Sonya with the same degree of sympathy as portrayed by the author. I found it a bit difficult to believe that she didn't know what was going on during the Stalinist purges etc. Spies seem to be very driven and pathological individuals who are, dare I say it, ultimately quite flawed and often hard to like. Great con artists obviously. Do read, I thoroughly recommend.

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  • Lisa Rowntree
  • 06-05-21

excellent book

thoroughly enjoyed this excellent book. very well narrated. Amazing story and best of all it's true.

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  • Melinda
  • 07-12-20

Riveting and educational

Sonya’s career charts communisms rise and demise and global reach. Eloquent. Intelligent. Compelling. Brings ideology to life.

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  • Blue Mercedes
  • 03-12-20

What Comes First? Family Or Ideology?

Despite her actions, Sonya wasn't a traitor, nor was she treacherous towards the UK because, of course, she wasn't British. In fact, perhaps she helped prevent nuclear Armageddon by ensuring the Soviets were able to construct an atomic bomb, and thus enable them to maintain a level playing field during the cold war. Her dedication to her beliefs was amazing, and even inspiring, but putting her children at so much risk for the sake of her espionage activities was questionable. What comes first? Family or ideology? No matter what, she was a woman to be admired and this true story, so well narrated by Ben Macintyre, is a testament to total dedication in the face of danger and adversity.

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  • Madeleine Stockden
  • 28-10-20

Incredible

Incredible story and even more incredible to know it is all true. A must read/ listen

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  • Anonymous User
  • 27-10-20

Amazing work of non fiction that you’d swear was fiction

Incredible story of real life 20th century espionage, we’ll read. A compelling listen, thoroughly recommended!

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  • Richard
  • 03-10-20

Absolutely fascinating

One gets the strong impression that Macintyre is very sympathetic towards Sonya and her motives despite her treachery. True Marxism is another form of blind religious fanaticism. Despite all that happened to Sonya and her friends and family at the hands of Stalin and the CCP she remained loyal to her ideals despite the harsh reality of her communist superiors. Any form of fanaticism is myopic , delusional and dangerous. MI5 and MI6 have a lot to answer for. Highly recommended. I can’t wait for another true spy thriller book from Macintyre!