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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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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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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!

1 person found this helpful

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excellent book

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

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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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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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Incredible

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

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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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  • Daniel Berelowitz
  • 29-05-2021

Gripping and thoroughly well researched

Incredible story that has been very well researched by the author. Thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend to anyone interested in espionage

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  • Anonymous User
  • 15-05-2021

Excellent

Like all of Ben's books, well written, detailed and compelling from start to finish.

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  • DFK
  • 28-04-2021

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
  • 17-09-2020

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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  • Kendo nagassaki
  • 24-05-2021

TOO TRIUMPHALIST

hardly a master spy..though was elevated to one by the total incompetence of counter intelligence..she left a trail a blind man could follow..she was obviously foreign ..spoke german in cafes with contacts ..openly accepted piles of documents in public..broadcast from a powerful transmitter from home..met her contact who arrived in russian military attaches car..then was allowed to slip off to freedom as with almost all traitors who hid in plain sight ..short of carrying a sign saying 'spy 'she couldnt have flagged🏴‍☠️ herself up more...It again flags ROGER HOLLIS up as a spy as he deflects attention from her..case proved in my mind.
she was a traitor of the highest level who ,as usual damaged the country that saved her life by sheltering her.And loyal to the country that persecuted her people...I hope this is read at highest levels of intelligence as lessons learnt..but I suspect it's still donkeys guarding lions..But Hollis definately a traitor yet to be unmasked..still being sheltered by the old school tie..

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  • Reviewer
  • 03-10-2020

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
  • 28-10-2020

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
  • 19-10-2020

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.

1 person found this helpful

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  • John Corcoran
  • 15-10-2020

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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  • chris
  • 04-08-2021

plodding at the beginning..... heats up

great book read by the author which is major for me as found mr macintyre in documentaries first.

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  • LondonLass
  • 29-07-2021

Solid research, fascinating story, well told.

This is a story of a person for whom I have no respect and who I think deserved far worse than she got out of life. However the research was good. The writing was marvellous. The story was engagingly told - and there were many characters, It could have been impossibly complicated. Macintyre is a real artist in the way he relates the events. I am especially impressed with his almost superhuman self-control when outlining Sonya's treachery to the country which gave her sanctuary. I'm sure I would have descended to criticism at that point. Despite how angry it made me, I'm glad I listened to this. Not a minute was wasted.

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  • Dubya
  • 19-07-2021

Ben is so listenable.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and especially enjoyed listening to Ben's voice. I'll seek out books in future that have been narrated by him.

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  • Mike
  • 11-07-2021

Excellent

Macintyre brings forth another well researched and well told history of espionage and the world that not only tells a new story but intertwined with his previous works such as his account of Kim Philby.

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