• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of Agent Sonya by Ben Macintyre

Ursula Burton, an unassuming mother and wife, was a legendary real-life spy who evaded capture by China, the Nazis, MI6, and the FBI. She was known by the code name Sonya.

History was pivoting around her. Before the war, she had spied against fascists and anti-communists, Chinese, Japanese, and German; during the conflict, she had spied against both the Nazis and the Allies; after it, and henceforth, she would be spying against the West, the new enemies in a Cold War.


Agent Sonya: Moscow's Most Daring Wartime Spy is made up of vividly recounted behind-the-scenes peeks at real-life Cold War intrigue from the talented author Ben Macintyre.


Ursula Burton lived a quiet life with her children and husband in a small English village. She spoke with a slight accent and kept largely to herself. She was actually a high-ranking Soviet intelligence officer sending and receiving secret wireless signals, managing a network of agents across Europe, and maintaining her rabidly dedicated Communist views. The unassuming-seeming mother and wife was actually a legendary spy who evaded capture by China, the Nazis, MI6, and the FBI. She was known by the code name Sonya.


Macintyre is gifted at pulling facts from diaries, records, and correspondence to craft compelling nonfiction. Ursula is not a particularly sympathetic figure, but this is still a collection of interesting revelations about clandestine operations and the workings of the Soviet spy network during the Cold War.


The book explores clashes of ideology; the challenges of a woman pursuing spy work; and general, often brutal sacrifice for the cause. Ursula's husband, portrayed as somewhat of a fool, suffers terribly in a foreign prison for his too-obvious support of the Communist cause.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Macintyre also wrote the fantastic Spy and the Traitor, which was one of my Six Favorite Nonfiction Books of the Year last year and which I also listed on the Greedy Reading List Six Compelling Nonfiction Books that Read Like Fiction.


The subject of The Spy and the Traitor served as a double agent for British intelligence against the Soviets, and detailed MI6 records may have allowed for what felt to me to be more richly layered accounts within that book.


If you like reading about female spies, you might like the books on the Greedy Reading List Six Books about Brave Female Spies.