An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin’s Master Agent

Bloomsbury. Dec. 2019. 448p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781408857786. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781408857809. POL SCI
Richard Sorge (1895–1944) lived an extraordinary life at the forefront of the 20th century’s great events. Born in present-day Azerbaijan to a German Russian family, Sorge served as a Soviet military intelligence officer before and during World War II, working undercover as a German journalist in Nazi Germany and Japan. Matthews (Stalin’s Children) describes Sorge’s risk-filled life of affairs, motorcycle races, and careless drinking. The carnage of World War I transformed Sorge’s political beliefs and persuaded him to become a devoted Communist. This ultimately fueled his willingness to commit espionage in the service of the Soviet Union. The Soviets used Sorge’s German background to have him spy within German expat circles first in China and then in Japan in the 1930s and 1940s. Sorge gained the trust of the German Embassy in Tokyo and got intel on the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Matthews expertly tells the story of one of the world’s most decorated spies, who has been recognized posthumously decades after his execution in Tokyo.
VERDICT A remarkable work about a complicated and relatively unknown individual. Highly recommended as a valuable contribution to Soviet spy literature and 20th-century history.
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