Cover image for An impeccable spy : Richard Sorge, Stalin's master agent
Title:
An impeccable spy : Richard Sorge, Stalin's master agent
ISBN:
9781408857786
Physical Description:
viii, 435 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Contents:
'From the schoolhouse to the slaughter block' -- Among the revolutionaries -- 'A fanatic riff-raff from a ruined century' -- Shanghai days -- The Manchurian incident -- Have you considered Tokyo? -- The spy ring forms -- At home with the Otts -- Moscow 1935 -- Hanako and Clausen -- Bloodbath in Moscow -- Lyushkov -- Nomonhan -- Ribbentrop-Molotov -- Attack Singapore! -- The butcher of Warsaw -- Barbarossa takes shape -- 'They did not believe us' -- Plan north or plan south? -- Breaking point -- 'The greatest man I have ever met.'
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Summary:
The thrilling true story of Richard Sorge-the Soviet intelligence operative John le Carré called "the spy to end spies." Richard Sorge moved in a world of shifting alliances and infinite possibility. Born to a German mother and a Russian father, Sorge became a fanatical communist-and the Soviet Union's most formidable spy. Like many great spies, Sorge was an effortless seducer, combining charm with a ruthless manipulation. He did not have to go snooping to find out closely guarded state secrets-his victims willingly shared them. Hiding in plain sight as a foreign correspondent, he infiltrated and influenced the highest echelons of German, Chinese, and Japanese society in the years leading up to and including World War II. His intelligence proved pivotal to the Soviet counteroffensive in the Battle of Moscow, which determined the outcome of the war.
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Summary

Summary

The thrilling true story of Richard Sorge-the Soviet intelligence operative John le Carré called "the spy to end spies."

Richard Sorge moved in a world of shifting alliances and infinite possibility. Born to a German mother and a Russian father, Sorge became a fanatical communist-and the Soviet Union's most formidable spy.

Like many great spies, Sorge was an effortless seducer, combining charm with a ruthless manipulation. He did not have to go snooping to find out closely guarded state secrets-his victims willingly shared them. Hiding in plain sight as a foreign correspondent, he infiltrated and influenced the highest echelons of German, Chinese, and Japanese society in the years leading up to and including World War II. His intelligence proved pivotal to the Soviet counteroffensive in the Battle of Moscow, which determined the outcome of the war.

Owen Matthews, author of Stalin's Children , captures the sweep of history and draws on a wealth of declassified Soviet documents and testimonials to tell the riveting story of the man Ian Fleming described as "the most formidable spy in history."


Author Notes

Owen Matthews studied Modern History at Oxford University before beginning his career as a journalist in Bosnia. He has written for the Moscow Times , The Times , the Spectator and the Independent . In 1997, he became a correspondent at Newsweek magazine in Moscow where he covered the second Chechen war, Afghanistan, Iraq and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. His first book on Russian history, Stalin's Children , was translated into twenty-eight languages and shortlisted for The Guardian First Books Award and France's Prix Médicis.


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Former war correspondent Matthews (Stalin's Children) examines Soviet spymaster Richard Sorge in this vivid biography. Born in 1895 in Baku, Russia, (now Azerbaijan) to a Russian mother and German father, Sorge fought for the German Imperial Army in WWI. After the war, he joined the German Communist Party and made his way to Moscow, where he was recruited by the Red Army's intelligence agency. He was sent back to Germany to spy on the Nazi Party, and then worked undercover in Shanghai as a foreign newspaper correspondent. Arriving in Tokyo in 1933, he infiltrated Japan's military and political elite, forming a spy ring of communist sympathizers. His insights into Japan were valued by the German ambassador to Tokyo, who made the spy privy to Nazi plans. Sorge gave Moscow early notice that Hitler would betray the 1939 nonaggression pact he signed with the Soviet Union, and sent messages warning that Germany would invade Russia. Stalin dismissed those missives, however, and Sorge, according to Matthews, spiraled into alcoholism and engaged in such risky behavior as sleeping with the German ambassador's wife. Arrested by Japanese police in October 1941, Sorge confessed under torture and was hanged. His intelligence proved crucial in the Soviet victory at the Battle of Moscow, however. This exhaustive, crisply written portrait of "one of the greatest spies who ever lived" will fascinate espionage fans. (Dec.)


Guardian Review

Espionage at its most effective: the tale of Richard Sorge, the brilliant chancer who lived intensely and was betrayed by the USSR Unlike Kim Philby, whose dramatic life as a Soviet agent seems endlessly fascinating to the British public, Richard Sorge's story is virtually unknown, at least in the English-speaking world. He had many traits in common with Philby, only to a greater degree. Dashingly handsome, he relieved the tensions of leading a life of deception and betrayal with wild motorbike rides, serial seduction and evenings of paralytic alcoholism. He also outdid Philby in the range of his espionage exploits. Whereas Philby's most important work for Moscow came during the early years of the cold war while hiding in plain sight in the easy-going Anglo-American establishment into which he was born, Sorge penetrated two touchy and xenophobic elites, the Nazi party and the Japanese court. From his vantage point in Tokyo in the most crucial years of the second world war, he sent Moscow details of Hitler's preparations for invading the Soviet Union in 1941 as well as a running commentary on the arguments within the Japanese imperial government about whether to attack to the north, in other words Siberia (which Hitler wanted his Japanese allies to do), or to the south (the direction Japan finally chose). The son of a German businessman and a Russian mother, Sorge was radicalised as a student in the revolutionary period in Germany after the country's defeat in the first world war. He became a communist and volunteered to work first for the Comintern, the Moscow-led alliance of international communist parties, and later for Soviet military intelligence. After a stint in Shanghai, he moved to Tokyo as a journalist for the Frankfurter Zeitung, for whom he wrote brilliant analyses of current affairs. But his main job was espionage, and for this he recruited agents within the Japanese political machine as well as Max Clausen, a German radio expert, to transmit his coded messages to Moscow. Sorge's flamboyant conversation and detailed analysis of diplomacy and politics were as perceptive as his published reports and he was hired by Eugen Ott, the German ambassador in Tokyo, as part of his kitchen cabinet. Sorge joined the Nazi party but used his cover to photocopy secret documents in the embassy. One problem was that his reports to Moscow were not always believed. Stalin felt the warning that Sorge (along with other secret Soviet informants) gave of Operation Barbarossa, the impending German attack on the USSR, was based on British disinformation aimed at breaking the Nazi-Soviet alliance. Another problem was that Clausen gradually became disillusioned with communism and started to suppress parts of Sorge's coded cables that he was supposed to transmit to Moscow. Sorge recognised that Hitler's invasion of the USSR was a major blunder for the Nazis, and he came close to revealing his true loyalties by shouting in front of his German colleagues that the idiot had lost the war. He had greater success in signalling the inevitability of war between the US and Japan three months before it happened. He did not predict the assault on Pearl Harbor but his report on Japan's decisive shift of focus to conquests in the south allowed Stalin not to move troops to Siberia but make them available to block the Germans from moving further east into Russia. Unlike Philby - the last big difference - Sorge did not escape arrest when he was finally unmasked. He was detained by the Japanese and executed in 1944 after a long trial. He confessed to being a Soviet agent (to Ambassador Ott's horror and disbelief) but based his fruitless defence on the claim that he never intended to undermine Japanese security. He was merely trying to avert war between Japan and the Soviet Union. His willingness to cooperate with the authorities was based in part on his desire to protect his long-term Japanese girlfriend, Hanako Ishii. It was an expression of his loyalty and the prosecution was impressed. Hanako was not put on trial and lived to a ripe old age. Sorge's is the tale of a deeply flawed chancer who lived his private and public life very close to the edge but who held fast to his ideological convictions, in spite of many moments of depression and loneliness. It deserves a wider audience than it has had so far. There are few books in English on Sorge, the best being Stalin's Spy by my former Guardian colleague, Robert Whymant (1996). He had the advantage of interviewing people who knew Sorge intimately, including Ishii and one of Sorge's German girlfriends. Coming later when no witnesses remained alive, Owen Matthews builds on Whymant's material, as well as on a formidable archive. A Russian-speaker, he also uses several Russians' memoirs. He tells the dramatic story well, not least the final twist. In the Brezhnev and Andropov eras in the 1970s and 80s, Sorge became a Soviet hero with a flood of books about him, even though he had been totally abandoned in 1944 when he was arrested in Tokyo. He had hoped the Soviet authorities would press the Japanese to let him go back to Moscow, but the Kremlin betrayed the man who had done so much for it. No effort was made to save him.


Kirkus Review

The life of a master secret agent who, unique among modern spies, infiltrated the highest echelons of both the German and Japanese governments during World War II.Journalist and historian Matthews (Stalin's Children: Three Generations of Love, War, and Survival, 2008) might be suspected of irony with his title, taken from an observation by the traitor Kim Philby, for though John le Carr considered Richard Sorge (1895-1944) "the spy to end spies," he was sometimes dangerously undisciplined. He praised Stalin in a room full of Nazis, got drunk in a Tokyo bar and called Hitler "a fucking criminal," and, while working in the German Embassy in Japan, loudly predicted that Germany would lose World War II. Born in the frontier town of Baku but raised in Germany, he served in the trenches on the Eastern Front, where he was converted to communism. Good with languages and charismatic, he became a spy for the Soviet Union, working in China and then Japan. His reports to his Soviet spymasters were not always believed, though they were accurate and full of dire warning. The spy ring that he put together in Tokyo had access to the highest levels of both Japanese and German intelligence. One key question centered on whether Japan would join with Germany to attack the Soviet Union; Japan concentrated its efforts on controlling Southeast Asia instead, as Sorge predicted, which allowed Stalin to free up thousands of tanks and planes and many divisions of troops to fight against the Germans. Eventually, Sorge slipped up and was imprisoned and executed. Matthews dismisses the long-held conspiracy theory that Sorge and the Soviets knew of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor before it happened. As he writes, although the Soviets benefited greatly from the work of Sorge, whom he calls "brave, brilliant, and relentless," Sorge was in danger of being forgotten in the post-Stalin era until he was "rehabilitated" under Khrushchev and elevated to the "official pantheon of Soviet saints."Fans of Alan Furst and similar authors will find this true-espionage story fascinating. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Choice Review

An award-winning journalist and also author of the accalimed Stalin's Children (2008), Matthews skillfully combines solid research in Japanese, German, and Soviet archives with a novelistic writing style to offer a gripping and at times astonishing biography of Soviet spy Richard Sorge (1895--1944). During the crucial years from 1933 to 1941, Sorge charmed, bullied, and bluffed his way into a trusted position in the German embassy in Tokyo as an expert on Japan. Working with agents who infiltrated the highest levels of the faction-ridden Japanese government, Sorge provided Moscow with unprecedented access to German and Japanese policy secrets. Matthews deserves praise for his clear explanation of the complicated historical and political context in which Sorge worked, but his conclusions seem to contradict his own careful reconstruction of Sorge's rise and fall. Matthews catalogs the spy's numerous personal and professional failings--his countless indiscretions, reckless drunkenness, and careless spy craft--but extols Sorge as one of history's foremost spies. Similarly, Matthews emphasizes the Soviets' mistrust, mistreatment, and ultimate betrayal of Sorge--Stalin not only dismissed but actively scorned the few reports from Tokyo his intelligence chiefs dared show him--yet credits Sorge with turning the tide of war. Sorge and his story are remarkable enough without such embellishments. Summing Up: Recommended. With reservations. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. --Padraic C. Kennedy, York College of Pennsylvania


Library Journal Review

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.--Jacob Sherman, John Peace Lib., Univ. of Texas at San Antonio


Table of Contents

Prologue: 'Siberians!'p. vii
Introductionp. 1
1 'From the Schoolhouse to the Slaughter Block'p. 9
2 Among the Revolutionariesp. 19
3 'A Fanatic Riff-Raff from a Ruined Century'p. 33
4 Shanghai Daysp. 49
5 The Manchurian Incidentp. 73
6 Have You Considered Tokyo?p. 93
7 The Spy Ring Formsp. 103
8 At Home with the Ottsp. 119
9 Moscow 1935p. 139
10 Hanako and Clausenp. 151
11 Bloodbath in Moscowp. 171
12 Lyushkovp. 187
13 Nomonhanp. 201
14 Ribbentrop-Molotovp. 215
15 Attack Singapore!p. 229
16 The Butcher of Warsawp. 247
17 Barbarossa Takes Shapep. 263
18 'They Did Not Believe Us'p. 277
19 Plan North or Plan South?p. 291
20 Breaking Pointp. 313
21 'The Greatest Man I Have Ever Met'p. 337
Notesp. 353
Select Bibliographyp. 406
Acknowledgementsp. 417
Picture Creditsp. 419
Indexp. 423