What We Are Reading Today: Agent Sonya

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Updated 19 September 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Agent Sonya

Author: Ben Macintire

Ben Macintire has produced a jaw-dropping book about 20th-century espionage.

“With unparalleled access to Sonya’s diaries and correspondence and never-before-seen information on her clandestine activities, Ben Macintire has written a history of a legendary secret agent, a woman who influenced the course of the Cold War and helped plunge the world into a decades-long standoff between nuclear superpowers,” said a review in goodreads.com.

“Over the course of her career, she was hunted by the Chinese, the Japanese, the Nazis, MI5, MI6, and the FBI — and she evaded them all,” it added.

The review said her story “reflects the great ideological clash of the 2oth century — between communism, fascism, and western democracy — and casts new light on the spy battles and shifting allegiances of our own times.”

It added that Sonya, born as Ursula Burton, “was friendly but reserved, and spoke English with a slight foreign accent. By all accounts, she seemed to be living a simple, unassuming life. Her neighbors in the village knew little about her.

What We Are Reading Today: Republics of Knowledge by Nicola Miller

Updated 22 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Republics of Knowledge by Nicola Miller

The rise of nation-states is a hallmark of the modern age, yet we are still untangling how the phenomenon unfolded across the globe. Here, Nicola Miller offers new insights into the process of nation-making through an account of 19th-century Latin America, where, she argues, the identity of nascent republics was molded through previously underappreciated means: The creation and sharing of knowledge.

Drawing evidence from Argentina, Chile, and Peru, Republics of Knowledge traces the histories of these countries from the early 1800s, as they gained independence, to their centennial celebrations in the 20th century. Miller identifies how public exchange of ideas affected policymaking, the emergence of a collective identity, and more. She finds that instead of defining themselves through language or culture, these new nations united citizens under the promise of widespread access to modern information. Miller challenges the narrative that modernization was a strictly North Atlantic affair, demonstrating that knowledge traveled both ways between Latin America and Europe.