Owen Matthews Reveals ‘An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin’s Master Agent’ in Riveting New Book [REVIEW]

Richard Sorge

Richard Sorge: (left) His official Comintern identity photograph, Moscow, 1924; (right) his police photograph after his arrest. (Photo on left courtesy Owen Matthews/Photo on right by SPUTNIK Alamy Stock Photo)

Formidable. Fleckless. Brilliant. Richard Sorge is the kind of spy who could make James Bond jealous. The information he provided to his masters was spot on, his escapades legendary. Now it is your turn to discover one of the Soviet Union’s most revered operatives in Owen Matthews’ fascinating book, An Impeccable Spy.



Richard Sorge is a man born of two worlds. His mother was Russian, while his father was German. But he would become an impassioned communist and one of the Soviet Union’s top spies.

Like Ian Fleming’s Bond, Sorge is not only skilled at seduction, but he speaks multiple languages, is ruthlessly manipulative and dangerously charming. In fact, his intended targets willingly offered up their juiciest secrets.

He never even needed to keep a low profile, because he worked openly as a foreign correspondent and was so respected as a journalist and academic that he easily insinuated himself into the lives of elite German, Chinese, and Japanese officials and citizens in the years leading up to and including World War II. The information he garnered from these “relations” proved crucial to the Soviet counteroffensive in the Battle of Moscow, which determined the outcome of the war.

Now, in An Impeccable Spy, Owen Matthews utilizes declassified Soviet documents and testimonials to craft a biography that spans decades and brings this historic figure to vivid life, thus proving why Sorge is still one of the world’s most celebrated and revered agents.

As with many biographies, Matthews has to set the scene by providing all the historical data needed to give readers an accurate picture of what was happening on the world scene. Thus the book may start slow for some, unless, of course, you’re a total history nerd like me. Then you’ll kind of love all the bits of information the author dug up during his research.

The book really grabs us by the throat, however, when we crawl past the educational section and into the juicy spy stuff that occurs in the 1940s as Sorge navigates through pre-war Japan. It is here that Stalin tasks him with discovering where the Japanese would strike next, in the north against the USSR or in the south to obtain oil. This was necessary information, since the Soviets were fending off both the Japanese and the Nazis during the war. All in all, it is the kind of tale that is perfect for a Hollywood blockbuster, especially since we are seeing a resurgence of World War-related movies in recent years (thinking DunkirkMidway, and 1917).

As a journalist and editor, I found this to be a tightly written, compelling book that satisfied my curiosity regarding Sorge, a man I’d heard of briefly from various resources over the years, but whom I had never fully investigated myself. Matthews deftly paints the operative’s portrait in this volume and helps us crawl inside his mind. And, although I wasn’t quite expecting the ending, it is easy to see why he was so admired. This is the master class in spy work that Sorge himself will never get the opportunity to teach, but which will fuel the storytelling powers of writers for years to come.

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Owen Matthews

Owen Matthews
(Photo by Philippe Matsas)


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 28 languages and shortlisted for The Guardian First Books Award and France’s Prix Médicis.

By Owen Matthews
448 pp. Bloomsbury. $30.

Purchase An Impeccable Spy at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bloomsbury, Books-A-Million, Half Price Books, IndieBound, and Powell’s.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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