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Nathan Hale: The Life and Death of America's First Spy Hardcover – September 16, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1st edition (September 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312376413
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312376413
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #172,432 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Nathan Hale is a secular saint of American patriotism. Facing a British gallows for spying during the Revolutionary War, he supposedly uttered these immortal words: “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” Phelps has written an informative, interesting biography of Hale that effectively reveals the flesh-and-blood human behind the iconic image. Clearly an admirer of Hale, he has written nothing that detracts from Hale’s reputation; instead, he has provided a nuanced portrait of a deeply religious, idealistic young man whose short life was dedicated to various forms of public service. Hale was raised in rural Connecticut, attended Yale at the age of 14, and graduated with honors. Upon graduation, he worked as a schoolteacher, and after Lexington and Concord, joined a Connecticut militia. He seemed to approach service to the Patriot cause as a passion, not merely a duty. Phelps, using Hale’s own correspondence, clears up some of the murky details surrounding Hale’s spying, arrest, and execution. This is a well-done, balanced account of a short but interesting life. --Jay Freeman

Review

Advance Praise for Nathan Hale:
“Revolutionary War spy Nathan Hale’s quote at his hanging by the British in 1776, ‘I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country,’ is one of the most memorable in U.S. history. Here, M. William Phelps has written an absorbing, highly detailed biography of the patriotic Hale. He weaves each story together to create a very colorful, emotional, and enjoyable book.” ---Bruce Chadwick, author of George Washington’s War
“With his new work on Nathan Hale, M. William Phelps has done a great service to the world of historical writing about the American Revolution. A Hale biography was certainly overdue, and Phelps has given us a good one; thorough, making fine use of primary sources, and, thankfully, a pleasure to read.” ---James L. Nelson, author of Benedict Arnold’s Navy
“Phelps provides an extensive examination of Hale’s life and legend, illuminating a crucial aspect of the Revolutionary War era. A thoughtful and substantial narrative of bravery and heroism, this effort considers myth and reality both and the importance of each to historical understanding.” ---Orville Vernon Burton, author of The Age of Lincoln
“M. William Phelps has written a meticulously researched biography of Nathan Hale. Known mainly as the young man who regretted that he had but one life to give to his country, Hale represented the flower of New England society. Phelps has well captured the excitement of Hale’s joining the patriot cause in the American Revolution, giving us a fresh narrative of those tumultuous years.” ---Joyce Appleby, author of Inheriting the Revolution
“Phelps has brilliantly taken Nathan Hale from the faded memory of history and reintroduced us to a vibrant young man, a scholar whom we witness as he transforms into a soldier and spy as a final act of moral conscience. Phelps has reintroduced Hale as the quintessential young American who steps across the line to act for his country.” ---Joseph J. Trento, author of The Secret History of the CIA
“Nathan Hale went to his hanging with the famously paraphrased line, ‘I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.’ M. William Phelps gives a new, fully documented life to this romantic, long-neglected American revolutionary.” ---R. A. Scotti, author of The Sudden Sea and Basilica



Nathan Hale is a secular saint of American patriotism. Facing a British gallows for spying during the Revolutionary War, he supposedly uttered these immortal words: "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country." Phelps has written an informative, interesting biography of Hale that effectively reveals the flesh-and-blood human behind the iconic image. Clearly an admirer of Hale, he has written nothing that detracts from Hale's reputation; instead, he has provided a nuanced portrait of a deeply religious, idealistic young man whose short life was dedicated to various forms of public service. Hale was raised in rural Connecticut, attended Yale at the age of 14, and graduated with honors. Upon graduation, he worked as a schoolteacher, and after Lexington and Concord, joined a Connecticut militia. He seemed to approach service to the Patriot cause as a passion, not merely a duty. Phelps, using Hale's own correspondence, clears up some of the murky details surrounding Hale' (Jay Freeman Booklist)

This is the first full-length biography of Hale in several decades. Hanged by the British as a spy, Hale is most famous for the phrase attributed to him, "I only regret that I have but one life to give my country." Phelps (If Looks Could Kill), best known as a true crime author, brings his reporting skills to this history. He does well with the story of Hale's short life and disturbing death after being caught behind enemy lines seeking information on British troop movements. Relying as much as possible on primary sources, Phelps writes of Hale's years at Yale, which he attended in his early teens. He was an excellent athlete, handsome, charming, with a large number of friends. After graduating in 1773, he began life as a teacher, but in those pivotal times, he left teaching for the Connecticut militia. Some of the most powerful parts of this biography are those in the words of Hale's brother, Enoch, who was sent by the family to find out how Nathan died and to bring back his body. Thi (Suzanne Lay Library Journal)

More About the Author

Crime writer, serial killer expert and New York Times best selling investigative journalist M. William Phelps is the author of twenty-five nonfiction books and the novel The Dead Soul. He consulted on the first season of the Showtime series Dexter, has been profiled in Writer's Digest, Connecticut Magazine, NY Daily News, NY Post, Newsday, Suspense Magazine, and the Hartford Courant, and has written for Connecticut Magazine. Winner of the New England Book Festival Award for I'll Be Watching You and the Editor's Choice Award from True Crime Book Reviews for Death Trap, Phelps has appeared on nearly 100 television shows, including CBS's Early Show, ABC's Good Morning America, NBC's Today Show, The View, TLC, BIO Channel, and History Channel.

Phelps created, produces and stars in the hit Investigation Discovery series Dark Minds, now in its third season; and is one of the stars of ID's Deadly Women. Radio America called him "the nation's leading authority on the mind of the female murderer." Touched by tragedy himself, due to the unsolved murder of his pregnant sister-in-law, Phelps is able to enter the hearts and minds of his subjects like no one else. He lives in a small Connecticut farming community and can be reached at his website, www.mwilliamphelps.com.

Author photo © Investigation Discovery/Dark Minds

Customer Reviews

This book fills in those details in an interesting and informative manner.
William A. Long
I highly recommend this biography to anyone who enjoys reading about those who go above and beyond the call of duty for our great nation.
Libertas
Most people know this is not the case, except it seems, the author and his editor.
Catherine J. OBrien

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Michael Breen on July 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Hale's story is fascinating, and certainly deserves a decent contemporary biography. Phelps' book misses the mark by a wide margin. Phelps did a decent job of summarizing and rehashing others' work on Hale, but Phelps is certainly no historian. His books biggest failings come when trying to impart the larger situation of Revolutionary New England, and the time period in general. Some of his most egregious misstatements should have been picked up by an editor, but apparently this historical biography was neither written nor edited by someone with more than cursory knowledge of the American Revolution. Furthermore, Phelps spends an inordinate amount ink quoting- and seriously considering- the paeans of 19th century "historians" like Washington Irving (seriously? Washington Irving?) and Charles Dudley Warner. On Hale's life, stick with the older biographies but approach them with a critical eye. On Hale's times, go with just about anything else.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Linda Pagliuco VINE VOICE on September 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Other than a few children's authors, no one has published a definitive biography of Nathan Hale for decades. M. William Phelps has now stepped in to fill the gap. Using his investigative research skills, honed as a true crime writer, Phelps has combed the archives to find any and all of the information currently available about the life of Nathan Hale. That is not an easy task, as most of the primary documents come from British sources, who, understandably, were biased. Most of the secondhand sources were provided years after Hale's death in 1776, and the tendency at that time was to glorify and romanticize.

In this book, Phelps has pulled together all available, credible documentation, and presented the information in an interesting format that blends fact-based fiction (vignettes from Hale's life) and hard data. Hale's upbringing, early stint as a schoolteacher, and fateful career as Revolutionary War soldier, are critically examined and brought to life. Hale is portrayed as an earnest young man who, like many of his contemporaries, saw the war for independence as a chance to prove one's belief in and devotion to the ideals of liberty and equality. Perhaps the most intriguing section deals with the possible ways in which Hale was identified and apprehended as a spy, as the mythology swirling around that event has long been debated. Did Samuel Hale, Nathan's Tory cousin and an officer on the staff of British General Gage, betray his kinsman? Did the infamous Robert Rogers entrap him? What about the patron of the tavern Nathan was said to frequent?

It will probably never be possible to determine exactly how and why Nathan Hale became the "martyr spy" of the American Revolution.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Stephen B. Hale on December 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Seemed to be researched well, writing was ok, especially about Nathan's early life. It was while Nathan was making his escape from New York that I heartily disagree with Mr. Phelps conclusions. He has the wise and intelligent Nathan setting up a social schedule in the middle of running for his life with the most dastardly villain on Long Island, Robert Rogers. Rogers was THE most famous Ranger in all of America at that time. Nathan being a Captain in Knowlton's Rangers himself would know everything there was to know about Robert Rogers including the little fact that he was fighting on the side of the British.
Given Nathan's background, education and experience up to this point in his short life it is just not possible that Nathan was captured in this manner. Rodgers Rangers were mostly robbing anyone they could on Long Island. Its more likely Nathan was jumped from ambush for the sole purpose of robbing a Dutch Schoolmaster, he was searched and the thieves found the maps and drawings and decided they could profit more being soldiers that evening than thieves.
I gave this book two stars for Mr. Phelps able handling of Nathans early life and would recommend it for that part.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Catherine J. OBrien on July 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
................It is stated that John Abams and Samuel Adams were brothers. Most people know this is not the case, except it seems, the author and his editor. I could not read any further given I was not sure which information was correct or very wrong. Read if you must but beware.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Libertas on October 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
What a shame that modern History textbooks leave out the story of Nathan Hale. Phelps has done a wonderful job of capturing the essence of a forgotten hero. Hale showed much promise as a young officer in Washington's rag-tag Continental army. I have always been intrigued by the mystery-ridden tale of how a 21-year old with everything going for him could take on such a risky mission, then accept the unfortunate consequences with such dignity, grace, and honor. I highly recommend this biography to anyone who enjoys reading about those who go above and beyond the call of duty for our great nation.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jim Hoggard on August 29, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It was accurate and although it was fairly long I
did not get tired of reading it. I gained knowledge.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Nora E. Houser on July 20, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Nathan Hale stepped into the role of spy for General Washington because he felt that he had done nothing to help the Revolutionary effort that was "employing" him. This book with tremendously documented research and footnotes gives the reader insight into Hale's life, family, values, and culture in an easily read book. I enjoyed reading it on my Kindle while on vacation.
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