Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Nathan Hale: The Life and Death of America's First Spy” as Want to Read:
Nathan Hale: The Life and Death of America's First Spy
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Nathan Hale: The Life and Death of America's First Spy

3.54  ·  Rating Details ·  160 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
The first biography in nearly a century of the legendary Revolutionary War patriot and our country’s first spy.
Few Americans know much more about Nathan Hale than his famous last words: “I only regret that I have one life left to give for my country.” But who was the real Nathan Hale?
M. William Phelps charts the life of this famed patriot and Connecticut’s state hero, fol
ebook, 320 pages
Published September 16th 2008 by Thomas Dunne Books
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Nathan Hale, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Nathan Hale

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Aug 22, 2015 Tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good story worth about half the pages in the book. Somewhat meandering and unfocused, not sure what the author was attempting to do. With that said, I learned much more than the minimal, inaccurate phrase, "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country."

Spies were considered the lowest of the low, and summarily executed by most countries in hostilities. So there was some interesting conjecture and discussion of what effort Nathan Hale had to work through to leave a respected, patrio
Jun 22, 2009 Megan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The only reason this book received two stars from me was because in the end, it did have some information in it that I didn't previously know. Otherwise, the book was poorly researched (he quotes more historians than primary sources it seems) and poorly written. Full names were used over and over again (Washington is well known enough to go by his last name), and extensive background was given for even the most minor of characters. Every British soldier was apparently a terrible, godless person, ...more
Doug Cornelius
Sep 22, 2015 Doug Cornelius rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Doug by: LibraryThing Early Reviewer
"I regret that I have but one life to give to my country."

Nathan Hale speaks this famous line and is then hung at the gallows by the British General Howe as a spy for the American rebellion.

I thought the legend was interesting enough that I took a review copy from publisher to learn more about America's first spy. What I learned is that the legend is much more interesting than the truth.

Hale was used a martyr for the American rebellion, becoming synonymous with patriotism, freedom, and the fig
Nov 26, 2008 Katie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I only got half way through this book before I needed to give it back to the library, but it was really good. I really liked the use of religion, and other references in this book. I find it the best biography of Nathan Hale at least that I've read, but I have a sneeking suspision that it's the best anywhere.
I good overview book on the life of Nathan Hale. I would have liked to see more references to firsthand accounts not other historians, but I think some of the issue is that Nathan Hale is more legend then fact.
Aug 23, 2010 Mike rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read this to prepare for the upcoming Nathan Hale symposium... I was expecting much more. 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 ...more
Kathleen Hagen
Nathan Hale: The First American Spy, by M. William Phelps, narrated by Phil Gigante, produced by Brilliance Audio, downloaded from

A very interesting brief book.
Publisher’s note:
Few Americans know much more about Nathan Hale than his famous last words: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." But who was
the real Nathan Hale?M. William Phelps charts the life of this famed patriot and Connecticut's state hero, following Hale's rural childhood, his education
at Ya
Jan 08, 2012 Brian rated it really liked it

M. William Phelps provides an updated biography on the life of Nathan Hale America's first spy to be executed. Washington was well known for his desire to gather intelligence on the enemy and set up several spy rings throughout the revolution (See Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring for that history). Nathan Hale was the first attempt at spying on the British in the days leading up to the invasion of New York. Nathan was not a successful spy and was caught and hung by one o
J M Padoc
I struggled with this book. It wasn't a hard read--the language was accessible and clear. It's a short book, so it's really kind of surprising that I struggled to read it. The narrative was a bit unfocused, but I suspect that's a symptom of the subject matter rather than the author's ability. The truth is that there's just not enough of a life to tell a book-length story here. Not to diminish the contribution Hale made to the revolution or to diminish his life in general--indeed, he seems to hav ...more
A well researched book. Phelps avoids passing off legend as fact as much as possible, which I am grateful for.
Nathan Hale went to Yale. He became a school teacher. When the Revolutionary War began, he joined the Continental army. He eventually volunteered to go on a mission of espionage. He was close to finishing his mission when he was captured, and hung as a spy. But wild folk tales fly around, such as he was turned in by a relative, Samuel Hale.
Phelps goes on fact and establishes the truth
This short biography of the short life of Nathan Hale builds on the work of prior Hale biographies and benefits from the 2003 discovery of a Tory manuscript that documents Hale's capture. Prior biographies lacked shopkeeper Consider Tiffany's manuscript of the American Revolution, written during or shortly after the conflict, which corroborates most of the existing evidence regarding Hale's apprehension and fills in some of the missing pieces.

I thought the account was very readable and while th
Lora Innes
Jul 02, 2010 Lora Innes rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I just cannot get into this book. I cannot make it past the first few chapters. I have been "reading" it since it came out and yet I can't get interested in it enough to ever pick it up. Having done more than a little research on Hale myself, I didn't like Phelps's interpretation/depiction of events. As for the Hale scholars I know, they say the same thing. I think it's a shame that the only recent biography to come out on Nathan Hale isn't highly recommended by the researchers who know most abo ...more
May 31, 2014 Amy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2014
Poorly written, meandering, and I'm almost certain the author thought he was getting paid by the word, considering how many odd and drawn out quotes were included. I'm sure Nathan wasn't as idiotic as he seemed once we got to the spying bits, but holy hell, he really deserved to get caught and hung.

I was honestly cheering for the British by the end. This book was so bad that it overcame years of being indoctrinated into the glorious patriotism of the American Revolution.
Betsy Fawcett
This book is okay.

I feel like I learned lots about Nathan Hale but sometimes I felt like I learned too much. I didn't feel like I needed to have a background on every person in his life to understand him better.

I think that the book it organized well and Phelps does a good job drawing me in. It just got slow at times because of the extra information I didn't think I needed!

I received this book through Goodread's FIrst Reads program.
May 18, 2015 JP rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Phelps' coverage of the "The Life and Death of America's First Spy" is insightful and enjoyable to read. What I most appreciated was how well he provided the cultural and military background as context, without delving to deep into either. He also dispels some of the previous legends that grew more from oral tradition than from historical fact. It would be hard to ready this and not have a new appreciation for the short life of Nathan Hale.
Reet Champion
Nov 13, 2013 Reet Champion rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyed this book, but I think I would have liked it better had Phelps not included so much other info on the American Revolution. Much of it is relevant, in a way, to Hale's life, but I could have done without it. Phelps draws from Hale's correspondence, army journal and other sources. When it comes to Hale's discovery as a spy, Phelps draws mainly from a journal kept by a Tory to tell Hale's tale. Overall a good read.
Nathan Hale: The Life and Death of America's First Spy is a fascinating read, although some of the ends were certainly not tied together. I personally think it was good read, but not as good as George D. Seymour's. I think it would be more legit if it had Nathans letters, his diary, etc, that Seymour's does.
Marie Carmean
Jul 25, 2016 Marie Carmean rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book about someone too little is known about in our history...a young man with strong Christian principles and sense of loyalty to his country who gave his life for the fledgling nation. Really enjoyed this book about his life and his commitment to the cause of Liberty. Well researched and well written!
Mar 23, 2016 Susie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
I can't even believe he was caught and hung on his first mission. He was America's first spy to go behind enemy lines, but he was unsuccessful. He also wasn't trained and had literally no idea what he was doing. But nonetheless, the mere fact of his voluntary service in the face of likely death still renders him a hero and Patriot.
I've always been fascinated by Nathan Hale since reading Shadow Patriots and Washington's spies. This book did a great job of finding a personality, mentioning some of his flaws because he *was* human. Great research and an easy read, even for non-history buffs.
Dec 30, 2009 Darlis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nicely researched book. It adds some good info into the personality of a legendary figure. There are also interesting details about the beginnings of the Revolution in New England and New York. It was very intersting.
James Stevens
Feb 05, 2016 James Stevens rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies
An interesting story of a man whose short life had significant impact in the battle for New York in 1776. Phelps reveals much about the character of the man who understood the risks of his passion for liberty.
This books lays out the events that lead up to the mission and the despise of the brave Nathan Hale. He was a pious, loyal man. Apparently his famous last words were not really his words. But he said something longer and equally as moving.
Nanci Konsavage
Jun 15, 2015 Nanci Konsavage rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wins
The book read with ease but I couldn't finish it. Half way through I got bored with waiting for the spy activity to start.

I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.
Nov 02, 2015 Amanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very well researched. At times it dragged a bit but on the whole it was a good historical book about an interesting historical figure.
Nov 07, 2011 Denise rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyed this short little book about the equally short life of Nathan Hale. The author tries to tell the true story of Nathan from letters, diaries, etc. and clear up the myth aspect.
Dennis rated it liked it
Aug 01, 2015
Morgan rated it it was ok
Sep 27, 2009
Oct 01, 2010 Lauren rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography, history
I gave up reading this - it was interesting at times, but took forever getting to the point.
C.E. Thornton
C.E. Thornton rated it liked it
Apr 09, 2009
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Samuel Adams: A Life
  • Washington's General: Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution
  • An American Crisis: George Washington and the Dangerous Two Years After Yorktown, 1781-1783
  • Prisoners of the North
  • Victory at Yorktown: The Campaign That Won the Revolution
  • The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival After Yorktown
  • Trespassers Will Be Baptized: The Unordained Memoir of a Preacher's Daughter
  • The Whites of Their Eyes: Bunker Hill, the First American Army, and the Emergence of George Washington
  • Broken into Beautiful: How God Restores the Wounded Heart
  • John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy
  • Once an Arafat Man: The True Story of How a PLO Sniper Found a New Life
  • Henry Knox: Visionary General of the American Revolution
  • Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution
  • Nathanael Greene: A Biography of the American Revolution
  • Comrade J
  • Ethan Allen: His Life and Times
  • James Madison
  • James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights
Crime, murder and serial killer expert, creator/producer/writer and former host of the Investigation Discovery series DARK MINDS, acclaimed, award-winning investigative journalist M. William Phelps is the New York Times best-selling author of 30 books and winner of the 2013 Excellence in (Investigative) Journalism Award and the 2008 New England Book Festival Award. A highly sought-after pundit, Ph ...more
More about M. William Phelps...

Share This Book