Review: But One Life: The Story of Nathan Hale by Samantha Wilcoxson


“If I had ten thousand lives, I would lay them all down.”

In the early 1770’s, Nathan Hale is a young philosophy student at Yale. There, he, his brother, and their friend, Ben Tallmadge, are busying themselves with intellectual debate and occasional mischief.

Only too soon, their patriotic ideals of revolution and liberty would be put to the test. Forced to choose between love and duty, young Nathan has to face the harsh personal cost of deeply held beliefs as he leaves to become Washington’s spy.

In this powerful novel of friendship and sacrifice, Samantha Wilcoxson paints a vivid portrait of a young man’s principled passion and dedication to his ideals, turning the legend into flesh and blood.

This is the touching and thought-provoking story of how an ordinary boy grew into an extraordinary man – an American hero.

My Review

Nathan Hale was only a shadowy figure to me until I read this novel. We see an idealistic, honest young man off to Yale with his brother and away from home for the first time. He’s a fast learner with a pretty good grip of human nature. Everyone is taken with war fever, which only escalates as the situation in Boston heats up. After graduation, brother Enoch prepares for the ministry, while Nathan begins his career as a school teacher. His daily routine reads as a pretty mundane existence until he finally feels obliged to sign up and fight for his country:

“We have always governed ourselves. We always mean to. They don’t mean that we should.”
I needed no further convincing, but I stood up straighter and agreed, “The British shall not rule us as second-class citizens.”
He grasped me by the shoulder. “Not when we have honorable men willing to fight for liberty.”
I was not ready to proclaim yet, as Patrick Henry had, ‘Give me liberty or give me death,’ but I had taken a step closer.

Prophetic words, indeed. Forced to choose between the woman he loved and his country, he chose the latter, although the reality of fighting in the militia was discouraging and wretched. He finally saw the opportunity to make a difference and volunteered for an assignment he was ill suited for. This is a sad story about a brave man who followed his principles all the way until the end.


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