The Loyal Son

  • by Daniel Mark Epstein
  • Narrated by Scott Brick
  • 16 hrs and 27 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

The dramatic story of a founding father, his illegitimate son, and the tragedy of their conflict during the American Revolution - from the acclaimed author of The Lincolns.
Ben Franklin is the most lovable of America's founding fathers. His wit, his charm, his inventiveness - even his grandfatherly appearance - are legendary. But this image obscures the scandals that dogged him throughout his life. In The Loyal Son, award-winning historian Daniel Mark Epstein throws the spotlight on one of the more enigmatic aspects of Franklin's biography: his complex and confounding relationship with his illegitimate son, William.
When he was 24, Franklin fathered a child with a woman who was not his wife. He adopted the boy, raised him, and educated him to be his aide. Ben and William became inseparable. After the famous kite-in-a-thunderstorm experiment, it was William who proved that the electrical charge in a lightning bolt travels from the ground up, not from the clouds down. On a diplomatic mission to London, it was William who charmed London society. He was invited to walk in the procession of the coronation of George III; Ben was not.
The outbreak of the American Revolution caused a devastating split between father and son. By then William was royal governor of New Jersey while Ben was one of the foremost champions of American independence. In 1776 the Continental Congress imprisoned William for treason. George Washington made efforts to win William's release while his father, to the world's astonishment, appeared to have abandoned him to his fate.
A fresh take on the combustible politics of the age of independence, The Loyal Son is a gripping account of how the agony of the American Revolution devastated one of America's most distinguished families. Like Nathaniel Philbrick and David McCullough, Epstein is a storyteller first and foremost, a historian who weaves together fascinating incidents discovered in long-neglected documents to draw us into the private world of the men and women who made America.

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What the Critics Say

"A riveting narrative about the bizarre turmoil between Benjamin Franklin and his son William. The amount of new research undertaken is deeply impressive. And the writing is elegant and always informative. Highly recommended!" (Douglas Brinkley, professor of history, Rice University, CNN presidential historian, and author of Rightful Heritage)
"A gripping history of a family torn apart by political upheaval.... Drawing on much unpublished correspondence as well as published works, the author constructs a fast-paced, vivid narrative with a host of characters whose appearance and personality he etches with deft concision.... A perceptive, gritty portrayal of the frenzy of war and a father and son caught at its tumultuous center." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Epstein has written a textured, sympathetic account of a fallen founder, William Franklin: patriot, public servant, son, and political partner of Benjamin. Epstein shows, from the inside, his ambitions, yearnings, decisions good and bad, and final, crushing failure." (Richard Brookhiser, author of Founders' Son)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Gripping Narrative

Shortly before his death, Franklin wrote his son, William, “nothing has ever hurt me so much…as to find myself deserted in my old age by my only son; and not only deserted, but to find him taking up arms against me, in a cause wherein my good name, fortune, and life were all at stake.”

Ben Franklin kept his private life very private. It is only recently information about his personal life has been coming out. He married in his twenties and also fathered an illegitimate son, William, whom he adopted. They enjoyed many years together working on scientific and diplomatic matters. By 1776, William was the Royal Governor of New Jersey. William stayed loyal to England during the Revolutionary War. He was captured and imprisoned during the war, while Ben lived in luxury in Paris.

The book is well written and impeccably researched. Epstein drew on unpublished correspondence as well as published works. Epstein illustrated the public issues that drove the father and son apart. Epstein stayed neutral and maintained a balance but not uncritical of either man. The book reads more like a novel than a history book. This is a dual biography of the father and son. I am sure that this problem of divided loyalties played out in many families during the revolution.

Daniel Epstein is a well-known biographer. I particularly enjoyed his biography on Abraham Lincoln. I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book was sixteen and a half hours long. Scott Brick does a great job narrating the book. Brick is an actor and a multi-award-winning audiobook narrator.



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- Jean

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-30-2017
  • Publisher: Random House Audio