By Randy Gener
The Loyal Son
The War in Ben Franklin’s House
By DANIEL MARK EPSTEIN
Penguin Random House | 464 pages
Historical Biographies & Memoirs | Colonial/Revolutionary Period
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NEW YORK CITY | 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 twenty-four, 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.
DANIEL MARK EPSTEIN is the author of biographies of Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman, Aimee Semple McPherson, Nat King Cole, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, as well as nine volumes of poetry. His verse has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The Paris Review, among other publications. The American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded Epstein the Rome Prize in 1977 and an Arts and Letters Award in 2006. Daniel Mark Epstein lives in Baltimore..
PRAISE FOR THE LOYAL SON
“Epstein is basically a poet of love and celebration. His greatest strengths are wit and tenderness, a kind of energetic muscularity and great technical skill.” — The Washington Post
“There have not been many poet-biographers in this country. Carl Sandburg and John Berryman come to mind… Daniel Mark Epstein, author of seven volumes of poetry and now a fourth biography, is part of this select company. He writes not as a poet and biographer but as an amalgam of both.” —The New York Sun