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The Loyal Son: The War in Ben Franklin's House
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The Loyal Son: The War in Ben Franklin's House

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  214 Ratings  ·  68 Reviews
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 th
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published May 30th 2017 by Ballantine Books
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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 adopt
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Why did this apple fall so far from the tree? Daniel Mark Epstein doesn’t ask or answer this question, but he has combed the records and created a dual biography of father and son in turbulent times.

Benjamin Franklin’s first diplomatic mission abroad was to obtain funds from the Penn's (proprietors of the colony that bears their name) to assist in defending Pennsylvania colonists against Indian attacks. While in England he saw a corrupt system and had to prostrate himself to it to achieve his m
BAM The Bibliomaniac
Many thanks to Daniel Mark Epstein, Ballantine Books, and Netgalley for the free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

The book begins with a fictionalized account of Benjamin Franklin traveling home with his infant son born out of wedlock. Although it is in no way based in fact, it is a beautiful story, and I immediately wanted this to be developed into its own book. It has such promise.
War is what faces the colonies during the 1740s with the French and Indians. This infant son
Aug 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
Against my better judgment, I stuck with this book to the bitter end. Every so often, the author would throw in some "color" to brighten the text -- a butterfly would flutter through the garden, or the sun would shimmer on the leaves -- but none of these little gratuitous tidbits brought the story to life for me. There is so much information here that I struggled to keep the many actors straight, which was not helped by the the fact that the author often indiscriminately refers to "Franklin" whe ...more
Jun 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads, history
This was a Goodreads First-Reads win.

It took me a while to get through this one. The beginning was a little slow but as the history moved into the Revolutionary War, the book became a lot more interesting. I've previous read much about Benjamin Franklin, but I never knew his son was the Governor of New Jersey and that they were on opposite sites during this time. It was heartbreaking to read how their once close relationship deteriorated. I cannot begin to imagine what that must be like. So much
Jun 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Although you don't often hear it amidst all the enduring myths surrounding the American Revolution, more than anything else it was a civil war. The 'rebellion against tyranny' was far from universal, and historians estimate as many as one third of the population of the colonies remained loyal to the Crown. It was a war of colony against mother country, brother against brother, friend against friend, and sons against fathers.

And nowhere was this more true than in the home of the most famous Ameri
Received through FirstReads...
I enjoyed this more than I expected to. The American Revolution and it's surrounding years, and the famous people associated with it, have not been anything that I've gone out of my way to read about. So I realized that I knew almost nothing about Benjamin Franklin, and that he was actually quite interesting. The author did an excellent job of bringing the subjects to life. They don't all blend together into a gray mass of interchangeable people, each is vibrant and
Andy Miller
Sep 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
While the estrangement between Benjamin Franklin and his only son William who remained loyal to England during and after the Revolutionary War is well known, the nuances and details of the estrangement are not. This thorough book gives the nuance, its balance corrects the common understanding that Ben Franklin was a blameless patriot in this and that William was an ungrateful son who ruthlessly turned his back on America.
"Loyal Son" starts with William being illegitimate and how Benjamin and his
John Cooper
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This remarkable book makes a rare achievement, telling an unfamiliar story about a seemingly familiar subject (Benjamin Franklin). Somehow most of us missed learning that Benjamin's only son William, a close contemporary of George Washington, was for a decade the loyal colonial governor of New Jersey, who stubbornly held on to his position years into the Revolution, when all of his fellow servants of the Crown had fled. Benjamin at this time was in charge of the revolutionary government's intell ...more
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Most fans of the revolutionary era are familiar with the natural aristocracy that developed in the late 1700s and their feelings of disenfranchisement from the British Empire. One of the most interesting figures that emerged from that time period, Benjamin Franklin, has always been set apart from the other leaders of the American Revolution as eccentric. The Loyal Son, furthers the exploration of Benjamin Franklin's unconventional life by exposing his unique family relationships, which up until ...more
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have read a lot of history books over the years and more than my share of Benjamin Franklin biographies (mainly for kids), but this one kind of blew me away. It recounts most of the big highlights of Franklins life with a light touch on his scientific experiments and more rigorous appraisal of his diplomatic pursuits. However neither this man’s intense grasp of human nature nor his status and power within the rebellion could prevent what must have been the deepest wound he ever felt— his son’s ...more
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I’ve seen this book at Costco, and am surprised it’s gotten so relatively few reviews on goodreads. I never know much what to say about history books without lecturing, so all I can do is comment on the book itself really. The writing style was engaging, easy to follow, entertaining, and instructional. I’ve read quite a bit about Franklin and never knew about his Loyalist son. It’s a good reminder that at its core, the American Revolution was in fact a civil war; we kind of paint the sides more ...more
Bob H
Apr 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, history
This is an important and well-researched new biography, two biographies really, one of William Franklin, royal governor of New Jersey during the Revolution, and of his famous father, Benjamin. The book follows William's life, from the 1760s on, as he rose in colonial society, and as Franklin would become more and more involved in the revolutionary movement. The war between Loyalist and Continental would divide father and son, and each would play a major role on their respective sides, William as ...more
My man Ben Franklin was a very complicated man with very complicated family history. This excellent biography looks at the relationship of Ben and his son William. The two were very close--and then the American Revolution came and they picked opposite sides. Epstein is a master at narrative non-fiction.
Oct 23, 2018 rated it liked it
I literally struggled through this one. There were occasional glimpses that drew me in and then just fell away to a not so intriguing story.
Stan  Prager
Feb 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Review of: The Loyal Son: The War in Ben Franklin’s House, by Daniel Mark Epstein
by Stan Prager

The phrase “brother against brother” ever conjures up the American Civil War in popular memory, but that same expression could just as accurately be stamped upon our founding conflict, the American Revolution—except that the very real bitter division that shook the thirteen colonies during that rebellion has long been buried in a kind of historical amnesia that implies an unanimity of purpose
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
I was drawn to this book because the political rift between Benjamin Franklin and his son William seemed to offer an unique perspective on the War for Independence. William was Ben's illegitimate son, born of an unknown mother but raised from infancy by Ben and his common law wife, Deborah. After a brief but successful career in the army and years in England assisting his father's diplomatic missions, William was appointed to be the Governor of New Jersey. Refusing to support the colony's rebell ...more
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, biography
Summary: The history of relations between Ben and his illegitimate son William Franklin, from filial loyalty to estranged parties as a consequence of the Revolutionary War, and each man’s choices.

I’ve read a biography of Ben Franklin and numerous histories of the Revolutionary War, and had never realized how deeply estranged Franklin and his son were until I read Daniel Mark Epstein’s well-researched study of the lives and the tragic relationship of these two men.

It was not always so. William, a
Nov 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. The American Revolution was a war of independence from England, but within the American Colonies it was a Civil War. This book balances much of the myth making that occurred in the decades immediately following the revolution, during which the victors wrote the histories and whitewashed story of the Tories that supported the King and who wanted to remain an English Colony. Nearly everyone is familiar with Benjamin Franklin, one of the most revered “Founding Fathers.” T ...more
Oct 09, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed
Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest online review

William Franklin, the son of Benjamin Franklin, supported the Loyalists during the Revolutionary War. This autobiography is interesting because it relates the history of the Revolutionary War from an unusual perspective – that of an American colonist, son of a prominent member of the Continental Congress, who remained loyal to British colonial rule. It seems likely that William Franklin could have been a significant
David Dunlap
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the story of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, the well-known Founding Father and citizen of the world, and his illegitimate son William, who became the Royal Governor of New Jersey in the mid-1760s, as tensions between the American Colonies and the British government across the Atlantic began to rise and, eventually, boil over. The details of Dr. Franklin's life are fairly familiar and have been widely written about; those of Governor William have not been. I found the author's take on both men to ...more
Aug 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was a terrific book that showed the personal impact of the Revolutionary War on the divided house of Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin's gradually came to the realization that the treatment of the British Parliament and the Crown toward Americans were different from their treatment of English subjects. First Franklin objected to the lack of security Great Britain provided to the Americans during the French and Indian War which necessitated the use of local militias funded by towns and vi ...more
Jun 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads, sold
A mixed bag about a fascinating man and his perplexing son, Benjamin and William Franklin.

As Ben grew in stature and fame as a scientist and patriot, his illegitimate son William went his own way, becoming governor of New Jersey just as war broke out.

The Franklins were accused of colluding, splitting the difference and taking different sides so they could help each other when the dust settled. But the battles inside the family revealed how untrue that was.

The loyalist William was hoping it would
Steve Gentry
Aug 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
"The eighteenth century is worlds away from the twenty-first;" yet, reading about the political issues between father and son and the impact on the American Revolution there are a number of similarities occurring in today's politics--issues with the media, intercepted letters revealed to the public, the polarization of a country.

I knew little about Ben Franklin's son other than he had been the governor of New Jersey before the revolution and had supported the British. I was curious as to why he
Nick Luciano
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable book. A dual biography of Dr. Franklin and his son William, the Colonial Governor of NJ. Shows not just the lovable, witty side of Ben Franklin, but his ruthlessness in business, politics and family matters. I found particularly interesting, the military record of both Franklins. You don't think of Ben as a military man, but both he and William had strong military credentials, and were the colony's knowledgeable experts in military and native American affairs. Through William's story, ...more
Kimberly Harris
May 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book explores the relationship between Ben Franklin and his illegitimate son, William, whom he adopted. It starts out a little slow. Really, you are getting two biographies between the two of them, along with the history of their times. But it picks up midway and I had a hard time putting it down after that.

What's surprising is to realize how much of the same mind they were for so long and what good friends they were, all the way to the start of the war. And also to realize how being in di
Jun 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
A thoughtful, well-researched account of one of the saddest stories in American history -- Benjamin Franklin's estrangement from his only surviving son, Loyalist New Jersey colonial governor William Franklin. William's distinguished career came to an ignominious end following his stubborn refusal to espouse the cause of U.S. independence. and his aid for the Loyalist cause. The greatest negotiator of his century, Franklin could not convince his son to abandon his support for the Loyalists and Wi ...more
Aug 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
I received this book compliments of Ballantine Books through the Goodreads First Reads program.

Ben Franklin was a complicated man and his family relations weren't simple. What begins as a desire to fund the defense of Pennsylvania settlers from Native Americans eventually leads to war between patriots and the British and a schism between father and son. The fact that Ben Franklin was working for the rebellious colonists while William was the loyalist governor of New Jersey complicated their live
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Epstein writes an engaging albeit sad history of our charming founding father Benjamin Franklin and his illegitimate son William. Jefferson considered the “war” to be fifty years long starting with the French and Indian War and ending with the War of 1812. This history doesn’t say that but it suggests it as well. William fought as a British soldier in the 1750s and continued to consider himself a loyal British subject. He even walked in the coronation parade for King George. Benjamin becomes mor ...more
May 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
This book was interesting but messy. There was a lot of detail and I had to keep turning pages to figure out who was who. The fact that Benjamin Franklin's illegitimate son was a staunch Loyalist as opposed to his father's strong revolutionary leaning was the crux of the entire book. I was surprised that Benjamin spent as much time as he did in England and France both during and after the Revolutionary War. The affairs of the heart of both men were messy too and William's son Temple was also ill ...more
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“p. 39 Rum, in fact, was the unspoken demon in most negotiations and failed treaties with the Delaware nation. That evil influence has been largely expunged from histories. Access to rum, or its prohibition, assured or canceled oaths and pacts no sooner than they were sworn.” 0 likes
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