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Franklin would stay in London until March 1775 and, not surprisingly, he played a double game. Up to the last minute before he returned to Philadelphia, he continued to engage in secret talks with such British officials as Prime Minister William Pitt and the Howe brothers, the senior commanders of both Britain’s army and navy, to try to avert the possibility of revolution. Franklin was no hothead. He knew war with England could be damaging at best and possibly ruinous to those 13 fragile Colonies he loved.

At the same time, he opened equally secret talks with the French government and its potent merchant community to provide the material sinews of war that made our War of Independence possible. As with much else about Franklin, it is a many-layered story, but, aside from a bit of overenthusiasm, Ms. Skemp has produced a highly readable yarn about an often overlooked layer in that broader tale.

James Srodes’ “Franklin, the Essential Founding Father” (Regnery, 2003) won the 2006 Philadelphia One Book prize during the Franklin 300th birthday celebrations.