Florence, Ronald 1942–

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Florence, Ronald 1942–


Born October 14, 1942, in CA; son of Harold and Edna Helen Florence. Education: University of California, Berkeley, A.B., 1964; Harvard University, M.A., 1965, Ph.D., 1969.


Home—Providence, RI. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer, historian, novelist, and educator. Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY, member of history faculty, 1968-71; State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase, 1971-74, began as assistant professor, became associate professor of history; also taught at Harvard University. Twentieth Century Fund, research associate, 1974; New York Council for the Humanities, New York, NY, executive director, 1975-78; Century Foundation, senior researcher. Cochair of Conference on the Future of the Intellectual Community, New York, 1976, and International Conference on the Humanities and Social Thought, Italy, 1977. Raised Cotswold sheep in CT.


Austrian History Prize (special commendation), Austrian Institute, 1969.


Fritz: The Story of a Political Assassin, Dial (New York, NY), 1971.

Marx's Daughters, Dial (New York, NY), 1975.

Zeppelin, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1982.

The Boatbook, Harper (New York, NY), 1985.

The Gypsy Man, Random House (New York, NY), 1985.

The Optimum Sailboat: Racing the Cruiser and Cruising the Racer, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1986.

The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescope, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.

The Last Season, Forge (New York, NY), 2000.

Blood Libel: The Damascus Affair of 1840, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 2004.

Lawrence and Aaronsohn: T.E. Lawrence, Aaron Aaronsohn, and the Seeds of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Viking (New York, NY), 2007.


Ronald Florence is a novelist, historian, and educator. Now a full-time writer, Florence has previously held academic positions at Sarah Lawrence College, the State University of New York at Purchase, and Harvard University. His nonfiction works cover a range of topics in technical, social, and political history throughout the world.

In The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescope, Florence recounts the building of the gigantic 200-inch telescope on Mount Palomar, near San Diego, California. Florence describes the history and progress of this enormous technological undertaking, an engineering project "on the scale of a battleship with the precision of a microscope," remarked Steven J. Dick in Science. He identifies the major personalities involved in the conception, funding, and construction of the telescope, including the most influential, George Ellery Hale, whose efforts were crucial to the telescope's existence. Florence tells how the instrument's development was fraught with controversy, how its construction was interrupted by World War II, and how, even once it was finished, many astronomers doubted it would function. He also reveals some of the technical challenges faced by the engineers and builders, including the task of polishing the reflecting mirror to a tolerance of millionths of an inch; the creation of new glassmaking techniques used in the mirror's creation; and the eventual successful inauguration of the instrument in 1948. "A few other books have described the building of the telescope, but no one has succeeded in describing so colorfully the details of the work and the personalities who undertook it against all odds," commented Dick.

Blood Libel: The Damascus Affair of 1840 tells the story of a harrowing episode in mid-nineteenth-century Europe when a Capuchin monk, Father Thomas, and his assistant, Ibrahim Amaara, disappeared after visiting the small, local Jewish community in the city of Damascus, Syria. Their disappearance ignited tremendous suspicion against the Jewish residents. Soon, they were accused of the kidnapping and ritual murder of Father Thomas and Amaara, and of using their blood in Jewish religious rituals. This "blood libel," the accusation that the Jews had killed Christians to acquire their blood, caused a wave of anti-Semitism that rolled through Damascus and eventually Europe. Violence against Jews in the area increased: many influential Jewish citizens were accused of the crime, dozens were imprisoned, and some were tortured. The issue took on great prominence in the French and British media, which demanded retaliation for what they saw as an unholy act. Many European countries became involved, and even the American consulate found itself dragged into the fray. Ultimately, Jewish, British, and Austrian forces united to help the accused, and the episode became an example of needed political change throughout Europe. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the book an "excellent work of popular history," which Florence handles with "dramatic flair and meticulous documentation."

With Lawrence and Aaronsohn: T.E. Lawrence, Aaron Aaronsohn, and the Seeds of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Florence presents an "an interesting and informative dual biography" of two prominent individuals who helped shape the Middle East in the years following World War I, noted Booklist reviewer Jay Freeman. Lawrence, known in popular culture as Lawrence of Arabia, was a key figure in the effort to create an Arab state. Aaronsohn, though far less well known, was also tremendously influential in his efforts to support and promote both Jewish and British interests throughout the Middle East. Aaronsohn was a Palestinian Jew and an agronomist whose efforts helped improve agriculture and habitable land in the desert area. Aaronsohn, however, was also a spy who worked to provide the British with information on Ottoman activities and defenses. Florence recounts Aaronsohn's devotion to the Zionist cause; the tragedy that befell his sister, also a spy, who was captured and tortured by the Turks before she committed suicide; and the impact that both Aaronsohn and Lawrence had on Britain's involvement in the Middle East. Freeman concluded that Florence's biography is a "well-written and frequently surprising work."



Booklist, October 15, 1994, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescope, p. 384; June 1, 2007, Jay Freeman, review of Lawrence and Aaronsohn: T.E. Lawrence, Aaron Aaronsohn, and the Seeds of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, p. 26.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2007, review of Lawrence and Aaronsohn.

Library Journal, March 15, 1982, review of Zeppelin, p. 649; August 1, 2007, Zachary T. Irwin, review of Lawrence and Aaronsohn, p. 99.

Middle East Journal, summer, 2005, review of Blood Libel: The Damascus Affair of 1840, p. 518.

Nature, March 23, 1995, David H. DeVorkin, review of The Perfect Machine, p. 317.

Publishers Weekly, February 5, 1982, review of Zeppelin, p. 381; January 4, 1985, review of The Gypsy Man, p. 59; November 1, 1986, review of The Gypsy Man, p. 67; September 13, 2004, review of Blood Libel, p. 65; June 18, 2007, review of Lawrence and Aaronsohn, p. 47.

Reference & Research Book News, December, 1994, review of The Perfect Machine, p. 40; February, 2005, review of Blood Libel, p. 50; February, 2007, review of Blood Libel.

Science, February 24, 1995, Steven J. Dick, review of The Perfect Machine, p. 1192.

Science Books & Films, December, 1994, review of The Perfect Machine, p. 267.

Sky & Telescope, April, 1995, Richard Learner, review of The Perfect Machine, p. 54.

Washington Post Book World, November 5, 2006, Rachel Hartigan Shea, review of Blood Libel, p. 11.


Penguin Speakers Bureau Web site,http://www.penguinspeakersbureau.com/ (January 20, 2008), biography of Ronald Florence.

Ronald Florence Home Page,http://members.cox.net/18james/writing.html (January 20, 2008).

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