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The Perfect Machine

Even though astronomy is my favorite science, I never would have believed that a book describing what was for decades the largest telescope on earth would hold me as firmly as any thriller. Ronald Florence has done an amazing job in reconstructing one of the greatest technological achievements of this century … anyone who thinks that all astronomers are unemotional, absent-minded academics is in for quite a few surprises … The Perfect Machine is a perfect job of science writing for the general public. Over to you Pulitzer Prize Committee …

Arthur C. Clarke

Magnificent … a superb history by a super writer and historian … must reading for organizers and users of “big science.”

— Allan Sandage

A splendid, stirring piece of work … a genuine tour de force. I hadn't expected that I could become so absorbed in the technicalities of casting a 200-inch piece of glass or designing and perfecting a 500-ton instrument, but Florence writes about such matters with so much clarity and narrative drive as to make the story … gripping. 

— Daniel Kevles


The building of the Hale telescope at Palomar, a legendary triumph in the fretful art of high-tech science, has found a worthy chronicler in Ronald Florence. Atmospheric, sound, and elegantly readable, The Perfect Machine provides a riveting account of how, out of a welter of human passions and imperfections, this noble thing got built right. 

— Timothy Ferris


Ronald Florence's The Perfect Machine tells an unforgettable and beautifully rendered story of the building of the great 200-inch Hale Telescope in southern California, and of the history around it. It was an incredibly important moment in American culture and science, and Florence brings it alive. This is the best book on the subject that has been written and is ever likely to be written.


— Richard Preston