Book Review, Gould, Florence, NetGalley, Nonfiction, St. Martin's Press, WWI, WWII

A Dangerous Woman: The Life of Florence Gould by Susan Ronald

Florence understood instinctively that beauty, as well as money, was power; and she had both in abundance.

Florence Gould was an intelligent, conniving, self-centered, savvy business woman, but most of all she was a survivor.  She survived the San Francisco earthquake and fire as a child, a major flood in France, World War I and World War II.  Her survival skills came into play again with her questionable connections with top officials of The Third Reich which was a contention with FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, after the war.  Hoover tried everything to get her convicted for aiding and abetting the enemy to no avail.  She was definitely a force to be reckoned with.

Her open marriage to a very wealthy and shrewd American multimillionaire, Frank Gould, gave her the opportunities she needed to become an independent wealthy woman in her own right by investing in real estate and art, though obtained under dubious conditions.  It’s known that many of her art purchases were bought from collections taken by the Nazis from French Jews.  Though rumors said she was an anti-Semite, Ronald supposes that Florence didn’t care one way or another.  She preferred to have fun rather than worry about “political rumblings”, and being the self-serving woman she was, she chose to help both sides when it suited her.

She was equally loved and hated, but she was only interested in power, sexuality, luxury and excess.  With an ego that was larger than life she succeeded in becoming the wealthy, famous and notorious socialite she always wanted to be no matter who or what she had to do to get there.

She was selfish, egotistical, generous, gorgeous, promiscuous, quick-tongued, and quick-witted. She was never dull, never boring… Above all, she moved with the times and, given the dangerous sweeps of history in which she lived at the height of society, she became—perhaps, despite herself—a dangerous woman.

In her final years, she was very charitable in giving her time, and money to good causes though instead of creating a foundation in her husband’s name her ego got the better of her and she created one in her own instead.

Ronald notes that “Florence’s estate on her death was estimated to be worth some $123.8 million, or around $300 million in 2016.”

Ms. Ronald does a superb job in her research as seen by her copious notes and extensive bibliography even though The Florence Gould Foundation would not give her access to their archives and made it known that they did not wish to have her book published.  I especially enjoyed hearing about the many famous people Florence hobnobbed with–and there were many–including Coco Chanel, Maurice Chevalier, Charlie Chaplin, Winnaretta Singer, Princesse de Polignac, and daughter of Isaac Merritt Singer, inventor of the sewing machine, Ernst Jünger, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Pablo Picasso.  Though the book is about Florence Gould, a very unlikable woman, it is filled with fascinating historical places and figures.  If  you like autobiographies filled with French history during World War I and World War II, you will enjoy this book.

Thank you to Ms. Ronald, St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to review this book.


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Born and raised in the United States, Susan Ronald has lived in England for more than twenty-five years. She is the author of six books, most recently, Hitler’s Art ThiefHeretic Queen, The Pirate Queen, and Shakespeare’s DaughterHer latest book, A Dangerous Woman: American Beauty, Noted Philanthropist, Nazi CollaboratorThe Life of Florence Gould is now available from St. Martin’s Press.


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