Wednesday, 14 October 2009

More Books About Colours Reviewed

I enjoyed Michel Pastoreau's book "Blue" so much, that I fossicked in the library's catalogue to see what else they had, and I found three other books on colour that are equally absorbing:

A Perfect Red
by Amy Butler Greenfield

The story of the quest for the perfect color red is an adventure into world history. For those who knew its secrets, red was a source of wealth and power from ancient times onward — especially cochineal, the source of nature's most potent red dye.

For centuries after the conquistador Hernán Cortés spotted cochineal in an Aztec marketplace and sent it on the high seas back to his Spanish king, this luminous luxury was a source of war and intrigue. Deployed strategically in the Spanish holy war against Protestant Europe, Spain’s cochineal monopoly was worth a fortune, and English, French, and Dutch pirates were determined to have a piece of the action.

But in Europe, few fully understood the nature of cochineal. Was it plant or animal? Could it be stolen from Mexico and transplanted to their colonies? These questions confounded clever minds for centuries, but Spain’s rivals were determined to learn the answers.

With a cast of extravagant characters — monarchs, buccaneers, artists, scientists, spies, even poets — the mad race to crack the cochineal enigma and break Spain's monopoly lasted three hundred years. Encompassing the history of natural philosophy and science, of art and textiles, of engineering and empire, A Perfect Red is a tale every bit as flamboyant as the color itself.

Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World
by Simon Garfield

Mauve is the story of a man who accidentally invented a color, and in the process transformed the world around him. Before 1856, the color in our lives — the reds, blues, and blacks and clothing, paint, print — came from insects or mollusks, roots or leaves, and dyeing was painstaking and expensive. But in 1856 eighteen-year-old English chemist William Perkin accidentally discovered a way to mass-produce color in a factory.

Working on a treatment for malaria in his London home laboratory, Perkin found mauve by chance. His experiments failed to result in artificial quinine as he had hoped, but produced instead a dark oily sludge that happened to turn silk a beautiful light purple. Mauve became the most desirable shade in the fashion houses of Paris and London, and quickly led to crimsons, violets, blues, and greens, earning its inventor a fortune. But its importance extends far beyond ballgowns.

Before mauve, chemistry was largely a theoretical science. Perkin's discovery sparked new interest in industrial applications of chemistry research, which later brought about the development of explosives, perfume, photography, modern medicine, and today's plastics industry.

Perkin is honored with the odd plaque and bust in colleges and chemistry clubs, but is otherwise a forgotten man. With great wit, scientific savvy, and historical scope, Simon Garfield delivers a fascinating tale of how this accidental genius set in motion an extraordinary scientific leap.

The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric
by Michel Pastoureau

Michel Pastoureau's lively study of stripes offers a unique and engaging perspective on the evolution of fashion, taste, and visual codes in Western culture.

"The Devils Cloth" begins with a medieval scandal. When the first Carmelites arrived in France from the Holy Land, the religious order required its members to wear striped habits, prompting turmoil and denunciations in the West that lasted fifty years until the order was forced to accept a quiet, solid color.

The medieval eye found any surface in which a background could not be distinguished from a foreground disturbing. Thus, striped clothing was relegated to those on the margins or outside the social order -jugglers and prostitutes, for example -and in medieval paintings the devil himself is often depicted wearing stripes.

The West has long continued to dress its slaves and servants, its crewmen and convicts in stripes. But in the last two centuries, stripes have also taken on new, positive meanings, connoting freedom, youth, playfulness, and pleasure: witness the revolutionary stripes on the French and United States flags.

In a wide-ranging discussion that touches on zebras, awnings, and pajamas, augmented by illustrative plates, the author shows us how stripes have become chic, and even, in the case of bankers' pin stripes, a symbol of taste and status. However, make the stripes too wide, and you have a gangster's suit - the devils cloth indeed!

Kirkus Reviews

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