A Perfect Red
A Perfect Red recounts the colorful history of cochineal, a legendary red dye that was once one of the world's most precious commodities. Treasured by the ancient Mexicans, cochineal was sold in the great Aztec marketplaces, where it attracted the attention of the Spanish conquistadors in 1519. Shipped to Europe, the dye created a sensation, producing the brightest, strongest red the world had ever seen. Soon Spain's cochineal monopoly was worth a fortune. Desperate to find their own sources of the elusive dye, the English, French, Dutch, and other Europeans tried to crack the enigma of cochineal. Did it come from a worm, a berry, a seed? Could it be stolen from Mexico and transplanted to their own colonies? Pirates, explorers, alchemists, scientists, and spies—all joined the chase for cochineal, a chase that lasted more than three centuries. A Perfect Red tells their stories—true-life tales of mystery, empire, and adventure, in pursuit of the most desirable color on earth.

A Perfect Red Details

TitleA Perfect Red
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseApr 25th, 2006
PublisherHarper Perennial
ISBN-139780060522766
Rating
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, Art, Art History, Microhistory, Science, Historical

A Perfect Red Review

  • Will Byrnes
    January 1, 1970
    Cochineal was the source of rich red color for centuries. What is it? A question for which Europe had no true answer for hundreds of years. This book tells the tale of the color red, how the color was viewed in society in various periods of time. (An indicator of class distinction, or of harlotry, for example) It is primarily a tale of adventure in which many attempt to locate the true source of this very valuable product, then try to steal it. Not only adventurers but scientists applied their s Cochineal was the source of rich red color for centuries. What is it? A question for which Europe had no true answer for hundreds of years. This book tells the tale of the color red, how the color was viewed in society in various periods of time. (An indicator of class distinction, or of harlotry, for example) It is primarily a tale of adventure in which many attempt to locate the true source of this very valuable product, then try to steal it. Not only adventurers but scientists applied their skills to unveiling its secrets, with some making notable errors in the attempt. Cochineal is in fact the product of a small insect that lived primarily on a particular cactus and was so delicate of constitution that it was an almost impossible challenge for anyone who managed to succeed in transporting it back to Europe for cultivation. Artificial red supplanted cochineal during the industrial revolution, undercutting the market for the natural product severely. Concern that the artificial product was carcinogenic allowed the organic cochineal product to survive. Today, cultivation of the little bugs survives, but as a boutique product used mostly by native Mesoamericans for their products.It may be a bit geeky, but I really enjoyed learning about the history of something I would never have given any thought, the actual cultural history of a color. Can Blue be far behind? ==============================EXTRA STUFFThis video, from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, offers a nice visual
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  • Cheryl
    January 1, 1970
    Since I seem to be on a roll talking about books that have to do with knitting, I'll add this one. Cochineal, who knew? Years out from reading the book, I still get pleasure thinking about it when I notice it on the bookshelf. Cochineal is a dyestuff derived from parasitic colonies of scale insects that are native to Mexican cacti. For centuries it was a commodity that drove empire and espionage worldwide, as the subtitle says. Before cochineal was available from the Spanish colonies, there was Since I seem to be on a roll talking about books that have to do with knitting, I'll add this one. Cochineal, who knew? Years out from reading the book, I still get pleasure thinking about it when I notice it on the bookshelf. Cochineal is a dyestuff derived from parasitic colonies of scale insects that are native to Mexican cacti. For centuries it was a commodity that drove empire and espionage worldwide, as the subtitle says. Before cochineal was available from the Spanish colonies, there was no good way to dye anything in a beautiful red. I suppose that you could take many things that we now take for granted--especially agricultural commodities with historical roots--and spin as fascinating a history, but this one was particularly good because it told me about something I had never remotely thought about and I ended up looking at the world of fiber and fabric around me quite differently. Shortly after I finished reading this book I ran across some yarn hand-dyed with cochineal but couldn't quite justify buying it. Now I regret it bitterly because I've never seen any other. This book makes me still want to own a piece of the history and romance of red dye.
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  • Nicole
    January 1, 1970
    I will never get tired of how interesting history can be, especially in the hands of a good author. I will also never get tired of the thrill that comes with focusing on one specific thing (in this case, cochineal - an insect-based red dye) and then realizing how this one thing is connected to so many other aspects of history. I adored this book - it taught me things I didn't know, added new layers and complexity to things I did know, and made me stop and think about something as ubiquitous and I will never get tired of how interesting history can be, especially in the hands of a good author. I will also never get tired of the thrill that comes with focusing on one specific thing (in this case, cochineal - an insect-based red dye) and then realizing how this one thing is connected to so many other aspects of history. I adored this book - it taught me things I didn't know, added new layers and complexity to things I did know, and made me stop and think about something as ubiquitous and everyday as color in a whole new light. Fascinating stuff!
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  • Andres
    January 1, 1970
    Extremely interesting chronicle of what was once a highly lucrative commodity that nobody really remembers today: a bug that produces a red dye that, at the time, couldn't be beat.We all know Spain mined the "new world" for its gold and silver but cochineal was an empire money maker for hundreds of years, mainly because it kept the insect a secret, exporting only the dye product to those willing to pay handsomely for it but never revealing its origin. Even after it was proved to be a Extremely interesting chronicle of what was once a highly lucrative commodity that nobody really remembers today: a bug that produces a red dye that, at the time, couldn't be beat.We all know Spain mined the "new world" for its gold and silver but cochineal was an empire money maker for hundreds of years, mainly because it kept the insect a secret, exporting only the dye product to those willing to pay handsomely for it but never revealing its origin. Even after it was proved to be an insect stealing the bug proved near impossible, and cultivating it even more so.This book explores, through the lens of the cochineal industry, the history of textiles and dyeing, the importance and meaning of color, the rise and fall of the Spanish empire, the empires and countries that took its place, stories of industrial espionage, how the modern chemical companies started out by making dyes, and much much more.
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  • Jill
    January 1, 1970
    This book reminds me of an optical illusion that looks like one thing when you look at it one way, but looks like something totally different when viewed another way – think of the ubiquitous Escher posters... Viewed from one perspective, A Perfect Red is a quirky and witty, albeit highly selective, history of Western Civilization from 1500 to the present, with a special emphasis on the Spanish Empire. From another perspective, it is a 261-page history of the trade in a particular commodity that ha This book reminds me of an optical illusion that looks like one thing when you look at it one way, but looks like something totally different when viewed another way – think of the ubiquitous Escher posters... Viewed from one perspective, A Perfect Red is a quirky and witty, albeit highly selective, history of Western Civilization from 1500 to the present, with a special emphasis on the Spanish Empire. From another perspective, it is a 261-page history of the trade in a particular commodity that has no economic significance today but was marginally important 200 to 400 years ago. The commodity in question is cochineal (Dactylopius coccus), a red dye prepared from the bodies of a kind of insect that attacks and lives in and on prickly pear cacti pads that grow in Mexico and the American Southwest. The Spanish conquistadors discovered that native Mexicans could dye clothing a brighter, more vivid red than any available in Europe. The dye was prepared by a painstaking labor-intensive process of scraping the bodies of the insects off the cacti. Cochineal became a valuable export for the Spanish Empire because other Europeans could not duplicate the intense red color it produced.The insect that produces the dye is so small that in the days before good microscopes, Europeans (including the Spaniards) had no idea of the nature of the dye. Most of them thought it was a form of inorganic matter. The finished product was quite valuable and easy to transport, so it attracted many pirates. However, it was extremely difficult to produce anywhere but Mexico because the prickly pear cacti did not thrive in many other places and the live insects were very sensitive to cold. The Spanish maintained tight security on the production of the product and enforced severe penalties on anyone who attempted to break the crown’s monopoly. The story of how the Spanish maintained their monopoly and how other Europeans tried to discover the secret of the dye is an interesting one that stretches from the 16th to the 18th centuries. In the process of telling a little story (the dye trade), the author's “back story” account encompasses the reigns and characters of Charles V and Phillip II, the Hapsburg Empire, the conquests of Mexico and Peru, and the continuing rivalries of Spain, England, Holland, and France. In this respect, the dye trade acts as a microcosm of a much broader European history, a conceit that Greenfield handles deftly. However, the author’s technique of filtering the history of Western Europe through the lens of the red dye trade breaks down in the 19th century. Spain’s monopoly in cochineal persisted, but by then the country had declined significantly as it gradually lost its overseas empire and faced bankruptcy. Moreover, the German chemical industry developed synthetic dyes of comparable quality. I think Greenfield overstates her case when she attributes the rise of the whole German chemical industry to efforts to find a substitute for cochineal. And when she traces those efforts to the development of poisonous gas for World War I, the chain of causation is too diffuse to be credible. So back to the optical illusion. When the book is viewed as political history seen as a partial function of the cochineal trade, it works pretty well from 1500 to about 1830, but then has nothing worthwhile to say. If viewed as merely a history of the trade in a particular red dye, it is no more significant than a history of the trade in copra or jute. Evaluation: This is a good book for those who like niche knowledge, or who prefer history in more entertaining forms. Rating: 2.5/5
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  • Orsolya
    January 1, 1970
    Did you know that “red” is the oldest color term in all languages (save black and white)? No? You aren’t an artist, say? Although creative genes are welcome, this book envelops catchy themes such as pirates, secrecy, espionage, social standing of colors and dyestuffs, etc; and isn’t merely for the artistic audience. A Perfect Red demonstrates the soap opera values of history and combines a valuable sweeping resource of art, history, and science.Having enjoyed and learned more in the Did you know that “red” is the oldest color term in all languages (save black and white)? No? You aren’t an artist, say? Although creative genes are welcome, this book envelops catchy themes such as pirates, secrecy, espionage, social standing of colors and dyestuffs, etc; and isn’t merely for the artistic audience. A Perfect Red demonstrates the soap opera values of history and combines a valuable sweeping resource of art, history, and science.Having enjoyed and learned more in the four-page prologue of A Perfect Red then in some other books; I knew this would be a winner. Amy Butler Greenfield’s passion and knowledge is strikingly gripping and causes mutual interest with the reader. A Perfect Red initially discusses the background of the world of textiles/dyes and Europe’s quest for rich fabrics as a social symbol. Although the information is academic and scholarly in nature; Greenfield’s writing style is simply beautiful, therefore, not exhausting the reader with too much menial information. Greenfield is the type of author which grammarians would smile at. The wealth of particulars in A Perfect Red is simply remarkable. With each line the reader learns a new and exemplary fact. Who knew the color red was so riveting and symbolic! Unlike some other historical commodity- study books (think: the spice trade), Greenfield’s book on the color trade reads easily with the endearing drama of a fiction novel. Further, one can’t deny the extensive research involved while Greenfield doesn’t present these in a speculating or condescending way. There are some unsatisfying elements to consider. Unless you have an avid interest in the Spanish Conquest and subsequent Mexican Revolution, you may find these descriptions a bit lengthy and over-detailed (and somewhat straying on the topic of cochineal dyestuffs). Yes, these topics are crucial to understand the history, standardization, and economy of cochineal but it was a bit much. This resulted in the pace of the book slowing down throughout. A Perfect Red began with a “bang” and then found a slower path to follow. Meaning, it lacked a steady and consistent attention-grabbing story arc. Another over-detailed, “slow” factor was Greenfield’s habit of diving much too deeply into the backgrounds/bios of each individual involved in the color trade which aren’t always necessary for the flow of the history. This again effects the gripping sensations of the historical account. The books gains speed toward the conclusion of the story with the descriptions of the downfall of cochineal and with the advent of synthetic dyes and William Henry Perkin’s glories in the textile and dye industries. This section is more in the speed of describing the social aspects of color and synthetic dye creation/discovery emulating the excitement in the beginning of the book. However, the very end was weak, not memorable, and spoke more about other colors than leaving a lasting impact of “food for thought” on the color red or red dyestuffs.If you are seeking a book on the pure symbolism value of cochineal and dyestuffs, A Perfect Red is the wrong source. However, if you are interested in a complete three-century span story of the historical rise and fall of cochineal; then Amy Butler Greenfield’s A Perfect Red will satisfy your craving.
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  • Hannah
    January 1, 1970
    For obvious reasons, I really wanted to like this book. Unfortunately, I am easily bored by political histories and the bulk of this book is just that. It’s really a history of the cultivation and use of the cochineal bug for red dyes, which is a story very similar to the cultivation and use of cacao, quinine, coca, sugar, coffee, bananas, and many other New World products that Europeans pillaged from the Americas, and that I have already read about. For me, the book didn’t get interesting until For obvious reasons, I really wanted to like this book. Unfortunately, I am easily bored by political histories and the bulk of this book is just that. It’s really a history of the cultivation and use of the cochineal bug for red dyes, which is a story very similar to the cultivation and use of cacao, quinine, coca, sugar, coffee, bananas, and many other New World products that Europeans pillaged from the Americas, and that I have already read about. For me, the book didn’t get interesting until it reached the 19th Century and the life of William Perkins, the man who first discovered analine dyes (and pioneered the manufacture of synthetic dyes in general, which led to synthetic medicines, plastics and weaponry, among other things), and whose story is far better told in one of my favorite books, “Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color that Changed the World,” by Simon Garfield. This brief chapter, which accounts for roughly 5% of the 261 pages of text, was the only part of the book that I could read without wanting to doze. The rest was an exhausting repetition of examples of red color as used by historical cultures, as well as the gruesome and oft-told tale of colonization and the import trade to Europe from the 16th-19th Centuries. One other item of note was a description of the alchemistic science employed to create natural dyes in the Middle Ages. According to the back cover, the LA Times described it as “rollicking,” which is probably the last word I would use in reference to this book. For anyone interested in reading more about color and dyes, I highly recommend “Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color that Changed the World,” by Simon Garfield. And if you are interested in colonialization and the European trade of natural materials from the New World during the 16th to 19th Centuries, you should look into “Seeds of Change: Six Plants that Transformed Mankind,” by Henry Hobhouse. It’s not a page turner, but if you read it, you will never need to read anything on the subject again.
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  • Bev
    January 1, 1970
    I'm afraid that A Perfect Red: Empire Espionage, & the Quest for the Color of Desire didn't do a whole lot for me. And I don't think it's Amy Butler Greensfield's fault. You see, I was kind of confused when I picked this up at my local library's used bookstore in July 2011. The kindly volunteers who manage the store had shelved it on the hardback fiction shelf and when I read the synopsis I thought that this must fictional history. I've read those before--heavy on the history, but still a fi I'm afraid that A Perfect Red: Empire Espionage, & the Quest for the Color of Desire didn't do a whole lot for me. And I don't think it's Amy Butler Greensfield's fault. You see, I was kind of confused when I picked this up at my local library's used bookstore in July 2011. The kindly volunteers who manage the store had shelved it on the hardback fiction shelf and when I read the synopsis I thought that this must fictional history. I've read those before--heavy on the history, but still a fictional account. Well. No. This actually is the factual history of the "perfect red"--and expecting a fictional story, I have to say that the historical story bored me. We got really hung up on those Spanish conquistadors and how they didn't take full advantage of the cochineal tribute that their Indian conquests were providing. But tales of "mystery, empire, and adventure" this ain't. Another reviewer on GoodReads mentions the blurb on the back cover where the LA Times says that this book is "rollicking." No, it's not. Informative? Yes. In-depth? Sure--too much so for someone looking for "tales of mystery," "espionage," or a "rollicking" good story. Two stars.Full review first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting. Thanks.
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  • Carol Tensen
    January 1, 1970
    A Perfect Red was tres informative. Greenfield does a nice of detailing the background of cloth dying up through the Renaissance. Dyers were suspect in olden times because they "changed" things. Their use of putrid smelling solutions (including urine) didn't add to their social likability index. Formulae and techniques were guarded like nuclear secrets. Strong red was an ever-elusive hue. The conquest of the New World changed all that. The introduction of cochineal dye to Europe added to the fierce A Perfect Red was tres informative. Greenfield does a nice of detailing the background of cloth dying up through the Renaissance. Dyers were suspect in olden times because they "changed" things. Their use of putrid smelling solutions (including urine) didn't add to their social likability index. Formulae and techniques were guarded like nuclear secrets. Strong red was an ever-elusive hue. The conquest of the New World changed all that. The introduction of cochineal dye to Europe added to the fierce competition for colonial expansion and revolutionized the textile industry. Even though the humble cochineal, a tiny scale insect, was the hero of the book, I was more intrigued by the chapters that detailed the discovery of synthetic dyes, perhaps because they more succinct and less detailed that other parts of the book. I found myself getting bogged down in sections that I thought I would have found more interesting. All in all though, A Perfect Red is worthwhile read.
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  • Mattie
    January 1, 1970
    I often enjoy histories of small or offbeat subjects. It can be a great way to learn obscure things and to think about "bigger" historical events in a different way. Amy Greenfield's history of cochineal - "Europe's premier red dyestuff" - is a terrific example of this genre. A Perfect Red weaves together the cultural history of the color red, particularly in textiles, has had in the West with the natural history of the insects and plants required to create cochineal and the political history of I often enjoy histories of small or offbeat subjects. It can be a great way to learn obscure things and to think about "bigger" historical events in a different way. Amy Greenfield's history of cochineal - "Europe's premier red dyestuff" - is a terrific example of this genre. A Perfect Red weaves together the cultural history of the color red, particularly in textiles, has had in the West with the natural history of the insects and plants required to create cochineal and the political history of centuries of colonialism and competition among the European powers. Well written, well researched and engaging.
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  • Cate
    January 1, 1970
    Fascinating! A beautifully portrayed, heartfeltly written, and impressively researched story about how the color red was sought after, and how the color red (along with competing colors) has and continues to affect past and present cultures. From botanists to spies, from industrialists to inventors, from politics to revolutions--this is a true action book, made all the more amazing because its true from history--a MUST READ for anyone who has ever dabbled in art, fashion, or fallen in love with Fascinating! A beautifully portrayed, heartfeltly written, and impressively researched story about how the color red was sought after, and how the color red (along with competing colors) has and continues to affect past and present cultures. From botanists to spies, from industrialists to inventors, from politics to revolutions--this is a true action book, made all the more amazing because its true from history--a MUST READ for anyone who has ever dabbled in art, fashion, or fallen in love with color.
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  • R K
    January 1, 1970
    I really liked this book.The entire book is about the history of the colour red. From it's biological origins, to how it has affected society and even history, to how we have synthetically manufactured it; allowing it to be widely available to us today.It really makes you think about how easily we wear/use or disregard/remove the colour yet in the past people would do anything for this colour, even kill.A very dense and thoroughly researched book, but it does I really liked this book.The entire book is about the history of the colour red. From it's biological origins, to how it has affected society and even history, to how we have synthetically manufactured it; allowing it to be widely available to us today.It really makes you think about how easily we wear/use or disregard/remove the colour yet in the past people would do anything for this colour, even kill.A very dense and thoroughly researched book, but it does not bore the reader.Would highly recommend to everyone really.
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  • Heather(Gibby)
    January 1, 1970
    This is a story about the history of the development of the color red in the textile industry. It has some really interesting parts, and some really dry and boring parts. I listened to is on audio, and the narrator Suzanne Toren is fabulous and I think she made an at times dry subject matter come alive. Before the development of synthetic dyes, the quest for a natural source of red dye led countries to war, pirating, and espionage.
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  • Divvy
    January 1, 1970
    It’s amazing how interesting history can be in the hands of a talented author. Butler Greenfield weaves a fascinating tale of international espionage and fashion in this well crafted tome that is anything but dry. I especially love the tantalizing lead ends that join one chapter to the next. The amount of research this book must have taken is an impressive feat, but the talent to craft it into something so accessible, so enjoyable…man, I wish I could write like this.
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  • Garen
    January 1, 1970
    What do we take for granted? So many things. Here's a book that tells us how the world was tipped sideways with the acquisition of just one of those things: an abundant and stable source of the color red. Who knew?
  • Angela
    January 1, 1970
    Amy Butler Greenfield’s A Perfect Red tells a two-fold story of human interactions with the color red. The novel traces the paths of development of red dye technology from its origins in ochre, used by Cro-Magnon, to madder to cochineal to modern synthetic dyes. The author specifically goes into great detail about the history of cochineal, a small insect originally from Mexico. The Spanish conquistadores found the natives cultivating it in New Spain. This insect yielded a brilliant red dye when Amy Butler Greenfield’s A Perfect Red tells a two-fold story of human interactions with the color red. The novel traces the paths of development of red dye technology from its origins in ochre, used by Cro-Magnon, to madder to cochineal to modern synthetic dyes. The author specifically goes into great detail about the history of cochineal, a small insect originally from Mexico. The Spanish conquistadores found the natives cultivating it in New Spain. This insect yielded a brilliant red dye when dried and crushed. The dyestuff was brought back to Europe and confirmed to be the best red dye the Old World had ever seen. Beyond mere conversation about the basic technology of producing the dyestuff, the author also explores the ways in which this quest for deep reds impacted social systems around the globe. From rural growers to scientist societies to pirates, all were a part of the system put in place to bring this red hue to the rich and powerful who craved it.This subject matter is definitely important, because color is all around us and plays such an active role in our daily lives. We dress ourselves in many different colors of clothing. We sit on couches of varying colors in rooms painted other colors in houses painted yet more colors. We consume food that has been dyed to look a certain way. We drive cars that can be bought in any color we desire. Yet despite this prominence of color in our world, we rarely pay heed to where color comes from because of our removal from the production of these goods. The fact that this book went into detail about the historic art of dyeing was helpful in that it started the process of revealing what actually goes on to bring us these shades of color. It revealed that the road from natural dyes to synthetic dyes was long and difficult, and more specifically that the road through different natural dyes was very complex. The history given about different substances used to procure dyes was useful to present a context for our current textile industry. What, one might ask, was the drive to find the perfect red? This social construction of color was an important issue addressed in the book. In the time when cochineal was found in Mexico, red anything was a hot commodity in Europe. It was hot because it was rare and only the very wealthiest could afford it. People of high stature bought red clothing and adorned their homes with all the red they could afford to show off their status. As the demand for the dye went up, people started looking for more places to raise cochineal. Then as they succeeded, the demand went down because the rich weren’t buying it anymore because there was enough to go around. It wasn’t rare anymore. It wasn’t expensive anymore. It was no longer a sign of high status. It came to be a symbol for sin and lust and adultery, something to be worn by prostitutes. In our day and age, do colors still have wealth connotations? Maybe not what they once did. Anyone can buy a shirt of any color now. Colors still move in and out of fashion, but those shift are more the result of decisions made by the fashion industry than by a shortage or abundance of various dyestuffs. Yet, this deconstruction of color as a status symbol is an important point to make because it helps us to a better understanding of societies through more developed interpretations of the art of the time based on the palette of colors.One useful theme that the author brought up was the fact that producing the dyestuff needed to fuel the art world was a basis for many a community’s existence. There was a lot of information about the rural communities in Oaxaca, Mexico, who developed a certain strain of cochineal over perhaps a thousand years. For about three hundred years, this community was the main site of production of cochineal that served the European market. The people of Oaxaca sometimes produced and exported up to a million pounds of cochineal in a year. It was their livelihood. This is comparable to the societies of chemists who were working on synthetic dyes in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. One example is William Henry Perkin, who invented a synthetic dye called Perkin’s mauve. After he was told that there was a market for his dye, he set up a factory with the help of his family and got a business going. The desire for color was enough to support many different community systems.Another important theme in the book was the influence color has on social order. The whole cochineal system was based on the forced labor of many different indigenous peoples. Because the dyestuff was so wanted in Europe, nations were always on the lookout for new places to grow the insects and the cacti on which they flourished. The places the governments often found to be ideal for growing were tropical colonial outposts of the large empires, not usually in the European lands. The Europeans were also unmotivated to do the hard labor of caring for and harvesting these insects, so they would force the locals to do it for little or no pay. This happened all across the board, from the Spanish colonies in Mexico and the Canary islands to the Dutch colonies in Java. That slavery was all in service of the global color market. That labor brought about elaborate silk gowns that women wore at court and Van Eyck’s Man in a Red Turban. This social dimension is an important deconstruction of the market and inseparable from the products that the dyestuff yielded.I feel very comfortable trusting the author of this book. Her grandfather and great-grandfather were dyers, which sparked her own interest in dyeing. There were more than fifty pages of cited sources at the end of the novel, and she referenced both more recent scholarly sources as well as primary source documents from the time in which cochineal trade was blossoming. She referenced the primary source documents a lot in the telling of the story, which made it that much more believable for her to be quoting people’s letters back and forth or referencing trade quotas of dyestuff as compared to other goods in the markets at that time. It was easy to trust her research methods and therefore, it was also easy to trust her research.In writing this book, the author brought to light many issues in the color industry which are often neglected. She covered ground from the origin of the desire for red dyestuff to the places it was produced to the scientists that were looking at it under microscopes to the indigenous people who cultivated it to the rich who consumed it. She illuminated the multifaceted nature of the market of art, for that whole system was fueled by art. That doesn’t just mean the people who put paint to canvas. The system was fueled by the everyday artist who combined colors to wear on her person or put in her food or decorate her house with. We are those artists even today. This book was a very informative deconstruction of color and revealed the many different dimensions of color as an industry and machine of social change. ^That was my book review that I wrote for my class. I really enjoyed reading this book. The end.
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  • Helen
    January 1, 1970
    I had heard of cochineal, knew it was a red colorant but that was all. MS Greenfield has delved into all sorts of places to learn about the power of red and the search for dyes that will produce beautiful, lasting colours.I have a few questions, one of which is How did the Aztecs breed cochineal beetles to maximise their coloring power? There is a difference between 'wild' cochineal and 'domestic' cochineal apparently as a result of the breeding program of the Aztecs hundreds of years ago. I had heard of cochineal, knew it was a red colorant but that was all. MS Greenfield has delved into all sorts of places to learn about the power of red and the search for dyes that will produce beautiful, lasting colours.I have a few questions, one of which is How did the Aztecs breed cochineal beetles to maximise their coloring power? There is a difference between 'wild' cochineal and 'domestic' cochineal apparently as a result of the breeding program of the Aztecs hundreds of years ago. 'Domestic'? The Spanish got as much value from the dye they exported to Europe as from the silver and gold. Incredible.What do we think of the colour? A friend tells me that if you are making a presentation don't wear red because the colour will distract your audience. I used never to want to wear red because when you step into a room all eyes turn to you and I didn't want that. I remember cheap novels with women on the covers. They nearly all wore deep decolletage and bright red.The only place to really keep red is the military where dress uniforms are often red (except in the U.S.) We even have them in the RCMP dress uniforms. So amoral women and the military.She spends a chapter talking about the change in attitudes toward the colour and colour in general. a fascinating read. Very good indeed. (I'm getting out my copy of "Mauve" by Simon Garfield to refresh myself on the development of aniline dyes in the 1850s.)
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  • Kristie
    January 1, 1970
    I enjoyed this book very much because it relates to my field as a textiles designer and colorist. It was historically interesting and the story itself - about a natural dye stuff that at one time was as valuable as precious metal - but now with the advent of synthetic dyes, its importance has waned - very thought-provoking. This might sound very dry, but in fact the writing keeps the story moving along. I recommend for anyone who enjoys slightly more off beat and or obscure historical accounts. I enjoyed this book very much because it relates to my field as a textiles designer and colorist. It was historically interesting and the story itself - about a natural dye stuff that at one time was as valuable as precious metal - but now with the advent of synthetic dyes, its importance has waned - very thought-provoking. This might sound very dry, but in fact the writing keeps the story moving along. I recommend for anyone who enjoys slightly more off beat and or obscure historical accounts. The writing was good but my three star rating is because I think it could have been written in a way that would capture a broader audience.
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  • Paige
    January 1, 1970
    SHORT REVIEW: In medieval Europe, red textiles were available only to royalty because there was no reliable source of red dye. All of this changed when the Spanish Conquistadores discovered cochineal, a natural dye producing an intense shade of crimson, being sold in the Aztec marketplaces in Mexico. This discovery set off a global competition – complete with spies and pirates - to obtain the valuable material. Weaving together fascinating strands of social, political and economic history, Green SHORT REVIEW: In medieval Europe, red textiles were available only to royalty because there was no reliable source of red dye. All of this changed when the Spanish Conquistadores discovered cochineal, a natural dye producing an intense shade of crimson, being sold in the Aztec marketplaces in Mexico. This discovery set off a global competition – complete with spies and pirates - to obtain the valuable material. Weaving together fascinating strands of social, political and economic history, Greenfield tells a little-known but fascinating true adventure story.LONG REVIEW: This book is on the unlikely sounding subject of cochineal, which is a natural dye produced from insect shells that produces an intense shade of red. Cochineal powder was derived from bugs that lived on a specific cactus plant native to Mexico. Mexican farmers had cultivated it for many centuries because it produced a brilliant red dye that would stay fast on clothing. In contrast, Europeans in the Middle Ages had no good source of red dye; everything they used would fade from exposure to light or water. So when the Spaniards conquered Mexico in the 1500’s, they were quite excited to find cochineal powder being sold in the Aztec marketplaces. Soon this powder became a top commodity and Spain fiercely tried to protect its monopoly of the dye. Part of the story told in this book is the race between European empires for this dye, and this competition included pirates who would attack Spanish ships as well as spies and explorers and scientists from different countries who all tried to get the dye for their own countries.Although the author starts by focusing on something very specific – the history of a certain color dye – she weaves in a lot of fascinating history on more general topics including the history of fashion and social status, and economic and political and social history for not only Europe but also the rest of the world. Towards the end of the book she talks about how the discovery of synthetic dyes by scientists in the 1800’s seemed to spell the end of the use of cochineal, but then she brings the story to the present time, and the interesting thing now is that cochineal is making something of a comeback because in recent years people have become concerned about health risks associated with synthetic dyes (red dye #2).So, I found this to be a really fascinating historical account. There are a number of other books that also delve into the history of specific colors, for example: Blue: the history of a color and and Mauve: how one man invented a color that changed the world. Part of the appeal of this book, I think, is the fact that it is so multidisciplinary – it pulls in fascinating details from many different fields such as history, science, textiles, politics, etc. It’s a little bit scholarly in that it draws on many different fields of learning, but it is written in a very accessible style. A lot of popular narrative nonfiction books share these appeal factors. For example, Simon Winchester (The Professor and the Madman), Dava Sobel (Galileo’s Daughter), Nathaniel Philbrick (Mayflower) and Jack Weatherford all write popular history accounts that pull generously from other fields of learning, so that readers get swept into a compelling narrative and learn lots of interesting tidbits along the way.
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  • Camelama
    January 1, 1970
    This was a fasctinating book - so much information that I knew the top layer of, but had no idea all the history that lurked beneath! I love reading about how some tiny event, object or person can shift the entire world history ... and this book is full of those lovely gems. A more in-depth look at the entire timeline would take many many books, as this covers everything from ancient red dyes through Cortez and Spanish rule of the Americas, and on into 20th century chemical dye creations. So whi This was a fasctinating book - so much information that I knew the top layer of, but had no idea all the history that lurked beneath! I love reading about how some tiny event, object or person can shift the entire world history ... and this book is full of those lovely gems. A more in-depth look at the entire timeline would take many many books, as this covers everything from ancient red dyes through Cortez and Spanish rule of the Americas, and on into 20th century chemical dye creations. So while the author basically paddled through the shallow end of the history swimming pool, she did it very well. I never felt like asking the book "but wait! what about that thing you mentioned earlier?" - all loose ends are tied up. A very well-written book - I don't think I ran across a single sentence that made me wince and think "needs an editor!" or "where was the proof-reader when this sentence was approved?". Very good work - direct, detailed, yet also gives a big-picture view of the history of not just red dye, but dye in general.The one quibble I have with the book is with the figures (illustrations/photos). The text references the photos by figure number ("see fig 2") - but the figures themselves ARE NOT LABELED THAT WAY. Gah! You have to physically count 1, 2, 3 etc in order to make sure you're looking at the correct figure. And there's no actual photograph of the item that has a starring role in the book, nor is there a photograph of the plant it lives on. Nor is there a photo of the dried, powdered dyestuff. But there is a scientific drawing in the figures that isn't even labeled or described on the photo page! Very very frustrating. Hundreds of pages in the book about this ingredient, and no photos of it. So while the writing gets 5 stars, the lack of photo labelling and lack of wanted photos takes it down to 3 stars - so averaged at 4.
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  • Trena
    January 1, 1970
    This book, a history of cochineal dye, was a well-told, fascinating story. As with any commodity history, the author gets a little too convinced of the importance of her pet commodity (see also, Salt), but it does not diminish the scale of the story. As with Salt, the book focuses a lot on Europe, a little on the Americas, and none on Africa. It is more justifiable, however, as cochineal is a Central American product that was exported pretty much exclusively to Europe. It would have been interesting, This book, a history of cochineal dye, was a well-told, fascinating story. As with any commodity history, the author gets a little too convinced of the importance of her pet commodity (see also, Salt), but it does not diminish the scale of the story. As with Salt, the book focuses a lot on Europe, a little on the Americas, and none on Africa. It is more justifiable, however, as cochineal is a Central American product that was exported pretty much exclusively to Europe. It would have been interesting, however, to have a little bit about African dyes in the introductory section, which covers red dye up until cochineal became widely available in Europe.There is a little bit of biology, botany, chemistry, economic history, political history, fashion, and manners in the book. The breadth makes it a great read and it does not devolve into scattershot tidbits. It is a great segue into the next book I started, An Elegant Madness, and now I am eager to read Mauve, which basically picks up where A Perfect Red ends (A Perfect Red actually covers William Perkin's discovery of chemical dye and a little bit of the commercial industry that developed in chemical dye and its effect on the world). If you have an interest in fashion and its interaction with the larger world, definitely check this one out!
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  • Tasha Lebow
    January 1, 1970
    One of the best reads i've had in a long time. I did not expect this story to be so fascinating, informative and entertaining. It is rare to find a non fiction book so well written. ABG tells this specialized, focused history of "RED" and weaves it into ALL of world history... making the history and the significance of red 'POP" out to be unforgettable. I will never wear red, see it in an old painting or on an American Indian person without thinking of the depth and breadth of the story as revea One of the best reads i've had in a long time. I did not expect this story to be so fascinating, informative and entertaining. It is rare to find a non fiction book so well written. ABG tells this specialized, focused history of "RED" and weaves it into ALL of world history... making the history and the significance of red 'POP" out to be unforgettable. I will never wear red, see it in an old painting or on an American Indian person without thinking of the depth and breadth of the story as revealed in this great book.
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  • Zombie Karin
    January 1, 1970
    I can't recommend this book highly enough! It is a great read. This story of a dyestuff weaves together European and North American history, the significance of the color red through time, dyeing and fashion history, and the tales of explorers and scientists. I wish I could learn about every historic period through such a meticulously crafted set of stories. The only weak spot is the final chapter: it seemed a bit added on and not as detailed or well crafted as the others.
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  • Mary
    January 1, 1970
    I stumbled on this little gem at the exhibit about dyes at the DeYoung. Butler tells the story of the discovery of the first "perfect" red dye by putting it into a vast context: the histories of the new and old worlds and how they interacted, the development of science and technology, the fluctuations of fashion, the development of global markets, etc. She does a masterful job of making an arcane subject into a fascinating story.
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  • Evie
    January 1, 1970
    Scholarly and historically accurate account of the economic significance, political intrigue and resulting upheaval surrounding the development of a brilliant "perfect" red. I greatly appreciated the excellent research evident in this account, and the fact that it is well written and edited is a true bonus. As a publisher of international policy research, this book was "A Perfect Match" for my reads.
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  • Karen
    January 1, 1970
    There are many more books lately on the history of synthetic dyes, but this one focuses mostly on pre-synthetics, and almost exclusively on cochineal. The author kept the topic interesting, and while mostly chronological, it was organized more thematically than a dry retelling of history. I would have loved to learn more about the other natural dyes she mentions, but that's simply because I liked her treatment of cochineal so much. Recommended for fiber geeks and artists.
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  • Karen
    January 1, 1970
    I read this book a million years ago but I still think about it. Red is my favorite color in a big big way (honestly I surprise myself even with how strongly attracted to it I am). The story of the worldwide chase for the perfect red pigment fascinates me and reminds me how lucky we are to have such a colorful world around us -- it wasn't always so.
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  • Rebecca
    January 1, 1970
    Great info on natural dyestuffs and a overview of the world powers and natural science for the times. A bit of a slog in some places, but overall a good read.
  • Leanne
    January 1, 1970
    This book traces the fascinating history of Cochineal--the legendary color of the Aztec markets. It is also a book about the color red. Butler's story is reminiscent of an old favorite book of mine, Victoria Finlay's book Colors: A Natural History of the Palette. Finlay's book is a wonderful history that I think I will re-read for the 3rd time. In it, the author follows in the footsteps of the major pigments that formed the Renaissance painter's palette--from lapis to ochre. One of her most memo This book traces the fascinating history of Cochineal--the legendary color of the Aztec markets. It is also a book about the color red. Butler's story is reminiscent of an old favorite book of mine, Victoria Finlay's book Colors: A Natural History of the Palette. Finlay's book is a wonderful history that I think I will re-read for the 3rd time. In it, the author follows in the footsteps of the major pigments that formed the Renaissance painter's palette--from lapis to ochre. One of her most memorable chapters was on cochineal, which created such a stir when it was discovered in the New World. In fact, I wonder if that wasn't the most exciting discovery for the people of the time... we associate the encounter with the New World with chocolate and tobacco; potatoes and tomatoes--but in fact, the discovery of this dye was revolutionary in Europe. Like Finlay's book, Butler's book tells the tale in a really engaging way. It is a fun and entertaining read. (I listened to this book on audible but also bought the book so I could see the color plates--really recommend both formats of the book). Amy Butler leaves no stone unturned as she explores why the previously used dyes and pigments could not achieve the shade desired by aristocrats and kings; and she also delves into the struggle Enlightenment scientists engaged in to figure out exactly what cochineal was-- a seed? a bug? a plant? a male bug? insect eggs? The story is intertwined with the discovery of the microscope. Newton is there too!French historian Michel Pastoureau has written wonderful histories of various colors, including blue and red. And Butler's book is reminiscent of his book on red and blue (Blue was my favorite) in the way she evokes the feeling and meaning the color has had on European society. Probably the color blue has the most interesting history--but red comes a close second! And also, the absolutely incredible history of Tyrian purple--in many ways similar to red--except red was from the Americas.I wrote abouy it here: http://www.tangdynastytimes.com/2016/...Butler's book is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of the Americas--as well as the history of red. I also love Finlay's book and recommend it highly!
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  • Diane
    January 1, 1970
    A Perfect Red is the story of cochineal which was THE source of red dye in most of the world for hundreds of years. For a time it was second only to silver in value of goods imported into Europe from "New Spain". Cochineal is a little bug that feeds on nopal (prickly pear) in south central Mexico. It secretes a covering of sticky white substance while feeding. The bugs are swept off the cacti and dried. Then they crushed into a paste which is then used for making dye or paint. When I was recentl A Perfect Red is the story of cochineal which was THE source of red dye in most of the world for hundreds of years. For a time it was second only to silver in value of goods imported into Europe from "New Spain". Cochineal is a little bug that feeds on nopal (prickly pear) in south central Mexico. It secretes a covering of sticky white substance while feeding. The bugs are swept off the cacti and dried. Then they crushed into a paste which is then used for making dye or paint. When I was recently in Oaxaca, Mexico I witnessed the real thing. Our botanical garden guide found one and crushed it between her fingers. The result was an intense deep red oil on her hand. It is mind-boggling to think that hundreds of thousands of pounds of these dried bugs were shipped to Spain to meet the demand for the dye. That would take trillions of bugs! Spain controlled the supply for much of the time it was in use, however that didn't prevent other countries like England and the Netherlands from trying to access it and eliminate the middle-man. When synthetic dyes were introduced in the late nineteenth century demand for cochineal dropped off dramatically. Mexico eventually lost control of the supply and Guatemala took over as the major source of commercial cochineal. There is, however, still demand for cochineal by artisans who want to use natural dyes and manufacturers of "natural" products who natural red colouring. The author is herself the granddaughter and great granddaughter of dyers. I usually only skim non-fiction but this was a compelling read and very well-written. I look forward to any other topics this young woman takes on.
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