Mauve
In 1856 eighteen-year-old English chemist William Perkin accidentally discovered a way to mass-produce color. In a "witty, erudite, and entertaining" (Esquire) style, Simon Garfield explains how the experimental mishap that produced an odd shade of purple revolutionized fashion, as well as industrial applications of chemistry research. Occasionally honored in certain colleges and chemistry clubs, Perkin until now has been a forgotten man.

Mauve Details

TitleMauve
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMay 17th, 2002
PublisherW. W. Norton Company
ISBN-139780393323139
Rating
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, Science, Art, Biography, Chemistry, Microhistory

Mauve Review

  • Ruth
    January 1, 1970
    I have a confession to make - I work for a chemical company (not making dyes though), and used to be an engineer in a former existence, so I understood a fair amount of what this book says about chemistry. BUT, it's a great narrative of how one small moment in time, a mistake, an error, happened to completely revolutionize our lives today. The chemical industry gets a bad wrap these days, sometimes fairly (chemical companies have done some pretty stupid/heinous things) and sometimes unfairly (tr I have a confession to make - I work for a chemical company (not making dyes though), and used to be an engineer in a former existence, so I understood a fair amount of what this book says about chemistry. BUT, it's a great narrative of how one small moment in time, a mistake, an error, happened to completely revolutionize our lives today. The chemical industry gets a bad wrap these days, sometimes fairly (chemical companies have done some pretty stupid/heinous things) and sometimes unfairly (trust me, life would be COMPLETELY different and much, much more difficult and dangerous without the chemicals we all use today perfectly safely), but this book actually tells the story of how the chemical industry developed (but in a non-tedious way), and how it was driven and why, and about some of the incredibly smart men who created some pretty amazing stuff in a wide range of fields.Incidentally, this book gives some of the best insights into the Victorian age, and what motivated great Victorians. It really lets you feel how Victorians thought they could change the world (and actually did), and how that realization came to a crashing halt with increasing German aggression. It touches on nationalism (Germany believed in it, England believed it but almost too late to save itself). It touches on women's increasing independence and their spending power (their whims for a color drove the creation of a completely new industry), and the increasing spending power of the middle and working classes, and how they sought to use their money to improve the quality of their lives through increased color. It touches on the inception of environmental regulation (even then, you couldn't get away with killing your neighbors for long), and made me think with some cynicism of the "new" sustainability and "eco" movements. These are not new at all, but rather standing on the shoulders of those who have come before them in creating the synthetic versions of "natural" products. I think maybe the author missed that the modern chemical industry is not a matter of synthetic versus natural - there is much to be said for both, and chemical companies understand this, but this book was written a few years before the sustainability movement really took off.Best of all though, this is a story of a very bright, curious young man, who whilst seeking a synthetic source for the treatment of malaria, which would have saved millions of lives, stumbled upon something, which, whilst appearing nothing more than frippery, actually ending up providing the chemical stepping stones to some of the most valuable substances we use today, including medicines. He was a man of great humility, great persistence (against much snobbery from his purist chemistry pals, he scaled up his laboratory error into a factory) and ultimately just a man. He is not well-remembered, but maybe he'd prefer it that way?4 stars. Great read.
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  • Marissa Morrison
    January 1, 1970
    I am glad that Garfield wrote this book because I don't think I would otherwise have learned about the history and significance of synthetic dyes. However, this book seemed to be more a collection of facts than a narrative. I wouldn't be surprised if someone told me that Mauve contains the author's notes, which he planned to flesh out to create a coherent story, but then he ran out of time. In many instances, I wasn't sure what to make of the facts presented.Example One: Garfield says that Perki I am glad that Garfield wrote this book because I don't think I would otherwise have learned about the history and significance of synthetic dyes. However, this book seemed to be more a collection of facts than a narrative. I wouldn't be surprised if someone told me that Mauve contains the author's notes, which he planned to flesh out to create a coherent story, but then he ran out of time. In many instances, I wasn't sure what to make of the facts presented.Example One: Garfield says that Perkin married his first cousin. Period. Did that make him a weird guy, or was this the type of marriage the norm in nineteenth century England? I have no idea. I also don't know how the union came to be: Were the Perkins madly in love? Did their parents (and aunts and uncles) approve? etc.Example Two: "In movies that word (mauve) has been used imaginatively. In Bruce Robinson's screenplay for Withnail and I, the lecherous Uncle Monty defines Withnail with the disparaging phrase, He's so mauve.'" Since I've never seen this movie, I have no idea what kind of character Withnail is, and therefore don't know what mauve is meant to convey about Withnail. Does it have anything to do with Uncle Monty's lechery? Since Garfield has given no sense of how the word was used in this film, I'm forced to simply accept that it was used "imaginatively." Also, I'm left to wonder whether this paragraph added meaning to the book.The best part of this book was seeing so many unfamiliar, beautiful words that are the names of colors. Apparently there are 7,500 unique color names. I'm going to try to get a hold of the full list!
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  • Trena
    January 1, 1970
    This is the kind of book that gives history a bad name. The format is very "so and so was born on such and such date, and then on this date he did this." No emotional content, no larger over-arching narrative, nothing compelling whatsoever (and it covered two world wars in which dye works played some non-trivial role!). It could possibly have been more boring, but I'm not sure how. For instance, it contained no fewer than five seemingly real-time accounts of nine hour celebratory banquets held i This is the kind of book that gives history a bad name. The format is very "so and so was born on such and such date, and then on this date he did this." No emotional content, no larger over-arching narrative, nothing compelling whatsoever (and it covered two world wars in which dye works played some non-trivial role!). It could possibly have been more boring, but I'm not sure how. For instance, it contained no fewer than five seemingly real-time accounts of nine hour celebratory banquets held in William Perkin's honor (a couple of them posthumous), with long passages quoting the extremely boring speeches given at these extremely boring dinners. Really not the way to interest your audience.I think the problem that faced the author was that Perkin made his discovery of mauve, the first chemical dye, at 18 and had left the business by his 30s. The author didn't know how to fill up the rest of the book and that's what most of it reads as--filler. There is a lot of disjointed/anecdotal discussion of the scientific advances that built on the invention of chemical dye, such cell staining leading to the discovery of bacteria, but these feel totally random instead of interesting and engaging.It is possible to write a fascinating book about dye, as evidenced by A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire. The little chapter at the end of A Perfect Red that covers Perkin and subsequent dye developments is more interesting and informative than this entire book. I spent about 8 weeks reading it; I only finished because I felt it would be unfair to write a scathing review on its boringness if I didn't know for sure it was boring all the way through. It was.
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  • Rebecca
    January 1, 1970
    While I loved the premise of this book, it was poorly written and needed a much better editor. The story goes back and forth in no chronological order and with no transitions. For instance, it starts out at the end of Perkins life with a long and detailed and boring description of some fancy dinner he was honored at in New York. At some point the author appears to decides "Oh, maybe I should stick some info in here about the natural dye industry" and starts going on about madder. This book reall While I loved the premise of this book, it was poorly written and needed a much better editor. The story goes back and forth in no chronological order and with no transitions. For instance, it starts out at the end of Perkins life with a long and detailed and boring description of some fancy dinner he was honored at in New York. At some point the author appears to decides "Oh, maybe I should stick some info in here about the natural dye industry" and starts going on about madder. This book really rambled and was frustratingly incohesive. As if you weren't confused enough it then introduces some irrelevant data about a person who works in the fashion design industry introducing each years "it" colors. WTF? Sticking with the story would be good and keeping it in order would have helped tremendously. I really wanted to read this and just could not do it.
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  • Elizabeth W
    January 1, 1970
    On it's face, this is a story about the discovery of mauve; more so, this book presents a picture of chemistry and the surrounding zeitgeist in Victorian England, the field of chemistry and it's growth from abstract science to industrial dye making and on to the creation of modern medicines and materials of biochemistry and material science. The author includes many tangents of information, which are interesting and informative. However, the story is very non-linear, choppy, and does not flow be On it's face, this is a story about the discovery of mauve; more so, this book presents a picture of chemistry and the surrounding zeitgeist in Victorian England, the field of chemistry and it's growth from abstract science to industrial dye making and on to the creation of modern medicines and materials of biochemistry and material science. The author includes many tangents of information, which are interesting and informative. However, the story is very non-linear, choppy, and does not flow between chapters. While the story of Perkins' life is told, on the whole, linearly, the text jumps between time points often and in ways that do not further the narrative. For example, the author describes in detail a number of commemorative banquets and celebrations and meetings that feel very repetitive and don't add much to the story; he opens the book with one such celebration at the end of Perkins' life, which is not only disorienting, but in trying to introduce the central character of this biography, also spoils many of the implications of Perkins' research that make the story gripping. Overall, this is an interesting book on the history of science which tells an engaging story of scientific discovery and connects it well with the state of scientific discovery today. As a biography, you do not get a good feel for Perkins' personality and character, and the story of his life is told in a way that falls a bit flat.
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  • Colin
    January 1, 1970
    Mauve as a color has always been a bit of a puzzle. It’s not exactly purple, or lilac, or magenta. It’s certainly not very popular today, and if you showed up at work wearing mauve you’d raise eyebrows. Somehow it conjures up images of grandmothers and musty old drawing rooms with fading wallpaper. It’s yesterday’s color — so what could it possibly have to do with innovation?A lot, as it turns out. As Simon Garfield explains, eighteen-year-old William Perkin was trying to make quinine in his hom Mauve as a color has always been a bit of a puzzle. It’s not exactly purple, or lilac, or magenta. It’s certainly not very popular today, and if you showed up at work wearing mauve you’d raise eyebrows. Somehow it conjures up images of grandmothers and musty old drawing rooms with fading wallpaper. It’s yesterday’s color — so what could it possibly have to do with innovation?A lot, as it turns out. As Simon Garfield explains, eighteen-year-old William Perkin was trying to make quinine in his home laboratory one day in 1856, using the waste product coal tar. Malaria was still a reality in England at the time, and coal tar was piling up in waste sites and streams as coal was converted to methane to light Victorian street lamps. By accident, he synthesized a strange black powder he couldn’t identify. Instead of throwing it away, he purified it and soon realized it was a dye, turning textiles like wool and cotton a pale purple color. He called the substance mauvine.Perkin was studying chemistry under the famous Professor August Wilhem von Hofmann at the time, but wasn’t eager to show off his discovery to his mentor. For one thing, he believed correctly that Hoffman would consider it a useless distraction from more refined academic pursuits. Perkin instead struck out on his own, contacting a Scottish dyer and sending him a sample of fabric dyed with his new substance. The response was enthusiastic, and he quickly realized there was a commercial future for his discovery.He managed to convince his father and brother of the same thing, and they spent the family savings building a factory at Greenford in northwest London. Within six months they were manufacturing and selling mauve and seeing real revenues. Word of the new dye spread quickly, and the color soon became very fashionable, especially when Empress Eugénie (wife of Napoleon III) began favoring mauve in 1857 because it matched her eyes, and Queen Victoria wore a mauve dress to her daughter’s wedding in 1858. Almost overnight, mauve was everywhere, and Perkin become astonishingly rich.This story isn’t just about fashion innovation. It matters because mauve was the first step in the creation of the global chemicals industry, proving that chemistry had valuable commercial applications and creating revenue streams to pay large numbers of chemists to work on further practical discoveries. For all its flaws, we literally couldn’t have modern life without commercial chemistry: pharmaceuticals, agriculture, plastics, textiles, fuel, and countless other products that we use every day are made by it. Had Perkin been a little less daring and entrepreneurial — or perhaps a little older and more jaded — he might have thrown the mauvine down the drain, and the world would have had to wait for the beneficial innovations that it sparked.So why don’t we all know this story? The answer is the same thing that complicates Garfield’s narrative and makes the book less than it should be: Perkin was basically boring. Despite the brilliant color that his discovery unleashed, he led a largely colorless life. He continued to work diligently but unremarkably through his later years, rarely traveled, had few hobbies and fewer vices, and lived a long, pious life of charity and modest research. Where’s the fun in that? Garfield has so much trouble rescuing Perkin from modest obscurity that he’s reduced to literally recounting the hurrahs received at the gala dinner in honor of the 50th anniversary of his discovery.In fact, the much more compelling personality in these pages is von Hoffman, who taught Perkin chemistry and launched countless brilliant careers in between hanging out with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. His story is much glitzier: he had four wives and eleven children, made fundamental contributions across many fields in chemistry, and inspired gushing biographies. His statue in Berlin was destroyed by an RAF raid during World War II, which somehow seems appropriate given the fact that after he left England to return to Germany, the German chemicals industry grew to significantly out-compete the English one that Perkin launched. (It’s worth remembering that industrial chemistry played a huge role in World War I, enabling Germany to fight for years with very limited sources of fuel and ammunition.)Yet this is the truth of innovation: the real innovators aren’t always the ones in the limelight. Quiet, diligent, outwardly unremarkable people often are the true source of the key technical advances or the fundamental insights that are critical for innovation. That’s an important thing to remember in the age of charismatic, outspoken technology entrepreneurs like Musk and Zuckerberg. Perkin, great innovator that he was, probably wouldn’t have had any followers on Twitter.One of the other fascinating parts of this history is the impact of mauve and other synthetic dyes on society. In today’s world we see color everywhere we look — our clothes, cars, buildings, signs, and screens all pulse with a million different shades — and we can’t imagine life without it. But the early 19th century was a much more drab place. Because dyes were expensive, only the rich could afford things with deep, vibrant colors, and even those tended to fade quickly. Color was a luxury, and the world that people saw every day reflected that economic and technological fact.The invention of mauvine, and the other cheap synthetic dyes that followed it, dramatically changed this. Mauve itself replaced the color previously known as Tyrian Purple, which was made from hand-collected sea snails and so expensive that it became associated with royalty. But Perkin’s discovery meant that even the poorest of consumers could suddenly wear the color of kings and queens, and the world was transformed. People’s daily experience became increasingly saturated with color, with dyed clothing, wallpaper, and other objects everywhere. In a sense, mauve made the world that we see today.On a recent visit to London I took the Underground to Greenford and walked the short distance to the spot where the Perkins built their factory. It’s now a parking lot and office building, but a blue plaque marks this seminal site of modern chemistry, and the Black Horse pub still stands next door.As if to make up for Perkin’s lack of sex appeal, about five hundred yards away is the former location the Oldfield Hotel, where The Who had their first gig in 1964. Sadly, there’s no evidence that the rockers knew about their connection to the invention of modern color, except for one intriguing possibility. Keith Moon’s famous Rolls Royce (which he may or may not have driven into a swimming pool) was at one point painted the most appropriate color for his wild lifestyle: mauve. Maybe he realized that he owed a debt to the man who invented it.
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  • Marsha
    January 1, 1970
    Science, like art, is largely perspiration with a minute amount of inspiration thrown into it. Occasionally, however, the greatest discoveries can come about through sheer luck. However, William Perkin was more than merely a lucky amateur. Humble, soft spoken and yet gifted, talented, blessed with a curious, keen intellect and scientific know-how, Mr. Perkin set out to find a cure for malaria and stumbled across something just as wonderful—a brand new color that would end up revolutionizing the Science, like art, is largely perspiration with a minute amount of inspiration thrown into it. Occasionally, however, the greatest discoveries can come about through sheer luck. However, William Perkin was more than merely a lucky amateur. Humble, soft spoken and yet gifted, talented, blessed with a curious, keen intellect and scientific know-how, Mr. Perkin set out to find a cure for malaria and stumbled across something just as wonderful—a brand new color that would end up revolutionizing the world.Mr. Perkin’s discovery was partially luck, but also partially a reflection of changing times. In an era when chemistry wasn’t highly regarded and anything approaching commercialism of pure science was regarded with ridicule and disdain, Mr. Perkin strove hard to find people who would take his new discovery seriously. He amassed a fortune and considerable fame during his lifetime only to fall into obscurity after it. His name graces a medal but his tombstone in the graveyard where he was buried is not to be found. How did this happen?Delving into old scientific treatises, articles, journals and verbal accounts, Mr. Garfield has spun an enchanting story around what could have been very dry matter indeed—scientific research and development. Mr. Perkin’s creation of mauve was more than a fashion fad; it paved the way for all sorts of fantastic, wonderful and useful inventions in the years and decades that followed. He influenced everything from clothing to explosives, medicines to food additives. A story of a true scientific genius, “Mauve” inspires, informs and entertains. I found this novel insightful and I was never bored. Mr. Garfield brings his subject alive and gives the modern reader a look into a vanished era and a very special man.
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  • Wealhtheow
    January 1, 1970
    A slim but broad-reaching tale of the beginning of artifiical dyes. At the time Perkin made his discovery that coal-tar could be transformed into mauve dye, chemistry was thought of like philosophy--a gentleman's pursuit with no worldly or industrial value. Perkin's discovery and subsequent ability to make money off of it changed that perception forever. By the time he died, chemistry was a roaring industry.The history of artificial dyes is a fascinating one. Before Perkin discovered mauve, all A slim but broad-reaching tale of the beginning of artifiical dyes. At the time Perkin made his discovery that coal-tar could be transformed into mauve dye, chemistry was thought of like philosophy--a gentleman's pursuit with no worldly or industrial value. Perkin's discovery and subsequent ability to make money off of it changed that perception forever. By the time he died, chemistry was a roaring industry.The history of artificial dyes is a fascinating one. Before Perkin discovered mauve, all dyes came from natural sources like plants or sea creatures. The array of colors was small, particularly for the poor. But chemical processes created not only a wide variety of colors, but made them available to everyone. Soon, bright, vibrant colors were a sign of being low-class instead of rich. Trying to cut corners in the chemical process led to colors that bled (even upon people's skin as they wore their clothes), or colors that were actually poisonous. Bright green was particularly likely to be rife with arsenic (could this be part of why the poison cake in Peter Pan is colored bright green?). Meanwhile, analine dyes were being used to discover the microbial world and eventually, even treat diseases. The tale of how mauve came to be is a fascinating one, and fairly well encapsulated herein.
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  • Ensiform
    January 1, 1970
    The story of William Perkin, a British chemist who as a teenager accidentally stumbled upon coal-tar derivative dyes --- mauve being the first. Beyond its immediate impact of creating a new industry and economy (“mauve measles” was a huge fad), the dyes were later found to have applications in cell research, medicines, explosives and plastics.It is an intriguing story, but it’s better suited to a New Yorker article; the book itself is a bit much. Perkin wasn’t a very interesting man apart from h The story of William Perkin, a British chemist who as a teenager accidentally stumbled upon coal-tar derivative dyes --- mauve being the first. Beyond its immediate impact of creating a new industry and economy (“mauve measles” was a huge fad), the dyes were later found to have applications in cell research, medicines, explosives and plastics.It is an intriguing story, but it’s better suited to a New Yorker article; the book itself is a bit much. Perkin wasn’t a very interesting man apart from his discovery: he was deeply religious, assiduous, and modest, like a lot of Victorians. So there’s not much entertainment to be had from that quarter. Also, Garfield stuffs his book with lengthy excerpts from testimonial dinners (all right! we get the idea! Perkin was important! enough!), statistics, and continues writing long after Perkin’s death about the aniline dyes’ importance in other areas, which had long been granted already.
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  • Brian
    January 1, 1970
    It is hard not to be impressed by an author who can take such a seemingly mundane topic as the development of a dye for a particular purple hue and produce from it such a readable story . Of course, it helps that there is already a surprisingly interesting untold tale to be told, and it covers quite a bit of ground - from the staid and stiff academic institutions of Europe, through the establishment of the early applied synthetic chemistry laboratories, to the very founding of the pharmaceutical It is hard not to be impressed by an author who can take such a seemingly mundane topic as the development of a dye for a particular purple hue and produce from it such a readable story . Of course, it helps that there is already a surprisingly interesting untold tale to be told, and it covers quite a bit of ground - from the staid and stiff academic institutions of Europe, through the establishment of the early applied synthetic chemistry laboratories, to the very founding of the pharmaceutical industry. And, of course, a Parisian fashion craze, when only the *true* Mauve would do.
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  • C.
    January 1, 1970
    Astonishing -- a story most of us never knew or have forgotten. Did you know that sticky, smell, humble coal tar has given us everything from fashion's bright colors to a variety of medicines? I had no idea. Unfortunately, the story is told in a strange order that makes it hard to follow, but the facts are interesting and the writer does his best to stick to what people really said and did.
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  • David
    January 1, 1970
    This was a fascinating book, albeit on a very specific topic. Nicely done and full of interesting nuggets of information about life in Victorian England.
  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    Quite interesting despite bogging down considerably in the middle. Mauve - it's a dye! it's a dessert topping! it helped fight tropical diseases!and more!
  • Tom Schulte
    January 1, 1970
    Great idea and subject, but the author's awakward attempts to mix 19th Century chemist Perkin's life with science, fashion and the modern day never really blends well.
  • Steve
    January 1, 1970
    It is always interesting to me when I pick up a book that is generally widely acclaimed in the media but which I end up disliking, as I found with this book. I suspect this says a lot about me and where I am as a researcher and writer - having just submitted my dissertation to my committee and defending soon. I have developed certain deep-seated and strong opinions about how things ought to be composed, based on the huge amount of reading that any doctoral student in social science must perform. It is always interesting to me when I pick up a book that is generally widely acclaimed in the media but which I end up disliking, as I found with this book. I suspect this says a lot about me and where I am as a researcher and writer - having just submitted my dissertation to my committee and defending soon. I have developed certain deep-seated and strong opinions about how things ought to be composed, based on the huge amount of reading that any doctoral student in social science must perform. I think the acclaim of this book is partially justified. There is substantial material here, much of it interesting and potentially valuable. However, for me it is entirely undone by the almost total lack of "connective tissue". History is not really "one damned thing after another" but it can be in certain accounts like this one. I really disliked how the book never really stepped back and provided overviews and "scenic overlooks" of the overall terrain (compare to other popular works like Maureen Ogle on beer or the many works of Mark Kurlansky). Without these moments of stepping back, the story seemed like just a whirl. And it is a shame because Garfield has his finger directly on the pulse of a key process and subject in 19th century industrialization - the development of the chemical industry - which is still under appreciated all these years later. As I have said before in another Goodreads book review, the author of any book is under the obligation - like a good dance partner - to "cue" the reader at key points. In other words, it is up to the author to make clear what sections are key and which are supporting. If this is not done, the narrative dissolves into a sequence of seemingly homogeneously important facts. The reader can of course intuit what is important and what is not, but this is not what the reader is always supposed to have to do. It is the author who should know this. And, after reading many tens of thousands of pages of text - often indifferently written - in the last seven years, I have little tolerance for any author who devolves all the interpretation to the reader. Not recommended except for the very interested in this subject.
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  • Austin
    January 1, 1970
    More wonderful science-nerd nonfiction. This book is more than the story behind a color, it's really about the invention of chemistry, commercialization of chemicals, etc. But it is also a great story of the discovery of brilliant color (mauve) from the colorless, thought-to-be-worthless (coal tar, yech), and a bit about the hubris of assuming new substances are harmless.Minus a bit on the rating because the writing wanders and because there is a huge missed opportunity in that Garfield never di More wonderful science-nerd nonfiction. This book is more than the story behind a color, it's really about the invention of chemistry, commercialization of chemicals, etc. But it is also a great story of the discovery of brilliant color (mauve) from the colorless, thought-to-be-worthless (coal tar, yech), and a bit about the hubris of assuming new substances are harmless.Minus a bit on the rating because the writing wanders and because there is a huge missed opportunity in that Garfield never dives into the broader social role of color naming in society as much as he could. There is one wonderful bit where he lists the numbers of color names that come from different sources (animals, plants, chemicals, etc.) but I wanted more on how a society historically treats colors differently once it can dye something that color.-----52 books in 52 weeks update:book number: 27 / 52scorecard (see below):W: 14/26NW: 12/26NA: 13/20D: 2/5F: 13NF: 13-------Notes: I'm trying to read 52 books this year. To make sure I'm getting a broad range, I'm tracking some metrics. Open to more if folks have suggestions. My goal is to read books that are:at least half by womenat least half not by white peopleat least 20 by non-americansat least 5 that I don't think I'll like or agree with going inI'll also go for about half fiction and half non-fiction
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  • Andrew Ragland
    January 1, 1970
    A reasonably good account of William Perkin, his life, and his achievements, which admittedly is a bit of a thin story. The book compensates by adding substantial context, describing the environment of academia and industry at the time of Perkin's original discovery, and tracing the development of both throughout his life and into the modern day. The story here is less about Perkin than about the changes that his work made in the world - the rise of the great German chemical industries, the hars A reasonably good account of William Perkin, his life, and his achievements, which admittedly is a bit of a thin story. The book compensates by adding substantial context, describing the environment of academia and industry at the time of Perkin's original discovery, and tracing the development of both throughout his life and into the modern day. The story here is less about Perkin than about the changes that his work made in the world - the rise of the great German chemical industries, the harsh realities of dependence on foreign products in time of war, the medical benefits of investigation into colors and dyes (which are substantial - gram staining alone changed how we approach diseases) - and toward the end the rise of the DuPont dynasty in America. Perkin himself was unassuming, just a chemist who decided to commercialize a discovery, and did well enough for himself in a fiercely competitive and highly unethical environment. The hardcover edition ends on a harsh downbeat, with the church administrator unable to find Perkin's grave, and him being missing off the burial registry, but the paperback edition extends the story, as Perkin's great-great-granddaughter finds the grave, and leads the author to it, that one bit of research by an amateur with an interest in the field making all the difference.
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  • Megan
    January 1, 1970
    From reading the other reviews, I can only conclude that if you are like me and your nerdiness knows no bounds, and you are endlessly delighted by learning the minutiae of dyeing, fashion, chemistry, and their intersections, you will, like me, love this book. By the time I finished this thing, I had pages upon pages of notes of other books that I wanted to read because they had been referenced in the footnotes, and because I found something utterly fascinating (to me) on literally every other pa From reading the other reviews, I can only conclude that if you are like me and your nerdiness knows no bounds, and you are endlessly delighted by learning the minutiae of dyeing, fashion, chemistry, and their intersections, you will, like me, love this book. By the time I finished this thing, I had pages upon pages of notes of other books that I wanted to read because they had been referenced in the footnotes, and because I found something utterly fascinating (to me) on literally every other page.That said! It is clearly not to the book for everyone, and that is ok. If you are one of the people who is bored by this book, I think we can still be friends. I understand that it is a very particular type of thing. I also am deeply fond of "Crinolines and Crimping Irons", and read it cover-to-cover as though it were a lost Poirot manuscript just released by Agatha Christie's estate. So, you know, I am clearly not right in the head.
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  • Kate
    January 1, 1970
    This book will make you happy and grateful if you ever have said to yourself something like, "What my wardrobe needs this season is a purple shirt. Or a yellow sundress. Or an umbrella, alizarin crimson." Garfield recalls for us a time when we wouldn't have had those giddy fashion choices because effective fabric dyes were not available in all colors of the rainbow. New colors actually had to be invented-- and it wasn't easy!If you are like Sir William Perkin (the inventor hero of this book) in This book will make you happy and grateful if you ever have said to yourself something like, "What my wardrobe needs this season is a purple shirt. Or a yellow sundress. Or an umbrella, alizarin crimson." Garfield recalls for us a time when we wouldn't have had those giddy fashion choices because effective fabric dyes were not available in all colors of the rainbow. New colors actually had to be invented-- and it wasn't easy!If you are like Sir William Perkin (the inventor hero of this book) in that you appreciate equally science, business, and art-- then you will likely find something fascinating on every page. I found much that was fascinating in his story and much cultural history that was delightful, though I admit that my interest lagged somewhat during passages of pure science.Finally, Sir William Perkin is one of the most genial geniuses you will ever have the pleasure to read about.
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  • Marilyn
    January 1, 1970
    It’s not that this book is bad, per se, but it’s dry and organized in an odd way. Part of it is this book doesn’t know what it wants to be - it’s part history, part biography, and part journalism strung together haphazardly. At some points, it lists a bunch of scientists and awards they’ve won because they attended a conference loosely related to Perkins. I can’t recommend this for the casual reader, but if you’re obsessed with learning about color it does have some interesting parts. IMO the bi It’s not that this book is bad, per se, but it’s dry and organized in an odd way. Part of it is this book doesn’t know what it wants to be - it’s part history, part biography, and part journalism strung together haphazardly. At some points, it lists a bunch of scientists and awards they’ve won because they attended a conference loosely related to Perkins. I can’t recommend this for the casual reader, but if you’re obsessed with learning about color it does have some interesting parts. IMO the biographical aspects of the book were the most interesting and I wish it delved into Perkin’s life in more detail.
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  • Bill
    January 1, 1970
    At eighteen year old William Perkins discovered the synthetic dye mauve. He retired a rich man at 35. His genius was applying chemisty to industry and promoting his discovery. Mauve was the beginng of the vast chemical industry we know today. The author or the editors were uncomfortable with this just being a 19th century story so they add 20th century codas to some of the chapters which seem out of place. The last few pages of the book deal with current science. These bits and pieces scattered At eighteen year old William Perkins discovered the synthetic dye mauve. He retired a rich man at 35. His genius was applying chemisty to industry and promoting his discovery. Mauve was the beginng of the vast chemical industry we know today. The author or the editors were uncomfortable with this just being a 19th century story so they add 20th century codas to some of the chapters which seem out of place. The last few pages of the book deal with current science. These bits and pieces scattered randomly through the book would have been better placed here.
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  • Susan Raines
    January 1, 1970
    2.5 stars. An obviously well-researched book, but altogether pretty dryly presented with just spurts of being truly engaging. Finished the book (skimming at the end) thinking that the credo for writing good fiction applies to historical nonfiction, too--don't just TELL me all the facts, SHOW me how they interweave with time and place and custom to create the rich story we call history. I do recommend this book for teachers who wish to integrate their chemistry and history curriculums.
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  • Stela Idrizi
    January 1, 1970
    I really enjoyed reading this book! It was such a new world for me to explore and I loved the writing style of the author. This is one of the few biographies that I have read and it was very refreshing and different.I gained an appreciation for the work that has gone into the inventions that have shaped the world, as well as I learned about a world that I had never explored before. The things I learned led me to more books that truly helped me improve my life. This is a great read!
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  • K. Smith
    January 1, 1970
    Wonderful and horrible at the same time--the history of mauve is a history that I both appreciate and am uncomfortable with. I appreciated how the author pointed out the vast array of knowledge that has come from this invention--both good and bad. I liked how the author added current quotes at the beginning of chapters, but I didn't really understand how some of his chapters ended with recent interviews with people and some didn't--this seemed a little haphazard.
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  • Peter Dickerson
    January 1, 1970
    I finally finished ‘Mauve, how one man invented a colour that changed the world’, Simon Garfield, 2000, 215 pages. First book for 2019, mostly read in 2018. William Perkin invented an artificial dye for the colour mauve in 1856, and this did change the world forever in terms of medical applications, explosives, perfume, photography, and food. Perkin did become rich as a result of his discovery and famous within the arenas of science and chemistry. #mauve #williamperkin #simongarfield
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  • Eddy
    January 1, 1970
    Perhaps surprisingly, a very interesting read. There are a few disconcerting jumps from events in the 19th century to the 1990s and back again, and it would have been good to have a glossary with the old-fashioned names and their modern equivalents and/or chemicla structure. But overall, an excellent and informative biography.
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  • Hazel
    January 1, 1970
    Mauve by Simon Garfield is a nonfiction book about William Perkin and the discovery of the color mauve. It jumps around in time a little bit, and I found kind of boring. It had a lot of information that made sense about half the time and I probably won’t read it again. I would recommend this to people who like an informative biography that isn’t for everyday reading.
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  • Chain Reading
    January 1, 1970
    This micro-history of mauve dye manages to cram science, history, and fashion into a brief 200 pages. It's definitely quirky in its range, and at times heavily factual and technical for the casual reader. However, there is artistry in just which facts the author chooses to include.
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  • Sherri
    January 1, 1970
    I love stories of how things we take for granted actually had a big effect on history. This is such a book. The discovery of the color mauve had a huge impact on fashion, as would be expected, yet also on medical and technical advances as well. I found it fascinating.
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  • Bonnie Mcclellan-Broussard
    January 1, 1970
    Enjoyed this book although in a few places it felt as if the author was reaching for connections and working to stretch it into a longer narrative. Despite some slow and repetitive bits on the whole it was informative and entertaining.
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