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

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

4.5 2
by Simon Garfield
     
 
Born of a laboratory accident, this odd shade of purple revolutionized fashion, industry, and the practice of science. Before 1856, the color in our lives—the reds, blues, and blacks of clothing, paint, and print—came from insects or mollusks, roots or leaves; and dyeing was painstaking and expensive. But in 1856 eighteen-year-old English chemist William

Overview

Born of a laboratory accident, this odd shade of purple revolutionized fashion, industry, and the practice of science. Before 1856, the color in our lives—the reds, blues, and blacks of clothing, paint, and print—came from insects or mollusks, roots or leaves; and dyeing was painstaking and expensive. But in 1856 eighteen-year-old English chemist William Perkin accidentally discovered a way to mass-produce color in a factory. Working on a treatment for malaria in his London home laboratory, Perkin failed to produce artificial quinine. Instead he created a dark oily sludge that turned silk a beautiful light purple. Mauve became the most desirable shade in the fashion houses of Paris and London, but its importance extended far beyond ball gowns. It sparked new interest in industrial applications of chemistry research, which later brought about the development of explosives, perfume, photography, and modern medicine. With great wit, scientific savvy, and historical scope, Simon Garfield delivers a fascinating tale of how an accidental genius set in motion an extraordinary scientific achievement.

Editorial Reviews

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Life is full of false starts and wrong turns, but rarely do they have the power to shape history. Mauve is the delightful story of one accident that did.

William Perkin was, by all accounts, a modest, pleasant Englishman with a talent for chemistry and a mind for research. In 1856, at the tender age of 18, he decided to put his chemistry studies to the test. Malaria was then prevalent in many countries, and the most effective treatment, quinine, was scarce and costly. Aiming to invent a synthetic form of quinine, Perkin instead happened upon an oily black substance that, when purified and dried, became a lovely shade of light purple. In short, he had discovered mauve. More specifically, he had discovered a way to produce color without relying on natural products like plants and bugs, with their limited hues. His experiment transformed fashion, but perhaps more importantly, it was the spark of genius that inspired a sequence of related chemical innovations with far-reaching implications for such industries as cosmetics, photography, and even medicine.

In Mauve, Simon Garfield recounts the appealing story of Perkin's life, while demonstrating the unexpected value of his simple (some would even say naïve) experiment. We watch Perkin wrestle with the dueling demands of pure science and lucrative commercialism and see him earn well-deserved international acclaim. The result is a refreshing and enlightening story of a man who put his curiosity to the test and scored a big and brightly colored success. (Summer 2001 Selection)

Daily Telegraph
In an engagingly simple manner . . . Garfield takes us by the hand through the mysteries of science. . . . [His] study is far more than a social history of fashion. It has much to tell us about the accidental nature of scientific discoveries . . . and the relationship between science and industry in Victorian times.
[Sunday Times
Although Perkin's discovery was a stroke of luck, he was, as Simon Garfield's appreciative biography shows, the kind of exemplary juvenile who was almost bound to make his mark sooner or later.
Associated Newspapers Ltd.
Like those excellent and tastefully packaged true stories Longitude and Arcanum, Mauve is a stirring tale of triumph over adversity, of scientific progress made through the extraordinary exertions of a single person.
New York Times
[A] book salted with fascinating data...
New York Times Book Review
[T]he delight of this book is seeing parallels to present-day trends.
Chicago Tribune
By bringing Perkin into the open and documenting his life and work, Garfield has done a service to history.
American Scientist
[A]n inviting cocktail of Perkin biography, account of the dye industry and where it led, and social and cultural history up to the present.
Boston Herald
Garfield's engaging story...is an informative mix of science, history, and biography.
Kirkus Reviews
Garfield has fashioned a stylish compound of biography, cultural and scientific history, and literary detection....Mauve-lous.
Sunday Times London
Although Perkin's discovery was a stroke of luck, he was, as Simon Garfield's appreciative biography shows, the kind of exemplary juvenile who was almost bound to make his mark sooner or later.
Associated Newspaper
Like those excellent and tastefully packaged true stories Longitude and Arcanum, Mauve is a stirring tale of triumph over adversity, of scientific progress made through the extraordinary exertions of a single person.
Janet Maslin
A book salted with fascinating data…
New York Times
Marcia Bartusiak
An engaging and airy history.
New York Times Book Review
Library Journal
Since his discovery of the first synthetic dye in 1856, interest in William Perkin has undergone a resurgence approximately every 50 years. Garfield's (The End of Innocence: Britain in the Time of AIDS) biography follows in the footsteps of A Jubilee Proceedings (1906) and a centenary supplement to the organic chemistry journal Tetrahedron (1956). It focuses on Perkin as a pioneer, taking research from the burgeoning field of academic chemistry and applying it to industry. The creation of a popular dye from coal-tar (a plentiful industrial waste) when the field of dyeing was beholden to natural dyes, such as indigo and madder, made Perkin very rich and fleetingly famous. The book also chronicles the influence of this discovery throughout the industry and into other fields. That the use of stains and dyes eventually transformed biochemistry and medicine is ironic, given that Perkin was originally seeking a cure for malaria when he stumbled onto the mauve dye. Recommended for science collections in academic and large public libraries. Wade M. Lee, Univ. of Toledo Lib. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Garfield recounts William Perkin's accidental discovery of a factory-production dyeing process. He then assesses the impact of that event in fashion, chemistry, industry, and history. The book celebrates Garfield as both a scientist and a personality. Eight pages of illustrations and photographs (black and white and color) are featured. Garfield is an author with no university affiliation. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Mauve is the unique and fascinating examination of a single hue which considers the man who accidentally invented a color which changed his world. Before 1956, colors came from insects, roots and dyeing. In 1956 chemist William Perkin discovered a way of mass producing color in a factory, found the color mauve by chance, and fostered a new era of applied chemistry. A fascinating survey evolves.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393020052
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
04/28/2001
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
0.10(w) x 0.10(h) x 0.10(d)

Meet the Author

Simon Garfield is the author of several acclaimed books, including The End of the Innocence: Britain in the Time of AIDS, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award. He lives in London.

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Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color that Changed the World 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I admit I bought this book with not a little trepidation but was delighted to find it a wonderful and interesting read. The author develops the history of synthetic dye making in a very interesting and compelling manner. As a biochemist I have used many dyes but never gave much thought to how the first aniline dye was discovered and what other great advances it led to. The serendipity of the discovery is fascinating. I now teach high school chemistry and have been using excerpts from this book in my courses.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this is cool