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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review from Discover Great New Writers
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)