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Color: A Natural History of the Palette
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Color: A Natural History of the Palette

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  23,891 ratings  ·  406 reviews
Discover the tantalizing true stories behind your favorite colors.
For example: Cleopatra used saffron—a source of the color yellow—for seduction. Extracted from an Afghan mine, the blue “ultramarine” paint used by Michelangelo was so expensive he couldn’t afford to buy it himself. Since ancient times, carmine red—still found in lipsticks and Cherry Coke today—has come from
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Paperback, 464 pages
Published December 30th 2003 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published January 1st 2003)
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Maura
May 25, 2008 Maura rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: artists, craftspeople, historians
Funny story with this book - got to page 112 and discovered that pages 113 to 146 were missing! Thankfully, Random House (publisher) came to the rescue and sent me a replacement copy. Until it came I was in suspense about how ladies used to poison themselves (by accident) with white cosmetics that were made from lead.

This book was interesting not only for the information about colors, but also for the author's travels. She went to great lengths to get to the source of some colors, and along the
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Jenny
Having an affinity for all things color, I was attracted to the cover of Color: A Natural History of the Palette while visiting the Met one afternoon about a year ago. I bought it and have been reading it for the past year.

I'm sad to say that I found the cover to be the best part of this book. The book wasn't bad, but it also was nowhere near great. Finlay sets about the task of researching the origins of the pigments of the paintbox: Ochre, Black & Brown, White, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green,
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Nancy McClure
Oct 11, 2009 Nancy McClure rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: any artistic soul
LOVE me a book where I can pick a chapter and read up on what's been taunting my mind - thus I love anthologies and various other collections.

in Color, I found a fantastic historical recounting of the who/where/why/what of much of our commonly accepted color palette. And that alone means something, because there is a surprisingly low ratio of 'general citizens' who knows REALLY what color is about, how it's made, how we wrestled/negotiated/bullied our ways into being enjoyers/purveyors of it. Lo
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Michael Martin
The disclaimers "I imagine", "perhaps", "possibly", "it could be that" appear in this NON-FICTION book far more times than they should.

While I liked the content of about three-quarters of the book, it infuriated me at times when the author would suddenly start presenting the material through the eyes of a character, "imagining" their experiences, travels, and accomplishments. This first rears its head around page 81, when the tone of her book changes to speculate about an imaginary Corinthian a
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Kiwiflora
I remember when I was a child getting a box of paints in small tubes. I was fascinated by the names of the colours, words I had never heard of before - vermillion, magenta, aquamarine, cochineal, carmine. They might have been only shades of orange, purple, blue and red, but those exotic names gave those paints just a little more magic. Didn't do much for my art work, but never mind.

Victoria Finlay would appear to have had a similar early interest in colour when her father took her to Chartres C
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Spencer King
Her introduction was fairly solid as a basic introduction to the ideas of the book and the sort of personal/historical figure/historic background of pigment manipulation over time. The introduction presents an autobiographical account of running into stories about pigments. The autobiography becomes a narrative framework in which to present the different accounts of historical figures in relation to color, and the overarching history of pigment manipulation.

However, as the book actually started,
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Tracey
In an impressive mix of history, science and travelogue. Ms. Finlay shares with her readers the results of her worldwide search for the pigments and dyes and that humankind has used over the ages. Each color (including black and white) is represented in a separate section, where she weaves stories of fictional and real-life people into her research with entertaining results.

From Australian sacred ochers to Phoenician royal purple; from Incan reds to Chinese imperial greens - this book literally
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Richard MacManus
This is an adventure story, a history of colors told by a woman who traveled the world to see for herself how paint and dye colors were made. Firstly I was very impressed by her willingness to seek out the stories of color by exploring out-of-the-way places like an Afghanistan mine, the Australian outback and a Mexican village. Secondly, I enjoyed how she brought each color (and its many variants) alive through her story-telling. Some of the colors were literally alive, like the cochineal beetle ...more
Bandit
This book too me an inordinate amount of time to get through. And although I'm not primarily a nonfiction reader, this time it had nothing to do with the book itself or really nothing to do with the quality of the book. The quality was awesome. Finlay's writing was engaging and humorous and her journeys around the world to some of the most random and strange in an out of the way sort of places to discover the history of color were enlightening, educating and very entertaining. The reason it took ...more
Miles
This was an enjoyable book to read, but ultimately more of a travel book than a book about color. The adventures of the author tend to be given rather more weight than the subject.
Kiersten
Oh, this book had so much promise! And yet, it fell flat...
I was expecting to read more of a history book, but it turned out to be a travelogue/memoir, and a tad too self-involved for my tastes. Moreover, the author does a lot of "imagining" for a work of non-fiction. Damn.
Velvetink
Be seduced by the history of pigments. Basically about the author's travels while seeking out the origins of ancient colours. I loved this and gladdened by the extensive notes and bibliography.
Cathy
A mass of information about the natural dyes and pigments used for the seven colours of the rainbow, plus black, white and ochre. Finlay journeys around the world to find the origins of the colours, tracing them through myth, art and history to find out how and where the colours were produced. Each story is fascinating, and she writes in a lively and accessible style. Her research is presented as a quest or adventure, and while this sometimes comes across as slightly overdone, in the chapter on ...more
Tracey Allen at Carpe Librum
I've always been fascinated about the origins of colour, and in Color - A Natural History of the Palette, author Victoria Finlay travels the world in her search for the origin and birthplace of colors and dyes.

I wasn't interested in the author's personal travelogue, so I initially had the intention of skipping over any boring parts and jumping straight to the facts about the colours which are conveniently broken down into the following chapter headings:

1. Ochre
2. Black and Brown
3. White
4. Red
5.
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Rachel
I love color. I've often said that I get the same pleasure out of looking at color that my friends seem to get from listening to music. It's a visceral feeling of joy that I can't describe particularly well with words. Also, since I'm a painter, this book has all the makings of a seven star review. Yet you notice it's only four stars, what gives?

Okay here's the deal. When the subtitle of your book is "A Natural History of the Palette," that implies history, as in truth (or the best we can make o
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Amy Beth
Finlay travels all around the world trying to find out the history of colors (she travels so much you wonder how her publisher could have afforded all that airfare and travel expenses). The funny thing is, much of the history is lost or inaccessible. She goes to Australia and decides not to try to find out more about the Aboriginal spiritual meanings of ochre out of respect for the culture. Many times she goes to a place only to be disappointed to find nothing left or even--as in the case of Ind ...more
Gale
I've always been interested in color and have previous read The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky (****) by Ellen Meloy and Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World (*****) by Simon Garfield. Those books are very different, one being about natural history and the other about chemistry influencing fashion and ultimately changing a national industry.

Finlay's book is also unique; it's a travelogue where she searches for the historical origin of
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Lynne Jones
I bought this to help with research for a book I'm planning to write and expected no more than a list of useful but dusty old facts. I couldn't have been more wrong. It really brought the story of paints and dyes to life, highlighting the struggle and poverty underpinning the extraction and use of some of the most glorious and expensive pigments used in art. The origins of some pigments were so bizarre it makes you wonder how anyone ever thought of using them in the first place. It was odd to se ...more
Sarah
I learned so much from this book, like . . . the formula for Red is relatively unchanged from the beginning of its existance, searching for the origin of Orange can teach you a lot about violins, Yellow and White are the deadlyest colors, and Green, although the most prevelent in nature, is the hardest color to replicate in paint. This book is also a travel journal, so I felt like I was getting to visit a lot of unusual places as I read. Unusual places, unusual facts, and a broud scope of inform ...more
T
If I were a history buff, I'm sure I'd have found it lovely. But a history buff I am not, and the first 28 pages were some pretty dry reading.
Deborah Ideiosepius
Feb 01, 2015 Deborah Ideiosepius rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes colour and real stories.
I found this book fascinating, absorbing and exquisitely researched.

In it the author takes us on a journey of discovery to look at dyes and pigments from before our current aniline dyes were invented.

The chapters are named after the colour, and in each one we look at the historical basis of the colour, where it came from, what it was used for how it was described in the past. So a great deal of many of the things I love best feature in this book:

The great artists and their artwork are characte
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Amy
This is not just a history of color, but a bustling travelogue of the world; Victoria Finlay is just my type of traveler-- she has a plan but she doesn't. She hears of a place where a color was developed and she goes, and hopefully, just hopefully, she meets the right people and finds what she is looking for. It's all very serendipitous. The book is categorized by colors; beginning with the earth tones (which, oddly enough, come from the earth) and moves on to my favorites of green, blues, and v ...more
Ape
2009 bookcrossing review

I started reading this sometime last year. I got half way through then put it down for some reason. It got piled over other bits and I kind of forgot about it. I was tidying up last week and found it again and decided I needed to finish it.

This was a really interesting read. It's a mix of history, culture, travel, geology etc etc - a lot of interesting anecdotes and facts, so you travel the world with her discovering the story of colour. The last few chapters that I read
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Jen
First off, I want this woman's travel budget. She's off to Australia, Hawaii, France, Iran (okay we can skip that one), India, and Spain.

I want to go to there.

Paints have never been a huge interest of mine, but the study of how colors were found (in a plant stamen, in the sludge of a snail, and in the smoosh of a bug) is just really fascinating. The only possible failing of this book is what she makes up in a stunning travelogue, she omits science. I honestly don't know what some of these color
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Susan Strayer
I got bored overall but parts were very entertaining. The research was impressive, I especially liked the chapter on cochineal or red.
Nicole
This book is really awesome if you're looking for an engagingly-written travelogue that is not completely fucking inane like Eat, Pray, Love. It's a fantastic overview of the history of color and definitely got me wanting to read more on the subject. The main problem with the book is that the writing is good while the scholarship is so-so. That may be an editorial decision, I don't know. I just know that there were a lot of things I wanted to learn more about, and had difficulty doing so by look ...more
Douglas Summers-Stay
This book consists of hundreds of anecdotes about where various colors of paint and dye came from. Until about 100 years ago, choosing to paint a particular color could be expensive or impossible. The author tours around the world seeking out odd ingredients like tiny beetles traditionally used to make particular colors. The chapters are organized by the spectrum. Beyond that it is organizationally a bit of a mess, a mix of travelogue, research, speculation, and storytelling.
The painter's palett
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Andrew
This is an impressive book with an innocuous title. The folio edition is as you would expect impressively bound and comes with its own box sleeve. However the contents are the same as the other editions just in a more impressive binding (I was lucky to pick this us second hand, there is no way I could afford such a book brand new ) the book after a short introduction to colours how they were incentivised and discovered then breaks up in to a number of chapters ingeniously named after a specific ...more
Sam
Mar 02, 2014 Sam rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People who like trivia, people interested in personal journeys
When I picked up Color: a Natural History of the Palette, I wanted to read a book about some of the history of paint and pigments. There was quite a lot of that in this book, however I found Finlay's narrative style hard to tolerate. If this were a travelogue and sold itself as such I would be satisfied. The book is not simply a travelogue or a history book however, it is also the imaginative ramblings of an author who doesn't understand the audience that enjoys books about history does not heav ...more
Kathy
Really 3.5 stars
Victoria Finlay is a very interesting person. As a young girl, the colors of a stained glass window captured her imagination, and from then on she has been fascinated with color and how it is made. This book tells of her globe-hopping search for the dyes and pigments used before the invention of the aniline dyes used today. She is a tireless researcher, a fearless traveler and a wonderful storyteller, so her exploration of all the colors (in rainbow order) is fascinating and fun.
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“Years later the Romantic poet John Keats would complain that on that fateful day Newton had “destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to prismatic colors.” But color—like sound and scent—is just an invention of the human mind responding to waves and particles that are moving in particular patterns through the universe—and poets should not thank nature but themselves for the beauty and the rainbows they see around them.” 1 likes
“What they signified was precious, but what they were was not.” 1 likes
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