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

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  737 ratings  ·  82 reviews
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 colle...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published May 17th 2002 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published September 4th 2000)
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Ruth
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...more
Marissa Morrison
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...more
David
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.
Marsha
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...more
Wealhtheow
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...more
Ensiform
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...more
Brian
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...more
Clarissa
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.
Tom Schulte
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.
Michael
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!
Heather
Garfield's writing style is mostly matter-of-fact, with a few flashes of oddness or romance, which I wanted more of: I liked, for example, that he gave the recipe for Perkin's dye alongside a recipe for Nesselrode pudding (served at a jubilee dinner in New York celebrating Perkin's invention). I wanted more of that: my absolute favorite thing in the book was the long list of where color-names come from (chemicals flowers, places, fruits, common things, etc.).

Which isn't to say that the central...more
Deborah Biancotti
An interesting story, plainly told, about a modest man (William Perkin) whose dedication to science over fame meant he never fully exploited the benefits of his discoveries. Also some passing references to the dangers of arsenic & aniline colouring techniques of the 1800s, and where the science of colour has been and come to. With some irritating quotes from the nineties, I suppose to ground the biography as contemporarily relevant.

Although my little hardcover is physically beautiful and has...more
Stephen
Gosh I liked this book. High school chemistry was a long time ago——back when there were only 12 known elements––and I would never have thought that a book about chemistry and a chemist could be so engaging. But it was.

And his discovery? Mauve! It’s not even a color I have an affinity, it's not in my wardrobe. Not a color I go out of my way to admire, but when I came across this book, it intrigued me.

It’s the story of William Perkin an English chemist who in 1856 was trying to create artificial...more
Trena
May 24, 2010 Trena rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Trena by: Vivienne
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...more
Jenny GB
This book details William Perkin's discovery of mauve. He comes across the color while he is working with coal tar and attempting to find some medicinal applications. He dyes a cloth that color, showed it to dyers that were enthusiastic about it, and then began to put together the means to produce the color (no easy task). The first half of the book details his life before and after the discovery as well as the changes that happened because of his work during his lifetime. The second half of the...more
Dolly
Highly technical, this story offers the life story of William Perkin and the long-term results of his accidental discovery. It was the April 2013 selection for my local book club and if it weren't for that, I'm not sure if I'd have ever read this book.

The narrative is informative and interesting, but I would caution that much of the chemistry discussed is probably best suited for those with strong chemistry backgrounds.

Overall, I found this book to offer a fascinating look at the background of...more
Caroline
A semester of grad school has happened since I finished this book (and is the primarily reason it's taken me this long to write a review). So a detailed review is not in the cards, but I do still remember my general thoughts.

I love books like this - that are hyper-specific and contain history that you would probably never hear about any other place. Who knew that mauve was such a big deal, both economically and culturally? Not me. In addition to the fascinating story of the discovery of mauve sp...more
Madelynp
Fun biography of an unknown scientist! I was not aware of how instrumental the development of textile dyes was to the beginning of modern chemistry and chemical engineering, but upon further thought, it makes sense that it was the coal tar industry that really jump started the industry as we know it.

The writing in the book is good--although he's not as entertaining as authors like David Bodanis or Walter Isaacson, the style is still engaging. My one complaint with the biography was the way that...more
Michael Mcclelland
The chemistry at work here is the most boring part of the book but it acts as a (mauve) thread through this historic tale covering the move of this science from a curiousity of Victorian gentleman in their private homes to an industrial-sized, commercial application. As it does so it touches on consumerism, trade, patent protection, globalisation, the British character, the fickleness of public recollection and the extraordinarily wide uses to which the discovery of a coloured compound have led...more
Vivienne
Jan 22, 2009 Vivienne rated it 3 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Nerds
Recommended to Vivienne by: Dayle Furlong, who had to take History of Science in university
Shelves: non-fiction
The true legacy of Mauve is the birth of organic chemistry as a scientific discipline and the chemical/pharmaceutical industry. Overall, the book reminded me of content from the "History of Science" class which fine arts B.Sc. candidates could take as their sole science credit.

In the first part of Mauve, the author outlines the discovery of the first big-money making aniline dye by William Perkin at age 18, through difficulties shifting the dye paradigm from naturally derived to synthetic, setti...more
mim
I'd been wanting to read this book ever since it was published because I've been teaching a course on color (first at University and now at the VMFA studio school.) I had no idea that it would be as interesting to me as it has been. In fact, I think that if I'd read it years ago (had it been written then) I'd have taken a course in organic chemistry. I learned so much from this book! I learned that a disinfectant common when I was a child (mercurochrome) was originally a dye? Oh, that's just a t...more
John
I didn't think the book quite made the case for why the chemical discovery of the color mauve as a byproduct of coal-tar was the inspiration for all the other coal-tar related discoveries. I enjoyed the smattering of chemistry, wish he developed it a little more. Over all very interesting book.
Candice
Mar 30, 2008 Candice rated it 3 of 5 stars Recommends it for: people interested in the history of science
When I first heard about this book, it sounded interesting, and it was, but some of the history of various chemical companies got a bit tedious. William Perkin produced the first synthetic dye, mauve, from coal tar. He was searching for a way to produce quinine, a cure for malaria, but the discovery of the dye got in the way. It was interesting to read about the way the Victorians viewed science, chemistry in particular.

Perkin produced the dye when he was just 18 years old! The synthetic dye led...more
Djrmel
Interesting multipurpose nonfiction, written for the reader who wants a lot of practicality and history with their science lesson. The book is very disjointed in its lay out, with the author jamming the contemporary ramifications of Parson's work in to the middle of chapters where they don't really belong. As stated in another review, it's as if Garfield wrote the book in the order of his note-taking, rather than rearranging them into a logical or at least sensible narrative. Still, his research...more
Tracy
British chemist William Perkin's life and discoveries detailed in the first half of the book were fascinating--I'd give the book 4.5 stars up to that point. Then I lost the thread of the narrative a bit and it meandered and finally petered out. Maybe the author was drawing a parallel to Perkin's life? As the book flap notes, "Perkin's discovery [synthetic dye] sparked new interest in industrial applications of chemistry research, which later brought about the development of explosives, perfume,...more
Gale
When I was writing my review of Color: A Natural History... yesterday I realized I'd never written about this book, a favorite in recent years. It's really the most interesting book I've read about a color. I remember feeling I was in London in the mid 19th century. And, of course, it was the BEGINNING of synthetic dyes which changed fashion forever.

I'd recommend it to anyone interested in chemistry (great mistakes in the lab and in the kitchen should always be appreciated!), colors and well-wri...more
dejah_thoris
I have to agree with other reviewers that this book is very dry. The first few chapters describing Perkin's life and discovery are the meat of the book, which may explain why it seems to be pushing connections beyond that point. Of course, it's not the author's fault that Perkin made his break-through at 19 and sold his dye factory at 30, but he could've done better than to quote and summarize from five different celebratory dinners. Connections between science and the fashion industry were neat...more
Linda Hilton
Not a real review.

Borrowed the book from the college library at ASU-West, probably around 2002. Found it fascinating.
Nicole
The impact and history of aniline dyes on war, general research, and medicine. Commercial production of anilines started over 100 years ago in Europe, with the synthesis of a mauve pigment from aniline by William Perkin. The dye was the residue produced by a misconceived attempt at the chemical synthesis of quinine. Instead of discarding the substance he explored the nature of what he had. Serendipity is only going to occur to those with an open mind. The final section deals with modern medical...more
Castiron
A very readable look at the development of aniline dye technology, the chemist responsible, and the social and scientific effects. I'd never heard of William Perkin but found his story interesting. (Science background is not necessary to appreciate the book; it's written for a lay reader,and I didn't have to remember anything from my mumble-years-ago chemistry classes.)

I'd recommend this book to anyone who does fiber crafts (sewing, embroidery, dyeing, etc.), anyone who needs to know what Panton...more
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Simon Garfield is a British journalist and non-fiction author. He was educated at the independent University College School in Hampstead, London, and the London School of Economics, where he was the Executive Editor of The Beaver.

His published books include:

* Mini-The True and Secret History of the Making of a Motor Car
* Exposure: The Unusual Life and Violent Death of Bob Carlos Clarke
* The Error...more
More about Simon Garfield...
Just My Type: A Book About Fonts On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks Our Hidden Lives: The Remarkable Diaries of Post-War Britain We Are at War: The Diaries of Five Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing

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