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Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World
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Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World

2.84  ·  Rating details ·  391 ratings  ·  113 reviews

For almost five millennia, in every culture and in every major religion, indigo-a blue pigment obtained from the small green leaf of a parasitic shrub through a complex process that even scientists still regard as mysterious-has been at the center of turbulent human encounters.

Indigo is the story of this precious dye and its ancient heritage: its relationship to slavery

Hardcover, 235 pages
Published June 1st 2011 by Bloomsbury USA (first published January 1st 2011)
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2.84  · 
Rating details
 ·  391 ratings  ·  113 reviews

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Jan 13, 2012 rated it did not like it
Never judge a book by it's cover. This book has an awesome cover and title . . . the contents . . .

I kept hoping it was going to get better. But it didn't.

The author is not very self aware. As an adopted child of mixed race she obsesses about a cultural heritage she wishes she was a part of. Then an affair with a college professor sends her on a quest for indigo. And she gets a Fullbright Scholarship to do so. And just so you don't forget that she has a Fullbright she mentions it over and over.

Jun 03, 2011 rated it did not like it
i really wanted to love this book as i have been seeking out anything on color and pigment history after reading Victoria Finlay's fantastic book "Color" Color: A Natural History of the Palette.

it's a lovely piece of travel writing about a woman's journey through Africa trying to find indigo dyed fabric as a sometimes embarrassing obsession. you learn her family history, her past relationships, the friends she makes and many, many pages of her gazing longingly at beautiful cloth from a distanc
Jul 31, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: first-reads
So, like a lot of other reviewers here, I was pretty disappointed. First, yes, while the history of indigo would be extremely interesting, this is more memoir than history or sociology. And that's fine. The problem is that it's a memoir of Ms. McKinley, and I don't want to read her memoir. At all.

This is the first book for which I've begun keeping a "Fulbright count." What is it? Ah. Glad you asked. It's a count of the number of times Ms. McKinley refers to her Fulbright, to how great it is to h
Oct 10, 2011 rated it did not like it
I read about 160 of the 235 pages and quit in disgust. There are little things in here I liked, but mostly this book is kind of awful. Catherine McKinley is far too impressed with herself. Yes, a Fulbright scholarship is impressive, but don't keep saying it over and over again.

Worse, my own hunger to learn about indigo is far from satisfied. This book is not - as advertised - about indigo at all. It's just another spiritual memoir in a foreign country. Smart, pretty girl goes searching for some
Dec 02, 2011 rated it did not like it
I slogged through half of this book because I am interested in indigo and its African roots. But though the book contains a fair amount of information, it's organization makes it very hard to understand the information in a coherent way. The author has a Fulbright Fellowship to visit west Africa to study indigo. The story is really a memoir of her project. We meet interesting people, mostly west African, are told rambling anecdotes about customs and culture that tangentially touch on indigo. It ...more
Aug 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
This book is basically a memoir of the author's pursuit to discover indigo, a deep blue dye made in the traditional African manner. She goes to Africa in pursuit of this. Throughout the book and her stories in Africa, the author weaves in information about the history of indigo and its effects on African culture, economy, etc. It was interesting to learn about how important cloth is to African culture. However, the history, etc of indigo is not very deeply explored, I thought. Since it is inters ...more
Raven Moore
Jan 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing

Unfortunately, Catherine McKinley’s “Indigo” is another one of those books that could go grossly overlooked because it’s informative. Truly her search for indigo revealed the severe tie between cloth and world history everywhere.

A reader will get much more than the story of indigo in the world of textiles. In this narrative ethnography, full of desire and color, the reader will be introduced to the Nigerian medical doctor who discovers a cure for AIDS but then just a few pages later the reader
Jun 17, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2011
"Indigo" is subtitled, "In Search of the Color that Seduced the World," and it is that, but it's also the author's search for identity, and spiritual mooring. The trouble with these kinds of search memoirs is that the search is often more compelling to the author than the reader. Such is the case, for me, with this book. Yes, the search is a good thing, in and of itself, but for some reason the author, Catherine McKinley never seemed to make the stakes high enough to get me emotionally involved ...more
Jun 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
I found the anticipation at reading what I thought would be an incredible story much more exciting than the actual book. It it not introduced by any review I read as a memoir -- yet it is simply that. In the same vein as Eat, Pray and Love, which travel was also paid by in this case a Fellowship (which the author constantly informes us -- as if we had forgotten the other dozen times), and I didn't really like that book either.

I expected this to be a story about INDIGO -- but it was only a minor
Chels Patterson
Jul 14, 2012 marked it as to-read
I started with the being few pages and questioned this book. Then I skipped around the chapters, scanning a few pages, to see if my theories were correct. This book is a biography!!!! Not HISTORY book! I actually looked to see what it was indicated as by the publisher.

In the first few pages she mentioned about being a prof of creative writing, right then it was an oh no, and a no shit moment combined.

I really don't care that she feel in love with New Orleans or that she went out to buy a small
Jan 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a most interesting book on what I believe is a little known plant but one that has a huge impact on the global psyche. I know it has on mine - my home is full of indigo and I had no idea that my obsession with the color, like the authors, goes back thousands of years.

You will learn that the color of Levis was originally brough to us by indigofera, a plant that grows all over the world but the best sources are India and West Africa. Did you know that Betsy Ross' first flag was created wit
May 31, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: own, first-reads, 2011
**I won this book through Good Reads First Reads**

To begin with, I was really excited that I won this book. It sounded fascinating! I feel like I was misled. I was under the impression that I would be learning about indigo, not about some lady's adventure in Africa.

This book read like a very bad memoir. As someone that knows nothing about African geography, I was completely lost with all of the references to the countries, regions and villages. A map would have improved this experience some.

Aug 30, 2011 rated it did not like it
I was very interested in reading Indigo by Catherine McKinley. However, I read to page 4, second paragraph and discovered a huge error--namely:

"The war (she's referring to the Revolutionary War) would mark the beginning of the weakening of American indigo profits, also hastened by the invention of the cotton gin in 1974." The cotton gin was invented in 1794. Didn't anyone proof this book?

On page 3, she mentions Gandhi joining the Indigo Revolt of 1859 as his first civil action, but he wasn't bor
Sep 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
I had trouble connecting with the author's story (part memoir of her obsession with indigo dye and cloth, and part history of the importance of indigo in West African trade and culture). McKinley's story was disjointed.

I was most interested in the photos of the indigo cloth she had purchased in her journey, in the patterns. As an artist, it has inspired me to find a way to incorporate indigo into some of my own work. It is an arresting color, and that was what "seduced" me to read the book. By
Mar 28, 2012 rated it did not like it
Now that I have read the other reviews, I am so relieved to know that I'm not the only person who did not enjoy this all. I was encouraged by the beautiful introduction (a really lovely piece of writing), but was left completely disappointed by the following chapters. As much as it pains me to say, especially after making it to page 100, I simply cannot finish it.

As others have mentioned, the dialogue is tiresome-o!

I would not recommend this book.
Amy Ayers
May 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I originally found this book when looking for images of the color indigo. I HAD to read it. I am obsessed with the color, and the title drew me.

The novel is so well written; a combination of biography, history textbook, and living map of Africa.

I have never felt called to visit Africa, but I would love to being to experience even a portion of what Catherine McKinley did.
Aug 09, 2011 rated it it was ok
I would have liked a book about Indigo, instead of the author's journey throughout West Africa. Even then, the author's travelogue is peppered with awkward dialogue, and has a stuffy head over their Fulbright scholarship.

A disappointment.
Aug 11, 2011 rated it liked it
The book was a little too soul-searching for my taste, but interesting enough since I knew nothing about indigo going in to it.
Steven Allen
Jul 23, 2018 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Well, this book was very promising, but unfortunately did not deliver and in my opinion was a slight disappointment. It would be interesting to see if the author did a DNA (via or 23&Me, etc.) to find out more in depth about her heritage and ancestry.
Anyway, I felt like she was going to go more in depth with her personal heritage and her Russian Jewish ancestors in regards to the whole hunt for indigo, but that was barely mentioned at all.
I am also very surprised she did not ev
Dec 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book had many lovely moments and philosophic turns. But it had an inherent flaw: it was a tale of a quest that went more or less unfulfilled. The author went in search of historic indigo dying practices in West Africa... but the industry has pretty much died out. And the political upheaval that was happening limited what she could see.

So instead the core of this book was her found family in Accra. I could have read a whole book about this, it was lovely. The rest of it was somewhat disjoin
Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Terrific writing! Terrific work!

Catherine McKinley is from my neck of the woods, and shares a passion I have had since the 1960s - cloth. Her research is not wimpy look-it-up, make some phone calls, make a chart. She moved to Africa and studied and collected and lived events that make cloth cloth. Finding proper proper indigo wasn't exactly easy. Hoffman, ICI, the German dye giants, and Vlisco, the Dutch print giant made proper cloth passe. Mass market appeal. But there are still great artists a
The book was a bit confusing. It needed more photos and explanations of the terms, perhaps a glossary would have been helpful. A map too.
One big take away? The importance of cloth - as currency, prestige, and as used in ritual.
Yes, she was looking for indigo, but she wasn't rely interested in the actual dyeing process, but more how it affected people's lives and the economy. But also, she desired to own bits and pieces of this indigo cloth.
Overall I enjoyed the book, especially after I decided
Sep 19, 2017 rated it liked it
My daughter picked up the book Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World for me. I think we both made a mistake in thinking that it would be about indigo. It's not really. It's about the author's travels in Africa (Ghana and vicinity) as she researched indigo and sought out places where traditional dyeing techniques were still being used.

As such, it's not that bad. I still feel I may be a little generous in my rating, but don't want to rate a book lower than three stars when it wasn'
Jun 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Rather than a straight history of indigo dye, this book is more of a memoir of the author’s relationship to the dye and its use in African textiles/clothing. We learn of the author’s family tree and how her ancestors had encounters with the dye, to her travels to explore and collect unique clothing that used indigo. Her obsession leads her to some unlikely places, and along the way we do learn a bit about the dye’s uses in history and the importance of it in trade, along with some of the process ...more
Jul 06, 2017 rated it liked it
I actually liked this book despite many reviewers who give it much praise. I found the history behind the color quite interesting. I also enjoyed reading of the African culture and the impact of the companies who became involved with the merchandising processes... and it's eventual ties to the southern part of the US. Ironically I will be heading in the fall to St Jeckyl Island and that area of Georgia where the dyeing process took place in the US.
Jan 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: truckee-library
The concept of Indigo Blue was new to me. I really had no idea or knowledge of how blue dye originated in Africa. The story was interesting, again because I have no knowledge of the life and history of Africa.
The book was tedious however because I don't understand the author's search for meaning and the story finished nicely, and is one I will probably remember, but overall didn't really capture my spirit.
Marianna Hofmeister
Jul 15, 2017 rated it liked it
It was okay, if you like this genre - a twist on history of a commodity, personal narrative, academic thesis kinda thing. Like the author I love indigo so I enjoyed the book. I especially like the idea that a woman's worth is related to the amount of fabric she owns - blue fabric and we're home free!
A memoir, mostly about the time the author spends in western Africa learning about indigo dyed cloth in indigenous culture, and not about the dye's history or production or it's role in trade with Europeans.
not what I was expecting at all. and not esp. interesting, unless you like ethnography.
Aug 21, 2018 added it
Skip! I really wanted this to be a nerdy book about the history of the color throughout humanity and civilization but it definitely isn’t. I’m not even going to finish it. The title is SO misleading. Thank goodness i got it from the NYPL and didn’t pay for it.
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