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Mauve: How One Man Invented a Colour That Changed the World Kindle Edition

4.9 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Length: 252 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled

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Mauve? Not the butchest of colours perhaps; you might be forgiven for wondering whether, if a Longitude-style book had to be written about hues, Red, Blue or Yellow might not be the place to start instead. But Garfield has chosen his colour well: mauve and its 19th-century inventor William Perkin constitute a fascinating story. This book convincingly argues that Perkin's invention of this chemical dye became a major turning point in the history of Western science and industry. Purple had always been a royal colour, in part because it was so difficult (and hence expensive) to achieve a good shade out of the animal, mineral or plant raw materials from which all dyes were derived; it took 17,000 dried and crushed cactus insects to make one ounce of cochineal. Perkin found a cheap way to produce a synthetic purple; he made a fortune and prompted a craze for the colour in the fashion industry of his day. But more than this, Garfield argues, he kick-started chemistry from being a gentleman-amateur pastime into becoming the major world industry it is today. Mauve (the Victorians pronounced it "morv", apparently) really did change the world. Just as Perkins's colour was something wholly new, Garfield's Mauve represents a new sort of book, a more varied synthesis than the run-of-the-mill animal, mineral or plant books. In part it is a biography, in part a social and cultural history, and partly it is a meditation on the roles chemistry (and colour) play in our world. It even manages to function as a primer in inorganic chemistry. Garfield achieves this last without being either baffling or condescending; he breaks us in gently to the subject of, for instance, benzene rings by relating Friedrich Kekule's 1858 dream, dozing in front of the fire, "gambolling atoms in snake-like motion, one of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail: his benzene structure consisted of six carbon atoms, each attached to a hydrogen atom C6H6". The model for this integration of chemistry into everyday life is taken from the period itself--at one point we're told that "William Perkins Jnr wrote again, enquiring about the atomic structures of various synthetic perfumes and wishing his father a happy birthday". Presumably in that order. Garfield's book draws you into this world of dyes and dyers; the reader emerges a little mauver than when they started. --Adam Roberts

Review

'This remarkable book about how the colour was discovered opened my eyes... Garfield's study is far more than a social history of fashion. It is a book about science which also happens to be a miniature work of art.' Daily Telegraph

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 4073 KB
  • Print Length: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber Non Fiction (4 April 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00CKDALZE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #158,839 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Format: Hardcover
I found "Mauve" absolutely fascinating, not least for the remarkable chain of events that followed Sir William Henry Perkin's work on aniline dyes. Having been absorbed by this excellent book, I found it rather sad that even now, with so many 20th Century developments arising from Sir William's discoveries, such an unsung hero should still be relatively anonymous and even his final resting place cannot be found.
By a rather nice coincidence, though not related to Sir William, my father, Philip Perkin, worked in colour chemistry and industrial pigment production for over forty years in the North of England and would often return home with clothes spattered with every hue imaginable, just like his namesake !!
Mauve is a must-read for those intrigued to know how an apparently innocuous laboratory development led to the establishment of today's global chemical industry and changed our world, in so many ways, forever.
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Format: Paperback
If, like me, you always thought chemistry was boring, think again! This book manages to make the subject of manufactured dyes interesting: describing the competition to invent new dyes, and the developments following on from Perkin's discovery in vivid prose.
"Mauve" follows on from the ground best trod by Sobel with "Longitude", and may not be as gripping, but "Mauve" is certainly one of the better popular science books I've read.
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Format: Hardcover
Mauve is almost impossible to categorize. It is part biography, part science history, part medical history and part fashion book. It tells the story of Sir William Perkin, the man who discovered the first artificial dye - mauve - in the 1850s. The colour was a sensation at the time, but was even more remarkable for what it led to - particularly the advances in medicine such as the study of chromosomes and the subsequent conquest of disease such as tuberculosis. Mauve was discovered by Perkin when he was 18 by mistake, when he was looking for a way of making quinine. The book ends with the eventual discovery of articial quinine many years later. I especially liked the way Simon Garfield interweaves the past and present story. It's a remarkable and I think untold tale of how one colour achieved so much, and it will make you think about all colours in a totally different light.
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Format: Paperback
Chemistry. A boring subject for nerds, right? I used to think so, that's why I dropped it as soon as I could and ended up as a historian, only to return to it in my professional life as the editor of a magazine about it. If this book had been around 30 years ago, I might have thought differently.

'Mauve' is a terrifically entertaining and informative read, everything a good non-fiction book should be. It tells the story of how Sir William Perkin 'sort of accidentally' discovered the first true synthetic dyestuff while trying to synthesise quinine and in the process not only made his own fortune but kick-started modern industrial chemistry as well, debatably the whole modern world. It wasn't a complete accident - people had been on the lookout for artificial colours that could be made cheaply at large scale for years - and reflected the work of an enquiring mind in a subject then dismissed as of no real importance.

Many of the themes still echo today. The process was discovered in Britain but developed further and made better in Germany, which then steamrollered the British dyestuffs industry into oblivion. It's all gone to India, now, of course. And if you think short-termism, a focus on shuffling money about, a sniffiness about innovation and lack of government support for industry and entrepreneurs is a modern disease, think again; they were very much there in the 19th century too.

Also very much echoing today is the downside of chemicals. They are dangerous in the wrong hands and much of this went pell-mell into products that exposed people to real danger. Just like today, the industry was often arrogant and defensive about it, while the popular press raised hysteria with no sense of proportion.
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Format: Kindle Edition
If you take for granted that you can go to the shops and purchase clothes and materials of all kinds of hues and shades of purple this book will open your eyes to the extra-ordinary story of how that is even possible. This is the story of William Perkin's accidental discovery that he could make a new shade of purple in a laboratory and the consequences of that discovery. It turns out that the consequences were enormous and this single discovery was the catalyst for a chemical revolution that ultimately led to the production of poison gas destined for the fields of Flanders.
A great story well told.
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Format: Paperback
This book was bought for my father who is interested in all things scientific. I looked at the past reviews and they did not let me down. He has told me the the book is fascinateing and a good read, and he was amazed at what this discovoury led to and how it has influenced the world we know. When my Mother has finsihed reading it, I am looking forward to finding out about mauve.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Just how interesting can a potted history of the chemistry of the development of aniline dyes, the story of the forgotten Englishman behind their invention and their initial commercial exploitation really be? As it turns out, quite. A fine page-turner of a book.
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