Have you heard of William Perkin? At the age of 18, he accidentally discovered a type of dye, from waste coal tar products, which would revolutionise many industries and associate his name with a particular colour – mauve. A blend of chemistry, history and biography, this book is about Perkin himself, his discoveries and their impact.
I have to admit that a lot of the information in this book wasn’t new to me. This is because I’ve previously read three books about the history of colours. They were published after his, so they must have used his book for reference. Still, it was a good read and even though chemistry is not exactly my forte, I understood the chemistry bits as they’re written for a general readership. What surprised me about the writing style was that it’s not much like the other Simon Garfield books I’ve read. They were published later than this one and are in a more personal, quirky, journalistic style. Mauve is more of a straightforward read. There’s a nice section of colour plates.
I liked the book but I’d mistakenly assumed it was a biography of the colour mauve itself. It’s mostly limited to Perkin’s life, which of course makes it a more human story but I’m sure there is more that could be said.
First published in 2000 by Faber and Faber.