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Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World Paperback – May 17, 2002
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In 1856, while trying to synthesize artificial quinine, 18-year-old chemistry student William Perkin instead produced a murky residue. Fifty years later, he described the event: he "was about to throw a certain residue away when I thought it might be interesting. The solution of it resulted in a strangely beautiful color." Perkin had stumbled across the world's first aniline dye, a color that became known as mauve.
"So what?" you might say. "A teenager invented a new color." As Simon Garfield admirably points out in Mauve, the color really did change the world. Before Perkin's discovery all the dyes and paints were colored by roots, leaves, insects, or, in the case of purple, mollusks. As a result, colors were inconsistent and unpredictably strong, often fading or washing out. Perkin found a dye that would always produce a uniform shade--and he pointed the way to other synthetic colors, thus revolutionizing the world of both dyemaking and fashion. Mauve became all the rage. Queen Victoria wore it to her daughter's wedding in 1858, and the highly influential Empress Eugénie decided the color matched her eyes. Soon, the streets of London erupted in what one wag called the "mauve measles."
Mauve had a much wider impact as well. By finding a commercial use for his discovery--much to the dismay of his teacher, the great August Hofmann, who believed there needed to be a separation between "pure" and "applied" science--Perkin inspired others to follow in his footsteps: "Ten years after Perkin's discovery of mauve, organic chemistry was perceived as being exciting, profitable, and of great practical use." The influx of bright young men all hoping to earn their fortunes through industrial applications of chemistry later brought significant advances in the fields of medicine, perfume, photography, and even explosives. Through it all, Garfield tells his story in clever, witty prose, turning this odd little tale into a very entertaining read. --Sunny Delaney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Since his discovery of the first synthetic dye in 1856, interest in William Perkin has undergone a resurgence approximately every 50 years. Garfield's (The End of Innocence: Britain in the Time of AIDS) biography follows in the footsteps of A Jubilee Proceedings (1906) and a centenary supplement to the organic chemistry journal Tetrahedron (1956). It focuses on Perkin as a pioneer, taking research from the burgeoning field of academic chemistry and applying it to industry. The creation of a popular dye from coal-tar (a plentiful industrial waste) when the field of dyeing was beholden to natural dyes, such as indigo and madder, made Perkin very rich and fleetingly famous. The book also chronicles the influence of this discovery throughout the industry and into other fields. That the use of stains and dyes eventually transformed biochemistry and medicine is ironic, given that Perkin was originally seeking a cure for malaria when he stumbled onto the mauve dye. Recommended for science collections in academic and large public libraries. Wade M. Lee, Univ. of Toledo Lib.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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While it was wonderful to read how Perkin's discovery of mauve inspired so many to become chemists, it was very unclear as to how this actually happened. I would have liked a clearer explanation of the chemical processes involved in the creating of the new colors, more detailed information about William Perkin's childhood, and a much more informative discussion of how his discovery specifically led to so many other facets in perfumes, medicine, and other industries.
There were so many stories going on in this book, and it was hard to follow many of them in the rambling timelines. And the author continually dropped new names into the story while providing little information about who these people were, what their field of study was, or in which time period they lived.
The premise of this book is an excellent one, but my rating of three stars is due to its disjointed nature. The book is almost more of a set of reference notes, providing a list of chemistry reactions, dyes, and names to research further. That said, since I love research, I enjoyed reading the book - and now I'm off to learn more about all the briefly mentioned bits and pieces that changed the world.
If you are looking for a series of interconnected historical perspectives on the effects one discovery had on industry as we know it, read on! It really is amazing.
Simon Garfield writes clearly and concisely, and while he does explain most of the terminology and technical language which is used throughout the book, some of it the layman is just going to have to use a dictionary (or a search engine) to understand. It is a non-fiction work, and the subject is treated with both respect and humour. The research which went into this book must have been incredible.