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ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color Hardcover – September 17, 2013

3.6 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A brief Q&A with Jude Stewart, author of ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color.

1. What inspired you to create ROY G. BIV?

Jude Stewart: Color is a daily mystery we all swim in--yet it’s so ubiquitous, it becomes invisible. I wrote ROY G. BIV to reawaken our eyes to color, so we can see how startling and amazing this everyday phenomenon is.

2. How did you come up with the layout and look for the book?

JS: It’s impossible to write a complete book about an enormous subject like color. That’s why ROY G. BIV offers a satisfying read cover-to-cover, but also invites readers to leapfrog across colors, so you can pursue some thematic affinity connecting, say, blue and yellow. Color is dynamic; it’s witty; it’s serious but also endlessly fun. Hopefully this format makes readers feel as if they can play the book’s game of fascinating associations forever.

3. What color fact in ROY G. BIV surprised you the most?

JS: I’m a fan of the astronomers arguing about the average color of the universe; the surprising explanation for why brown isn’t in the rainbow; the many legends accounting for why barns are red; the material histories of color before synthetic dyes were invented, in which brilliant, rich, expensive pigments were produced from extremely stinky ingredients… oh, I’ll stop now.

4. Where does your love of color come from? Why do you love it?

JS: A big part of why I wrote ROY G. BIV was to figure out why I love color so much – and honestly, I haven’t touched bottom on that question yet. But if pressed to answer: I suppose I love how color brings out strong opinions, how it engages both our feelings and reason so intensely. Reacting to color can make us feel fully human.

5. As an expert in design, what are the any common color mistakes we all make?

JS:  It’s a big mistake to play it too safe with your color palette--but then again, I recognize why people opt for safety. They’re afraid that going bolder will just look ugly--and it’s true, not every color experiment pans out.

Here’s an easy way to experiment with strong color: choose only one bold shade that really speaks to you and build your look around that. Say you like a deep saturated orange, for example. Stick with brown shoes and a belt and wear a scarf that includes that same shade of orange along with quieter colors. (If you’re decorating a living room, try a bold orange accent wall, bold orange details in throw pillows--but stick with a neutral-colored couch.) As you play with strong color more, you’ll get more confident about how to marry two exuberant shades.

Review

“A rabbit hole of a good read. Color infuses meaning; meaning infuses color. Stewart has made it all the more vibrant by exploring its interpretations.” ―Chicago Tribune

“Takes a deep, sometimes feisty look at all the things that color can do and mean.” ―The Atlantic

“Stewart's well-designed book is visually stimulating and surprising, reminding readers that colors are still as fascinating and fun as they were in grade school.” ―Publishers Weekly

Roy G. Biv belongs in every design junkie's home.” ―Chicago Home + Garden "Domestica" blog

“In an artfully designed work, factoids and myths about color are brightly packaged in a format with eye-catching typographics... [Stewart's] research into the associations and meanings of color is extensive.” ―Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (September 17, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608196135
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608196135
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.8 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #471,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Wineberg TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
For someone who designs for a living, Jude Stewart surprises by publishing a book that is ironically uncolorful. It is chock full of blocky text, consisting mostly of folk tales, clichés, pop science and pop culture that mention a color. It gets tedious; there is nothing breaking it up. There are no examples, no illustrations, no photos, no swatches to show how dramatic that particular color really is - after she spends a paragraph telling us just that.

What there is are descriptions in plain English, in black text, in plain block form. Plus references to other pages in the book where the same phrase is explained, underlined in a color. About the only substantial color are the two page spreads that begin each chapter - each a color, of course. They list all the anecdotes you're about to read over a timeline. Not very useful or inspired. Occasionally there is a page dedicated to a quote, and the quote is on a color background, with maybe a simple, stock, one color image like a raindrop or a pail.

There are far better books that cover the same territory, only infinitely more innovatively. They are far more engaging, far better laid out, and much more useful than this one. The surprise here is how disappointing it is. Design is all but absent.

David Wineberg
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Format: Hardcover
As a kid you probably learned the name Roy G. Biv, a mnemonic for the colors of the rainbow. Now comes _ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book about Color_ (Bloomsbury) by design and culture writer Jude Stewart. As she makes clear in her introduction, the mnemonic is useful, but like most rules of thumb, it is an oversimplification. There are not seven colors of the rainbow, but an infinite spectrum. Even that infinite spectrum does not take in all colors; there is no pink, for instance, nor brown nor gray, and then white and black (which are arguably not colors) aren’t there either. The choice of seven colors for the rainbow is arbitrary, and we can thank Isaac Newton himself for them; he wanted to match the seven-tone musical scale, and six colors would not do, so he shoved indigo in toward the end. That’s the sort of important trivia Stewart has packed into her chapters here, one for each of the rainbow’s colors (well, indigo and violet get one together) plus pink and gray and those others. It is a book made for browsing, and is cleverly laid out, with, naturally, extensive use of color.

The heart of the book is facts for each color. I will sample:
White - the color of bridal gowns, but this only became standard with the wedding of Victoria and Albert in 1840, when Victoria chose this relatively blank canvas and eschewed rich colors and jewels.
Pink - was used as a color for British warships in World War II. It hid them nicely at dawn or dusk, and also matched the German’s pink marker dye so they would be shooting at their own shells. It was conspicuous at other times and situations, and was not used after 1942.
Green - is not a color for hats in China; “wearing a green hat” sounds in Chinese like the word for “cuckold.
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I was hoping this book would be amazing. I remember happening to come across an interview right before the book's release that made me really excited for it, so I preordered it, hoping it would discuss the metaphors surrounding colours and things like that. Unfortunately, it's just full of quotes involving each colour, myths and folklore, stuff like that. While the book mentions several times what things are associated with each colour, it does little to actually delve into why this is so. Most of the information the book contains is information that is already common knowledge or can be easily found out through a quick Google search. It's also rather not colourful at all. I suppose the section on white can't be helped, but the text itself could be colourful, rather than the standard black-on-white. Even the rest of the sections are rather drab.

Altogether, there is maybe about ten pages of actual substance or worth in the entire book. The rest is just filler, which is a huge disappointment.
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I'm delighted with this book - the fascinating details about colors are wonderful. I had expected this to be more of a guide about color, and it's not the traditional artists' book - it's for everybody, and I recommend it to anyone!
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Like many a classic work of nonfiction, this book takes a subject so commonplace that it's almost become invisible-- color-- and gets us to see it, as if for the first time. Colors shape our identities-- our clothes, our rooms, our personal effects are chosen in large part based on our associations with different colors, conscious or otherwise. The genius of Jude Stewart's lively, well-written book is that it allows us to delve deeply into the history, sociology, and psychology of color without any decrease in wonder. Just as a good poem explores its subject with rigor and passion, Stewart's writing illuminates the stories behind colors without diminishing them. This book will be invaluable to the design community, but it also belongs on the shelves of serious readers everywhere.
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