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A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire

by

A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire Cover

ISBN13: 9780060522759
ISBN10: 0060522755
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

A Perfect Red recounts the colorful history of cochineal, a legendary red dye that was once one of the world's most precious commodities. Treasured by the ancient Mexicans, cochineal was sold in the great Aztec marketplaces, where it attracted the attention of the Spanish conquistadors in 1519. Shipped to Europe, the dye created a sensation, producing the brightest, strongest red the world had ever seen. Soon Spain's cochineal monopoly was worth a fortune.

Desperate to find their own sources of the elusive dye, the English, French, Dutch, and other Europeans tried to crack the enigma of cochineal. Did it come from a worm, a berry, a seed? Could it be stolen from Mexico and transplanted to their own colonies? Pirates, explorers, alchemists, scientists, and spies — all joined the chase for cochineal, a chase that lasted more than three centuries. A Perfect Red tells their stories — true-life tales of mystery, empire, and adventure, in pursuit of the most desirable color on earth.

Review:

"'Elusive, expensive and invested with powerful symbolism, red cloth became the prize possession of the wealthy and well-born,' Greenfield writes in her intricate, fully researched and stylishly written history of Europe's centuries-long clamor for cochineal, a dye capable of producing the 'brightest, strongest red the Old World had ever seen.' Discovered by Spanish conquistadors in Mexico in 1519, cochineal became one of Spain's top colonial commodities. Striving to maintain a trade monopoly, Spain fiercely guarded the secrets of cochineal cultivation in Mexico and only after centuries of speculation (was the red powder derived from plant or animal?) did 18th-century microscopes bring the mystery to light. Greenfield recounts the wild, clandestine attempts by adventurer naturalists to cultivate both the cochineal insect and its host plant, nopal, beyond their native Mexico, acts of folly driven by the desire for scientific fame and commercial profit. Greenfield's narrative culminates in the 19th-century discovery of synthetic dyes that, for a period, eclipsed cochineal. However, as she explains, owing to its safety, cochineal is back to stay as a cosmetics and food dye. Greenfield's absorbing account encompasses the history of European dyers' guilds, the use of pigments by artists such as Rembrandt and Turner, and the changing associations of the color red, from the luxurious robes of kings and cardinals to its latter-day incarnation as the garb of the 'scarlet woman.' 8 pages of color illus. not seen by PW. Agent, Tina Bennett." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

About the Author

Amy Butler Greenfield's grandfather and great-grandfather were dyers, and she has long been fascinated by the history of color. Born in Philadelphia, she grew up in the Adirondacks and graduated from Williams College. As a Marshall Scholar at Oxford, she studied imperial Spain and Renaissance Europe. She now lives with her husband near Boston.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

jennnington, December 13, 2006 (view all comments by jennnington)
I haven't even finished reading it. What kind of review can someone who hasn't finished reading a book write?

This kind. This book is the latest I've discovered in a series of absolutely fascinating non-fiction offerings that have made history not only accessible, but entertaining! Karl Shaw's Royal Babylon, Andrew Blechman's Pigeons, Mark Kurlansky's Salt -- they all use the same basic concept with stunning results. Take something we take for granted, and then tell us why.

One chapter into A Perfect Red, and I'm hooked.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(8 of 12 readers found this comment helpful)

Product Details

ISBN:
9780060522759
Subtitle:
Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire
Author:
Greenfield, Amy Butl
Author:
Greenfield, Amy Butler
Author:
by Amy Butler Greenfield
Publisher:
Harper
Subject:
General
Subject:
History
Subject:
Mexico
Subject:
World - General
Subject:
Techniques - Color
Subject:
General History
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Hardcover
Publication Date:
20050426
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
352
Dimensions:
8.52x6.00x1.17 in. 1.20 lbs.

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » World History » General
Hobbies, Crafts, and Leisure » Crafts » Dyeing and Surface Design

A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$17.50 In Stock
Product details 352 pages HarperCollins Publishers - English 9780060522759 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "'Elusive, expensive and invested with powerful symbolism, red cloth became the prize possession of the wealthy and well-born,' Greenfield writes in her intricate, fully researched and stylishly written history of Europe's centuries-long clamor for cochineal, a dye capable of producing the 'brightest, strongest red the Old World had ever seen.' Discovered by Spanish conquistadors in Mexico in 1519, cochineal became one of Spain's top colonial commodities. Striving to maintain a trade monopoly, Spain fiercely guarded the secrets of cochineal cultivation in Mexico and only after centuries of speculation (was the red powder derived from plant or animal?) did 18th-century microscopes bring the mystery to light. Greenfield recounts the wild, clandestine attempts by adventurer naturalists to cultivate both the cochineal insect and its host plant, nopal, beyond their native Mexico, acts of folly driven by the desire for scientific fame and commercial profit. Greenfield's narrative culminates in the 19th-century discovery of synthetic dyes that, for a period, eclipsed cochineal. However, as she explains, owing to its safety, cochineal is back to stay as a cosmetics and food dye. Greenfield's absorbing account encompasses the history of European dyers' guilds, the use of pigments by artists such as Rembrandt and Turner, and the changing associations of the color red, from the luxurious robes of kings and cardinals to its latter-day incarnation as the garb of the 'scarlet woman.' 8 pages of color illus. not seen by PW. Agent, Tina Bennett." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
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