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Mauveby Simon Garfield
Synopses & Reviews
Born of a laboratory accident, this odd shade of purple revolutionized fashion, industry, and the practice of science.
Mauve is the story of a man who accidentally invented a color, and in the process transformed the world around him. Before 1856, the color in our lives?the reds, blues, and blacks of clothing, paint, print?came from insects or mollusks, roots or leaves, and dyeing was painstaking and expensive. But in 1856 eighteen-year-old English chemist William Perkin accidentally discovered a way to mass-produce color in a factory.
Working on a treatment for malaria in his London home laboratory, Perkin found mauve by chance. His experiments failed to result in artificial quinine as he had hoped, but produced instead a dark oily sludge that happened to turn silk a beautiful light purple. Mauve became the most desirable shade in the fashion houses of Paris and London, and quickly led to crimsons, violets, blues, and greens, earning its inventor a fortune. But its importance extends far beyond ballgowns.
Before mauve, chemistry was largely a theoretical science. Perkin's discovery sparked new interest in industrial applications of chemistry research, which later brought about the development of explosives, perfume, photography, modern medicine, and today's plastics industry.
Perkin is honored with the odd plaque and bust in colleges and chemistry clubs, but is otherwise a forgotten man. With great wit, scientific savvy, and historical scope, Simon Garfield delivers a fascinating tale of how this accidental genius set in motion an extraordinary scientific leap.
The man was William Perkin (1838-1907), an English chemist. The color was mauve, which he discovered by accident when he was 18. "While working on an experiment, I failed," he said many years later, "and was about to throw a certain black residue away when I thought it might be interesting." The experiment was an effort to make synthetic quinine, and the black residue was coal tar. Perkin's accidental discovery gave rise to industrial aniline and the modern synthetic-dye industry, as well as to a number of other processes employing coal-tar derivatives. It also, Garfield says, "affected the whole nature of scientific investigation: for the first time, people realized that the study of chemistry could make them rich." Perkin became rich and received a knighthood. Garfield, a Londoner who writes about science, tells the Perkin and aniline stories well. Scientific American
"...a witty, erudite and entertaining tome about the history of synthetic dyes. And, yes, we're very happy they made a book out of this unlikely subject." Adrienne Miller, Esquire
"An engaging and airy history." Marcia Bartusiak, New York Times Book Review
"A book about science which also happens to be a miniature work of art." Hugh Massingberd, Daily Telegraph
"Thoroughly researched and beautifully written, the book is more than just a biography of Perkin...Making chemistry appealing is a challenge at the best of times, but Garfield rises to it." Ben Crystall, New Scientist
An artificial dye, mauve, was discovered by a 19th-century chemist called William Perkin while searching for a synthetic alternative to natural quinine. This book examines how the different worlds of fashion, industry, business, chemistry and medicine were transformed by a single colour.
In 1856 eighteen-year-old English chemist William Perkin accidentally discovered a way to mass-produce color. In a witty, erudite, and entertaining (Esquire) style, Simon Garfield explains how the experimental mishap that produced an odd shade of purple revolutionized fashion, as well as industrial applications of chemistry research. Occasionally honored in certain colleges and chemistry clubs, Perkin until now has been a forgotten man. By bringing Perkin into the open and documenting his life and work, Garfield has done a service to history. Chicago Tribune A]n inviting cocktail of Perkin biography, account of the dye industry and where it led, and social and cultural history up to the present. American Scientist Garfield leaps gracefully back and forth in time, as comfortable in the Victorian past as he is in the brave new world of petrochemicals and biochemistry. Kirkus Reviews starred review. T]he delight of this book is seeing parallels to present-day trends. New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Simon Garfield is the author of several acclaimed books, including The End of the Innocence: Britain in the Time of AIDS, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award. He lives in London.
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