How One Man Invented A Color That Changed the World

Book - 2001 | 1st American ed.
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Baker & Taylor
Offers a study of the color mauve--created in 1856 by eighteen-year-old English chemist William Perkin, who was working on a treatment for malaria in his home laboratory and accidentally discovered what became the most desired shade in fashion and ultimately led to the development of explosives, perfume, photography, and modern medicine.

Norton Pub
Born of a laboratory accident, this odd shade of purple revolutionized fashion, industry, and the practice of science. Before 1856, the color in our livesthe reds, blues, and blacks of clothing, paint, and printcame 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 failed to produce artificial quinine. Instead he created a dark oily sludge that turned silk a beautiful light purple. Mauve became the most desirable shade in the fashion houses of Paris and London, but its importance extended far beyond ball gowns. It sparked new interest in industrial applications of chemistry research, which later brought about the development of explosives, perfume, photography, and modern medicine. With great wit, scientific savvy, and historical scope, Simon Garfield delivers a fascinating tale of how an accidental genius set in motion an extraordinary scientific achievement.

Book News
Garfield recounts William Perkin's accidental discovery of a factory-production dyeing process. He then assesses the impact of that event in fashion, chemistry, industry, and history. The book celebrates Garfield as both a scientist and a personality. Eight pages of illustrations and photographs (black and white and color) are featured. Garfield is an author with no university affiliation. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

& Taylor

Relates how English chemist William Perkin's accidental discovery of the color mauve--and a method to mass-produce it--created new interest in the industrial applications of chemistry research.

Publisher: New York : W.W. Norton & Co., c2001.
Edition: 1st American ed.
ISBN: 9780393020052
Characteristics: 222 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 22 cm.


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Sep 06, 2017

The book could have spent a lot less time on the dinner celebrations and more on the chemistry and maybe the environmental contamination. The insight that an apparent frill like the color of a lady's dress (when a lot of people weren't ladies and couldn't afford miles of material in their skirt) would open the way for investment in a whole chemical industry.

Sep 20, 2013

This was a fascinating book, lots of interesting historical information. Mauve was actually a byproduct of coal tar but it was a hit in the fashion industry.

hgeng63 Feb 08, 2012

Not as good as his Just My Type.

Jan 06, 2010

The premise of this story seems like it ought to be interesting. However, the way this is written is rather dry. I can't help but think that Malcolm Gladwell would have done a much better job telling this story.


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Jul 09, 2018

Detailing the life of William Perkins who in 1856 discovered the color Mauve from coal tar and decided to manufacture it starting a whole new industry of chemistry. A couple of things, he made his discovery early in life, made his fortune and then dropped out after selling his company. He then spent his life in relative obscurity, though funding research and other things with his money. It is interesting to note that the problems that he had are exactly the problems that we have in todays industry. This was a very fun read but material from Perkins himself are lacking because it appears that he did now write very much but got a lot of acclaim during his lifetime. It is sad that we do not hear more a bout him.

Aug 28, 2010

The impact and history of aniline dyes on war, general research, and medicine. Commercial production of anilines started over 100 years ago in Europe, with the synthesis of a mauve pigment from aniline by William Perkin.

The dye was the residue produced by a misconceived attempt at the chemical synthesis of quinine. Instead of discarding the substance he explored the nature of what he had.
Serendipity is only going to occur to those with an open mind. The final section deals with modern medical and research applications such as how staining advanced microscopy.

Microhistory of the aniline dye industial start and how it changed our society.
It changed me to read the book because I never knew the history of the dye I used at work. Trypan blue only stains the dead cells leaving viable cells clear so a percent mortality can be estimated.


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