Discover the tantalizing true stories behind your favorite colors.For example Cleopatra used saffron a source of the color yellow for seduction Extracted from an Afghan mine, the blue ultramarine paint used by Michelangelo was so expensive he couldn t afford to buy it himself Since ancient times, carmine red still found in lipsticks and Cherry Coke today has come from the blood of insects.


10 thoughts on “Color: A Natural History of the Palette

  1. Michael Martin Michael Martin says:

    The disclaimers I imagine , perhaps , possibly , it could be that appear in this NON FICTION book far times than they should While I liked the content of about three quarters of the book, it infuriated me at times when the author would suddenly start presenting the material through the eyes of a character, imagining their experiences, travels, and accomplishments This first rears its head around page 81, when the tone of her book changes to speculate about an imaginary Corinthian artist I quote But what if she became tired of using just one variety of paint material Perhaps, I thought, she may have tried out new blacks and browns Would she, given the chance to try out charcoal s successors, have preferred lead pencils or India ink Would she have dyed her clothes deepest black, or was it only in the palest of classical robes that she wanted to be seen And if her boyfriend ever returned to Greece between voyages, would she have used her new knowledge of pigments to decorate her own face for the occasion I imagined our heroine experimenting idly with mascaras and liners At this point, I threw the book across the room.WHAT THE HELL It s mean to be a scholarly book about color and I m reading a bullshit paragraph leading me into speculation about this Corinthian woman s dating and make up I felt the same way about her handling of the character of Martinengo in the Orange chapter On one two page spread, I think I counted I imagine , perhaps , possibly , if , about ten or twelve times.This is an irresponsibly stupid way to write nonfiction Two stars and I never want to read anything else by her.


  2. Maura Maura says:

    Funny story with this book got to page 112 and discovered that pages 113 to 146 were missing Thankfully, Random House publisher came to the rescue and sent me a replacement copy Until it came I was in suspense about how ladies used to poison themselves by accident with white cosmetics that were made from lead.This book was interesting not only for the information about colors, but also for the author s travels She went to great lengths to get to the source of some colors, and along the way educates the reader about old customs and cultures Fascinating book that will fill your head with lots of information that will seem useless unless you appear on Jeopardy some day It made me look at everything around me a little attentively, though, really noticing the color Is that blue, indigo or violet and thinking about where that color source may have been aquired.


  3. Kiwiflora Kiwiflora says:

    I remember when I was a child getting a box of paints in small tubes I was fascinated by the names of the colours, words I had never heard of before vermillion, magenta, aquamarine, cochineal, carmine They might have been only shades of orange, purple, blue and red, but those exotic names gave those paints just a little magic Didn t do much for my art work, but never mind Victoria Finlay would appear to have had a similar early interest in colour when her father took her to Chartres Cathedral She noticed the beauty of the stained glass window crafted some 800 years ago, only to be gob smacked when her father told her that no one actually knows how to make that beautiful blue in the window any And so began her interest in discovering where colours come from and ultimately this book Part travelogue, part science text, part art history, part general history, the author has brought together a huge number and variety of facts and experiences and people into this rather large book of 440 pages, not including bibliography, notes and index which together run to another 60 pages It could be very easy to have complete confusion in amalgamating all this material into a readable book Probably the only way to do it with a subject such is colour is to organise it by colour So she starts at the beginning with the colour of the earth ochre the first colour used for art and decoration She goes to Australia, to an Aborigine community where ochre has been used continuously for 40,000 years Imagine She then moves onto black and brown made from soot, coal, fish excretions, graphite rock, wasps, as well as giving us snippets about mummification and the history of printing The next chapter, white, is mostly about lead which was used to make white paint, and especially make up resulting in the early and painful deaths of many fashionable ladies Following the colours of the rainbow, the next seven chapters take us all over the world From cochineal bugs on cactus plants in Chile red , to Stradivarius violins in Cremona orange , to urine gathering in India and wars over saffron yellow , to exploring caves in China green , visiting the Bamiyan Buddhas not long before they were blown up blue , harvesting indigo plants in India and Mexico indigo and going to Lebanon to search for the source of the power of purple in ancient Rome and Egypt violet And these are only a few of the stories that the author crams into her book.If there is any criticism of the book it is perhaps that there is too much information, too many stories and adventures, making it hard to catagorise exactly what type of book it is I would say, quite simply, it is a personal journey of a subject close to her heart that she wants to share with as many people as possible It is an absolute treasure trove of action and inquiry and I learnt so much about all sorts of stuff So glad I picked this book up from the shelf of a second hand book shop


  4. Jenny Jenny says:

    Having an affinity for all things color, I was attracted to the cover of Color A Natural History of the Palette while visiting the Met one afternoon about a year ago I bought it and have been reading it for the past year I m sad to say that I found the cover to be the best part of this book The book wasn t bad, but it also was nowhere near great Finlay sets about the task of researching the origins of the pigments of the paintbox Ochre, Black Brown, White, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo Violet For each color, she researches the historical beginnings of the colors, specifically trying to illuminate why each color is named the way it is eg, Tyrian Purple, Indian Yellow, etc She does this by trekking across the globe to the points of interest in hopes of discovering the histories and, sometimes, secrets of the colors from the indigenous people who, in some cases, still use the time honored traditions In some regards this book elaborates upon colors In some regards this book is a travelogue In yet other regards this book is part imagination when Finlay is unable to find hard and fast facts about her subject, she will often say, I imagine this to be true I think, if I could, I would rate this book 2.5 stars It is mildly interesting but, perhaps, a bit too long.


  5. Nancy McClure Nancy McClure says:

    LOVE me a book where I can pick a chapter and read up on what s been taunting my mind thus I love anthologies and various other collections.in Color, I found a fantastic historical recounting of the who where why what of much of our commonly accepted color palette And that alone means something, because there is a surprisingly low ratio of general citizens who knows REALLY what color is about, how it s made, how we wrestled negotiated bullied our ways into being enjoyers purveyors of it Lot s of lessons to be learned.


  6. LuAnn LuAnn says:

    I d call this a travelogue on the origin of pigments and dyes of each rainbow color, and, I believe, the only book to really tackle the history of color This book had been on my radar a while, but I had decided not to read it, yet a class on color finally compelled me to read it Through it I ve come to appreciate just how complex getting pigment mix with a medium of the right consistency and translucency to stick to a surface and dry without fading or changing color over time or to dissolve in water to dye cloth, and again, to stick and not fade At times the author s hunt for colors, such as for ochre in Australia or violet in Tyre, that start with all the drama of quest for unknown secrets, fizzle because the secrets remain unknown in the end The origin and history of each color is presented here is interesting but feels incomplete as I would prefer a broad history rather than the in depth travel stories presented which leaves me with mixed feelings about this book.


  7. Kiersten Kiersten says:

    Oh, this book had so much promise And yet, it fell flat I was expecting to read of a history book, but it turned out to be a travelogue memoir, and a tad too self involved for my tastes Moreover, the author does a lot of imagining for a work of non fiction Damn.


  8. Tracey Tracey says:

    In an impressive mix of history, science and travelogue Ms Finlay shares with her readers the results of her worldwide search for the pigments and dyes and that humankind has used over the ages Each color including black and white is represented in a separate section, where she weaves stories of fictional and real life people into her research with entertaining results From Australian sacred ochers to Phoenician royal purple from Incan reds to Chinese imperial greens this book literally covers a rainbow of topics The narrative thread is spider silk thin for most of the book, and occasionally the reader is overwhelmed with the amount of information presented but the overarching theme of the discovery and use of color is carried well throughout Not only is this book accessible to the general reader, there is considerable scholarship in its pages The bibliography covers 6 pages, with the notes section broken down by chapter another 13 She also includes a list of illustrations, credits and an index I found myself filling a notecard with my comments, as well as noting some Further Reading references Recommended to anyone with an interest in the artistic side of history and science Notes On Colors


  9. Miles Miles says:

    This was an enjoyable book to read, but ultimately of a travel book than a book about color The adventures of the author tend to be given rather weight than the subject.


  10. Velvetink Velvetink says:

    Be seduced by the history of pigments Basically about the author s travels while seeking out the origins of ancient colours I loved this and gladdened by the extensive notes and bibliography.