How One Man Invented A Color That Changed the World

Book - 2001
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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
Publisher: New York : Norton, 2001
Edition: First American edition
ISBN: 9780393020052
Branch Call Number: 920 Perkin
Characteristics: 222 pages, 8 pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 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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