Kassia St. Clair’s The Secret Lives of Color

The hardcover version

St. Clair’s book methodically runs through a series of colors with one- to five-page anecdotes about various colors (physical dyes, not digital,) where they come from, and an interesting story or two about something historical that is connected to the color or how the color/dye is manufactured. I was fascinated by the early dyes mentioned in the book, and by just how many dyes were made by placing metals in an urn with vinegar or urine and heating for a month or so. I was actually fascinated with the process for manufacturing many of the pigments: that just seemed like a part of the history that appealed to me, especially the trial-and-error chemistry that produced so many useful colors over millennia.

There were also several neat tidbits of history that inspired me to look a little further, even if only to a Wikipedia page: Mountbatten Pink and the temptation of leaders in World War II to paint military equipment an odd mix of pink and grey. In all, I enjoyed learning a few things about colors; although the book was a little longer and less focused than I may have liked; reading more like a collection of essays than a more coherent connection between the development of chemistry and art.