Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World by Simon Garfield
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book is about the work of William Perkin, a British chemist in the Victorian period, and how his discovery changed the world. It actually did and colored consumer goods are the least of it. The discovery by Perkin of how to synthesize mauve dye from coal tar lead to the creation of lots of other colors of synthetic dyes; to aspirin; to plastics; to chemotherapy drugs; to a drug to treat malaria (which is what he was looking for to begin with); and to chemical weapons. A clearly written and fascinating look at how things we probably use every day came to be here.
Garfield does an excellent job of explaining the chemistry aspects of the story in a way that made sense to a non-chemist. He also jumped back and forth in time quite a bit which kept the story moving and prevented it from getting bogged-down with too much dense science in any one spot. The details about Perkin's life were also very interesting, particularly his role as a religious leader in his community raised some interesting questions about how he might have felt about the implications of his discoveries, especially the weaponization of chemicals.
This book counts toward the 2013 Colorful Reading Challenge.