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Review MAUVE

Review  mauve Mauve:   How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World by Simon Garfield, 2000, 200 pages.

William Perkin was a young English lad who wanted to be a chemist.   However, chemistry was a pure science and his father did not see a future in chemistry (it wasn’t ‘practical’)  – why couldn’t he study architecture and go into the family construction business like his big brother?

Fortunately, Will was lucky enough to be in a school that encouraged his pure science interests and he was able to learn with some of the best instructors around…     In 1856, he was barely 18 years old when he was ‘playing’ in his personal laboratory attempting to create an artificial version of quinine for the treatment of malaria.

What happened, however, was a result that was just too pretty to be dumped in the trash as a failure.    Repeating the process and sharing it with a buddy, he wondered if he could indeed have found a marketable product: a dye –  a vivid new color for clothes, drapes, wallpapers, what have you.

He called it mauve.

Once Queen Victoria (and the Empress Eugenie in France) discovered mauve, the concept of must-have NEW and EXCITING colors took off like wildfire.    William eventually became Sir William Perkin, a father of industrial chemistry and a very wealthy man.

How it happens and the history of all the other factors* of the times, including commercial competition, environmental and health issues, technological advancements, and the fickle fancy of consumers makes this a fascinating study of a subject we take for granted now.

What color would you like that sweater? Before the late 1800’s, it was an issue of whether or not such colors even existed!      At least, the process of recreating colors into dyes.      And the process that started it all was due to Mr. Perkin and his use of coal-tar, the sludge left over from burning coal.

And not only color for dyes, but his process helped understand the relationships of molecules and elements and formula which eventually advanced into syntheses for all sorts of products – each year brought new findings and the chemists like to appreciate Sir William Perkin as the guy who started it all.    Of course, some would say ‘he sold out’ but his impact on the field of chemistry was more than profound.

Garfield really did his research.   He started each chapter with fun and clever quotes of the word mauve throughout history.     He gave terrific examples of many aspects of the dye industry both then and now and as a way to explain the wealth of nations.     I had no idea the extent and importance of color dyes and the companies that control them.      My only complaint would be a few references that were not thoroughly explained – or perhaps I missed it somewhere prior?   Anyway, I will accept half the blame on these minor distractions.

This is the kind of book that when you read it, you want to share every interesting tidbit with those around you (and thus bore and distract them from whatever they are doing!)

“Hey Hub!    Perkin got his Honorary Oxford degree at the same ceremony that Mark Twain got his for literature!”

“Hey Hub!   Remember those annoying BASF commercials years ago when they never ever said what the heck they did?      WE DON’T MAKE THE PRODUCTS, WE JUST MAKE THEM BETTER.”    huh?     They were one of the very first commercial dye companies.”

“Hey Hub!   This dude’s son did some great chemistry stuff, too.   He invented a way to make cheap flannel cloth flame-retardant.”

“Hey Hub!  Cheap dye companies didn’t rinse out enough of the arsenic and since they were cheaper, poorer people bought the fabrics and since they didn’t bathe very often, they would DIE when they sweat and thus arsenic absorbed into their bodies!   DOUBLE WHAMMY – another example of how the poor are taken advantage of for the sake of profit.

Oh, just go read the book.

Please click on this website Ingenious.org featuring the color in question (I prefer to re-direct you in case of copyright issues…), the true Perkin Mauve,  the color discovered by Sir William Perkin.

Very pretty, isn’t it!


notice:   I can’t find the link to the Science Book Challenge – perhaps their server is down?   Will fix as soon as I am able.

naff – Considered to be poor taste; Bad; tasteless; Something that is poorly thought out, doesn’t really work, or is otherwise not very good.   “No more sauve mauve creations turning naff pink in daylight.”

parvenu – nouveau-riche: characteristic of someone who has risen economically or socially but lacks the social skills appropriate for this new position.  “By today’s standards, his family would be judged parvenu middle class.”

mordantblack: harshly ironic or sinister; “black humor”; “a grim joke”. A reagent, such as tannic acid, that fixes dyes to cells, tissues, or textiles or other materials.

pittical – a deep blue

too many other fun color names – it boggles the brain!

*  A friend who had just read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, told me that many wildly successful people were not only intelligent but also at pivotal points in time and space and opportunity.      Just from knowing that, I would make a bet that Sir Perkin would easily fit in Gladwell’s book as an Outlier.    The right time, the right place, the right ambition to exploit it all.


My Novella Challenge is Complete

The Novella Challenge

I think this is the first challenge I attempted that I have actually completed so I’ve also decided to do a summary or recap.    I have volunteered for a few other challenges and have totally lost track of them;   some I don’t think I ever started.   Now,  I feel so extended on my tbr pile and want-to list that I’m overwhelmed.   I have barely even picked up my latest…

Thank God for this challenge!    Read SHORT books?     I was able to tackle this and I feel really good about it.   My original post  where I listed what I said I would read  listed only 5 but I added a few and didn’t complete one for a total of 9 attempted.  Without further ado, I present the list of books I read with links to my reviews.     I list pages and my star ranking, based on 1-didn’t finish(DF)/didn’t like at all to 5-awesome!


I’jaam by Sinan Antoon, 97 pages, 5 stars,  My Review

  On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, 208 pages, 4 1/2 stars, My Review 

 House of Meetings by Martin Amis, <250 pages, 4 stars, Review WITH Vocabulary Lesson


 I Sent A Letter To My Love – Benice Rubens 197 pgs, 4 stars, My Review


 Everyman by Philip Roth, 182 pages, 3 1/2 stars (Didn’t love the character but well-written;  I will read another Roth book, someday.)   Sort of Review

 The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett,  120 pages, 3 stars, My Review

The Battle of Cowpens, 104 pages, 3 stars, Sort of Review

 Garden State by Rick Moody, 212 pages,1 star/DF,  Unfortunately, this just didn’t fit my mood, it came off as very depressing maybe due to the impressive writing?  Sort of Review

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby (M), 144 pages, 4 stars, My Review    I read this for my “In Their Shoes” challenge, but the page length suggests I can also list it here… 



Review: Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

I realize I had not yet finalized a review of Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick…   I had a mid-book review here and a photo review here

mayflower_bk.jpgI thought this New York Times Bestseller would give more emphasis to the first settlement in Plymouth and go more indepth to the people involved but it quickly and sparsely covers quite a span of time that first century and focuses on the relations with the Native Americans.

I have often wondered who this King Philip was and when was this ‘war’?!   He was the second son of the Chief named Massasoit who ‘helped’ the original Pilgrims in the 1620s.    Philip’s older brother Metacomet wanted an English name – all things English were considered ‘wicked cool’ and even an English name was prized.   So Metacomet became Alexander and he got lil’ bro to be officially named Philip.   His war was presented as poor King Philip being between a rock and hard place.    King Philip’s War actually comprises most of the book and it takes place over 50 years after the landing on the so-called Plymouth Rock.  

For a ‘new’ New Englander, which is probably sacrilege to the ears of a Mayflower descendent (a staggering number:  in 2002, it was an estimate of approximately 35 million!) to refer to myself as a New Englander;    – – let’s take it back and say to a new resident of Plymouth County in Southeastern Massachusetts, the book was most interesting in its description of landmarks and towns where I now live and travel.

It strikes me odd that even though I live less than 20 miles away from the ‘rock’, I cannot recall meeting anyone who calls themself an English ‘descendent’.    I’m sure that I have; perhaps just not the thing that casually comes up!   But I think that the vast majority of my friends and neighbors are Irish, Italian, or Portuguese.    I am an oddity to have a German background; my next door neighbor is Norwegian by heritage…   Just a little fascinating note to ponder.

The book felt like a personal research study following the author’s own curiousity and interest.    He gave highlight to a few personalities and barely mentioned others.    And though not boring enough to quit reading, the book rarely lit a fire for me in terms of style or topic.     I just kept reading and eventually, it ended.  

So, I rate it 3 out of 5 stars.   If you have particular interest in Pilgrim history, by all means, check it out.

Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides Review ***

Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides – Three Stars

I very much enjoyed reading Middlesex.   I was very impressed with Eugenides’ writing style, his imagination and the research to support so many interesting tidbits about everything.

Others have noted that it started slow and ended fast;   for me, the start was great, pacing was fine.   Yet, I might agree that the last 100 pages (what IS it with me and the last 100 pages?!) felt like a downhill freestyle race to a final conclusion. 

Just how, I kept wondering, how was Milt going to take the news that his daughter was no longer?   oh, ok.   THAT was handled conveniently.    And was one of my favorite passages, actually.

…, the Cadillac swooped upward and leveled itself.  Milton was surprised but very pleased.  He didn’t remember the salesman’s having mentioned anything about a flight feature.  Even better, Milton hadn’t paid extra for it….   “Now, this is what I all an Air-Ride.”, he said to himself.

I laughed a lot, I was riveted and at the same time almost scared to read on (ie, the scene in the cabin.   I would not want to be 14 again.)    I turned down many a page:   defining how emotions can’t be covered by single words, the metaphor of love as a sacrophagus lid, yet another reference to Anna Karenina.   I was enthralled with the descriptions of Lefty’s time in the Ford manufacturing plant.    

Above their bent heads, huge spindles pound steam-powered fists.  No one says a word.  Wierzbicki reams a bearing and Stephanides grinds a bearing and O’Malley attaches a bearing to a camshaft.  The camshaft circles around the floor until a hand reaches up to take it down and attach it to the engine block, growing increasingly eccentric now with swooshes of pipe and the plumage of fan blades.  Wierzbicki reams a bearing and Stephanides grinds a bearing and O’Malley attaches a bearing to a camshaft.

This book gave me all the things I really enjoy in a novel:   great use of words, descriptive language, interesting –fascinating! –  characters, consistency.    I was emotionally invested.  

Having mentioned consistency, I have a few ‘excepts’…    I loved how Desdemona’s hypochondria never killed her and how her fear of technology kept giving her reasons for that fear:   that Air-Ride feature swallowing her in the her passenger seat of the car.     I did NOT love the nagging question of just how old could Dr. Philobosian be?   (that was a distraction; even though this question was answered, I missed it.)    Also, for all the questions and explanation early on for all that Dr. Luce knew about the family, I’m questioning whether or not Cal ever went back and met with him again.  

So it’s time to add The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides to my tbr list.   I’ve seen the movie;  it, too, is an uncomfortable and disturbing idea yet beautifully expressed.     Looks like, if and when, Mr. JE publishes his next novel, it will be awhile anyway.

Garlic & Sapphires, Part 3!

Thank you to my friend who offered some fascinating comments via email after reading the copy of G&S  that I loaned her.   She has given me permission to post here…  [with slight editing… Ed.]

…developing a book club blog is a great, topical idea. And your questions were thoughtful. 

I just finished G&S (thumbed back through trying to find the quote re garlic and sapphires and couldn’t… have to review that, because I think I didn’t quite get it).  

 I do love food and to cook, but never at the level described in this book.  I guess in every area there are those who enjoy, just to enjoy, and then those who take it to the nth degree.  Horses, airplanes, drag racing, everything I have more than a passing experience with — that’s what seems to happen.  I guess I am a born dabbler, or something.  There are so many worlds out there — one of the things I have always enjoyed and expressed about [having a] real estate [career]– the opportunity to bump into people from so many of those different little worlds.   I would like to have more meals like that, though.  I have had some great ones — in Boston, on Nantucket, on the Cape. East Bay Grille in Plymouth is great and local; Cranebrook Tea Room, Margaret’s in Fairhaven.  But you need someone with you who appreciates it as much as you do, so that’s special companions.  Not [significant other/life companion/good guy/hunk] in that regard, though he will experiment on occasion. 

So this was a great foodie’s book, but also a good book about yet another woman exploring who she really is.  The metaphor of the disguises was not lost on this reader, nor, I suspect, on you. And then today I got to the part where Michael got up and left the dinner — good guy.  Who better to point out where one is going astray than one’s best beloved?  And Nicky is going to grow into a fabulous guy.




Thank you “L” for your sharing your thoughts!  Most appreciated!!


Garlic & Sapphires by Ruth Reichl  – Care Rate 3+ Stars

Review Part 1

Review Part 2