By Simon Garfield
6/10 from 1 review
Good, but doesn't live up to the hype
Yet another in the rapidly-growing field of pop-science-histories (see "Longitude", "The Surgeon Of Crowthorne" etc.), "Mauve" tells the story of William Perkin, a young chemist who, in 1853, accidentally created the first artificial dyes from coal tar and became a millionaire by the time he'd turned 21. The colour he'd created was almost unknown in clothing before then and rapidly became ubiquitous in Victorian fashion.
The fascination for most lies in the idea of the creation of a colour; these days, the idea of any colour being unavailable is almost unknown. Unfortunately, the book doesn't have much of the fuel that drove best-sellers like "Longitude": stories of genius, obsession and struggle against a world that is eventually revolutionised. In "Mauve", that's all over by the end of the fourth chapter. Perkin, while clearly a good and honest man, just isn't an interesting enough character, so most of the rest of the book is dedicated to the history of the artificial dye industry. Not exactly thrilling.
That said, it's very well written, clearly explains its subject without being condescending, and makes good use of continual referrals to modern-day applications of dyes, each dropped in at the end of a chapter. Mildly diverting, and not a waste of time, but not the gripping story of enlightenment that I was hoping for.