Review: Color: A Natural History of the Palette

Book: Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay
Publisher: Random House, 2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Source + Date Read
: Gifted + January 2007.
Recommend: For a survey microhistory read.
Book Pro’s: Engrossing read.
Book Con’s: Could have gone deeper.

Summary: Discover the tantalizing true stories behind your favorite colors.
For example: Cleopatra used saffron—a source of the color yellow—for seduction. Extracted from an Afghan mine, the blue “ultramarine” paint used by Michelangelo was so expensive he couldn’t afford to buy it himself. Since ancient times, carmine red—still found in lipsticks and Cherry Coke today—has come from the blood of insects

More Information: GoodReads

I promised to do a review of my other Finlay read and here it is! I read Color first and I must say, it started me down a very serious rabbit hole.

I received a battered and used copy of this book from my IB Visual Arts teacher when I studied in Canada. I was 18 years old and immensely interested in art, indeed, I sometimes wonder why I don’t have much more of a focus on art in my academic studies because the subject has ruled my life for so long. My teacher noticed that besides doing the work, I wasn’t very interested in art history but so much the very stuff of the artwork, the materials themselves. This was the first nonfiction book that I read in it’s entirety and it got me hooked.

Each chapter focuses on the history of a different color. Finlay focuses on the different material culture aspects of the color, how they were made and came into fruition or discovery. My biggest pet peeve was that every darn chapter started with her ‘imagining’ she was in some particular period of time or place, making the colors herself. Stop imagining. Just stop. It degraded, slightly, the tone of the book because it became some sort of fanciful nonfiction, rather than a factual, well researched piece. It revealed Finlay’s journalism roots, which is fine, but made the book less academic (which for some is good, for me, it made it a less quotable source in my projects). That being said, every part was interesting. The format was brilliant, the right amount of colored illustrations with text (being every chapter had one colored page) and I found it, at 18, a very accessible read.

I give it 5 hearts because as a first time effort, I thought it was well written and well done. I want to read her second book, on the history of jewels to see if she learned from her freshman mistakes.




About Claire (BWB)

It's Claire (aka Quirky) from Bitches With Books, an online book blog that serves up a healthy dose of book reviews, lists + literary madness.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, NonFiction. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Review: Color: A Natural History of the Palette

  1. Pingback: Books That Opened Up A Genre (Claire Edition) | Bitches With Books

  2. I’m waiting ti see what you make of that other book: Brilliant History of Color in Art!

    • Claire (BWB) says:

      I thought it was good but not as rigorous as this one. It was also a coffee table book, so though the content was fun and light (which is fine) it wasn’t what I expected.

  3. It must be great to give it 5 stars, I’m really curious to read it. Loved your review

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