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Garfield, Simon. Mauve; how one man invented a color that changed the world.

Norton 224p. illus. bibliog. index. c2000. 0-393-02005-3. $13.95. SA

Sir William Perkin discovered the first aniline dye in 1856, the first famous artificial color to be derived from the distillation of coal tar. Within 50 years there were 2,000 artificial colors, used to color wool, silk, cotton, linen, hair, leather, paper, bones, ivory, feathers, straw, furniture and frankfurters. Coal-tar derivatives have also been used to cure tuberculosis, cholera, and relieve the pain of cancer. Perkin's discovery also led to others, such as saccharin, artificial perfume, acids used to preserve canned food, improved photographic emulsions, and bigger nitroglycerine explosives. Perkin was, before his death in 1907, a celebrity. Simon Garfield, who gives the reader more than just the life of one English chemist, engagingly presents the story of his modest beginnings and his fortuitous discovery. His is a work of the cultural history of an era.

Perkin sold his business in 1873, and England's hold on the dye industry moved to Germany, where many of his former trainees went. True, the Germans had discovered in 1870 that the arsenic used in the process was poisoning people who wore dyed material and ate dyed foods. But by then Perkin was a millionaire and out of the business. In 1938, 100 years after his birth, Perkin was hailed for his work. He has provided the launching pad for rayon, synthetic rubber, Bakelite, Plexiglas, vinyl, and Teflon. German chemists at IG Farben during the Holocaust produced Zyklon B, the poisonous gas used with deadly effect at Birkenau. Perkin has given his name to the Perkin Medal, presented to chemists to this day. And his legacy still lives on. In 1944 an American synthesizer finally discovered how to make quinine, the most effective treatment for malaria. Go to any home improvement or department store today and you can find Perkin's original discovery--mauve. Janet Julian, former English Teacher, Grafton H.S., Grafton, MA
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Author:Julian, Janet
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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