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About the Author

A British citizen living in Hong Kong, Victoria Finlay has worked for Reuters and was the arts editor for the South China Morning Post for four and a half years before leaving to write this book. She writes regularly about arts and travel for Hong Kong newspapers and international media. From the Hardcover edition.


A personal travelog that attempts to provide a history of artists' pigments, this first book by Hong Kong-based journalist Finlay is organized by color: ochre, red, orange, etc. Each chapter involves a first-person travel narrative to the source of a particular color and interactions with various interesting or quirky individuals, such as a peasant who directs Finlay to the saffron fields of rural Spain; few of the natives in the places she visits know about what she seeks. There are also some potted parts about the mining of various minerals (graphite, lapis lazuli, and the like), the historical economies of color-bearing substances, and the use of various colors over time. Unfortunately, this superficial book (the author asserts that the green walls in Napoleon's house on St. Helena "certainly helped drive him to his deathbed") adds little of value to the historical understanding of pigments, and the author's travels and observations are only intermittently interesting. Not recommended.-Jack Perry Brown, Art Inst. of Chicago Libs. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.

Defining color is a simple matter-visible light of a particular wavelength. Or is it? It turns out that the pigments and dyes responsible for hues have many remarkable characteristics, most of which we rarely ponder. Journalist Finlay's first book is a blend of travelogue and historical exploration about the myriad ways color takes on meaning for us, whether as a matter of aesthetics, economics, war or culture. The book has no overarching theme-it's all byways, an approach that works. Insofar as there is a thesis, it is that visual expression falls just behind procreation and the search for food and shelter as a fundamental human activity; countless peoples, Finlay reports, rank color and art among their primary concerns. During her journey, both literal and literary, Finlay learns of many little-known tribes and historical curiosities: too-trusting Puritans purchasing cheaply dyed black clothes destined to turn orange in a matter of weeks; the rise and heartbreaking fall of the art of the Pintupi tribe in barren central Australia during the 1970s; and the once-supreme economic clout of indigo from Bengal-to take just three examples among dozens. To delve into this book is to see the experimental, scientific side of the old masters and the artistic qualities of inventors and explorers. This is not a scientific work-those interested in rods and cones should look elsewhere. Thanks to Finlay's impeccable reportorial skills and a remarkable degree of engagement, this is an utterly unique and fascinating read. Illus., maps. (Jan.) Forecast: This could be a tough sell because it's hard to pin down-but Finlay writes with such flair that, with good reviews, she could find a dedicated audience. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

"This is a rare and wonderful book-a model of erudition and charm, the writing elegant and precise, and with at least one new and fascinating revelation on every single page. I could not be more enthusiastic."
-Simon Winchester, author ofThe Professor and the Madman

"Until I read this book, I was colorblind."
-Cynthia Rowley "Color is the essence of landscape, of mood, of our whole perception of the physical world. Victoria Finlay has traveled through Iran, Afghanistan, and other places to investigate the origin of all those tantalizingly sensual ochers and reds and blues. What a creative idea for a book!"
-Robert D. Kaplan, author of The Ends of the Earth and Eastward to Tartary "In this engaging travelogue, a rainbow of hues determined the author's choice of destinations. . . . By the time you read 'Violet, ' you will have traversed much of the world, sharing Finlay's contagious fascination with color."
Cond Nast Traveler "Loaded with fascinating tidbits, this portrait of colors and their histories will provide readers with lots of conversation-starters."
--Boston Herald

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