The Secret Lives of Color (Hardcover)
I love color and art history so this book was a sure thing for me, but even if you don't know your ultramarine from your cobalt, this book is a fascinating read. Learn about the toxic history of lead white, the macabre source for "mummy brown," and the stories behind 73 more colors and pigments. Whether you skip around or read it straight through, I guarantee you'll learn something on every page.— From Julia's Recommendations
One of USA Today's “100 Books to Read While Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Crisis”
A dazzling gift, the unforgettable, unknown history of colors and the vivid stories behind them in a beautiful multi-colored volume.
“Beautifully written . . . Full of anecdotes and fascinating research, this elegant compendium has all the answers.” —NPR, Best Books of 2017
The Secret Lives of Color tells the unusual stories of seventy-five fascinating shades, dyes, and hues. From blonde to ginger, the brown that changed the way battles were fought to the white that protected against the plague, Picasso’s blue period to the charcoal on the cave walls at Lascaux, acid yellow to kelly green, and from scarlet women to imperial purple, these surprising stories run like a bright thread throughout history.
In this book, Kassia St. Clair has turned her lifelong obsession with colors and where they come from (whether Van Gogh’s chrome yellow sunflowers or punk’s fluorescent pink) into a unique study of human civilization. Across fashion and politics, art and war, the secret lives of color tell the vivid story of our culture.
“This passionate and majestic compedium will leave you bathed in the gorgeous optics of light.” —Elle
About the Author
Kassia St. Clair is a freelance journalist and author based in London. She graduated from Bristol University with a first-class honors degree in history in 2007 and went on to do a master’s degree at Oxford. There she wrote her dissertation on women’s masquerade costumes during the eighteenth century and graduated with distinction. She has since written about design and culture for publications including The Economist, House & Garden, Quartz, and the New Statesman. She has had a column about color in Elle Decoration since 2013 and is a former assistant books and arts editor for The Economist.
“Beautifully written and thoughtfully produced . . . Full of anecdotes and fascinating research, this elegant compendium has all the answers.”
—Nina Martyris, NPR’s Best Books of 2017
“If you adore color, you’ll love The Secret Lives of Color. This passionate and majestic compedium . . . will leave you bathed in the gorgeous optics of light.”
“A kaleidoscope of charming, discursive essays . . . A light and lively guide [that] offers plenty of fresh clues for the brain’s colorful calculations.”
“The history of colors, it turns out, is the story of science as well as art. Kassia St. Clair’s entertaining book brings them both into vivid relief.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair presents readers with [an] opportunity to relish in otherwise mundane aspects of reality. . . . An engaging mix of aesthetic analysis and optical science, it could make anyone a keen observer of our kaleidoscopic world.”
“Riveting . . . diligently researched . . . Whatever your opinion of a shade, The Secret Lives of Color provides some illuminating perspectives on it.”
“A mind-expanding tour of the world without leaving your paintbox. Every color has a story, and here are some of the most alluring, alarming, and thought-provoking.”
—Simon Garfield, New York Times bestselling author of Just My Type: A Book About Fonts
“St. Clair delivers a mix of science, humor, and art history in this collection of bite-sized essays on the cultural and social lore of colors. . . . Her sentences guarantee sustained reading. . . . [Her] rhetoric beautifies the form of the brief essay.”
“The Secret Lives of Color holds surprise and satisfaction at every striation of the rainbow.”
“Brimming with facts, historical insights and curious tales.”
—The Financial Times
“Fascinating insights . . . a lexicon of colors, simultaneously revealing the cultural attitudes that determine our responses to them.”
“What The Secret Lives of Color offers really is, in some sense, a flash portrait of human civilization, a zigzagging and unpredictable exploration of how significantly color has shaped histories and disciplines, fueled empires, changed the nature of war and caused species to flourish or face extinction.”
“A must for anyone interested in color [or] decorating, but also language, culture and art.”
“A work of art in its own right, The Secret Lives Of Color is a beautiful tactile book.”
“St. Clair serves up a chromatic buffet.”