A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire

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Harper Collins, Apr 26, 2005 - Art - 338 pages
6 Reviews

A Perfect Red recounts the colorful history of cochineal, a legendary red dye that was once one of the world's most precious commodities. Treasured by the ancient Mexicans, cochineal was sold in the great Aztec marketplaces, where it attracted the attention of the Spanish conquistadors in 1519. Shipped to Europe, the dye created a sensation, producing the brightest, strongest red the world had ever seen. Soon Spain's cochineal monopoly was worth a fortune.

Desperate to find their own sources of the elusive dye, the English, French, Dutch, and other Europeans tried to crack the enigma of cochineal. Did it come from a worm, a berry, a seed? Could it be stolen from Mexico and transplanted to their own colonies? Pirates, explorers, alchemists, scientists, and spies -- all joined the chase for cochineal, a chase that lasted more than three centuries. A Perfect Red tells their stories -- true-life tales of mystery, empire, and adventure, in pursuit of the most desirable color on earth.

 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - JBD1 - LibraryThing

A fascinating history of cochineal cultivation and use, including the various schools of thought on its origins during the period of Spanish monopoly. For a book of this type (popular history of commodity X), this is very well done indeed. Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - nbmars - LibraryThing

This book reminds me of an optical illusion that looks like one thing when you look at it one way, but looks like something totally different when viewed another way – think of the ubiquitous Escher ... Read full review

Contents

The Color of Desire
1
The Color of the Sun
18
The Emperors New Dye
45
A Profitable Empire
53
Trade Secrets
102
Through the Looking Glass
143
Andersons Incredible Folly
183
Red and Revolution
198
Cheap Color
248
Notes
263
Select Bibliography
293
Acknowledgments
319
Copyright

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About the author (2005)

Amy Butler Greenfield's grandfather and great-grandfather were dyers, and she has long been fascinated by the history of color. Born in Philadelphia, she grew up in the Adirondacks and graduated from Williams College. As a Marshall Scholar at Oxford, she studied imperial Spain and Renaissance Europe. She now lives with her husband near Boston.

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