Book Review

The Secret Lives of Color

The Secret Lives of Color

Kassia St. Clair

Penguin Books, Oct 2017

320 pages, Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle

Art reference/Coffee Table Book

✮ 5 Stars

Christmas gift from Husband

The cover is simple and yet stunning. It has a mid-white background and it looks like someone paper punched holes in it then added different colors behind each hole. It’s lively and lovely and makes me want to smile. But I love COLOR! I’m an artist and I knit and enjoy home decor. The first thing that catches my eye in anything is the color and its distribution and relationships. I thoroughly enjoyed my color theory classes in college and the things I learned in them have stayed with me still. So have my textbooks. Josef Albers wrote the book on color and it’s still the book.

Ms. St. Clair has done a wonderful job of researching and digging out the details on the stories behind these colors. She has shared them in a format that I would think most people would be comfortable with. Each chapter is from 6 to 9 colors that flow from one to the next, each one having its own 2-3 page story. For instance, one chapter covers Blonde, Lead-tin yellow, Indian yellow, Acid yellow, Naples yellow, Chrome yellow, Gamboge, Orpiment, Imperial yellow, and Gold. Along the edge of the page of each color is the color itself, which is also used for the color of the text for the color listing of the chapter. Each color title is printed in its own color. Just a little detail, but it’s that sort of thing that makes it special.

I was given a copy in hardcover as a gift for Christmas as I noted above. The book has a wonderful feel in your hands. The book has weight, which makes you subconsciously think it holds knowledge or secrets. And it holds both.The cover has a smooth feeling, but then your finger sticks on one of the colored holes! The paper used for the printing is heavy and feels nice in the hand. It feels like important documents with a little luxurious touch. Penguin has done a wonderful job in the presentation of this book. And the author has written such wonderful content. Her story on Lead-tin yellow starts out this way:

“There are many art world mysteries: the identity of Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring; the whereabouts of Caravaggio’s Nativity  with St. Francis and St. Lawrence; who pulled off the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist, to name but a few. One that has attracted little popular attention, and has yet to be completely solved, is the curious case of the yellow that …”

So, who would want to read this book and what would it be used for? Well, one other reviewer said it could be used for time on the toilet because of its short sections. Yes, that would work, I suppose. Another suggested it for a coffee table book despite its minimal size. I certainly agree with that. It could be used in a college color class as recommended reading. It could be used in an art history class for that matter. It has a solid bibliography and some suggested reading even. Or if you’re just crazy about color, you could buy it and read it, and fall in love with it! I highly recommend it!

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