5 Bubble Teas, Art, History, Kassia St. Clair, Non-Fiction, Penguin Books, Review

The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St. Clair


The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St. Clair

Published by Penguin Books on October 24th, 2017

Genres: Non-Fiction, Art, History

Pages: 320


Rating: 0ac4e714f53d9781e649ddaa06048d9b0ac4e714f53d9781e649ddaa06048d9b0ac4e714f53d9781e649ddaa06048d9b0ac4e714f53d9781e649ddaa06048d9b0ac4e714f53d9781e649ddaa06048d9b

“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love colour the most.”

Before you say anything — Yup, I’m Canadian! For me, the correct spelling of “colour” is with a “u.”

I’ve been on the hunt for this book for months. It’s been sold out at Indigo for ages so I was so happy to have finally found it at Topdrawer in San Francisco! So shout out to my sister for buying it for me as a belated birthday present.

I am kind of obsessed with colours and fonts. Those are just my things. That documentary about fonts called Helvetica? Saw it! I get very excited each year when Pantone announces the colour of the year. So I had high expectations for this book.

2BBB1819-8A15-4426-BC4C-FAD0F47CD92DThe Secret Lives of Colour tells the unknown and unusual history of 75 shades, dyes, and hues and the vivid stories behind them. It’s such a unique way to look at human civilization throughout history!

I’m surprised more books haven’t been written this way. We look to art to tell us about history and life in that time period.

St. Clair takes you on a journey across fashion, politics, art, and war. You learn about the brown that changed the way battles were fought, Picasso’s blue period, the pink that supposedly made humans weak, and the red that became Italy’s official racing colour.

Here are a few standouts from the book:

  • Whitewash
  • Isabelline
  • Blonde
  • Lead-Tin Yellow
  • Pink (the intro to the chapter)
  • Baker-Miller (the pink I was talking about that made humans “weak”)
  • Puce (a good old Marie Antoinette story)
  • Rosso Corsa (Italy’s racing colour)
  • Tyrion Purple
  • Cobalt (art and crime)
  • Electric Blue
  • Emerald

56301938_167390670924589_1347217477242017098_nThis book might also throw you for a loop when it categorizes certain colours. I thought a certain shade would be under pink, but it was actually purple. The more you know!

It was also nice to actually learn the names of some of the most popular colours used in fashion and art. It’s not just green! It’s celadon.

If you have trouble getting into non-fiction, you might want to give this a try. It doesn’t feel like you’re reading a textbook, which I know is a concern for most people when they think of the genre.

If you are a fan of art history, you will certainly enjoy this. There are quite a few references to paintings that you’ll have heard of before. I, for one, loved the study of the Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck. It was one of my favourite paintings that I studied in school for my degree. That beautiful shade of green will always get to me!

These stories run through history like a bright thread and it tells an alluring and thought-provoking story of our culture. And I really hope St. Clair writes a sequel. For now, I’ll remember these stories as fun tidbits to tell at parties. And be, well, that girl at the party.


I’m trying to read one non-fiction book a month for this year. Do you have any reading goals for 2019? Leave a comment and tell me!

2 thoughts on “The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St. Clair”

  1. I also enjoyed a lot reading this book 🙂 I know St. Clair published a new book on the history of fabric – “The Golden Thread”, looking forward to reading it!

    Regarding non-fiction, have you read “When Breath Becomes Air”? I usually don’t like reading non-fiction, but this book was for sure worth reading! I highly recommend it.

    Liked by 1 person

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