A British art historian takes seven elemental colors—black, red, yellow, blue, white, purple, and green—and uncovers behind each a root idea, based on visual resemblances and common symbolism throughout history. In a series of stories and vignettes, the book traces these meanings to show how they morphed and multiplied and, ultimately, how they reveal a great deal about the societies that produced them.
... a brilliant cultural history ... Dreary hardback, sparkling text. Fox paints a great rainbow of natural history, philosophy, religion, art, optics, myth and the occult. It is a book that takes in Manichean duality and popular detergent adverts ... This intelligent, vividly written book is full of such black, red, yellow, blue, white, purple and green nuggets. I’m going to buy three copies for my mother and aunts for Christmas and hope to brighten their winters.
... the principal delights of the book are the more recherché cul-de-sacs into which Fox delves ... The World According to Colour fairly shimmers with Fox’s eye for arresting facts and anecdotes ... Despite his instinct for freshness and vivacity, Fox is occasionally less deft. His preface opens with the dispatch of a greenbottle fly with a rolled-up magazine, a scene he apparently observed in uncanny detail aged six and which led him to start seeing colour (emphasis his). It is an odd way of establishing his bona fides with the reader, and one of the few occasions where his knack for detail leads him astray ... these are quibbles. The World According to Colour, although in parts perhaps too academic for a general reader, is an enlightening, enjoyable and deeply researched cultural history of colour. It is also funny, particularly when poking fun at puritanical chromophobes like Joseph Duveen and his ilk.
... nubbly detail, gathered from a considerable hinterland...puts flesh on the bones of this ambitious yet concise volume ... For Fox, the difficult topics of colour theory and optics are essential to colour’s allure; he encourages us to think of colour as a process, in which the structure of a material determines which wavelengths of light are absorbed and which are reflected, and so which colour we perceive ... As a compendium of stories and anecdotes, the book is a pleasure to dip into, but it is also a compelling and elegant whole ... The book is a rare achievement—a scholarly reference work that invites reading for pleasure. Fox moves beyond colour as a study of materials with symbolic meanings, and his book, though no panegyric, places colour, and therefore art, at the heart of the human story.