Flutterby™! : Mauve

Next unread comment / Catchup all unread comments User Account Info | Logout | XML/Pilot/etc versions | Long version (with comments) | Weblog archives | Site Map | | Browse Topics


2003-08-09 17:31:02.210536+00 by Dan Lyke 2 comments

Just finished Mauve: How one man invented a color that changed the world, by Simon Garfield (ISBN 0-393-02005-3). It's the tale of how William Perkins, at the tender age of 18, discovered how to turn coal tar into dye, and how that discovery in 1856 spawned, or predicted, a lot of advances in the chemistry of both dyes and pharmeceuticals.

Hiking last week we talked about the "...that changed the world" fad in books, and in trying to be both that and a biography of William Perkins, Mauve fails. Short on the descriptions of the chemistry that would make it compelling, and short on the dish about the private life of Perkins, it instead becomes a loosely assembled recounting of facts without enough context to make anything really compelling. The narrative has a tendency to jump around temporally, he'll insert an anecdote of something that happened ten years later, and so the story never really conveyed to me the effects of the movement, of industrialization, and of the culture back on the companies.

One thing I did note was the mention of how Germany's supremacy in the dye industry gave them a leg up on the manufacture of explosives in the first world war. I've been concerned recently about the effects of the United States losing manufacturing capabilities. Given that much of the cost of starting up a product is getting the bugs worked out of the production line, more of what's actually involved in product development is moving to Asia, and I see the United States being stratified into people shuffling around the money and the service economy making those folks lattés. How long is it going to be before the places that have all of the factories, and that are quickly gaining the expertise and the cultures necessary to innovate, realize that posession counts for more than law?

But I digress. While Mauveworks from some fascinating source material, alas it never quite puts it together in a way that makes it as compelling or informative as it has the potential to be. So, skip it.

[ related topics: Books Nature and environment History Sociology Work, productivity and environment Economics ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: Mauve made: 2003-08-11 11:54:29.523542+00 by: meuon

...concerned recently about the effects of the United States losing manufacturing capabilities. This is often a topic at IEEE meetings. NAFTA is only the latest change.. in what has been the systematic looting of the USA's manufacturing prowess. Sure, some of the best of the world is in the USA, but too much of it has left the country for cheap labor and looser regulations.

#Comment Re: Mauve made: 2003-08-11 17:23:58.73925+00 by: Dan Lyke

I'm also under the impression that accounting rules have something to do with it. According to one of the machine shop owners I was working with here, they've got to write off new equipment over far too many years to make keeping up with automation practical, so while they're not only competing with per-day prices that challenge the U.S. per-hour labor costs, they're not able to automate around that.

Thus I have the machine shop in China sending me complex shapes milled from aluminum blocks that the U.S. shops do with standoffs and bolts.

But some things do come down to labor costs. I think that because of more efficient labor forces U.S. shops could do the fiberglass bits of our mannequins as cheaply, but there's no way we could get the linen coverings sewn in this country.