Book Review: Michel Pastoureau’s captivating history of the world’s most popular color

Original, entertaining and enlightening, “Blue” — translated from its original French — is also beautifully illustrated.
Updated 26 March 2018
0

Book Review: Michel Pastoureau’s captivating history of the world’s most popular color

Michel Pastoureau’s captivating history of the world’s most popular color reveals blue’s ever-changing cultural role from prehistoric times to the modern day.
Original, entertaining and enlightening, “Blue” — translated from its original French — is also beautifully illustrated.
French artist Yves Klein’s “Blue Sponge Relief” is a brilliant choice for the back cover. Essentially a monochromatic work, using Klein’s patented ultramarine “International Klein Blue,” it conveys a sense of the infinite and creates a magical effect, drawing the reader into its unique and unforgettable shade, just as Pastoureau’s writing draws you into his book.
One of the most surprising facts in the book is that blue does not even feature in the earliest primitive cave paintings. Reds, blacks, browns and all shades of ochre are common, but blues and greens are conspicuously absent, and the use of white is also rare. Blue also played an insignificant role in the European culture of the Middle Ages. It was not even used in painting to depict the sky, which was commonly colored white, red or gold.
The Egyptians, and other peoples of Central Asia and the Middle East, however, considered blue to be a lucky color; it chased evil away and brought prosperity. Whereas the Romans believed that blue was barbaric and that bright blue eyes were ugly.
Nowadays, of course, blue conjures images of the azure sky, an inviting sea, and it expresses feelings of tranquility, serenity and peace. Blue is not an aggressive color. It is reassuring and breeds hope and trust. The United Nations, UNESCO and European Union have all chosen blue for their flag.
“A color is a social phenomenon,” writes Pastoureau. “It is society that ‘makes’ color, defines it, gives it its meaning.”


Book review: 'Sapiens': A brief history of Humankind

Updated 17 April 2018
0

Book review: 'Sapiens': A brief history of Humankind

In terms of scope and ambition, Yuval Harari’s aim to offer a “Brief History of Humankind” can’t be topped. But, over 512 pages, that is exactly what the historian and academic does — and with verve and skill.
“Sapiens” tells the story of how we — humankind — transformed ourselves from insignificant apes to the most dominant species on the planet.
Harari covers a lot of ground at pace in a loosely chronological way, taking up broad themes and ideas, and resisting the temptation to bombard the reader with facts and statistics. Instead, he offers thrilling arguments and challenging theories.
The book seeks an answer to the age-old question: “Why has humankind become the most influential species on Earth?” while also revealing the problems and solutions we have created both for ourselves and the rest of nature.
“Sapiens” is as fascinating as it is provocative — one theory is that wheat is the dominant life form on the planet. Well thought-out and brilliantly written, this book will have you looking at the world through new eyes.