The World According To Colour review: The cure to unwelcome dinner-party silences

The cure to unwelcome dinner-party silences: James Fox’s The World According To Colour is full of fascinating tidbits


The World According To Colour

James Fox                                                                                                   Allen Lane £25

Rating:

In a now famous speech delivered in 2005, David Foster Wallace noted that ‘[our] most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about’.

In The World According To Colour, James Fox rises nobly to the challenge.

This extraordinarily thorough compendium encourages readers to better engage their cerebral cortices, sit up and take notice of the hues, shades and infinite light refractions that make up our colourful universe. 

In this book, James Fox has gifted each of us a manual to navigate and enjoy the extraordinary design of the world around us

In this book, James Fox has gifted each of us a manual to navigate and enjoy the extraordinary design of the world around us

Split into seven chapters, each dedicated to a different colour, Fox takes us on a kaleidoscopic journey into the remarkable histories of black, red, yellow, blue, white, purple and green.

He delves into their scientific make-up, the processes of their manufacture in dyes and paints through the ages and, most interestingly, their ever-shifting cultural significance. 

For colours, as Fox notes, ‘aren’t inherently meaningful. Their meanings are created by the people who live with them.’

Did you know, for example, that the green the English associate with envy holds connotations of fear in France, and of boredom in Russia? 

Or that yellow, as the colour of many substances expelled or exuded from the body, has been consistently identified by Europeans with the abject or unwanted?

A Cambridge art historian, Fox’s approach is undeniably academic, however his prose is anything but. 

There are enough fascinating tidbits in here to forearm yourself safely against any unwelcome dinner-party silences, and they sit happily alongside genuinely confronting moments where the reader is implored to appreciate and take stock of the cacophony of colour surrounding them at any given moment.

‘Every person’s visual system is unique,’ writes Fox. ‘No two will interpret identical light information in the same way.’

In this book he has gifted each of us a manual to navigate and enjoy the extraordinary design of the world around us.

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