Book Review: The Secret Language of Color

Education GeekMom
The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet. By Joanne Eckstut and Arielle Eckstut.

The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet, by Joanne Eckstut and Arielle Eckstut, is a color-hoarder’s scrapbook, packaged up in a beautiful high-quality hardbound volume. Reading this book supplies you with tidbits of fascinating color knowledge to share with your friends and impress everyone at your next cocktail party or carpool’s curb occupation.

The book is a large format (10 inch by 10 inch) with diverse layouts filled with rich, brightly colored graphics and (mostly) short explanations and examples on the broad range of topics in its subtitle: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet.

The first part of the book goes into the science of light waves, vision, and perception by humans and other animals; this is the most traditionally instructive and challenging material. None of it is too difficult for an educated adult or motivated teen; much of it would be fine for over-achieving youngsters to dip into. But those looking for a quick dip into distraction reading may not find the introduction to be their favorite section. For instance, there is a page that begins, “A review of high school physics may be in order…” and the next two-page spread is devoted to a well-delivered discussion and demonstrations of simultaneous contrast:

Because color is interpreted by our brains, a single color has the ability to shift and change depending on the color adjacent to it. A particular red placed beside a blue will appear quite different when it is set next to an orange. This phenomenon is known as simultaneous contrast.

After that, chapters alternate between focusing on colors–red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet, and contexts–universe, earth, plants, animals, and humans. This is the greater part of the book and its use of graphics and short articles tempts readers to dip in anywhere and learn something new and fascinating. Some page spreads have three or four brief items; some have one longer topic. I found I could usually open to any page and find something of interest to read, and usually get dragged along reading many more tidbits.

A few of my favorites:

— The grass is greener because when you look down around you, the angle allows you to see details of soil, bugs, detritus, and other mingled items and colors interrupting the green. When you look away to “the other side,” you gaze at an angle and see the uninterrupted green.

— Soft snow is blindingly white because it reflects nearly all the light that bounces off its fluffy crystals. Hard ice, like glaciers, can look blue or violet because of its rigid structure: Red and other low-energy wavelengths are captured and only the high-energy lights at the green-blue-violet end of the spectrum are reflected out to our eyes.

— In Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, Judas’s robes are a different color of blue from those of Jesus. One is painted with the expensive pigment lapis lazuli, and the other with azurite, which is much cheaper. Guess whose robes is in which pigment…

Detail from The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

Joann Eckstut is a color consultant and is a member of the panel of consultants that prepares the color forecast used by major industries to track color trends. Arielle Eckstut is a co-founder of girls’ brand Little MissMatched and of The Book Doctors, a company dedicated to assisting authors with book publication. Both Joann and Arielle have published several books in addition to The Secret Language of Color.

I enjoy that I can pick up The Secret Language of Color and snack from various pages, reading an entry here or a whole page there–a bite of red, a soupçon of yellow, a blue amuse-bouche. If you or your child have a particular interest in the science and history of color, you could make a feast of the whole book, for both your mind and your eyes.

The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet, 240 pages, is available as a hardcover from major retailers. Published by Black Dog and Leventhal. Suggested retail price $29.95.

GeekMom received a copy of this book for review purposes.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Secret Language of Color

  1. Wow, Lisa, I can see how this book would be a good resource for your research into color favoriting. I’m sorry it did not resolve your “dilemma,” but I am glad you got to enjoy the book. Such a glommable bunch of factoids!! You can always say you love black, or white, since they are the combination of all the other colors, depending on which visual system you are working in. . .

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