A Perfect Red

Empire, Espionage, and the Quest
for the Color of Desire

A true story of mystery, empire, and adventure,
in pursuit of the most desirable color on earth.

Winner of the 2006 PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction

Winner of the 2008 Veolia Prix du Livre Environnement

A Washington Post Best Book of 2005

A History Book Club Editor's Pick

"Her story of how cochineal became a prime monetary prize ... is extraordinary. This radiantly captivating and formidable history of an exotic mystery will take its place with the best accounts of books on Europe and the New World."

— Judges’ citation, PEN/Martha Albrand Award

"[A] superbly researched history of cochineal red, full of angles and tangents, curiosities and arcana ... sprightly and charming."

— Diane Ackerman, Washington Post

"[A] delightful, rollicking history of cochineal... traversing a gallery containing native people and their oppressors, secretive dyers, kings, pirates, spies and chemists..."

— John Eidinow, LA Times

"The book is a gem of accessible history... Greenfield is clearly fascinated by her material. The benefit of her fascination is the reader's tour through a world we would never know, and deep understanding of the passions that drove it."

— Barbara Davenport, San Diego Union Tribune

"[F]luently written and thoroughly researched ... a good introduction not only to the history of red, but of microscopes, Conquistadores, the eccentricities of Spanish kings, [and] the thieves of early Seville."

— Victoria Finlay, author of Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox.

"Amy Butler Greenfield's study, 'A Perfect Red,' gives you a new respect for what you might have thought was just another color."

— Neil Genzlinger, NY Times

"Immensely informative, Greenfield commands her cochineals, yet tells her splendid story simply and with élan."

— Ross Leckie, The Times (UK)

"Combines scientific explanations ... with an understanding of the economic workings of empire ... grippingly related."

— Times Literary Supplement

"With insight into personal greed and folly as well as a detailed grasp of fact, Amy Butler Greenfield paints a broad historical panorama, never neglecting the intimate, eccentric, and often absurd human details."

— Amanda Heller, Boston Globe

"Color is easy to take for granted. But if Amy Butler Greenfield has her way, you'll finish her book with new respect for color, especially for red. With A Perfect Red, she does for it what Mark Kurlansky in Salt did for that common commodity."

— Barbara Liss, Houston Chronicle

"An extraordinary epic.... A tale of political and religious intrigue, piracy, science, the rise of industry, international economics, as well as the mystical, mythical reverence for the color scarlet... I never thought a book about an insect could be so engaging!"

— Liz Smith, New York Post

"Amy Butler Greenfield ... has mined the rich history of cochineal for wonderful stories about the biology of insects, the sociology of fashion, and the economics of colonialism."

— Laurence A. Marschall, Natural History Magazine

"A Perfect Red blends the history, science and culture of color with the saga of an insect that influenced the world economy for more than five centuries.... Greenfield does what the best historical authors do — she follows the thread of a story through history without missing a stitch."

— Diane Stresing, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Pirates! Kings! Beautiful ladies! Daring spies! Elements essential for a page-turning action/adventure thriller, yes, but who would think they’d turn up in a scholarly examination of a little-known substance called cochineal? ... Greenfield combines the investigative prowess of a detective with the intellectual reasoning of an academician to create an eminently entertaining and educational read."

— Booklist

"Intricate, fully researched and stylishly written history of Europe's centuries-long clamor for cochineal...Greenfield's absorbing account encompasses the history of European dyers' guilds, the use of pigments by artists such as Rembrandt and Turner, and the changing associations of the color red, from the luxurious robes of kings and cardinals to its latter-day incarnation as the garb of the 'scarlet woman.'"

— Publisher's Weekly

"A fascinating array of royals, traders, pirates, and entrepreneurs, all vying for the source of the most beautiful crimson ever known. Greenfield packs a dissertation’s worth of history into her story without bogging down in the details.... Highly recommended."

— Library Journal

"A smart blend of science and culture, pleasing to readers of Mark Kurlansky, Philip Ball, and other interpreters of how the things of life, past and present, came to be."

— Kirkus Reviews

"This book is the story of the search for a color, a perfect and unfading red. It is a fascinating, and largely unknown, story of greed and subterfuge, mixing fashion, folly and ingenuity in equal measure, and Amy Butler Greenfield unravels its mysteries with all the skills of a detective. As she tells it, it is also the most colorful of stories, written with style and verve, and it carries the reader along effortlessly, over centuries and continents. It is a book that should not be missed. A Perfect Red is a perfect read."

— J. H. Elliott, University of Oxford, author of Imperial Spain

"A Perfect Red is a marvelous book. The lowly Mexican cochineal insect protects itself with carminic acid, which happens to be a brilliant scarlet. Through the tale of this tiny bug, Greenfield has written a dramatic, entertaining history of the world, from the Spanish conquistadors through the invention of synthetic dyes and beyond. Meticulously researched, this saga will enchant lovers of historical mysteries, fascinating characters, and world economics."

— Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds and Mirror Mirror.

"A vivid and fascinating account....told with elegance and wit."

— Peter Winn, History Book Club

"Fresh and bright."

— Vera Rule, The Independent

"Roll out the red carpet for this great read."

— Knoxville News Sentinel

"This book may remind you of Mark Kurlansky's epic Salt: A World History, in the way it traces the far-reaching impact of a single commodity. From the discovery of progressively-better dyes to create the desired rich red colors, to the political and social upheavals that accompanied (or were caused by) them, A Perfect Red is a sumptuous trip through history, wrapped in crimson silk, and tied with a big red bow."

— Pat Cummings, Paper Frigate and Blogcritics.org