In Search of the Color That Seduced the World

Book - 2011
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Baker & Taylor
A history of the rare pigment discusses its significance in everything from colonialism and slavery to fashion and religion, describing the mysterious scientific process through which it is obtained and the ways in which the author's own family was profoundly influenced by the indigo trade. 35,000 first printing.

McMillan Palgrave

For almost five millennia, in every culture and in every major religion, indigo-a blue pigment obtained from the small green leaf of a parasitic shrub through a complex process that even scientists still regard as mysterious-has been at the center of turbulent human encounters.

Indigo is the story of this precious dye and its ancient heritage: its relationship to slavery as the "hidden half" of the transatlantic slave trade, its profound influence on fashion, and its spiritual significance, which is little recognized but no less alive today. It is an untold story, brimming with rich, electrifying tales of those who shaped the course of colonial history and a world economy.

But Indigo is also the story of a personal quest: Catherine McKinley is the descendant of a clan of Scots who wore indigo tartan as their virile armor; the kin of several generations of Jewish "rag traders"; the maternal granddaughter of a Massachusetts textile factory owner; and the paternal granddaughter of African slaves-her ancestors were traded along the same Saharan routes as indigo, where a length of blue cotton could purchase human life. McKinley's journey in search of beauty and her own history ultimately leads her to a new and satisfying path, to finally "taste life." With its four-color photo insert and sumptuous design, Indigo will be as irresistible to look at as it is to read.

Book News
Symbolically associated with royalty, divinity and spirituality, indigo, a deep blue pigment which comes from the small green leaf of a parasitic shrub, has fascinating and until now untold stories steeped in history. Known as "The Devil's Dye" from its involvement in the bitter trade wars, as well as being a cornerstone in the slave trade, author McKinley's obsession and attraction to the color led her on a personal journey through nine countries of Africa to discover the power and effect indigo has had in shaping the course of history and world economics. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Publisher: New York : Bloomsbury, 2011
Edition: 1st U.S. ed
ISBN: 9781608195053
Characteristics: 235 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. (chiefly col.), map ; 22 cm


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Nov 02, 2017

Burkina faso, togo, benin, ivory coast, niger, senegal

alexander_cameron Mar 12, 2016

Indigo; In Search of the Color That Seduced the World
McKinley, Catherine E.
When you count among your forebears highland Scots, Jewish textile traders, New England mill owners, and African slaves, it seems only natural that you should be interested in your family tree. All of this is tied together – or attired with the same brush – in Catherine McKinley’s retracing of trade routes and ancient, mysterious processes, by the deep blue dye called indigo, the “hidden half” of the slave trade. Slave ships carried not only human cargo, but the costly almost purple-black dye that entitles this fascinating trip into present-day Africa, where it is still produced in the thousands-of-years-old way. Indigo and its sadly storied history come to life in unexpected ways on McKinley’s thought-filled journey.

Jul 31, 2013

There are bits & pieces of an interesting story here, but way too much navel-gazing. I wouldn't have minded some introspection and memoir mixed in with an account of searching out the remains of the historical record and current practices; to me, that adds context. However, this author's moaning about her first-world problems (identity issues re being both adopted and mixed-race) take away from the purported point of the book. Yes, the Fulbright Scholarship is a respected post-graduate course of study, but when you are living among and benefitting from the knowledge of many people who have not been afforded the opportunity for more than basic education, it's a bit precious to complain about being described as a "student". It's a bit...academic.

Feb 27, 2013

I really wanted to like this book (my husband gave it to me), but it was kind of a mess. I'm interested in artistic process, but McKinley never walks us through exactly how indigo cloth is produced. In places she crafts beautiful prose; in others she writes banalities like "Indigo is love." The narrative meanders, never quite getting to the indigo heartland she claimed to be searching for, and then ending abruptly in New York with the author caring for two children she has completely failed to account for previously. I wish she had given it a better effort; it felt rushed and disjointed.

Bluegrassgirl Jan 04, 2012

An intriguing and adventurous book describing the source and history of indigo studied while on a Fulbright to Ghana. I too got caught in the blue.


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