“The Colors of History: How Colors Shaped the World” by Clive Gifford, illus. Marc-Étienne Peintre

The Colors of History is one of the best picture books I read in 2019. It is also the least popular book I read that year, so I hope this review will get more people interested in it to share with kids.

As the title says, this is a nonfiction book all about colors and their impact and use throughout history.


Children’s Nonfiction — Art; History



Goodreads summary:

Why did Roman emperors wear purple? Which color is made from crushed beetles? What green pigment might be used to build super-fast computers of the future?

Find out the answers to these and many more questions in this vibrant exploration of the stories behind different colors, and the roles they’ve played throughout history. From black to white, and all the colors in between, every shade has a story to tell. Each color group is introduced with a stunning and interpretive double-page spread illustration, followed by illustrated entries exploring the ‘colorful’ history of particular shades. With vivid, thought-provoking illustrations and engaging bite-sized text, this book is a feast for the eyes and the mind, ready to enthrall budding artists and historians alike. (Goodreads)

My thoughts:

The Colors of History is divided into sections dedicated to each color: yellow, red, purple, blue, green. Each section is introduced on a two-page spread that lists the name of the color, the shades and hues associated with it that the book will cover, and brief facts about it. We later get historical facts about each shade/hue mentioned that are accompanied by brilliant, bright illustrations by Marc-Étienne Peintre.

I couldn’t help thinking of Kassia St. Clair’s Secret Lives of Color as I read this book. I read St. Clair’s book first and was surprised when I later found Gifford’s Colors of History in the library. The Secret Lives of Color is also a nonfiction book about color, but it’s for an older audience; I’d say teens to adults. The book grew out of a column St. Clair wrote for British Elle Decoration magazine. The Colors of History is like a shortened version of the Secret Lives of Color that’s aimed at kids. I believe that someone who has read one of these books will most likely enjoy the other as well. I recommend both.

I also recommend The Colors of History because it is a fun way to get kids interested in art and history. The facts mentioned and the composition of the book are certain to capture kids’ attention. For example, the section on gamboge (one of my fav colors) is subtitled “a color to make you go” and is accompanied by an illustration of people lined up at a latrine because it is a laxative and was also used to treat certain illnesses.

Art style:

I really like Peintre’s illustrations. They aren’t extremely detailed, but they are appealing and work well for the audience. I also love how bright the colors of most of them are.

Overall: ★★★★★

I also gave Secret Lives of Color 5 stars. Both are great reads. I don’t know if The Colors of History is based on the information in Secret Lives of Color (it seems that way to me), but both do a great job conveying the history of color in an entertaining way.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

It’s worth Buying for yourself or to share with a kid…or an adult or whomever.


10 thoughts on ““The Colors of History: How Colors Shaped the World” by Clive Gifford, illus. Marc-Étienne Peintre

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