Adrian Tinniswood at Literary Review:
Never mind the physics and the biology and the chemistry. Forget all about the rods and cones and the mysterious workings of the cerebral cortex. Colour, says James Fox, is primarily a cultural construct, ‘a pigment of our imaginations that we paint all over the world’. The Tiv people of West Africa get by perfectly happily with just three basic colour terms: black, white and red. Mursi cattle farmers in Ethiopia have eleven colour terms for cows, but they have none for anything else. At the other end of the spectrum, the Optical Society of America lists 2,755 primary colours, while paint manufacturers now offer more than 40,000 dyes and pigments, so many, says Fox, that they have run out of sensible names for them. ‘Dead Salmon’ and ‘Churlish Green’ are two of the more outlandish mentioned in his entertaining new book.