A Perfect Red : The Story

The story of the quest for the perfect color red is an adventure into world history. For those who knew its secrets, red was a source of wealth and power from ancient times onward — especially cochineal, the source of nature's most potent red dye.

For centuries after the conquistador Hernán Cortés spotted cochineal in an Aztec marketplace and sent it on the high seas back to his Spanish king, this luminous luxury was a source of war and intrigue. Deployed strategically in the Spanish holy war against Protestant Europe, Spain’s cochineal monopoly was worth a fortune, and English, French, and Dutch pirates were determined to have a piece of the action.

But in Europe, few fully understood the nature of cochineal. Was it plant or animal? Could it be stolen from Mexico and transplanted to their colonies? These questions confounded clever minds for centuries, but Spain’s rivals were determined to learn the answers.

With a cast of extravagant characters — monarchs, buccaneers, artists, scientists, spies, even poets — the mad race to crack the cochineal enigma and break Spain's monopoly lasted three hundred years. Encompassing the history of natural philosophy and science, of art and textiles, of engineering and empire, A Perfect Red is a tale every bit as flamboyant as the color itself.

A Perfect Red is available in English (US and UK), Dutch, French, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese editions.