In the beginning there was black, and good Christians have had it out for this troublesome colour ever since. At times synonymous with death and the devil, at others with fertility, paganism and power, black has suffered a dubious history on the colour wheel—occasionally even getting banished to the peculiar fringe of the “non-colour.” In Black: The History of a Color (Princeton University Press), Michel Pastoureau charts a European social history of the most symbolic and evocative colour on earth, inviting black back into its rightful place in the chromatic palette and interrogating the superstitions that Western civilization has erected around the colour of sleep, burial and dangerous night. But despite the campaigns waged against it, black has always had its dusky devotees. This book catalogues some of the most fanatical black-backers and uncompromising chromophobes who ever lived: from a pair of shadowy fashion-forward fifteenth-century dukes named “the Fearless” and “the Rash,” to Henry Ford, who to his dying day was puritanically opposed to producing automobiles in any colour but black. Drawing on archaeology, art history, religion and science, Pastoureau illustrates just how much subjective leeway informs our perceptions of colours and their shifting cultural meanings. He reveals that in Europe and the Middle East, the “opposite” of white was long considered to be red—early chessboards reflect this—and that during the Middle Ages, red and green were considered so alike as to be essentially interchangeable. One of the book’s more sweeping claims is that the relatively modern black-and-white media of print and photography have been so prominent in our culture that our tendency to think in these binary terms distinguishes us from civilizations past. For someone like me, who still has difficulty believing that the world didn’t actually used to be sepia-toned, as it is in early photographs, this little psychology lesson will strike a chord that resonates long after the book is read and put away.