Book Review| The Root of Wild Madder by Brian Murphy

Book Thoughts

“I will tell you something important. Listen to me: To understand carpets you must first understand Persia. To understand Persia you must first read Hafez.”


A journalist/foreign correspondent who has an inexplicable love for Persian carpets decides to go find out its origins and understand their language and inner meaning. In his quest, he finds out more than just about the carpet but discovers a new world. He discovers a world of Persia before it was called Iran; a world of people who migrated and how the origins of the carpet aren’t just one single idea, thought or people but accumulative journeys, histories & cultures.

The Root of Wild Madder by Brian Murphy

The Root of Wild Madder is divided into three sections representing certain parts of the journey. I think this is a good technique because it gives you direction in understanding the journey. At the end of some chapters, the readers are given particular aspects of the carpet.

Murphy had to explore beyond the carpet and his mission-even though he couldn’t clearly define it. In his many trips to Iran & Afghanistan, he had to go past the surface and see different parts of Iran- the Iran that was there, is there and the Iran that wants to be there. The people-translators, merchants & weavers– he sees as common, he will discover that they can be more philosophical than the philosophers themselves and provide a delicate understanding of the Persian carpet world.

He had to remove his own prejudices to see the truth which I think we all must do.

“But it also-once again-reminded me that my priorities and values about carpets are often far removed from the people who create them.”


The Root of Wild Madder CarpeT-Iran MapYou go on a journey of understanding or finding the truth about something and end up learning about yourself.

The plant Madder (pa’ah, rubelle, rubia, rubric, ruby)is a Eurasian plant of the bedstraw family, with whirls of four to six leaves that produce a red dye or pigment obtained from its root that produces the red on traditional Persian carpets used for many things including a dye. 

More profoundly was how people were able to express what the carpet means to them in different ways and forces one to put in perspective of how you could see or live your life. Even in the struggles, the carpet was somehow a release or an escape and became part of their culture which they embraced.

“When you are struggling all the time, you forget how to see beauty. You forget how to appreciate fine things.”

“Things I’ve learned: a carpets true importance is what it brings to the owner’s life, not what it means to a textbook.”

“God did the work to make nature and its colors. We just take what God has given us.”

Processing of Wild Madder

“I don’t know anything about calling this art. It’s a way of making a living. It’s all I know. Do I really look like an artist?”

A recurring thought for me is how disappointing, limited, dictated and controlled our education system is, especially in the West. I knew nothing of what this book shared with me because other things seem to take precedence or considered more important for our western learning. The Root of Wild Madder exposes that we simply take whatever the “news” shares with us and deem it fact. Even reporters/journalists twist or overemphasize certain stories which are sad and shameful on their part. Didn’t they sign up to uncover the truth at all cost? 

“Carpets are irrational, just like people. You in the West prize the rational. You want to understand everything. You can’t think that way and really appreciate carpets.”

I am now deeply intrigued by Middle Eastern Culture, the religion Islam, and the madder plant. Since reading The Root of Wild Madder, I’ve come across so many interesting historical facts and incidents that have occurred in the past and how they influence much of life today.

Below is a summary of what I learned and found very interesting:

  • The land of Persia
  • How Persian carpets influenced the other nations.
  • How natural dyes have been replaced by chemical dyes and this changed Persia carpet world. 
  • The influence of Islam in Persia & the Islamic Revolution
  • The Afghan war
  • The writings of Sherlock Holmes-the character John Watson was inspired by a soldier in the Afghan war
  • The meaning of the word Taliban. Funny, we use it, but do we know what it really means?

    “…Islamic Puritans who called themselves the Talian(loosely translated as students of the Quran), had tried to impose their cloistered version of righteousness. Medieval ideas mixed dangerously with modern firepower.”

  • The importance of the bazaar & Hafez, the Persian poet
  • We have lost generosity and hospitality in our modern era, at least in the West that is.
  • In the Middle East is a struggle/friction between western ways and family traditions. This brought up the question-who told the USA that other parts of the world want to be like them?
  • Not every place wants the same vision. When trying to understand or implement something, the history, culture, religion, faith and the tradition of the place must be taken into account.
  • Zoroastrianism
  • Chess: the word checkmate comes from a Persian phrase, shah mat, “the king is dead.”
  • Polo is a sport that was born in Persia


The Root of Wild Madder Carpet

“You want to know a secret? I still think I was right. A child can see the truth easier than we can sometimes. Is this not true?”

“You talk about the mystic poets and the mystical side of carpets,” he said to me. I have a different idea. I think the true connection is with kilim.. Why? Because the poets touch something so deep in our culture that we don’t even know the origins. Its back before islam, back to the things that really make us Persia. So if you look at carpets, you must go back, too. It all started with felt.”

“Ignorance and poverty is not something you want to keep, is it?”

“Its pure and real. You don’t judge beauty by how tight the knots are or if the wefts are perfectly straight. Beauty is sincerity. You can tell the difference between the hug of a real friend and someone who doesn’t care for you. That’s what I’m talking about.”

Though the carpet seems to be the most important element, it is really the Madder plant that is essential to its origins and authenticity. Murphy learn how the colors are sourced, created and used; how to distinguish a chemically and naturally produced carpet; which tribes produced that carpet based on the design. One of the biggest discovery for me was that sometimes, the carpet has no history, you must create it.

“It’s like the wool is reborn into something else–like a caterpillar to a butterfly”

“I see God in my carpets. I truly do,…What is God? Beauty, devotion, awe, love. I see this in the carpets. I feel I’m in the presence of God in some way.”

This book sent me in all directions because I didn’t want to just brush over what was given to me, I wanted to be able to connect with it. I made sure to do some intensive research by reading and watching more videos which I would recommend you do as well. I hope that this book opens up your world for you to read more and question and search until you know what is right and the truth. It is in taking your time that you understand, relate and learn.

Here are some resources to help you understand the Madder plant, the dying & carpet making process and types of Persian carpets.

Any of you into carpets or Middle Eastern culture? Which of the many phrases got to you? Any object from your culture has an impact as the carpet does in Iran? Let me know!

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