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A Natural History of the Senses Hardcover – May 1990

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 331 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Inc (T); 1 edition (May 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394573358
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394573359
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 326,444 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Book Description

A vibrant exploration of our ability to smell, hear, taste, see and touch; a rare combination of science and poetry --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Diana Souhami is the author of many widely acclaimed books. She has also written plays for radio and television. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Phillip Kay on 21 Oct. 2006
Format: Paperback
Ever heard a song or smelt a perfume that took you suddenly and unexpectedly back to another time and place? "What is most amazing is not how our senses span distance or cultures, but how they span time. Our senses connect us intimately with the past, connect us in ways that most of our cherished ideas never could."

I've just finished reading A Natural History of the Senses, a book published in 1990 by Diane Ackerman, a poet and essayist who has gone on to publish two more books following the theme of this one. When I began I thought it as beautifully written and as profound as astronomer Chet Raymo's The Soul of the Night. Ackerman's book, like Raymo's, kindled my sense of wonder on almost every page.

It is a book in which I sense two underlying assumptions. The first, following Thoreau's Walden, that we (all living matter) are very much a product of our environment, and a lot of our physiology has evolved to interpret that environment to our brain. Secondly, that we are now so mechanised, mere technoslaves, that we run the risk of losing that vital connection: once we ignore those signals from our senses about our environment we run the risk of being alienated from it, and alienation is the first step to mental unhealth. The experience of using our body in its normal, healthy state is in itself pleasurable. It is good to remember that life is not all stress and interpersonal pressure, not a shutting out of unpleasant 'facts' by our various addictions. Life is naturally a joyous state.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 11 Sept. 2004
Format: Paperback
Ackerman's florid style captures the reader from the first page. Her "sense-luscious" description of the world seizes your imagination, compelling you to learn what she means. What she means is then paraded before you as a wealth of information clothed in descriptive finery [see how catching it can be?!]. It turns out that the more imagination you possess, the more attuned to the world you can be. If that sounds vague, it's because it is - and it sets the tone for this book. Ackerman has a great store of metaphor and illustration to draw upon, and little is left out. Her prose leaves the reader breathless with its powerful, flowery, imagery. Add the semblance of scientific references as a decor and you seem to have a book of meaningful insights. What you really have is a sense of exhaustion.
The book's organisation is readily assumed. The five senses are marched by, each bearing samplings of how they work in humans and the other animals. She declares that nothing is "more memorable than a smell", although it's humanity's weakest sense. She reminds us that we are predators because our eyes are in front, granting us binocular vision, instead of at the side like prey species needing to keep watch. Touch evokes a wealth of sketchy assertions about "caring", especially for babies. The babies aren't just human, giving that aspect of life a universality reaching beyond generations of teachings. In dealing with taste, she portrays the Roman elite, with its extravagant behaviour as representing all society. Hearing, of course, raises the "tree falling in the forest" question, to which Ackerman responds with a firm "No", since our brain failed to interpret the quivering air thus displaced.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lucia Tilling on 11 Aug. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A friend recommended "A Natural History of the Senses" to our book group. It wasn't easy getting hold of a copy but I'm glad I made the effort. The consists of a collection of essays relating to our various senses. Don't try to read it all in one go - dip in occasionally.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Brown on 29 Mar. 2001
Format: Paperback
Our senses define the edges of consciousness. How we delight our senses varies greatly from culture to culture, yet the ways in which we use our senses is exactly the same for all of us!
"We like to think that we are finely evolved creatures, in suit-and-tie or pantyhose-and-chemise, who live many millennia & mental detours away from the cave, but that's not something our bodies are convinced of."
Ah! What a bouquet is this book. Diane Ackerman has plucked for our consideration & entertainment a posey of senses: smell - touch - taste - hearing - vision - synesthesia. Sections that delight: Of Violets and Neurons; The Inner Climate; Adventures in the Touch Dome; Food and Sex; The Bloom of a Taste Bud; The Hearing Heart; Cathedrals in Sound; How To Watch The Sky; Watching a Night Launch of the Space Shuttle; Courting The Muse.
Her writing is a tapestry rich in textures & tastes, evoking nothing less than a feast for our mind, in & of itself a sensory organ or perhaps Grand Central Station to which all stimuli arrive.
My son gave me this treasure one Winter Solstice & that is the time of year I usually take it down & embark upon another cruise, refreshing my palate. As heady as the scent of elderberries in bloom; the taste of radishes fresh from the earth & the sound of grouse in a spring forest.
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