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What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life

What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life [Kindle Edition]

Avery Gilbert
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product Description


The Royal Society Science Book Prize-winner will be announced a week today...We humans can recognise around 10,000 different smells, with the blind being even more sensitive, and smokers substantially less. Or at least, that's what we believe: in reality, those are among the many myths and exploded by Gilbert in this wide-ranging review. But he does more than merely debunk: he shows how, for example, scent has the ability to influence us even when we can't consciously detect it. Oddly, however, there's nothing on one of the great mysteries of scent science: how air fresheners work. --The Daily Telegraph, 8 September 2009

This book is rich in anecdote and scholarship and the writing is not to be sniffed at either --The Guardian, 8 September 2009

"In this entertaining and enlightening journey through the world of aroma, olfaction expert Avery Gilbert illuminates the latest scientific discoveries and offers keen observations on modern culture."
--New Scientist, 8 July 2009

Product Description

• How many smells are there? And how many molecules would it take to create every smell in nature, from roses to stinky feet?

• Who was the bigger scent freak: the perfume-obsessed Richard Wagner or Emily Dickinson, with her creepy passion for flowers?

• By scenting the air in stores, are retailers turning us into subliminally controlled shopping zombies?

• Were Smell-O-Vision and AromaRama mere Hollywood fads or serious technologies?

Everything about the sense of smell fascinates us, from its power to evoke memories to its ability to change our moods and influence our behavior. Yet because it is the least understood of the senses, myths abound. For example, contrary to popular belief, the human nose is almost as sensitive as the noses of many animals, including dogs; blind people do not have enhanced powers of smell; and perfumers excel at their jobs not because they have superior noses, but because they have perfected the art of thinking about scents.

In this entertaining and enlightening journey through the world of aroma, olfaction expert Avery Gilbert illuminates the latest scientific discoveries and offers keen observations on modern culture: how a museum is preserving the smells of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row; why John Waters revived the “smellie” in Polyester; and what innovations are coming from artists like the Dutch “aroma jockey” known as Odo7. From brain-imaging laboratories to the high-stakes world of scent marketing, What the Nose Knows takes us on a tour of the strange and surprising realm of smell.

From the Hardcover edition.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 375 KB
  • Print Length: 306 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 140008234X
  • Publisher: Crown (24 Jun 2008)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001BANK28
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #264,051 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Avery Gilbert is a smell scientist. He's conducted research on human odor perception in academic laboratories and in the R&D divisions of multinational perfume companies. Along the way he's taught scores of audiences about the science of smell. What the Nose Knows is a fast-paced tour of the latest discoveries and how they challenge long-held beliefs about the sense of smell. It was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Science & Technology, and was shortlisted for the 2009 Royal Society Prize for Science Books.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scathing Science 15 Dec 2011
By Mrs. R.
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Avery Gilbert is a very entertaining writer with a beautiful turn of phrase. He also seems to loathe Europeans of all varieties, which is interesting to read about, especially when you are one. He also loathes Chandler Burr, the New York Times perfume reviewer, which seems a little harsh.

He's the master of the enraged rant, and will whip out his sharpened pen and jab it in the direction of sloppy science and unsustainable assumption wherever he finds it. He rants at Proust for being quoted regularly when the subject of scent, taste and memory arise and cites American writers who are far more skilled at evocative description. It was hardly Proust's fault; he never claimed to be an expert on olfaction. But after all, he was French so he seems to deserve everythig he gets.
Gilbert also has a rant at a European sales assistant who ignorantly suggesedt using the thick end of a perfume blotter to spray the sample instead of the thin end. I was taught that you dip the thin end and spray onto the thick end; that's why they are made with a thick end and a thin end. Otherwise they might as well be thin all the way along. Wrong, apparently. I'm merely demonstrating my European stupidity and lack of class.

Then there's his rant about fictional extra-terrestials being depicted with no nostrils, as if a scent of smell is something that beings of a higher intelligence don't need. Well, my toy extra-terrestrial has nostrils, and so does ET, great big huge ones with which he follows a trail of M&M's. It's true that scent has been negelected until recently in serious science, but the ET argument doesn't hold up.

The chapter where he traces the 10,000 scents theory is great, although since proved not strictly correct.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 12 May 2010
Whether you are a perfume hobbyist, a science geek, or just "nosey", this is a really interseting read. Great for dpping into.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fabulous Summer Read 9 July 2008
By T from NYC - Published on
I'm a big fan of well-written, witty, evenly paced and interesting non-fiction books. Though I have no scientific background whatsoever, I'm partial to the science kind, and if the author can nimbly jump to making defensible philosophical or cultural points, so much the better. (Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma were excellent examples of the genre; David Quammen's Monster of God a pretty good, but somewhat flawed example; if you like this kind of stuff, you get the idea.) What The Nose Knows fits the bill perfectly for me. First, it's extremely well written: Gilbert has a distinctive voice, a knack for turning a phrase, and a strong and irreverent sense of humor. Second, it's interesting: like most folks, I never give the sense of smell its due, but Gilbert does. You want to know about Hollywood's effort to market movies that smell, or the science behind creating certain smells, or even how we smell? Here you go. Finally, it's evenly paced: there's a lot of information being exchanged, but it's not boring or didactic. Gilbert's like that interesting guy at the cocktail party who knows a lot about something you don't, but has a knack for making it understandable to you without dumbing it down. I give this book five stars, and strongly recommend it.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strong literary flavor, masking complex scientific overtones 1 Dec 2008
By D. P. Birkett - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this well-written book, and learned a lot from it. It is often brilliantly funny. Avery Gilbert covers the history of the subject in great detail. Some of the minutiae about the history of smell in the movies had me skipping pages but might be very useful for someone in marketing or advertising. The clinical account of anosmia is better than in most neurology texts. He is a very perceptive literary critic, with the ability to convey the impression of having read through whole books by Faulkner and of reading Proust in French.
Some aspects of the hard science are skimped. He does not exactly explain what Buck and Axel got the Nobel Prize for. There is almost nothing about neuroanatomy and there are no tables or illustrations, although there are ample references. Someone with a serious interest in the field might want also to read Chapter 34 by Dodd and Carellucci, in Kandel's ""Principles of Neuroscience."
The fundamental difference between the way the brain deals with smell and other sensations is only touched on in a quotation (a very apposite quotation) from Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1858. Pheromones are not in the index.
The central puzzle is why we human beings have lost so much of our sense of smell. Gilbert's main answer is to insist that we haven't lost as much as we think. That is one aspect of the problem. It's especially important as a problem because of the strange way humans, especially males, select preferred sex objects. Humans have all the brain structures in place to be sexually motivated by smell, as are the other apes, but this ability got hi-jacked by vision somewhere along the evolutionary way.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pundit writes about smell: insightful, irreverent and scholarly 3 Aug 2008
By Danielle R. Reed - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Many widely-held beliefs about smell are so plausible and so often-repeated that they have become accepted as fact although the evidence for them is often equivocal. In this book, the author traces the origins of these urban myths to uncover what is (and what is not) known about our sense of smell, pointing out soggy logic and supporting his arguments with an eclectic bibliography. These stories are relayed in a cheeky style from the perspective of someone who has seen and smelled it all. Credible pundits are rare and this book is excellent example of science writing for the general reader.
17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much art, not enough science 25 July 2008
By Charlie - Published on
About: The science of scent. Topics covered include how many smells are there, categorizing odors, why things (such as pot or poo) smell the way they do, perfumes, representation of scents in literature and visual media (including Smellovision) and how scents affect our behaviors (such as while shopping).

Neat Things I Learned:

* Women's farts are stinkier but men fart more

* Women are better at smelling odor than men and have their highest sense of smell around ovulation

* Helen Keller, despite being blind and deaf, did not have a remarkable sense of smell

* Corona beer was originally poorly made and thus oxidized quickly, a lime's acid neutralized the off odor. Now Corona is well made, but the lime tradition lives on

* If you tell people a scent is relaxing, they'll relax when they smell it. Tell them the exact same scent in stimulating and they'll perk up. Scents are all in your head.

* Sniffing coffee beans doesn't "reset" your sense of smell, it's just a placebo effect

* Some companies have "logoscents." Westin hotels has a logoscent called "White Tea" that they put in their lobbies

Pros: Sources cited, concludes with a look to the future.

Cons: Far too much about smell and odors in the arts and not enough about the science of smell. So much so, that the subtitle could be called misleading.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I have never had the motivation to write a review before but.... 16 Oct 2013
By Kirby - Published on
I have never had the motivation to write a review for a book nor finish a book for that matter. I probably have read an entire book once in the last several years; I just don't have the time. But when you like something you will continue to do it. In this case, reading this book was weird, exciting, humorous and entertaining. I just couldn't put it down. All I have to say it that the author did a really good job writing about a very unique field. Plus, he made it enjoyable. Not only that, the information in it was top notch and I was pleased with all the information I got. All I have to say is good job! And I got luckily I decided to pick this one up and check it out.
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When a real odor gives rise to a distorted perception, the condition is called parosmia. &quote;
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In the end, the structural features of a molecule are not a reliable guide to the psychological realities of odor categories. &quote;
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just expecting a smell can trigger an odor perception. Thus a purely psychological expectation might have the same consequences as a real smell. &quote;
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