The Secret of Scent: Adventures in Perfume and the Science of Smell Paperback – 1 Nov 2007
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Turin writes brilliantly, with the easy confidence of the expert and the infectious enthusiasm of the true amateur.--Tim Radford, The Guardian
The best science book of the year so far.--BBC Radio 4
A rich sensory trip ... this indispensable guide to all things smelly is as good as it gets.--Sunday Telegraph
About the Author
Luca Turin holds a Ph.D. in biophysics from the University of London. Since 1996 he has worked on primary olfactory reception and the prediction of odor character. In 2001 he became chief technical officer of Flexitral, where he uses his theory of olfaction to design new fragrances and flavor molecules.
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I'd concur with the reviewer who says this is all about molecular chemistry. Yes it is. But boring? Absolutely NOT. I have some layperson's chemistry, enough to edge my way through with a lot of wet towel to the head moments - but its true to say that if you are wanting something exciting about olfaction which is more for the lay reader, there are better books, Luca Turin's own Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, a delightful, witty encyclopaedia of perfumes past and present, Chandler Burr's biography of Turin, which is more completely friendly to the physics and chemistry naif The Emperor of Scent: A Story of Perfume, Obsession and the Last Mystery of the Senses, or, if your interest is in olfaction and its evolutionary development and effects on home sapiens the engaging The Scented Ape: The Biology and Culture of Human Odour. And if you can get hold of it Lyall Watson's fabulously readable Jacobson's Organ: And the Remarkable Nature of Smell
Back to Turin, and this book. He explains clearly and engagingly 'functional groups' from an olfactory perspective, is utterly engaging about molecular chemistry, finding ways to help the almost innocent to understand how odour can be analysed, not just by complicated machines (GC/MS) but, more excitingly within the nose itself. He explains current thinking, and the battles between those who say olfaction is due to molecular shape (particle) and those who say it vibrational (wave) Shapers and Wavers! I was fascinated by the explanation of the elegance and complexity of experiments to show that the nose is a biological spectroscope.
There's no denying that this book requires hard work by the reader who doesn't have beyond A level physics and chemistry, but if you are interested in the science of smell, you will be hooked. I'd say its crucial to understand the subtitle of the book - its as much about the SCIENCE of smell as it is about adventures in perfume!
Yes it is heavy on the chemistry but that's perfumery! The intricacies of scent molecules and atoms are woven like a spell or story rather than a science textbook - you'll be fascinated even if you hated school science.
The book is small and easy to handle, making it ideal bedtime reading (oh come on, I can't be the only one who reads science in bed? can I?).
The author's powers of description are so apt that I could swear that wafts of Patchouli and Ambrette seed were gently diffusing from the pages and sending me into raptures.
I will be sad when I have finished, much like when engrossed in a touching film and the end brings about that grey melancholy of 'normal life' again.