• 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 School Library Journal
Adult/High School—Gilbert, a psychologist concerned with the aromatic side of life, is a marvelous storyteller. Weaving together all that is involved in human anatomical smell function, the connecting wires between smell and emotional life, comparative data revealing differences and likenesses between men and women and dogs and humans, the invention and production of artificial scents, and more, he leads readers from tales that amaze to facts that amuse, interspersing opportunities for unabashed wonder. Would the entertainment world be different today if Smell-O-Vision hadn't been beat to market by AromaRama? Would your sense of smell be better if you hadn't played soccer as a kid? Are there good vocational choices for folks who can't smell well at all? The author's prose is flawless, making this book a perfect choice for teens interested in science as well as those still nursing a middle school devotion to trivia. Be sure to point it out to Advanced Placement teachers in both the English and physical sciences departments, but expect less-motivated readers to find chunks of it welcome when read aloud.—Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Finalist for the 2008 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Science and Technology
“[S]mart, eminently readable. . . . a lighthearted book, packed with curious tidbits.”
–New York Observer
“[A]n entertaining romp through the science of smell.”
“Avery Gilbert is the David Sedaris of the nostril, the Mark Twain of the nasal passages.”
–JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association)
“Avery Gilbert's whistle-stop journey . . . through, around and inside the nose is remarkably entertaining, and a great read for anyone seeking a tour that awakens the senses. Everybody who is anybody in the world of scent, and a few impostors too, make an appearance as we bounce from chapter to chapter, learning diverse olfactory gems.”
“[A] great deal of fun. . . . What the Nose Knows provides a well-researched, even scholarly, compendium of olfactory facts and fallacies, woven into an enticing history of the uses and misuses of scent. Having dug through what one can imagine must have been some very moldy smelling archives, Gilbert presents a wide-ranging yet deep look at what our ‘noses knowses.’”
“[A] great book on an overlooked topic. . . . Gilbert combines a scientist’s sense of wonder, a scent-making professional’s sensibility, and a slightly Beavis and Butt-Head-like fascination with aroma.”
–Peter Dykstra, CNN Science, SciTechBlog
“The volume is almost a guilty pleasure (since smell jokes are generally vulgar), hence one of the best kinds of book. Besides its entertainment value, it is also genuinely informative. . . . Gilbert quips like a stand-up comic throughout but never lets humor trump solid, research-based information, which is nothing to sniff at.”
“A scientist tells us entertaining things about odors both pleasant and foul. Olfactory researcher and psychologist Gilbert asks a dozen questions in no particular order and then answers them--often with 'we don't know,' but always with enthusiasm and wit. . . . A beguiling account of the critical role smell plays in our lives.”
–Kirkus, starred review
“Psychologist and smell scientist Gilbert's serious science is enlivened by a whimsical sense of humor. . . . Gilbert is an entertaining guide and worth sniffing around with.”
“Avery Gilbert gives us an insider-view of the science and culture of smell with an enormous breadth of knowledge. We know so little about our sense of smell; the facts are simply fascinating and sometimes hilariously funny. The reader travels to the inner sanctum of the world of fragrance with an erudite, witty and opinionated guide. I loved it!”
–Mandy Aftel, author of Essence and Alchemy, Aroma, and Scents and Sensibilities
“The delightful and erudite Avery Gilbert employs his multi-disciplined talents as scientist, humanist, and fragrance industry innovator to present fascinating facts with a wry humor. The marvelous What the Nose Knows is likely to remain the authoritative popular source on the art and science of scent for a long time to come.”
–Richard Restak MD, author of The Naked Brain: How the Emerging Neurosociety is Changing How We Live, Work, and Love
“A fascinating exploration of our most mysterious and mythologized sense, written with the precision of a scientist and the flair of a natural story-teller. You'll never think of perfume (or Proust) quite the same way again.”
–Jack Turner, author of Spice
“What a nose-opener! Straight from the horse’s snout, this is a pithy tour of the smellable realm, led by one of its experts. Gilbert guides readers through a universe of odors that can reel you back to your fourth-grade playground or raise up your lunch. Page after page, he amazes: Vanilla-scented butterflies? Corpses that smell, predictably on day seven, of wet fur and old leather? Dried codfish scent dispersed in a maritime museum? I was anosmic, but now I smell!”
—Hannah Holmes, author of Suburban Safari and The Secret Life of Dust
About the Author
AVERY GILBERT is a psychologist, smell scientist, and entrepreneur. His groundbreaking studies in odor perception have been published in scientific journals, and he has helped design commercial scents for everything from perfume to kitty litter. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey. Visit him at www.averygilbert.com.
Most helpful customer reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful.
Strong literary flavor, masking complex scientific overtones
By D. P. Birkett
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful.
Not a technical book
By Miguel Angel Esparza
A little disappointed with the book. My expectation about it was that it would explain a little but more of the science behind fragrances, but it turns out to be more of a compendium of small stories or anecdotes on fragrancing,etc. From my perspective, not too much science of scent explained.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful.
See all 23 customer reviews...
It's not very scientific; more just his views about what he thinks science proves about the human ability to smell. It's okay if one wants some background, but not for anything deeper