Book: What the Nose Knows by Avery Gilbert

Interesting collection of facts and stories about the science of smell

Avery Gilbert
What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life
Crown, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-40000-8234-6
240 pages (main text)

Avery Gilbert is a scientist of smell and his book What the Nose Knows contains a great many interesting facts and entertaining anecdotes from that science. Mr Gilbert's prose is chatty and readable and his knowledge of the field is apparently encyclopedic.

For example, dogs that are trained to find drugs very often aren't sniffing for the drug itself, but for the chemicals that the drugs break down into. And take, for example:

    Some spices are used by many different cultures.
    What makes a flavor principle distinctive is its
    specific combination of seasonings. Consider
    lemon, a widely used flavor source. Add cinnamon,
    oregano, and tomato and you've got a Greek
    principle. Add fish sauce and chili and you've got
    Vietnamese. The extensive overlap in ingredients
    across flavor principles means that every traditional
    cuisine on the planet can be prepared from a very
    short shopping list. (p. 98)

And who could fail to be entertained by the story of the competition between two rival systems of adding smell to movies: AromaRama and Smell-O-Vision?

The book's shortcoming is that it never quite rises to be more than a collection of interesting facts and entertaining anecdotes. It's a bit of a pity that Mr Gilbert doesn't quite manage to show us what our smells tell us about our humanity.

Posted: Wed - August 5, 2009 at 04:01 PM   Main   Category: