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The Secret of Scent: Adventures in Perfume and the Science of Smell
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The Secret of Scent: Adventures in Perfume and the Science of Smell

3.77  ·  Rating Details  ·  488 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
The Secret of Scent is a book about science by way of art, in which the author's passion for perfume leads him to the scientific mystery of what makes one molecule smell of garlic while another smells of rose.

Readers who know Luca Turin as the lively central figure in Chandler Burr's The Emperor of Scent will remember the ongoing debate between two competing theories of sm
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Hardcover, 224 pages
Published November 7th 2006 by Ecco (first published May 18th 2006)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,246)
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Alex
Dec 20, 2007 Alex rated it liked it
Turin is something of an olfactory mutant, possessing a preternaturally fine-tuned sense of smell and an almost freakish ability to translate scents into verbal terms.

Consider his Proustian description of a peach base composed by Pierre Nuyens: "It is a peach played slowly, an arpeggiato chord that lets you enjoy in slow motion the entire sweep of that astonishing Persian plum from mouthwatering fruity acid, via biscuit-like softness to powdery, almost soapy bottom." Or his damning assessment o
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Sholm
Apr 29, 2014 Sholm added it
Fascinating. I barely understood a word.
Donna
Jan 24, 2008 Donna rated it it was ok
Turin writes that he has a "Paragraph rule" which states that "In almost every science textbook, there is one point, usually of paragraph length, where the style of the author matches exactly one's style of understanding, and which we then grasp properly and permanently." I don't think I grasped the secret of scent from this book but found it enjoyable. I did also like Turin's description of the periodic table "I see it as a sort of class photograph.Fat guys at the bottom, thin ones on top, arra ...more
Melody
Sep 11, 2007 Melody rated it it was amazing
I read a book about Turin (The Emperor of Scent) that I really enjoyed, so I was excited to find this on my library shelf. Turin puts me in mind of Feynman in both erudition and wry hilarity. This scientist can write circles around most writers. The topic, the biological mechanisms by which we perceive scent, is fascinating. The writing, may I say again, is scintillating. The physics slowed me down some, but Turin made it more accessible to me than anyone since Feynman. I learned and laughed in ...more
Iz
Dec 08, 2014 Iz rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
I was really interested in this book because I consider myself a supersmeller and love to read about the science behind things. But I started reading and quickly became disappointed with it. It's not a good book, it's not well written, and only maybe 5% of it is interesting at all.

As someone who has a science job and reads and writes about science all the time, let me explain why:

1) What an arrogant ass. Talking so much about how a book was written about him, the endless figures in the book tha
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Ariel
May 30, 2007 Ariel rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who likes science
Perhaps it's not a good book combination, perfume and the science of smell. Obviously, they fit together quite neatly, but how many people are at least mildly interested in hearing about the beauty of perfume and the detailed science of smell. Well, I heard about it on NPR and it worked for me.

The Author is a biophysicist who has an immense obsession with perfume and believes he has figured out how we smell the molecules we do (apparently that is still very much not understood). Unfortunately ot
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Mmaude
Aug 27, 2010 Mmaude rated it really liked it
Wow. Je m'étais toujours demandé comment fonctionnait notre nez et notre reconnaissance des odeurs! Voilà que ce petit livre explique tout, d'une plume vive et bien aiguisée. Bien que l'auteur prenne parfois des détours un peu encombrants afin de raconter comment la science a fini par comprendre l'odorat, la lecture n'est jamais ennuyante. Il faut être patient toutefois, car la réponse à notre question ne se trouve qu'à la toute fin du livre. Comme quoi la physique ça ne sert pas qu'à essayer d' ...more
Igor Korousic
Jan 01, 2011 Igor Korousic rated it really liked it
I wish that schools tought children the way Turin explains chemistry. This book offers a little bit of Poetry of Scent (i wish there was more of that) and some chemistry to make his Vibration theory more convincing.
From this book i learned much about his fascinating theory of oilfactory processing in animal brain. More importantly for me, he reminded me of interesting art which modern global trends have gradually converted into just another somber industry.
Elizabeth
If you're a science numbskull (like, um, me), the last half of the book will be difficult to follow. Also, I would have liked to have known how Turin became interested in perfume in the first place--don't know why he couldn't have devoted a few pages to that. Finally, there were lots of diagrams of smell molecules. IMAGINE IF THEY HAD BEEN LABELED! That would have helped. I mean, really.
Doug
Jul 01, 2009 Doug rated it it was ok
Meh...poorly organized, kinda scattered for most of the book. not a particularly compelling description of research or science, and some glaring errors in chemistry and evolutionary theory. I liked the last 20 pages, though, when all the rambling was brought together.
Hannah
May 18, 2014 Hannah rated it liked it
The original review can be read here: http://portable-elsewheres.blogspot.c...

I am thoroughly intimidated by anything more than cursory approaches to the sciences. For the most part a decent student in high school, I hung on by the skin of teeth in science classes year after depressing year. It is not that I do not appreciate science; don't get me wrong. I actually love it. I experience the same strange pull to it that I do to all fields with any mystery left to them. It is just that curriculum
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Muath Aziz
Feb 06, 2016 Muath Aziz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, art, 2016
Most of my life, I didn't pay so much attention to my senses, to the point that in high school food didn't have taste, then at the end of high school my senses started to "awaken". I started to love food and tasting it and guessing the ingredients, started to love listening to music and learning the genres and reading about Music Theory and so on. Then my smelling, my mom always claimed that I have good tasting and smelling (I liked to guess by smell what ingredients she's cooking downstairs) se ...more
Brian
Sep 02, 2008 Brian rated it it was ok
This is the first fragrance book I've read that's actually written by a scientist. Depending on what chapter you're in, he's a biologist, a physicist, a chemist, a plubmer, or an electrician. What's the common denominator? He's a smug son of a bitch. This is the second book I've read starring Luca Turin, and while the author of that tome (Chandler Burr) manages to make Turin sound iconoclastic and cheery, here he is left to his own devices, and is a twerp from the very first chapter.

I don't mea
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Jennifer Heise
Aug 21, 2015 Jennifer Heise rated it really liked it
This is one of the most interesting books I ever had to force myself to finish. The writing is engaging, the topic is engaging, and it made my brain hurt.
Basically, the author is a biochemist who, through his interest in perfumes, got involved with the detection of scent.
There's a bunch you may have trouble following if you have trouble with standard molecular diagrams where the atoms at the joints aren't labelled. But the information in the book is worth it, and Turin's explanations are *almos
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Kate
Jan 06, 2009 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2009
Luca Turin is an amazing writer as well as a gifted scientist and perfume expert. This book managed to convey some incredibly complicated organic chemistry in an accessible and understandable way to the extent that I was actually able to understand the science behind Turin's hypothesis of the nose as a mass spectrometer.

My only criticism is that part of the story of the development of the theory was missing from the book because it has already been written up by Chandler Burr in "The Emperor of
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Chad Newton
Dec 31, 2014 Chad Newton rated it did not like it
Shelves: science-physical
A rather informal, sloppy text on essences of scent. Luca Turin failed to capture the reader's attention by using informal abstract words such as "stuff" and "it" in multiple phrases. The content holds some opportunities for exploration, but the writer shows little desire to enliven the dialogue.
Chris
Apr 06, 2014 Chris rated it really liked it
Luca gives fascinating insight into the chemistry, psychology, and business of the science of smell. Simultaneously erudite and poetic, he had me googling Kandinsky and aldehyde.
Donna
Jun 17, 2011 Donna rated it liked it
Is it the shape or the vibration of a molecule that stimulates your sense of smell? A book I followed up with after reading 'The Emperor of Scent" by Chandler Burr which poses this question.
Although I thoughly enjoyed 'Emperor' I found this book a bit of challange to keep up with the different proposed moleculer experiments, since my science degree is not in biology.
Being in the wine industry and learning to use my 'nose' to judge wine, this book did help me understand that some complexities of
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Lily
Apr 25, 2016 Lily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The chemistry is difficult to follow at times (and I'm not unfamiliar with carbon-based chemistry, so probably more difficult for the lay person) but more off-putting is the author's tendency to patronise the reader and aggrandise himself. Thankfully this lessens as the book progresses, but it still made for a slightly sour reading experience.
N
Nov 30, 2008 N rated it it was ok
A rougher than expected trip down memory lane when it comes to freshman year organic chemistry. The author goes into fairly detailed explanations of molecules and chemistry which meant that this wasn't the best nighttime reading. Even though it could induce you to sleep, it means that you'd have to go back and review. Overall, he does a nice job of explaining stuff, but I wish he could have included more commentary on the nature of the perfume industry and the business behind it rather than such ...more
Jane
Aug 27, 2012 Jane rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unfinished
My father recommended this, and while I mostly agree with his taste in science books, "The Secret of Scent" is a dud. It takes what should be a fascinating topic and buries it beneath disorganized and overly bombastic prose. The book is not accessible as the blurb suggests - it is littered with references to art and music that go way above my basic knowledge, and in such a way that Turin seems snobbish and superior to the rest of us mere mortals.

Having recently finished yet another Simon Singh
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Randy Richter
Jul 03, 2015 Randy Richter rated it it was ok
A lot of chemistry but interesting at times. The brain's ability to recognize scent is strange.
Larissa
Jun 19, 2015 Larissa rated it liked it
Shelves: beauty-theory
I like that most of the reviews thus far have been so polarized; I think that Luca Turin as a person, writer, and scientist is polarizing as hell and so the reactions to this book make sense. As for me, I loved it. I love his work, his writing, and his wry sense of humor, although I'm glad i read Chandler Burr's The Emperor of Scent prior to this by chance, since it set the stage for a lot of the book.

The only reason I gave this three stars is because the science was difficult for me to follow,
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Zita
Mar 02, 2016 Zita rated it it was ok
Aspects of this book were fascinating. However, not being scientifically minded, I found the latter half of the book tough going. I had to put it down and go back to it.
I didn't enjoy the scientific analysis of scent as for me, scent is an emotional, ethereal fascination. I don't need to fully understand how scent does what it does in empirical analysis, I was looking to explore the psychology of scent as for me, this is it's true secret.
Deborah Heltzer
Jan 17, 2015 Deborah Heltzer rated it it was amazing
Loved this book. Science and Drama.
Cdimond63gmail.com
Jun 13, 2014 Cdimond63gmail.com rated it really liked it
interesting
Loren
Aug 20, 2007 Loren rated it it was ok
Chandler Burr talking about Luca Turin is somehow a lot more endearing than Luca Turin speaking for himself... this book skims the surface of Turin's scientific theories in favor of pontificating on various aromachemical compounds that he likes and how they're used in perfumes he likes. This suited me fine, as I am at best a layman in understanding the scientific parts of his work. Turin is pretty funny, but I need a middleman to understand what he's talking about.
Nicholas Hodler
Feb 15, 2007 Nicholas Hodler rated it it was ok
Spend half an hour talking to someone in the perfume industry, and you'll know everything this book has to offer. The first chapters sumarize the business quite well, but the author then goes into unnecessary chemical detail, apparently showing off how well he can draw hexagones.

The tone of this book is very pretentious and somewhat condescending, which is probably to be expected from a renegade scientist turned perfumer.
Jill
Jul 26, 2008 Jill rated it did not like it
I loved the Emperor of Scent, which was Chandler Burr's book on Luca Turin and his theory of scent (vibrations, not shape). So I was always keen to read Turin's version of events. Turin's version would appeal to a science nut who appreciates enthusiastic discussions on molecular structure and notations but for someone who abandoned organic chemistry many years ago, go with Burr's version.
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Luca Turin is a biophysicist with a long-standing interest in the sense of smell, the art of perfume, and the fragrance industry.
More about Luca Turin...

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