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Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume
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Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  538 ratings  ·  44 reviews
Renowned perfumer Mandy Aftel explores the primal nature and fundamental importance of aroma in everyday life, teaching people about the nature of smell and the idea of "olfactory consciousness" in Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume. /p>
Paperback, 256 pages
Published January 31st 2007 by Gibbs Smith (first published 2001)
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4.07  · 
Rating details
 ·  538 ratings  ·  44 reviews

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Someone saw me reading this book, and the comment was, "But you don't even like perfumes!"

That's partly true. I don't like synthetic perfumes. I don't like being bombarded by someone's overzealous application of scent. I don't like synthetic fragrance. (Every time someone tells me their homemade soap or perfume has "only the best all-natural essential oil of banana/cucumber/lilac/fill in blank with any other synthetic scent masquerading as "natural oil," I cringe. There is no such thing as cucu
Oct 18, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Amateur perfumers and anyone who's curious why they like the scents they like
Reading this book was a direct result of my new obsession with the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, a boutique perfume oil company that I just ADORE. There's lots of practical information, a big helping of encouragement to experiment, and lots of good mythological and historical tidbits.
John David
Aug 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: perfume
My long absence from the book reviewing community, both on here and on YouTube, can be blamed in large part to my burgeoning interest in perfume, which started about two years ago and has only become more serious. (Well, there’s work, too, but I figured I’d blame-shift to something that sounds mildly interesting.) The author, Mandy Aftel, is one of the great purveyors of independent perfumery in the United States. She currently operates a highly successful company called Aftelier Perfumes (a pla ...more
Mar 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
Not what I expected. I wanted an actual history of perfume- how it was made, how it reflected society, how it differed in different cultures, etc. This book was a disorganized mess of random quotes about alchemy, information about perfume ingredients from a mostly botany-related perspective, and recipes for making your own natural perfumes. There were also lots of snide comments about how synthetic perfumes suck, which was insulting as well as inaccurate (for instance, the author asserted that s ...more
Jul 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017-reading, fashion
This came as an unexpected gem. I was so impressed with this book. Initially I was nervous that it was going to be heavy on jargon and read like a research paper, but it was nothing like that. Aftel did a great job explaining the jargon, the history of perfume and it's relation to alchemy while sewing it together with a such sensual writing that it was really a joy to read. Also, her bibliography is incredible! If you're doing research in metaphysics, religion, botany, pharmacology, sexuality or ...more
Aug 15, 2012 rated it it was ok
Interesting book, although the constant references to alchemy, change and magic become tiresome after the first few pages; so tiresome that i'm giving this a mere two stars or ok if you need a translation. However, there is some refreshing information on the history of perfumery as well as pertinent information on essential oils and their attributes, as well as useful listings of internet resources, suppliers, and what is needed for a beginner to start creating their own essences. Ok.
Laura (Kyahgirl)
This was one of the first books I read on the history of perfume and perfume making. I think it is an excellent blend of 'story' and fact. The art and science of perfumery is fascinating. As is the long history of fragrance in human society. I love it. Aftel captures the fact, the history, the science, and the mystery. I'd highly recommend this book to any one with an interest in this subject.
Jun 19, 2012 rated it liked it
I wasn't expecting so much writing about mixing scents, formulas and storing oils. I did enjoy the parts when the author gave the readers a more historical background on perfume and the science of scent and perfumery, although it was limited.
Oct 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a very magical book. If you ever read "Against Nature" and felt real strange during the perfumes part, definitely read this.
Dec 28, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: learn-something
A sensual history of perfume. Interesting!
Several examples of perfume mixology I will experiment with.
Oct 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
A good introduction to fragrance. Very entertaining and mostly informational; did not enjoy the detour into pseudoscience.
Connie Snow
Feb 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I had a reservation to visit the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents in Berkeley, California so I decided to read one of her books on the airplane ride to San Francisco. This one was the easiest to find and it did not disappoint. If you are especially connected to your sense of smell like I am, you will love this book. And even if you have just a regular average relationship with your nose you will still love it. Lots of interesting stories about the history of scent, how specific scents are develop ...more
Aug 12, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Aftel beginnt mit einer allgemeinen Schilderung der Herstellung von Parfüms. Sie beschreibt anschaulich und in einfachen Begriffen die Grundlagen.
Leider wird nicht ganz klar, ob dies jetzt ein Fachbuch sein soll, wie die Fußnoten und Literaturverweise nahelegen, oder eine Schilderung persönlicher Erlebnisse und Ansichten. Nach den vielen, vielen Wiederholungen werde ich jedenfalls nicht mehr so schnell vergessen, dass Frau Aftel natürliche Essenzen synthetischen Duftstoffen vorzieht oder dass di
Sep 30, 2017 rated it did not like it
Goodness, this book has great ratings! I expected more.

I found the authors writing style to have alot of rambling, she would probably be better suited writing poetry as a result.

I did not appreciate the authors reference to the human race deriving itself sense of smell based on being monkeys that developed as a result of smelling eachother rectums. I have to admit I lost interest.

I did keep reading because I do love the romanticism of the topic in general. I stopped reading after several chapter
Holly Cox
Dec 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful exploration of the art, materials and emotional resonance of natural perfumery. I loved every page of this book and found that it heightened both my appreciation and awareness of scents around me.
Dec 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Approachable and useful read for those interested in natural perfumery.
Dave  Johnson
Aug 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
my journey with fragrances has been an interesting one, indeed. without going into my whole story, i used to not like them, then i got mildly interested around the time i met my wife. a few months ago, i became extremely interested, and now i'm part of a whole fragrance community on Youtube (just look up FragranceBros). i thought it would be an interesting video to do a review of a fragrance book, and also another good idea to do a vid on a brief history of fragrance. i saw this book, grabbed it ...more
Nazrul Buang
Aug 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: favorites
Just finished reading "Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume" (2001) by Mandy Aftel. I decided to pick up this book to learn more about the history of perfumes and the ingredients that go into them.

Aftel is an American natural perfumer and her book is a testament of her in-depth knowledge in the world of perfumes. Perfumes are gifts of two worlds, art and science, and Aftel tells the story behind perfumes. She discusses how perfumes and scents go way back in history and how it evolve
May 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, reviewed
I'm not sure what I was expecting when I started reading this book. I know I was just starting to learn about aromatherapy and perfuming, and I was looking for some kind of how-to book to create scents. This book was that for me, but it was also so much more.

There is also a lot of information about the philosophy and theory behind crafting scents, how to get started, what kinds of essences are out there, how they are made and how to use them, and about which kinds of scents work together. There
Jan 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A rambling, philosophical treatise that delves into the makings and workings of perfume. As the title implies, Mandy Aftel draws many parallels between the perfume-making process and alchemy, both in the functional details as well as the more abstract notions of the pursuit of perfection/enlightenment/eternity. The text is pretty evenly split between technical details and explanations of scents and how to combine them, and sudden delvings into such topics as religion, love and sexuality, society ...more
Aug 26, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: BPAL and other indie perfumery nerds
I perhaps should have expected a book on perfume to waft about. Very emotional, romantic, idealistic writing. Which I was fine with actually. I appreciated and enjoyed her passion for perfume and her strongly held opinions on it, though I may not agree (I am fine with synthetic scents). And I personally wasn't bothered by the magic/alchemy bits either. But the way the information jumps around! I was reading aloud some parts to my boyfriend, and he asked for a definition of volatile. So I told hi ...more
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
What a delightful and fascinating read. Plowed through this one while living in a big city, one that did not smell half as good as the thoughts in this wonderful little read.

A completely responsible purchase for the budding chemist (or a recovering wet photographer such as myself), I highly recommend this book, as Aftel gives you all the notes, tips, and inspiration needed to create your own natural perfume.

If you do purchase this one for someone, make sure they have a wallet and a job to go w
Oct 06, 2011 rated it liked it
I picked this up for the history of perfume part. Content-wise it was fine, but I found Aytoun Ellis's The essence of beauty : a history of perfume & cosmetics a more enjoyable read.

If I had been reading this as a how-to manual on sourcing and mixing essential oils to create my own compositions, I think I would have found it more useful.
Patricia Joynton
Oct 14, 2012 rated it really liked it

I read this book b/c my daughter Stefanie and I were going on a trip in California to a naturalist place and making perfume was an activity of the resort we were going to. I was getting ready for the trip, but then a mud slide took out the road to the resort and we had to cancel.

Glad I found it. Think I will make my own from my garden. I've always considered fragrance when I order my plants, especially roses.

Oct 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Practical guide for the beginning/aspiring perfumer as well as philosophical/sensory discussion of scent and psychology, evocation of memory and associations, the importance and aesthetics of smell. Using the metaphor of alchemy, Aftel describes the history and significance of smell to human culture (spirituality, sexuality, adornment, etc) as well as perfumery's alchemical science and art.
Apr 21, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I loved the author's attitude to the art of perfume making, but this book partly reads as a "how-to" book. But it does give you great insight into deconstructing the fragrance you wear. But for some, (me included part of the time), sometimes you just want to enjoy a beautiful scent, like a beautiful piece of art, without breaking it down beyond the sum of its parts.
so far so bad. assumption-laden and factoid ridden. irritating and ill-informed. there's some fascinating writing about olfactory processing in humans. this is not it.
I plugged on for a while as she has a vast collection of antiquarian perfume and alchemy books. I had a vain hope some distillate of that history might have infused these pages.
Dec 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a cross between a layman's textbook on perfume (including resources for the beginning perfumer, and a recipe to create as you progress through the book) and a philosophical treatise on the intersections of perfume with alchemy, spirituality, and sex. It covers the history of perfumery fairly widely, but not in great depth.

I'd buy a copy of this purely for the bibliography.
Feb 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The perfect book for anyone looking into natural perfumery!
Jan 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Gorgeous writing and excellent instruction for any interested in learnign to craft natural perfume. It is not a comprehensive work on the art, but it is an inspiring starting point and has been a valuable resource to me in my blending.
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Today, almost every perfume is created from synthetic essences. Although synthetics approximate the odors of natural ingredients, they have none of the complexity, mystery or emotional depth. We bring an inexplicable emotional intensity to the experience of an authentic smell and the memories it sparks and creates.

My approach to creating artisan natural perfumes is based in the quality and integr