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What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life
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What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  267 ratings  ·  44 reviews
• 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-Visio
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published June 24th 2008 by Crown (first published 2008)
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Gretchen Rubin
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an outstanding book about the science of scent. I was fascinated, surprised, and educated. It's erudite and broad, but written in an accessible style that's a pleasure to read. I'm reading everything I can find about the five senses, and this book is one of my favorites in my research so far. I was disappointed when I looked for other books by Avery Gilbert, but he doesn't seem to have written any. ...more
Mar 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
"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 N ...more
Pritam Chattopadhyay
I remember having read somewhere that Smells have an elongated and diverse history in cultural rituals and practices. In ancient Egyptian culture for example, fastidious aromas such as myrrh and resin were intimately related to the deities; it was believed that some of those scents are derived from their bones or even their eyes in the case of the sun god Ra.

And then I had the fortune of coming across this book.

The opening Chapter of the book asks you: HOW MANY SMELLS ARE THERE? IT’S AN ODD QU
Ed Erwin
Aug 14, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommended to Ed by: Seed magazine
The title made me expect this would be about how the brain interprets incoming signals from the nose. In fact, there is just too little known about that to fill a whole book for the non-specialist. Instead, this book is padded with tangents such as the history of Smell-O-Vision vs. AromaRama, a debunking of subliminal advertising, and a dethroning of Proust as having had some special insight on the link between smell and memory.

There are many interesting tidbits. Most of them reveal how little w
Eric Rasmussen
Apr 13, 2012 rated it liked it
This book had a VERY rough start - the beginning gave my a very different expectation of what this book would be than what it turned out to be. The first chapter used illustrations of his points about classifying smells that were not well-explained or well connected. What I expected was a pretentious, fashion-oriented book that discussed smell in the narrow context of perfumery. Relatively quickly, though, the book turned into what I had hoped for - a dynamic discussion of the sense of smell, in ...more
This got off to a decent start, going into detail about how professional "noses" work (what industries, how they train, what they do, how they think, etc.) and a small amount of history on perfumes. Also interesting to me were the sections about how retail companies have experimented with scent in stores and in ads. This part of the book, I'd give three stars.

The science is a bit lightweight, but there's nowhere near as much information available on the sense of smell as there is vision and hea
Jun 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
In the past few months I have learned about aroma from an expert in the industry. This book added greatly to my continuing education in how aroma contributes to taste, memory, enjoyment, entertainment and identity. Many don't know that aroma is responsible for 60% to 80% of taste. Taste buds can only recognize the basics. Nuance is all controlled by aroma. I expected the educational part. The sections that were really fun included the history of aroma in books and films. Also the section about m ...more
Jul 31, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: science people, smell enthusiasts
Shelves: non-fiction, z-2008
This book was pretty good, and I liked it better than the last similar one that I read (This is Your Brain on Music). Unfortunately, like with Levitin's book, this one had trouble holding my interest in the last quarter or so.

There were a lot of fun tidbits about smell and how it relates to taste, memory, etc. How do you quantify smell? I recommend it as a book to pick up from the library.
Jul 19, 2017 rated it liked it
This book started out informative and fun, but lost steam about halfway through. Seems like the author ran out of interesting material and decided to fill in with long accounts of failed 'smelly' entertainment and outdated theories on the psychology of smell. ...more
Aug 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to michelyn by:
fascinating journey both literary and scientific exloring our fifth sense.
Ryan Chynces
Cool-ish. Way too much material on scent in lit and art, and not enough science.
Material on perfume industry was fascinating
Book loses the plot about halfway through.
American Maid
Jun 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
I love, love, loved the first 2/3 of this book. I read it like a 10 year old with a book of facts -- I inhaled the information and constantly interrupted my husband's own reading with my constant shares. I would love to have a conversation with the author about some smell-related ideas I have.

The last bit of the book got slower and felt less focused. But still really enjoyed it.
Candida D'Avanzo
I loved this book.
Nov 07, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: sniffers
Shelves: nonfiction
Pleasant enough of a pop-nonfiction book about smelling things. Not too technical of about the mechanics how smell gets perceived by the brain- too much controversy I suppose. (See Luca Turin's book- The Secret of Scent) Nor was it entertaining in the a la Mary Roach style either. There are some better books out there to read about the subject of scent. But if you want an easy read, with the basics covered, with a side of the history of Smell-o-Rama, Smellovision, and a small detour into how cap ...more
Daniel R.
Dec 10, 2009 rated it it was ok
This is a popular science exploration of scent. Unfortunately the author does a better job of the popular part and not enough with the science. Each chapter is vaguely connected around a theme but is filled with cheap jokes and digressions to make the central point hard to follow. While there are nuggets of information scattered throughout the book, I found it a chore to read. By the end I wasn't at all interested in any of his philosophical points of view around the future of scent technologies ...more
Oct 13, 2010 marked it as to-read
Ok, so far the author has reputed old and simply incorrect information found in both of the other "sense of smell" books I read, what 5 or 6 times. He makes engaging, intelligent, and articulate argument that wins me to his side every time. IF YOU ONLY READ ONE BOOK ON THE SENSE OF SMELL -- THIS MUST BE IT!! (And you should totally read this, even if you weren't interested before -- this book is a winner!)

Unfortunately, this is due back to the library, & the rest of the book doesn't apply to wha
Dec 01, 2009 rated it liked it
Much information is given humorously about poop, rotting corpses, scented ads, sex differences, and scent in literature in this nonfiction book in the Young Adult section. The author discusses Smell-O-Vision, as well as scents in stores and hotel lobbies to "brand," or as an advertising tool. (If you've ever walked into the Cloudveil store, you'll notice the their pine scented branding!) ...more
Nov 16, 2008 rated it liked it
Read this because I don't have a sense of smell. I do reflexology and occassionally get my sense of smell back.
He talked about perfumes and food etc He did cover nosmia the lack of sense of smell.
Mar 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Reacquainted me with and validated the experience of smelling, complete with a pleasantly sarcastic sense of humor, anecdotes and critical research. This book made chemistry seem alive and exciting. (It got a little slow in places, but was still well worth the read.)
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
Nov 17, 2009 marked it as decided-not-to-read
Recommends it for: perfume and other olfactory geeks
Recommended to Snail in Danger (Sid) by: some guy at a Mediaeval Baebes outdoor concert
Shelves: science
It almost seems like a collection of scent-related trivia. Examples: (some) butterflies have a smell, it's possible to use scent to induce fear, there are "olfactory wheels" for everything from wine to sewage effluvia. ...more
Jul 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Very entertaining insider's account of the olfactory industry. One would never guess how much industry makes use of the subtle influence of smell in promoting their wares. On the other hand, we totally undervalue, and consequently under develop our sense of smell. Packed with interesting trivia. ...more
Feb 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Reading this book was like listening to a smart acquaintance enthusiastically talk about their job---it was really interesting, but my neophyte brain got saturated before the expert brain was done expounding.
Le Petit
Dec 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
There is enough new information in this book to make reading it worthwhile, it's written using regular english making it an easy read.

Another thing I loved about this book was the inclusion of other great books to read including "Perfume: A story of a murder"
Feb 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
A breezy look at the human sense of smell. It started with lots of delish science-y tidbits then moved more into cultural aspects of smell. Of course, I prefer the science stuff but the whole thing was just so easily consumed that I don't have any real complaints. ...more
May 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
The first few chapters of the book are OK, and explain a few scientific facts about the sense of smell. But the, it just looses itself in lots of asides that are not really relevant. I couldn't actually finish the book. The 20 or 30 pages on odorama wer too much. ...more
Chizu Nakamura
Jan 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
As its titles, it's a book about "smell". To smell is directly related to brain, which part was interesting. Olfactory related science (biology, chemistry, biochemistry, etc) looked really exciting to me. ...more
Jul 16, 2008 rated it liked it
Fun pop-sci tour through the science and art of aromas.
Oct 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The things you didn't know about the nose! Since I can't smell I figured it would be hilarious to know all about it. I am learning incredible nose facts. ...more
Oct 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Very cool. Provides chemical expression of armpit smell.
Shozo Hirono
Jul 01, 2009 marked it as dropped
I started reading this but the magazine-style writing turned me off so I decided to return it to the library.
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