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What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life [Kindle Edition]

Avery Gilbert
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

Kindle Price: $11.84
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

• 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 the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

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.”
New Scientist

“[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.”<b...

Product Details

  • File Size: 375 KB
  • Print Length: 306 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 140008234X
  • Publisher: Crown (June 24, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001BANK28
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #557,925 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fabulous Summer Read July 9, 2008
I'm a big fan of well-written, witty, evenly paced and interesting non-fiction books. Though I have no scientific background whatsoever, I'm partial to the science kind, and if the author can nimbly jump to making defensible philosophical or cultural points, so much the better. (Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma were excellent examples of the genre; David Quammen's Monster of God a pretty good, but somewhat flawed example; if you like this kind of stuff, you get the idea.) What The Nose Knows fits the bill perfectly for me. First, it's extremely well written: Gilbert has a distinctive voice, a knack for turning a phrase, and a strong and irreverent sense of humor. Second, it's interesting: like most folks, I never give the sense of smell its due, but Gilbert does. You want to know about Hollywood's effort to market movies that smell, or the science behind creating certain smells, or even how we smell? Here you go. Finally, it's evenly paced: there's a lot of information being exchanged, but it's not boring or didactic. Gilbert's like that interesting guy at the cocktail party who knows a lot about something you don't, but has a knack for making it understandable to you without dumbing it down. I give this book five stars, and strongly recommend it.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Many widely-held beliefs about smell are so plausible and so often-repeated that they have become accepted as fact although the evidence for them is often equivocal. In this book, the author traces the origins of these urban myths to uncover what is (and what is not) known about our sense of smell, pointing out soggy logic and supporting his arguments with an eclectic bibliography. These stories are relayed in a cheeky style from the perspective of someone who has seen and smelled it all. Credible pundits are rare and this book is excellent example of science writing for the general reader.
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much art, not enough science July 25, 2008
By Charlie
About: The science of scent. Topics covered include how many smells are there, categorizing odors, why things (such as pot or poo) smell the way they do, perfumes, representation of scents in literature and visual media (including Smellovision) and how scents affect our behaviors (such as while shopping).

Neat Things I Learned:

* Women's farts are stinkier but men fart more

* Women are better at smelling odor than men and have their highest sense of smell around ovulation

* Helen Keller, despite being blind and deaf, did not have a remarkable sense of smell

* Corona beer was originally poorly made and thus oxidized quickly, a lime's acid neutralized the off odor. Now Corona is well made, but the lime tradition lives on

* If you tell people a scent is relaxing, they'll relax when they smell it. Tell them the exact same scent in stimulating and they'll perk up. Scents are all in your head.

* Sniffing coffee beans doesn't "reset" your sense of smell, it's just a placebo effect

* Some companies have "logoscents." Westin hotels has a logoscent called "White Tea" that they put in their lobbies

Pros: Sources cited, concludes with a look to the future.

Cons: Far too much about smell and odors in the arts and not enough about the science of smell. So much so, that the subtitle could be called misleading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Kirby
I have never had the motivation to write a review for a book nor finish a book for that matter. I probably have read an entire book once in the last several years; I just don't have the time. But when you like something you will continue to do it. In this case, reading this book was weird, exciting, humorous and entertaining. I just couldn't put it down. All I have to say it that the author did a really good job writing about a very unique field. Plus, he made it enjoyable. Not only that, the information in it was top notch and I was pleased with all the information I got. All I have to say is good job! And I got luckily I decided to pick this one up and check it out.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Light reading
It's not very scientific; more just his views about what he thinks science proves about the human ability to smell. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Lew
3.0 out of 5 stars Lack of references
Very informative book. It gives an overall look to the subject. Refera to many other researchers and researches but without references.
Published 9 months ago by Fatma Umit Hamlacibasi
1.0 out of 5 stars What nose does not know
i was expecting much more science and much more providence from someone who was in the industry, i do not recommend even starting having interest in perfume industry because its... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A noseful of fascinating information
My nose follicles give a stand up ovation to this entertaining and erudite gem of a book. It is chock-full of amazing information, upends hitherto held theories and debunks... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Jocelyne
4.0 out of 5 stars What your nose knows
I choose this book on a whim.. But it turn out too be one of my better purchases. I am reading it slowly. It Is one those books, that should be digested slowly for full flavor.
Published 22 months ago by Moore payne
4.0 out of 5 stars This book is a must-have for any breathing creature, either anosmic or...
Avery Gilbert describes developments in the knowlegde of our sense of olfaction with great sense of humor. Read more
Published on March 1, 2012 by Caro V.
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare gem, a true quality work of non-fiction, a guided tour of the...
This is an excellent work of popular science. The author, Avery Gilbert, is a sensory psychologist with decades of experience working for multinational fragrance companies. Read more
Published on February 5, 2012 by John V. Karavitis
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for any level
This is a great book. Full of insider info and insights from someone who has been in the industry, and has a sence of reality.
Plus there is quite a lot of humor!
Published on May 1, 2009 by Ross L. Urrere
3.0 out of 5 stars Review for What the Nose Knows
An interesting read, and a good introduction to the world of smells, scents and odors.
Published on December 28, 2008 by Karla Wilson
4.0 out of 5 stars worthwhile
Well written, touches on the latest developments and offers a good historical context. Got me thinking a bit more about this sensory channel. Read more
Published on October 17, 2008 by Gaunilon
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More About the Author

Avery Gilbert is a smell scientist. He's conducted research on human odor perception in academic laboratories and in the R&D divisions of multinational perfume companies. Along the way he's taught scores of audiences about the science of smell. What the Nose Knows is a fast-paced tour of the latest discoveries and how they challenge long-held beliefs about the sense of smell. It was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Science & Technology, and was shortlisted for the 2009 Royal Society Prize for Science Books.

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