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The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of…

The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession (original 2002; udgave 2004)

af Chandler Burr (Forfatter)

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
5552033,426 (4.05)3
This true story profiles a scientific genius with eerie powers of smell who uses his gifts to solve one of the body's last secrets: how the nose works.
Titel:The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession
Forfattere:Chandler Burr (Forfatter)
Info:Random House Trade Paperbacks (2004), Edition: Reprint, 352 pages
Samlinger:Dit bibliotek

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The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession af Chandler Burr (2002)


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This the story of a polymath scientist who connected his knowledge of biology, chemistry and physics, his appreciation for scent, and expressive writing skills. The result, driven by innate curiosity, was an updated theory about humans smell. Chandler's writing is clear and enjoyable, as are the masterful excerpts by the scientist turned perfume guide author. The prose is excellent and the story captivating, but more than anything, what it conveys is a disappointing mindset of established scientists. Luca Turin's vibration theory of smell is controversial. New theories are. It's disappointing that so many scientists held onto their own established thinking rather than even being open to contrary possibilities. For some, a lifetime invested in one paradigm makes it a religion rather than science. Fortunately, science rests on reality and the scientific method on a logical process. Many of the leading scientists mentioned in this book let their profession down, but the story itself gives hope. ( )
  jpsnow | Jul 10, 2017 |
Here we sit at the dawn of the 21st century. Science has figured out the basics and is now just working on the details, right? Would it surprise you to learn that, in this day and age, we have no idea how smell works? The accepted theory is that smell works when receptors in the nose recognize the shape of a molecule. However, even dedicated Shapists recognize that this doesn’t happen all the time. The Emperor of Scent is the story of Luca Turin, a biologist who has proposed a radical new theory for how smell works. Turin believes that receptors in the nose recognize vibrations, just like the eyes and ears do. Turin’s Vibrational theory neatly sidesteps all of the problems associated with the Shape theory. If true, Turin’s theory would revolutionize the perfume industry. The Emperor of Scent is also the story of how the scientific community has reacted to Turin’s theory, and it’s a fascinating tale of luck, greed, and arrogance.

The first ¾ of the book is fascinating, because if Turin had not had such varied interests, he never would have gathered all of the little tidbits of information that allowed him to make his theoretical leap. If he had never been fascinated by perfume as a child, he would not have caught the attention of the secretive perfume industry which allowed him access to their laboratories. If he was able to stay focused on whatever project was at hand, he wouldn’t have started reading a journal that was outside of his professional purview and would have missed the article about how electron tunneling works. If he were easily cowed, he would have given up on his theory when all of the experts in his field denounced it repeatedly. The book would be compelling reading if it stopped here, but it doesn’t.

At this point in the book, the author weighs in with a chapter. Burr understands that books like this are supposed to be more balanced, presenting opposing viewpoints to give the audience some perspective on his subject. He explains that he would happily do so if those holding the opposing viewpoints would bother to reply to phone calls or email. Even more interestingly, those who do reply dismiss Turin’s theory out of hand. When pressed about specific points in the paper, they admit they haven’t read it, and seem offended that Burr expects them to. We tend to think of scientists as being above this sort of petty and juvenile behavior, but Burr pulls back the curtain and gives us a glimpse of the Wizard in his true form, and you can’t look away.

The last section of the book details Turin’s appearance at a conference where he presents his theory to some of the giants in his field. The reception is polite, but not spectacular. Some of the top scientists in the field do question Turin, and he responds to their points with a charming mixture of exuberance and exasperation. This is where the imbalance of the book is most glaring. Those who don’t accept the theory, it is implied, are either unwilling or unable to see the truth. It’s all very convincing, but perhaps a bit too convincing. You end up wishing that Turin would run up against someone as smart and stubborn as he is so you could see a real debate on the merits of Turin’s theory.

Is Turin’s theory legitimate? Has he cracked the riddle of how smell? Is his science up to snuff? I don’t know. I’m a bookseller, not a scientist. But Burr does an excellent job of making the science behind Turin’s theory make sense to someone with no scientific background while still maintaining the flow of the story. From the information we’re given, it certainly seems like Turin is onto something. Would the book have benefited from more balance? Certainly. Should Burr have given up on the book when Turin’s detractors refused to cooperate? Certainly not; it’s too much fun to be missed. The Emperor of Scent is a book much like its protagonist: sharp, smart, unconventional, pugnacious, and entertaining.

( )
  Mrs_McGreevy | Nov 17, 2016 |
Okay, wow. I absolutely loved this book. It had a little something for every part of me that wants something different in a book: there was science, real honest-to-God science, for the snobby intellectual , there was scandal and affrontery for the secret scandalmonger, there was talk of perfumery and the haute couture houses for the girly fashionista, there was exploration of research, development, and business decisions for the pragmatist, there was skewering of the peer-review process for the academician, and there was even a delightfully described trip to India for the travel-lover. And of course, the ever-successful frame of finding oneself rooting for the underdog is all throughout.

I'm kindof in love with this book, in short. It was interesting for so many different reaons; I learned a TON, and really enjoyed myself doing it. There are serious things to think about afterwards, but also fun little factoids to tuck away for future reference... and I personally was also left with an urge to seek out some particularly lauded perfumes and smell them for myself. :)

One of my favorite random passages, describing the demands made of the chemists and perfume designers: "'We want the smell of old melting candles in ballrooms of Italian marble during a Chinese winter,' 'Give us the fragrance surrendered by a young blue flower crushed under the heated, ivory back of a woman with chocolate eyes,' 'We must have the scent lightning makes the instant it strikes a platinum rose.'" ( )
1 stem BraveNewBks | Mar 10, 2016 |
Non è solo un libro che mi ha fatto capire quanto ancora c'è da scoprire sull'uomo e sulle sue enormi capacità, ma è soprattutto un libro che ti obbliga a ripensare al modo con cui ci si accosta agli odori. ( )
  briolini1113 | Feb 5, 2014 |
This is ostensibly about the more scientific aspects of the olfactory system; in reality, it is an incredibly biased portrayal of a very controversial scientist, Luca Turin. I still thought it was well-written and interesting, but ignore the conspiracy theory put forward by both author and subject, that The World is not ready for The Truth and that this is why Turin can't get his work into Nature...actually, it's because his theory is unsubstantiated and partially disproved. Still a surprisingly engaging read ( )
  page.fault | Sep 21, 2013 |
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"Chemical Senses" received the paper on July 31, 1996. Steve van Toller published "A Spectroscopic Mechanism for Primary Olfactory Reception" on September 30.
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This true story profiles a scientific genius with eerie powers of smell who uses his gifts to solve one of the body's last secrets: how the nose works.

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