Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent

Mandy Aftel. Riverhead, $27.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-59463-141-2
In this sensuous and profound exploration of the history, science, and art of perfume, expert perfumer Aftel (Essence and Alchemy) seduces readers with an sensualism that only intensifies as her stories unfold. “The nose is idiosyncratically central not only to our sense of smell but to our sense of who we are, in our most primal appetites,” she writes. “For the idea of appetite pertains to... all the sensual and spiritual experiences that drive us, give us pleasure, make us feel more alive.” Aftel uses five “rock stars of the aromatic world” to acclimate readers to the world of scent: cinnamon for the exotic; mint for the homely arts of cooking, healing, and hospitality; frankincense for the transcendent; ambergris for the strange, wondrous, and animal; and jasmine for beauty and its inextricable bond with “beastliness.” The book is peppered with fascinating trivia, such as the Chinese practices of telling time with burning incense or a cat’s eyes. History and science are interspersed with recipes and tidbits (Deana Sidney’s jasmine-ambergris-chocolate drink, a 1920s list of butterfly fragrances) that entice readers to wake up their noses and perhaps engage in their own scent alchemy. b&w illus. throughout. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/28/2014
Release date: 10/16/2014
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