Book Review: The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession by Chandler Burr

A book about scent and how we smell more than about perfumes, which, don’t get me wrong, plays a pivotal role. But it doesn’t stop there. This is a book about the scientific process to get a new theory known and accepted, and thusly about human pettiness, jealousy, hardheadedness, and being who we are with the need to find meaning with our existence and what we do. So, that is got out of the way, I can say that this book blew my mind. It made me realize I have ignored a vital sense I come equipped with, and as I read the book, I realized I’m not the only one. Why and how we smell and what it means to us is somewhat widely ignored even when we spend vast amounts of money on products that make us and our houses smell nice. And now, I have to say a cliché; I see the world differently even if Luca Turin’s theory that smell is about vibration is wrong (which I highly doubt it. It makes sense if you look at the world of physics and how things come to be. It’s about quantumness. But as I am not an expert in the field of biology, physics, or chemistry, I have to trust the evidence laid in the book, and that is very limited proof to place all your bets on. Plus, smell isn’t about sex. It’s about food. Thank you for Luca Turin pointing that out.)

Now, saying all that doesn’t even begin to describe the book. There is more. There is Luca Turin for once. This is a book as much about him as about the scientific process or the quest for how we smell or about perfumes. And I was delighted to read about him and his history, his personality, and how passionate and obsessive he could be. All I could think was, I wish we indulged people more to behave like him. Maybe then the world wouldn’t be as stagnant and full of accounts running the show. There’s a part where Chandler Burr interrupts telling the story with his author’s note (around the 2/3 part of the book). He describes in the author’s note what it was to write the book, why it is a one-sided account about the theory of scent, and also states Luca’s concerns about how he comes off. Of course, he might have been misrepresented in the pages, but if it was a close enough account, he shouldn’t have worried. As I wrote, we need more people who don’t follow the line and are larger than life with all due respect.  

So, what now? I can’t seem to want to pick another fact book because I seem to want to dwell on what I read. I go into rooms and situations, trying to smell them and decipher what I sense. And there are times I fear I don’t have a nose for it. I even found myself wanting to smell all the perfumes in the book, although I have always hated perfumes. They feel too strong and overpowering to me. More so, as a writer, this book inspired me. It gave me a new vocabulary. I don’t consider smells anymore along the same lines before I read the book. But, again, a cliché, it opened my senses, and the world became a lot stranger place to exist with a spectroscope inside my nose, which makes me tat closer to the quantum world, enabling me to smell atoms and molecules. I even wrote a cheesy short story inspired by this book.

And as you can see, I cannot give some objective view about the vices and virtues of the book. Chandler Burr has done a fantastic job conveying the story so well that I was there the whole ride, feeling and sensing things no science book has ever done. As I planned to write this review, I was going to state all the facts I read about the human nose, g-proteins, chemistry, physics, how we breathe one nostril at a time, and how that affects our brain and vice versa, and about smoking and all, but this became more of a personal adoration, so forgive me.

Thank you for reading, have an aromatic day! 

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