The Emperor of Scent
A True Story of Perfume and Obsession
by Chandler Burr
For as long as anyone can remember, a man named Luca Turin has had an uncanny relationship with smells. He has been compared to the hero of Patrick Süskind’s novel Perfume, but his story is in fact stranger, because it is true. It concerns how he made use of his powerful gifts to solve one of the last great mysteries of the human body: how our noses work.
Luca Turin can distinguish the components of just about any smell, from the world’s most refined perfumes to the air in a subway car on the Paris metro. A distinguished scientist, he once worked in an unrelated field, though he made a hobby of collecting fragrances. But when, as a lark, he published a collection of his reviews of the world’s perfumes, the book hit the small, insular business of perfume makers like a thunderclap. Who is this man Luca Turin, they demanded, and how does he know so much? The closed community of scent creation opened up to Luca Turin, and he discovered a fact that astonished him: no one in this world knew how smell worked. Billions and billions of dollars were spent creating scents in a manner amounting to glorified trial and error.
The solution to the mystery of every other human sense has led to the Nobel Prize, if not vast riches. Why, Luca Turin thought, should smell be any different? So he gave his life to this great puzzle. And in the end, incredibly, it would seem that he solved it. But when enormously powerful interests are threatened and great reputations are at stake, Luca Turin learned, nothing is quite what it seems.
Acclaimed writer Chandler Burr has spent four years chronicling Luca Turin’s quest to unravel the mystery of how our sense of smell works. What has emerged is an enthralling, magical book that changes the way we think about that area between our mouth and our eyes, and its profound, secret hold on our lives.
Categories: Biographies & Memoirs• Science
Reading time: 8 – 9 hours
Oh, so for my science friends, I tell them to read The Emperor of Scent, by Chandler Burr, about my friend Luke Tern. And it talks about a renegade scientist being stymied by the journal nature, by various conferences, by the established research centers, and it’s just a wonderful introduction to how the dissident voice is marginalized.