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.
Nobody knows for sure what makes our noses work the way they do, not even the $20-billion-a-year perfume industry's legions of chemists, whose jobs depend on appealing to those noses. So what happens when Luca Turin, a likable scientist who happens to possess an unusually sensitive nose, proposes a new theory of smell that promises to unravel the mystery once and for all? That's what readers find out in this often funny, picaresque expos of the closed world of whiffs, aromas and odors and the people who study them. Burr (A Separate Creation: The Search for the Biological Origins of Sexual Orientation) narrates in depth Turin's efforts to publish in the journal Nature: the maddening peer review process lasts more than a year and ends with smug dismissals by scientists who don't understand his work. Turin, whose urbane personality carries the book, runs into similar brick walls when he tries to sell his ideas to the "Big Boys" of the secretive and byzantine perfume industry. Burr, who is skilled at parsing complex science and smart turns of phrase, enters the story in the first person to describe his own difficulties as a journalist writing about Turin: critics clam up and get hostile when asked about Turin's theory. Burr concludes that the hysterical, often incoherent resistance portrayed here "embodies the failure of the scientific process." Grim words for a book so full of wit. (On sale Jan. 21)
I read this book at the request of a friend, and I must say it was as shocking as it was intriguing. Turin has literally cracked the secret behind the operation of our sense of smell, but the corruption and greed present in today's scientific community appallingly ignores his achievement.
For anyone with doubts about other widespread scientific theories that people base their life, livelihood, and worldview off of, this book certainly gives credence to the suspicions of many.
If the scientific community of today is so resistant to truth and believes, quoting the book, that it is "too controversial" to be published when speaking on a subject as inconsequential as the sense of smell (honestly?), one might wonder what would happen if the subject were something a bit more impactful... Say, evolution?
I cannot believe the blatant abandonment of actual science the "scientific leaders" of today practice. Since when was personal agenda included in the scientific method? Since when was controversy considered when the evidence shows that the prevailing school of though has been solidly proven incorrect?
The scientific community of today blatantly ignores factual, empirical evidence and research to propituate the status quo and the common belief of the leaders within it. Last time I checked, that was an accusation typically leveled at religion.
Rant aside, as I said, this book has opened my eyes to the pathetic human nature of greed prevalent in our society. I have become absolutely sickened by society at large today, and I can only hope that by reading this book, you too might begin to include a healthy dose of doubt with anything being pushed by "the powers that be."
I know that from now on, I'll take anything from a supposed "peer-reviewed, credible source" with a large crystal of rock salt.
Do your self a favor, read this book, even if it is for no other reason than to find out the TRUE way that our noses work - you likely won't find it many other places!