Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World’s Smells

Penguin Pr.. Oct. 2020. 688p. ISBN 9781594203954. $35. SCI
Award-winning science writer McGee (On Food and Cooking) offers an exhaustive compendium on odors and their chemical makeup. He begins by explaining that chemical volatiles that drift from their sources provide us with these smells, what he calls the osmocosm. Those chemicals began in space before earth existed. He grounds his study in the original chemicals, the building blocks, which serve as ingredients for all odors, and explains how our brains perceive them. Jumping off from this foundation, he devotes sections of the book to the specific odors emanating from animals, from plants, and from the stuff of earth itself (the waters, land, and gases). His concluding section includes chapters on perfumes, on the varied aromas of cooked foods, and on cured and fermented foods. In every chapter, numerous tables note the item, its smell, and its chemical composition. He often makes interesting connections between odors that exist in widely different and unexpected places. The reader may wish to dip in and out of this exceedingly thorough book, following their fancy.
VERDICT Perfect for foodies, those interested in science, and the innately curious. Engagingly written, this would be a wonderful ready reference to have on hand.
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