The Secret of Scent by Luca Turin
Don’t get me wrong, I like Luca. I like his monthly column in the NZZ-folio called ‘Duftnote’ (No deep link, just scroll down the page to Duftnote, there is an English translation of every one of his articles on the site). Yes, at first I thought it weird that NZZ-folio’s ‘leading column’ ‘Geri Weibel’ by Martin Suter (The German entry is more illuminating and has a picture of the author) got replaced by a page writing about perfume. I used to like the looser Geri a lot too, but I like the perfume column even better. And that’s me who doesn’t like to shower and doesn’t give a shit about my looks…
So I when I heard about him having written a book about scent I had to get it and to read it.
It’s more like a history of scent book than a definite guide to ‘Luca Turin’s Theory of Smell’. But the first question that has to be answered is: For whom, i.e. for what audience, was the book written? In some places, it goes to minute detail like chemical structure (Raman-Spectra, quantum chemistry etc.) whereas other sections are just vague. The book has some references, but these are mainly to some classic textbooks of the field just covered. Very few references to research articles, no usable references to the Ph.D. theses from Kansas State University mentioned throughout the text …
For a text geared to general audiences, this would not be too much of a deficit, but most parts require profound understanding of chemistry: Instead of volume models for all chemicals and chemical groups discussed (these are restricted to some isolated cases), only the classic ‘letter and stick’ notation is presented. Even though it is stated (and was more or less obvious from the start), that the 3D structure is more important than 2D topology of the atoms.
I learned a lot reading the book, I can understand Luca Turin’s theory on scent now, but I can’t go any further, because all the hocks (i.e. references) are missing. It is a great book by one of the experts in an ‘obscure’ field of research. If you are interested in good perfumes, continue to read his column in the NZZ-folio and wait for the ‘Perfume Guide’. If you want to start to mix perfumes yourself or apply the knowledge about cent to cooking, this book is of value to you, but you should get some of the missing references before you start (and send me a copy too, please). If you have no knowledge of chemistry whatsoever, this book is not for you.
Suggestet supplementary reading:
- Organic Chemistry: Includes Study Guide and Solutions Manual
G. Marc Loudon, Purdue University
Oxford University Press, USA; Edition: 4 (Mai 2003)
- Handbook of Sensory Physiology, Chemical Senses
Volume IV, Part 1 (Olefaction)
Editor: Lloyd M. Beidler
ISBN 3-540-05291-7 / ISBN 0-387-05291-7
Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1971