The Emperor of Scent

I just finished reading “The Emperor of Scent”: by Chandler Burr. It’s a nonfiction account of a scientist/perfume aficionado named Luca Turin and the series of events that led to him developing a radically innovative theory of how smell works (one of the last enduring mysteries of our basic senses).

I so thoroughly enjoyed this book that I literally couldn’t put it down until I had finished it (at about 2 AM). Burr manages to unfold a compelling tale of scientific discovery, and reveal a bit of the secretive world of the big money perfume industry. But what really fascinated me was Burr’s account of the established scientific community’s reaction to Turin’s unorthodox (but credible) theory: near-outright rejection. It reminded me of the old saw that “scientific paradigms don’t change; the people with old ideas eventually die.”

Also compelling was the fact that Turin is one of those rare people who is eccentric/passionate/devoted/widely-read enough to piece together the elements of his theory from a series of seemingly disconnected observations in biology, chemsitry and physics. It reminded me that innovation rarely springs from established disciplines, but from those who are bold enough to cross-fertilize seemingly unrelated ideas. And they often pay a price for doing so.

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