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A Natural History of Fragrance

Elise Vernon Pearlstine; Illustrations by Lara Call Gastinger

View Inside Format: Hardcover
Price: $28.00
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A fascinating exploration of the natural history of scent and human perceptions of fragrance from the viewpoint of plant and pollinator
“An evocative journey that awakens one’s curiosity to an oft-forgotten sense.”—Dana Dunham, Scientific American
Plants have long harnessed the chemical characteristics of aromatic compounds to shape the world around them. Frankincense resin from the genus Boswellia seals injured tissues and protects trees from invading pathogens. Jasmine produces a molecule called linalool that attracts pollinating moths with its flowery scent. Tobacco uses a similarly sweet-smelling compound called benzyl acetone to attract pollinators. Only recently in the evolutionary history of plants, however, have humans learned to co-opt their fragrances to seduce, heal, protect, and alter moods themselves.
In this wide-ranging and accessible new book, biologist-turned-perfumer Elise Vernon Pearlstine turns our human-centered perception of fragrance on its head and investigates plants' evolutionary reasons for creating aromatic molecules. Delving into themes of spirituality, wealth, power, addiction, royalty, fantasy, and more, Pearlstine uncovers the natural history of aromatic substances and their intersection with human culture and civilization.

After a seventeen-year career in wildlife biology, Elise Vernon Pearlstine found a second life as a natural perfumer, consultant, and educator. She conducts classes for corporate and private events, instructing students on the biology, artistry, and history of perfume ingredients. Dr. Pearlstine lives on Amelia Island in northern Florida.

“The book is an evocative journey that awakens one’s curiosity to an oft-forgotten sense.”—Dana Dunham, Scientific American

“In this beautifully crafted and thoroughly researched book, Elise Pearlstine's evocative writing transports us to far-off lands and to long-forgotten times, revealing the fascinating secrets of the fragrance-filled plants that have shaped humanity.”—Stuart Farrimond, author of Science of Spice, Science of Cooking, and Science of Living

“Elise Pearlstine has written a captivating page-turner of a book that blends history, science, and chemistry together into an evocative story.”—Stephen Buchmann, author of The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives

“Elise Pearlstine has written a beautiful account of an important medium of human expression. Her gentle prose and lush descriptions are so lovely that at times they almost amount to a sort of poetry: joyous to read and supported by immaculate research.”—Saskia Wilson-Brown, founder of The Institute for Art and Olfaction

“In this plant’s-nose view of fragrance, the author plunges us into the redolent world of the vegetal Kingdom. We humans belong to another Kingdom to which plants are utterly indifferent, yet we are not indifferent to them, and our delight in their scents has had a major impact on civilization (from trade and courting rituals to cooking). In recounting how our respective histories (natural vs. cultural) have become entwined, this superb book will inspire the reader to discover their inner botanist and breathe deeply.”—David Howes, author of The Sensory Studies Manifesto

“Elise Pearlstine gives voices to the unsung: the raw materials, pollinators, and plants that have inspired her and perfumers throughout history. Comprehensive and well researched, the book makes her passion for perfume palpable on every page.”—Michelyn Camen, Editor-in-Chief,

“But though Scent is a story of plants' ingenuity, it is also a tale of the human kind."—The Economist

“An easy read about a hugely wide subject…[Pearlstine] caught my real attention when she got into the territory of smell notes. I love the language of smell. It’s like winespeak, only better.”—Isabel Bannerman, The Daily Telegraph

ISBN: 9780300246964
Publication Date: May 24, 2022
272 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
12 b/w illus.