Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Month: April 2022

PERFUME by Megan Volpert

Thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Academic for this review copy! This book is part of the Object Lessons series, which is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things.

Our sense of smell is crucial to our survival. We can smell fear, disease, food. Fragrance is also entertainment. We can smell an expensive bottle of perfume at a high-end department store. Perhaps it reminds us of our favorite aunt. A memory in a bottle is a powerful thing.
Megan Volpert’s Perfume carefully balances the artistry with the science of perfume. The science takes us into the neurology of scent receptors, how taste is mostly smell, the biology of illnesses that impact scent sense, and the chemistry of making and copying perfume. The artistry of perfume involves the five scent families and symbolism, subjectivity in perfume preference, perfume marketing strategies, iconic scents and perfumers, why the industry is so secretive, and Volpert’s own experiments with making perfume.
Object Lessons is published in partnership with an essay series in The Atlantic.

I have never read any of the Object Lessons books, and I was curious to see what PERFUME held for me. Volpert is a good writer, but she jumps around from subject to subject and it is a bit disconcerting. However, she knows her stuff and each chapter is part autobiographical, part science of smell. There are 8 chapters, with titles such as Time, Science, Technology, and Performance. I ended up ignoring the titles, since each chapter contained a multitude of information, not necessarily matching up with the name the chapter was given.

As I constantly mention, each book that spurs me to Google something I’ve read is always satisfying.  I looked up vetiver, Giorgio Beverly Hills (which I subsequently bought), Germaine Cellier, Bang by Marc Jacobs, the Monell Center in Philadelphia, and the ship of Theseus. Each search entertained and educated, and I grew more satisfied with each Google.

If you are looking for a book with detailed descriptions on how to create a scent, you may not be entirely happy with this book. But you will learn a bit about creation, top and bottom notes, names of ingredients that go into a scent, and the gestalt of 80’s perfume (I felt so nostalgic as I read and recalled that decade, my favorite).

One of the scientific paragraphs that grabbed my attention was the following, taken from the chapter Time, discussing perfume formulas:

Perhaps a formula has 50 elements and the lab tech not only doles out all 50 with exactitude, but also the variations the master perfumer has requested to contemplate, such as a set of 10 options where one molecule is increased by a quarter of a percent each time and a second set of five options for each of those ten where the ratio of two other molecules is reduced proportionally alongside the quarter-percent increase of the other. And all the results may smell like garbage.

I had no idea of the depth of work required to create a fragrance, much less the tweaking that is sometimes done, such as CK One evolving into the variation of other CK perfumes. CK One was truly the scent of a generation, and the author handles this little tidbit with aplomb.

Overall, I was happy with this little book. As I read it, I absorbed its contents without knowing that I would think of this book again and again. After a few days separation I realized that I enjoyed it more than I originally thought. Once you get into the flow of the author’s quirky prose, the contents flow smoothly by until you reach the end, and are left wanting more. I do recommend PERFUME as a quick, enjoyable read. Volpert manages to bring literature, philosophy, and science together, culminating in a compact masterpiece. 

You can pick up your copy here.

SPARE PARTS by Paul Craddock

Paul Craddock’s Spare Parts offers an original look at the history of medicine itself through the rich, compelling, and delightfully macabre story of transplant surgery from ancient times to the present day.

How did an architect help pioneer blood transfusion in the 1660’s?
Why did eighteenth-century dentists buy the live teeth of poor children?
And what role did a sausage skin and an enamel bath play in making kidney transplants a reality?

We think of transplant surgery as one of the medical wonders of the modern world. But transplant surgery is as ancient as the pyramids, with a history more surprising than we might expect. Paul Craddock takes us on a journey – from sixteenth-century skin grafting to contemporary stem cell transplants – uncovering stories of operations performed by unexpected people in unexpected places. Bringing together philosophy, science and cultural history, Spare Parts explores how transplant surgery constantly tested the boundaries between human, animal, and machine, and continues to do so today.
Witty, entertaining, and illuminating, Spare Parts shows us that the history – and future – of transplant surgery is tied up with questions about not only who we are, but also what we are, and what we might become.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for this ARC! The subtitle of this book is: The Story of Medicine through the History of Transplant Surgery.  There is minimal gore (there are a few exceptions) and a great deal of history. The first chapter starts in the 1500’s and starts out with “Skin” and ends in the 1960’s with “Organs” and “Transplant Future”.  The book also includes illustrations that add another dimension to the written word.

I always love when a book piques my interest so much that I Google the subject to learn more. SPARE PARTS does just that. One of the more…interesting… items was an old YouTube video of disembodied parts living outside the body of deceased dogs. The film was made in 1940 and is found under the title of “Experiments in the Revival of Organisms”.  The highlight (?) of this film is a disembodied dog head reacting to stimuli as it is kept “alive” by an artificial heart and lungs. Not for the faint of heart.

I was totally unaware of the history behind transplants, so reading this book was quite intriguing. Apparently tooth transplants were all the rage in the late 1600’s, with poor children selling their teeth to be transplanted into the mouths of the wealthy. It was poignant to think that the only items of value that those poor children had were their teeth. The book makes note that they were quite eager to sell their dentition in order to make money so they could eat.  I am not sure how satisfying meals were, having to consume their food with minimal or no teeth in their mouth.

The book also discusses blood transfusions between humans and animals, and kidney/heart/organ transplants. There is a great deal of history along with the author’s thoughts on the subjects. SPARE PARTS is written well, in a way that a reader with no medical background will understand. Those with a medical background will enjoy it as well, as the history aspect may add another layer to their knowledge.

I enjoyed reading SPARE PARTS so much, as it taught me more of the historical aspect of transplants and how the practice has evolved over the years. It is always amazing to read about how physicians practiced hundred of years ago, and what they thought about the workings of the human body.

If you are interested in learning more about the unusual history of transplant surgery I definitely recommend this book. Well written and quite interesting!

You can pick up your copy here.

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