Scroll through your favourite online book retailer and you’ll find dozens of paperbacks that chronicle the history of fragrance. But author Elise Vernon Pearlstine is giving the topic a fresh twist this month with the launch of her book Scent: A Natural History of Fragrance. What makes Elise unique is her approach. After a seventeen-year career as a wildlife biologist, she changed direction and pursued a career as a perfumer.
“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,” explains the author.
In this fascinating new book, Pearlstine investigates plants’ evolutionary reasons for creating aromatic molecules. Delving into themes of spirituality, wealth, power, addiction, royalty, fantasy and more, she uncovers the natural history of aromatic substances and their intersection with human culture and civilization. Throughout her discussions, the reader gains a new appreciation for his or her favourite fragrances. It’s an illuminating read.