BOOK REVIEW: Historian Robert Muchembled sniffs out cultural context of smell
Could there be a better time to publish a book aiming to restore the importance of smell — for too long overshadowed by its siblings sight and touch, argues eminent French historian Robert Muchembled — than during a global pandemic in which many sufferers temporarily lose theirs, and come to appreciate it afresh?
Smells: A Cultural History of Odours in Early Modern Times in fact found its catalyst in 2014’s scientific finding — now debunked — that our noses are able to detect more than a trillion scents. True or not, it raised the organ’s profile. But for our author, smell obsessed for more than 30 years, “science without consciousness of the past is but the ruin of the soul”.