Monday Question – Have You Read Any Good Perfume Books Lately?

Let’s talk perfume books today:

Have you read a perfume book recently?

Which perfume books would you recommend for new fumies?

What kind of book about perfume would you like to read?

Which book would you think is essential reading for any serious fragrance fiend?

Which book would be good for a “normal” person as an introduction into our world?


My Answer:

I’m really looking forward to reading all of your answers today as I have been woefully negligent on the fragrance book front. (I blame the Kindle and all its literary temptations.) I have started but not yet finished Mandy Aftel’s new book Fragrant though.

As for recommendations for newbies, I definitely think the Chandler Burr books belong on any reading list, as does of course Luca Turin’s The Guide, even though I hardly ever agree with him, it is still a very interesting and helpful introduction to niche and mass market perfumes.

One book that irks me is Roja Dove’s Perfume. It has such great photography and also very interesting content, but is so badly edited (if at all!) that the poor grammar and copious typos sufficiently distract me to make the reading experience an irritating one.

A friend recently wondered about the new(ish) book by Tess Williams and whether it would make a good gift for a non-fumie. I’d love for all of you who have read it to chime in on that question!

So, let us know! What fragrant literature have you read lately?


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32 Responses to Monday Question – Have You Read Any Good Perfume Books Lately?

  1. Tara says:

    I echo your picks, B. Didn’t know Mandy’s new book was out. Her Essence and Alchemy acted as a major bridge from my interest in aromatherapy to perfume.

    I’ve just finished The Crimson Petal and The White where one of the central characters is the head of a perfume business in the Victorian era. However, the last “proper” perfume book was Alyssa Harad’s wonderful memoir Coming to My Senses.

    I wanted to read Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins next but it’s not showing as available on Kindle, which is a shame.

  2. annemariec says:

    My favourite is Barbara Herman’s book about c.20 perfume, Scent and Subversion. The Turin/Sanchez books are a watershed: the first genuine perfume criticism to make it outside the blogs to find a commercial publisher. ( I count Chandler Burr’s books as reportage rather than criticism.) I agree about Roja Dove’s book, and always feel a faint sense of embarrassment on behalf of the person he credits as editor. Wish i could afford a copy of Michael Edwards’ out of print book Perfume Legends. I love Angela Sanders’ (NST) crime fiction. Her heroine Joanna runs a vintage clothing boutique, and perfume gets plenty of mentions. I also enjoyed Kathleen Tessaro’s book The Perfume Collector. I think you may have reviewed it here?

    • annemariec says:

      Raymond Chandler fans will remember that The Lady in the Lake revolves around some characters working in a perfume company which sounds like a cross between Estee Lauder and Guerlain. Along the way we learn that Phillip Marlowe can discern a cheap chypre from an expensive one, just from the silage. What a man!

    • Olfactoria says:

      Great thoughts, thanks Annemarie.
      I have Angela’s books on my wishlist, they sound lovely!

  3. Vanessa says:

    I have given ‘Coming to my senses’ to a couple of ‘civilian’ friends and they loved it! For those also interested in the commercial aspects, Chandler Burr’s The Perfect Scent is hard to beat. The most recent perfume book I read was Sarah McCartney’s comedy of manners-stroke-thriller ‘The Scent of Possibility’, which is a light but fun read.

  4. Now I’ll have to read The Lady in the Lake, thanks Annemariec.
    I agree with Annemarie’s choice of Perfume Legends:French Feminine Fragrances by Michael Edwards. That is a really good place to start for new fumies- better than The Guide which is very time specific to 2007- so much has changed! I also loved The Perfect Scent, Chandler Burr gives a clear explanation and description of a complex industry.

    • Olfactoria says:

      That is true about the Guide of course, after only a few years it is no longer really relevant when it comes to the perfumes, but it will always be interesting for the fact that perfume reviews are “a thing” for the first time.

  5. rosestrang says:

    I’ve read the Guide and still occasionally dip into it, but am usually a bit let down by the descriptions. Maybe it was too far ranging to be really reflective, but it is very amusing in parts.
    My niece bought me ‘The Perfume Collector’ which is a great holiday read – quite a good story, romantic and it refers to some interesting perfume history. Also, my neice (bless her!) bought me the book by Lush perfumers ‘The Story of Sandalwood Smuggling’. It’s in graphic novel form, I wasn’t wowed by it or the artwork, but I learned a lot of the sandalwood trade, very dodgy indeed.

    I read most of Turin’s ‘The Science of Smell’ but it’s fairly heavy on chemistry, so enjoyment of it depends how much you enjoy a high level of abstract scientific facts. With the best will in the world, there’s a limit to how much of that I can take in without getting bored. Interesting theories though.

    I’d like a book that has a humorous aspect, that maybe suggests ideal perfumes for different scenarios and personalities, with a choice from classic and contemporary. Also with detailed info on the ingredients of the perfumes (especially which musks are used, because note lists usually just state ‘musk’ but there are hundreds, all with very different effects). As long as it’s well written too, I’ll enjoy it.

    • Olfactoria says:

      I really loved The Science of Smell, in connection with Burr’s The Emperor of Scent you get a good picture of Turin’s ideas as well as his personality which is at least as interesting.

      Hopefully a book like you describe in your last paragraph will come along eventually, I’d enjoy that too.

  6. Lady Jane Grey says:

    I loved Mandy Aftel’s first two books, they have a large part in me becoming a fumehead. Yeah, Turin’s guide is a sort of basic – even if I rarely agree with him, but still… I quite enjoyed Alyssa Harad’s book too. And few days ago I started Mandy’s new one, still having some difficulties to get in… Looks like I will have too test read the Tess Williams book by myself 🙂


    I have re-read Monsieur Ellena’s book (more like a booklet, volume-wise), but it does convey a nice, relaxed, creative mood; a breath of fresh Mediterranean air I needed so badly in the heart of a rainy Berlin winter 🙂

  8. Hey Birgit,
    I too have strayed from perfume-centric prose back to re-read a slew of old favourites. I do keep buying them though so there is quite a backlog.
    Ones I loved include all the Chandler Burrs, Denyse Beaulieu “The Perfume Lover”, Tilar J. Mazzeo “The Secret of CHANEL No 5”, Mandy Aftel, Karen Gilbert does interesting short course style books, Turin & Sanchez ( I liked the Little Book of Perfumes: Top 100), Alyssa Harad, and a slew of others.
    Portia xx

  9. All those mentioned already, and The Scent Trail is really lovely. Scent and Desire by Herz, and The Nose Knows, both more science-y but well written with a lot of interest to know about how smell affects people. Burr’s Emperor of Scent is my favorite of his books. The Smell Culture Reader (essays), Fragrant and Foul, which has a lot about the history of the sense of smell especially in European culture. A Scented Palace, about Marie Antoinette’s perfumer is lovely. Perfume by Susskind is a classic wonder. Not read yet but on my shelf – Denise Hamilton who writes for the LA Times and is a perfumista has a series of detective novels where the protagonist is a perfumista. The Scented Ape, another cultural/historical more academic type of thing. I loved The Book of Incense by Morita, a different kind of perfume but I think it would sensitize anyone to their sense of smell and all the aromatic messages out there.

  10. Ines says:

    Does it count if I wanted to read a perfume-related book? 😉
    I still haven’t finished the Chanel biography I started last summer (it’s long!) and it’s only slightly perfume-related.
    The next one I want to read (and is on my nightstand) is Scent and Subversion, I’m really looking forward to that. 🙂

  11. Anka says:

    Wonderful post, thank you and everyone for all the recommendations!
    I so much would like to read Edmond Roudnitska’s “Die Kunst des Parfums” but it’s 200 € (!!!) on amazon – well, perhaps I’ll find it in a library one day. It’s said to cover the philosophical aspect of perfumery as an art.

  12. Ana-Maria says:

    If anyone is interested in reading in Italian, there are two great books, both treating the subject of perfume through the history of literature: one is called Il profumo della letteratura, the other La sua voce e profumo- whose author, Giovanna Zucconi, is the co-owner of the artisan perfume brand, Serra & Fonseca.

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