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Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent

Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent won the 2016 Perfumed Plume book award for fragrance writing. Through five major players in the epic of aroma, author Mandy Aftel explores the profound connection between our sense of smell and the appetites that move us, give us pleasure, make us fully alive. Cinnamon, queen of the Spice Route, touches our hunger for the unknown, the exotic, the luxurious. Mint, homegrown the world over, speaks to our affinity for the native, the familiar, the authentic. Frankincense, an aromatic resin, taps into our longing for transcendence, while ambergris embodies our unquenchable curiosity. And exquisite jasmine exemplifies our yearning for beauty, both evanescent and enduring.

Mandy Aftel is widely acclaimed as a trailblazer in natural perfumery. Over two decades of sourcing the finest aromatic ingredients from all over the world and creating artisanal fragrances, she has been an evangelist for the transformative power of scent. In addition to providing a riveting initiation into the history, natural history, and philosophy of scent, Fragrant imparts the essentials of scent literacy and includes recipes for easy-to-make fragrances and edible, drinkable, and useful concoctions that reveal the imaginative possibilities of creating with -- and reveling in -- aroma. Vintage line drawings grace a volume that will be a treasured gift as well as a great read.

Hardcover signed by Mandy Aftel. If you would like the book inscribed to a particular name, please specify that name in the comment field when ordering.
Our Price: $28.00


Mandy Aftel's seductive Fragrant plumbs the power of ancient and exotic smells to ignite desire, discovery, and transcendence. —Vanity Fair

Fall Books List:A perfumer by profession, Aftel offers a combination history-slash-recipe book-slash-meditation in Fragrant. Instructions for homemade ‘Coca-Cola’ and flower-infused chocolate, among other aromatic concoctions, are woven through scent-based sections: Cinnamon, Mint, Frankincense, Ambergris and Jasmine. —TIME

Check out Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent by Mandy Aftel, sort of a Botany of Desire for scent. —Michael Pollan on Twitter

Must-Read Books List: Mandy Aftel is an internationally known artisan perfumer, and in her latest book, she probes into the history of some of our most evocative scents, from cinnamon to jasmine. —Flavorwire

Aftel, a professional perfumer and fragrance historian, asserts that scent is essential to the human experience and uses the examples of five natural essences (cinnamon, mint, frankincense, ambergris, and jasmine) to investigate its history and uses... Aftel’s vast knowledge and passion for perfumery are on full display here, and her personal anecdotes read like an old friend sharing a cherished recipe. In fact, the end of each section includes fragrance recipes in a format suitable for home perfumers. Illustrations throughout add visual interest, and the introduction gives a concise and fascinating summary of basic techniques of perfumery. VERDICT: Targeted toward those new to the perfume world, this book is strongly recommended for casual readers interested in the basics of scent and perfumery. —Library Journal

Aftel is more interested in the lineage of each essence, including its historical uses and anthropological resonances. Reading her book makes a person wearing perfume feel connected to every human in every era who has ever done so. Absent are the ambitious metaphors that compare fragrance notes to women, to airplanes, to films, to just about anything you can touch or taste or experience emotionally or have sex with. Bookforum

This fall's most compelling tome of highbrow nonfiction by a Berkeley author was not written by someone named Michael. The book, Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent, is an authoritatively voiced, utterly fascinating, fact-laden look into the surprisingly complex world of scent. It was written by Mandy Aftel, a Berkeley-based artisan perfumer who has been called "the Alice Waters of perfume." So step aside, Pollan and Lewis (at least for this season): You've got competition. — San Francisco Magazine

The history and mystery of the power of scent. Respected perfumer Aftel will greatly expand the knowledge of what readers think they know about fragrance as she chronicles the medicinal, culinary and spiritual uses of aromatics from antiquity to the present. "Scent, in a sense, is spirit: potent, invisible, omnipresent, elusive, capable of transforming experience of meaning," she writes. By blending "distinct personalities…textures and shapes," the author doesn't merely create pleasant aromas; she opens an olfactory portal to the sensual and spiritual appetites that make us feel alive and in the moment, and these scents touch us far deeper than a department-store cologne. Aftel is a skillful storyteller, and the dreamy quality of her writing will transport readers as they come to understand that scent is "one of the most accessible yet irreducible experiences of magic that we have." Evocative, heady and overflowing with history and lore. — Kirkus Reviews

In this sensuous and profound exploration of the history, science, and art of perfume, expert perfumer Aftel (Essence and Alchemy) seduces readers with an sensualism that only intensifies as her stories unfold. "The nose is idiosyncratically central not only to our sense of smell but to our sense of who we are, in our most primal appetites," she writes. "For the idea of appetite pertains to... all the sensual and spiritual experiences that drive us, give us pleasure, make us feel more alive." Aftel uses five "rock stars of the aromatic world" to acclimate readers to the world of scent: cinnamon for the exotic; mint for the homely arts of cooking, healing, and hospitality; frankincense for the transcendent; ambergris for the strange, wondrous, and animal; and jasmine for beauty and its inextricable bond with "beastliness." The book is peppered with fascinating trivia, such as the Chinese practices of telling time with burning incense or a cat’s eyes. History and science are interspersed with recipes and tidbits (Deana Sidney’s jasmine-ambergris-chocolate drink, a 1920s list of butterfly fragrances) that entice readers to wake up their noses and perhaps engage in their own scent alchemy. b&w illus. throughout. — Publisher's Weekly, starred review

In Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent, Mandy Aftel offers intriguing insight into world cultures through the history of five key scents - including why mint tea is a sign of hospitality in the Middle East, and how the Dutch policed the cinnamon black market in Ceylon. A kit with mint and cinnamon essences will accompany the book when it's out next month. — Food and Wine

Reading Mandy Aftel’s thoughtful and charmingly written Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent, I was taken on a journey of intrigue and fascination that operated on all my senses. Who knew there was so much to learn about the human affection for smelling good? Or, indeed, for the adventure of smelling itself. — Alice Walker

Fragrant is a thoughtful, beautifully written meditation on scent; I love that Mandy is both intrepid researcher and sensualist, with an innate gift for storytelling and an abiding curiosity in the provenance of her ingredients. This book vividly shows how the aromas of the natural world have the power to open the pathways to our minds, guiding and defining our traditions, our history and our future. — Alice Waters

Mandy Aftel has been tutoring my nose for many years. I’ve been lucky enough to make regular pilgrimages to her perfume studio to smell with her through the hundreds of materials in her collection, to browse in her wonderfully eclectic library, to be informed and inspired by her passion for scent in all its forms. In Fragrant, she distills that passion into an eloquent account of the forgotten stories of nature’s aromatic materials, the pleasure and meaning that they’ve given to people through the centuries, and simple ways of bringing those riches back into our own lives. — Harold McGee, New York Times columnist and bestselling author of On Food & Cooking