Perfumes: The A-Z Guide By Luca Turin & Tania

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The Independent Culture

So pungent are the odours which waft from these pages that one almost expects to find a hidden capsule of perfume smuggled inside, but credit is instead due to the authors' evocative and vivid writing style, convincing us that perfume isn't a science but an art. Never again will you be able to walk past a perfume counter with quite the same nonchalance.

Here, breathe in the intriguing "Introduction to Perfume Criticism", which tells how to connect your nose to your brain and how to match words to sensation; inhale the differences between feminine and masculine fragrance; and briefly sniff the history of scent since its inception at the end of the 19th century to the present-day $15bn perfume business.

The heart of the book consists of starred reviews (451 new fragrances in this edition). Curious by Britney Spears, for example, was the bestselling fragrance of 2004, netting $100m in its first year. But it wins only a one-star vote, with the authors complaining: "It smells of every crass fruity floral of the last five years blended together, a bland inoffensive magnolia-and-cherries thing resembling children's cough syrup. It lasts forever, radiates like nuclear waste, and perfectly expresses the crude charms of its star."

No fan of Britney's smell, then, but four stars go to the perfume Lyric Woman (Amouage), in which we see how great fragrances can move one to a "musical resonance" – "Thelonious Monk would have understood this fragrance instantly."

Philosophical musings aren't confined to the olfactory: "All pleasure is connected, and the endless ride we take between disappointment and satisfaction and back again is largely what keeps us interested in life."

Despite the whiff of cliché clinging to the five-star descriptions, if you have a nose for a good book, buy this one.