Elise Vernon PearlstineSep 8, 2022
A Natural History of Fragrance
Yale University Press 2022
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.
In this wide-ranging and accessible Scent: A Natural History (Yale University Press, 2022), biologist-turned-perfumer Dr. Elise Vernon Pearlstine turns our human-centered perception of fragrance on its head and investigates plants' evolutionary reasons for creating aromatic molecules. Delving into themes of spirituality, wealth, power, addiction, royalty, fantasy, and more, Pearlstine uncovers the natural history of aromatic substances and their intersection with human culture and civilization.
This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose doctoral work focused on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.