This is a book about chemistry. Actually, one could say that it’s about chemicals and only one specific group of chemicals at that. It is essentially a catalog of chemicals that you can smell. This is exactly as exciting as it sounds. The book is, on the whole, dry and repetitive, like a reference book. And yet, between the surprisingly comprehensive and thorough lists and tables, there is a wealth of fascinating information from chemistry to biology to botany to geology to history and anthropology. By looking at the world through its smells, it is necessary to take a broad view. McGee has undertaken a monumental task with patience and thoroughness and the result is a curious but unmistakably valuable book. Where else can you find answers to all those questions you never knew you had?
Why do fish smell fishy? Why do shellfish smell different from other fish? Why do all flowers smell like flowers (or do they)? And just what is going on with stinky cheeses? There are many mysteries to unravel and connections to marvel at. This is, after all, a book about nearly everything.
It is hard to recommend reading this tome cover to cover (though it is possible to do so). It is also hard not to recommend at least skimming it. It is full of uncommon knowledge that informs everyday experience.