A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman - Book Review


We appear to see a recent past through with a reverse telescope that compresses it. However, civilization is a notable stage in human life, and, as far as we know, it may not be a major achievement. It may not be the final stage.

This book explores the five senses from various opinions at once in history, biology, and anthropology. Ackerman writes with intensified imagery that can be either beautiful or harsh. Indeed, Memorable was a discourse of the cultural evolution of taste, complemented by an ancient Roman recipe for live goose cooking.

For instance, in the chapter on our sense of smell, Ackerman reports that most of the first perfumes were derived directly from animal parts, ambergris from sperm whales, beaver castorium, and musk from the intestines of an Asian deer. Why were we lusting for such bold scents? Ackerman says it's because most chemical particles are similar in shape to human hormones and affect us in the way human pheromones should be. Essentially, these four animal secretions are comparable to our stimulants, and we, therefore, respond to them with excitement.

In the section about touch, Ackerman tells us that in research done in Oxford, Mississippi, waitresses touched their customers gently and discreetly by hand or shoulder when serving the meals. The diners who were touched did not necessarily rate the food or the experience any better than the 'untouched' diners, but the waitresses consistently get more tip because of that.

We tend to think about ourselves as insightful and emotional creatures. Yet, our experiences are adequately trained by our senses. Most of these we know, and others we wouldn't even recognize we possess.

Our senses are also what we've got. How we blend, utilize, and interpret them is what tends to make the whole existence unique. By learning all about them collectively, we can spend the effort to revel in the beauty of all that exists, of the wide range of possible ways of approaching this immensely complicated universe.


In Diane Ackerman's 'Natural History of Senses,' she uncovers each of our senses with a wealthy, glittering writing style. Having read this expanded my understanding of sensations in and around me comprehensively and thoughtfully, so I would recommend it to any aspiring writer or anyone heavily invested in 'mindfulness.'

Why does Ackerman believe each other truly and vibrantly, but she also provides insight into the science and history behind the other. From the complexities of a nervous system supporting our skin cells to how olfactory nerves that contribute to the smell affect the taste, Ackerman proves her research's expanding existence even while writing in such clear, understandable prose.

The book is pretty amazing. She does a fantastic job of sprinkling random snippets of history, scientific facts, literature references, language phrases, and famous quotes into a flood of ways that we use our senses to perceive. Although some of these are interesting and fun, there have been simply too many unconnected facts to hold it straight. If you're keen to learn more about why humans behave in a certain way, you may consider reading this book. 

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