A NATURAL HISTORY OF THE SENSES by Diane Ackerman

A NATURAL HISTORY OF THE SENSES

KIRKUS REVIEW

Ackerman, a poet, New Yorker writer, and author of On Extended Wings (1985), offers a luscious tribute to the joys of corporeality. Eager to appear sophisticated and civilized, modem-day human beings tend to ignore the physical world--so claims Ackerman as she sets out to re-create in her uniquely luxuriant prose the experiences of touch, taste, hearing, vision, and smell. Eh. cased in pantyhose or three-piece suits, surrounded by smog, noise and fluorescent light, preoccupied with worldly concerns and too rushed to pay attention to outside stimuli, we miss the variations of scent in a rose garden, the flash of green in the sky just after sunset, the sensations offered by a whiff of eucalyptus at a corner flower stall. Certainly no more appropriate writer exists than this romantic stylist to snap us back to our mammalian origins, a feat achieved as she guides us through a Manhattan, perfume laboratory, an aromatic massage session, and a delicious high-protein lunch designed to stimulate the mind. Accompanying widely known facts regarding the workings of our nose, eyes, ears, and mouth are such intriguing tidbits as: ginger fights motion sickness better than Dramamine; Charles Dickens instantly reexperienced the anguish of his early years whenever he caught a whiff of a certain kind of paste; and "Caesar," "kaiser," and "tsar" all mean "long-haired," which means virile. Though her enthusiasm does occasionally exceed reasonable bounds ("Symbolic of life, hair bolts from our head") and her emotionality can veer toward the maudlin (inhaling the scene of a eucalyptus branch, she bursts into tears), Ackerman's intentions are honorable--and her passion for the world around her is contagious.
Pub Date: June 1st, 1990
ISBN: 0679735666
Page count: 356pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1990




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