A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman

76611Title: A Natural History of the Senses
Author: Diane Ackerman
Pages: 352
Year: 1990
Publisher: Vintage (Knopf Doubleday)
Time taken to read: 3 weeks, 3 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: Diane Ackerman’s lusciously written grand tour of the realm of the senses includes conversations with an iceberg in Antarctica and a professional nose in New York, along with dissertations on kisses and tattoos, sadistic cuisine and the music played by the planet Earth. “Delightful . . . gives the reader the richest possible feeling of the worlds the senses take in.”–The New York Times.

This book was given to me as a graduation present from my high school art teacher–only he didn’t actually get around to giving it to me until probably about a year ago, and I graduated high school in 2012. I read this while in treatment, mostly at 3:15 AM, which was when I had to wake up to get weighed and get my blood pressure and heart rate checked, which was always atrocious, so then I had to sit and drink a Gatorade while the nurses watched to make sure I didn’t pour it into the flower pots like some girls did. So I would read this while waiting to see a nurse, and sometimes they would ask me what I was reading, and I’d show them, and they’d read the back cover with looks of total confusion on their faces.

The book is divided up into sections based on the five senses, and each section rambles on about that sense. It’s strange how A Natural History of the Senses is written so poetically, yet it’s full of scientific studies and facts. One of my favorite facts that I wrote down so I wouldn’t forget it is that heart attack patients who have pets live longer than those without, which was extra interesting because when I was in treatment, I thought about how much I missed my cat more than anyone else. Another cool fact from the section on smell is that people can tell just from smelling an article of clothing whether it was worn by a male or female, and a mother can tell if something was worn by her child based on smell as well. I will have to test that out when I’m a mother.

This book gave me a lot of really inspirational quotes to write down as well. My favorites are as follows:

A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimension. –Oliver Wendell Holmes


The bright suns I see and the dark suns I cannot see are in their place. –Walt Whitman

The Walt Whitman quote hit me pretty hard, I think. To me, it means that whether or not I understand it, everything is the way it’s supposed to be. (I dislike the quote “Everything happens for a reason,” because that sounds too cliché, but that’s basically what I mean here.) And maybe this isn’t true for everyone. Probably for most people it isn’t, because it doesn’t need to be. But it was true for Whitman, and I think it’s true for me, because I need it to be true. Otherwise, I don’t know how to accept my life. I have to believe that it has to be this way, it can only be this way, it was always going to be this way, and any other way wouldn’t be right, even if it would hurt less.

In any case, I’m giving this four out of five stars because sometimes the flowery language was a little much for me, and it gets a little sensual at times, which made me mildly uncomfortable. Still, I recommend it to all. Thanks, Mr. Marano. Miss you.


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