Chances are you know of someone who has lost their sight or hearing wholly or in part. Helen Keller could neither hear nor see but found brilliant ways to articulate her experience. Countless other writers and artists have made their experiences accessible to those of us who've never been limited in those ways. Because of their efforts at translation, those of us who see and hear can imagine what it would be like to lose either. Yet what of smell and taste? These less commonly impaired senses are no less significant avenues by which we experience all that is. What would it be like to lose them, perhaps forever?

In a new book, Season to Taste, Molly Birnbaum looks for answers to this question after severe head trauma following a car accident erases her sense of smell. Her quest aimed not only at seeing if she could at least partially regain her sense of smell—an aspiring chef, Birnbaum had to indefinitely postpone attending the prestigious Culinary Institute of America—but also at unearthing the significance of smell to the human experience.

In finding answers, Birnbaum is filled with anxiety beyond the practical question of whether a chef who can't smell, and therefore can barely taste, can cook. Is it even possible to regain a sense of smell? (Anosmia has a dismal recovery rate.) What if there's a gas leak while she's alone? Does the science of pheromones (the scents apparently responsible for much of what attracts humans to each other) suggest that she will never feel love or desire again?

Birnbaum engagingly and deftly leads the reader through the varied and fascinating aspects of scent and its role in human experience and culture. Women give off sexually attractive pheromones when they're fertile, while women ...

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