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Books, Journals, New Media
June 10, 1998

Smell: Smell: The Secret Seducer

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorJonathan D.EldredgeMLS, PhD, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media


Not Available

JAMA. 1998;279(22):1840. doi:10.1001/jama.279.22.1840-JBK0610-6-1

Originally published in Danish in 1994, this newly translated edition is not only a pleasure to read but also provides a foundation for understanding the first cranial nerve, something badly lacking in medical school training. While in depth concepts are simplified for the general audience, the broad spectrum of topics and information usually compensates for this minor drawback.

Among the fascinating aspects of smell presented is olfactory diversity. In animals, olfactory ability varies from the anosmic-toothed whale to dogs that can identify some odors (like butyric acid) 10 million times better than humans, to pigeons that may use an olfactory map to determine their bearings. Among olfactorily normal humans, ability to smell can differ by 4000 fold in the threshold of detecting substances like lemon or orange. Disease states, even those not involving the olfactory system, can affect sense of smell, and, while the blind are overall better at identifying odors, they have a reduced ability to recognize some, including liverwurst, cigar butts, toast, popcorn, and mothballs.