A Natural History of the Senses

BOOK: A Natural History of the Senses
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DIANE ACKERMAN’S
A NATURAL HISTORY OF THE SENSES

“This is one of the best books of the year—by any measure you want to apply. It is interesting, informative, very well written. This book can be opened on any page and read with relish.… thoroughly delightful … Don’t miss it.”

—St. Petersburg Times

“This book is pure ecstasy. It is a treasure trove of information, diverse in space and time and culture but all related to the pleasures of sensory experience.”

—Houston Chronicle

“Ms. Ackerman is an athlete of the senses.… To think our way back into feeling: this is [her] mission, and she’s very persuasive. On every other page, there’s a nice apercu.”

—The New York Times Book Review

“[Ackerman’s] fascinating book inspires an enthusiasm for the diversity of human experience and is a tribute to the amazing power of our senses. It’s both a sensual feast and a celebration.”

—Seattle Times


A Natural History of the Senses
is as voluptuous a volume as its subject matter cries out for. The charm of Diane Ackerman’s book is that it arouses awareness and appreciation of sensual life. In small, tasty morsels, it will delight you.”

—Los Angeles Times Book Review

“An intriguing, knowledgeable and compelling book on the science, mood, character and geography of the human senses. But … it is [Ackerman’s] inquiry into the temper and disposition of the senses that endures and settles irresistibly just beneath the reader’s skin. In exploring the extreme diversity of the human senses and their incredible variegation from culture to culture, Ms. Ackerman manages to reveal just how exceptional, rather than common, human senses are.”

—Atlanta Journal and Constitution

“Often funny, often poignant … The synthesis here—Ackerman’s ability to help us see that the sum of our senses is greater than the individual parts, and to do so in language that often resembles a prose poem—is all the more impressive for her finesse in linking science with our loftier aspirations.”

—San Francisco Chronicle

BOOKS BY
DIANE ACKERMAN

NONFICTION

A Natural History of Love

(1994)

The Moon by Whalelight and Other Adventures
Among Bats, Crocodilians, Penguins, and Whales

(1991)

A Natural History of the Senses

(1990)

On Extended Wings

(1985)

Twilight of the Tenderfoot

(1980)

POETRY

The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral

(1976)

Wife of Light

(1978)

Lady Faustus

(1983)

Reverse Thunder: A Dramatic Poem

(1988)

Jaguar of Sweet Laughter: New and Selected Poems

(1991)

DIANE ACKERMAN
A NATURAL HISTORY OF THE SENSES

Diane Ackerman was born in Waukegan, Illinois. She received her B.A. from Pennsylvania State University and an M.F.A. and Ph.D. from Cornell University. Her poetry has been published in many leading literary journals, and in the books
The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral
(1976),
Wife of Light
(1978),
Lady Faustus
(1983),
Reverse Thunder: A Dramatic Poem
(1988), and
Jaguar of Sweet Laughter: New and Selected Poems
(1991).

Her works of nonfiction include, most recently, A
Natural History of Love
(1994);
The Moon By Whalelight and Other Adventures Among Bats, Crocodilians, Penguins, and Whales
(1991); A
Natural History of the Senses
(1990); and
On Extended Wings
(1985), a memoir of flying. She is at work on a second book of nature writings,
The Rarest of the Rare
.

Ms. Ackerman has received the Academy of American Poets’ Lavan Award, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation, among other recognitions. She has taught at several universities, including Columbia and Cornell, and she is currently a staff writer for
The New Yorker
.

VINTAGE BOOKS EDITION, FEBRUARY
1995

Copyright © 1990 by Diane Ackerman

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover by Random House, Inc., New York, in 1990.

Portions of this work were originally published as first-serial contributions to
Parade
magazine. Portions of this work were originally published in different form in
The New York Times Book Review
and
Condé Nast Traveler.

Owing to limitations of space, all acknowledgments for permission to reprint previously published material may be found on
this page
.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ackerman, Diane
A natural history of the senses / Diane Ackerman. —
1st Vintage Books ed
p    cm
eISBN: 978-0-307-76331-0
1. Senses and sensation   2 Manners and customs
3 Human behavior   I. Title
[BF233A24   1991]
152 1—dc20   91-50048

Marbled art
© 1993
Ashley Miller

v3.1_r1

PERMISSIONS ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:

J
UDITH
R. B
IRNBERG
: Excerpts from the “My Turn” column from the March 21, 1988, issue of
Newsweek
. Reprinted by permission of Judith R. Birnberg.

H
ARCOURT
B
RACE
J
OVANOVICH
, I
NC., AND
F
ABER AND
F
ABER
L
IMITED
: Three lines from “The Dry Salvages” from
Four Quartets
by T. S. Eliot. Copyright 1943 by T. S. Eliot.

Copyright renewed 1971 by Esme Valerie Eliot. Rights throughout the world excluding the United States administered by Faber and Faber Limited. Reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., and Faber and Faber Limited.

D
AVID
H
ELLERSTEIN
: Excerpt from article about skin from the September 1985 issue of
Science Digest
. Copyright © 1985 by David Hellerstein. Reprinted by permission of the author.

L
IVERIGHT
P
UBLISHING
C
ORPORATION
: “i like my body when it is with your” and two lines from “notice the convulsed orange inch of moon” from
Tulips & Chimneys
by e. e. cummings, edited by George James Firmage. Copyright 1923, 1925 by e. e. cummings. Copyright renewed 1951, 1953 by e. e. cummings. Copyright © 1973, 1976 by the Trustees for the e. e. cummings Trust. Copyright © 1973, 1976 by George James Firmage. Rights throughout the British Commonwealth, excluding Canada, are controlled by Grafton Books, a division of the Collins Publishing Group. These poems appear in
Complete Poems, Vol
. I by e. e. cummings, published by Grafton Books. Reprinted by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation and Grafton Books, a division of the Collins Publishing Group.

T
HE
M
EDIA
D
EVELOPMENT
G
ROUP
: Excerpt from an advertisement for Chinese Exercise Balls from The Lifestyle Resource. Copyright © 1989 The Lifestyle Resource, The Media Development Group, Norwalk, Conn. Reprinted by permission.

N
ATIONAL
G
EOGRAPHIC
S
OCIETY
: Chapter entitled “How to Watch the Sky” by Diane Ackerman from
The Curious Naturalist
. Copyright © 1988 by the National Geographic Society. Reprinted by permission of the National Geographic Society.

T
HE
N
EW
Y
ORK
T
IMES
: Excerpt from an article by Daniel Goleman from February 2, 1988. Copyright © 1988 by The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission. S
TERLING
L
ORD
L
ITERISTIC
, I
NC.
Excerpt from
Curious World
by Philip Hamburger. Copyright © 1987 by Philip Hamburger. Reprinted by permission of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc.

V
INTAGE
B
OOKS, A
D
IVISION OF
R
ANDOM
H
OUSE
, I
NC
.: Excerpts from
Speak, Memory
by Vladimir Nabokov. Copyright © 1967 by Vladimir Nabokov. Reprinted by permission of Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

The initial mystery that attends any journey is: how did the traveller reach his starting point in the first place? How did I reach the window, the walls, the fireplace, the room itself; how do I happen to be beneath this ceiling and above this floor? Oh, that is a matter for conjecture, for argument pro and con, for research, supposition, dialectic! I can hardly remember how. Unlike Livingstone, on the verge of darkest Africa, I have no maps to hand, no globe of the terrestrial or the celestial spheres, no chart of mountains, lakes, no sextant, no artificial horizon. If ever I possessed a compass, it has long since disappeared. There must be, however, some reasonable explanation for my presence here. Some step started me toward this point, as opposed to all other points on the habitable globe. I must consider; I must discover it
.

—Louise Bogan,
Journey Around My Room

A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimension
.

—Oliver Wendell Holmes

PERSONAL ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Many friends and acquaintances have sent me useful books and articles, or shared reminiscences with me about the senses. I’m indebted especially to Walter Anderson, Ronald Buckalew, Whitney Chadwick, Ann Druyan, Tiffany Field, Marcia Fink, Geoff Haines-Stiles, Jeanne Mackin, Charles Mann, Peter Meese, the Monell Chemical Institute, Joseph Schall, Saul Schanberg, Dava Sobel, Sandy Steltz, and Merlin Tuttle. My special thanks to Dr. David Campbell and Dr. Roger Payne, who were generous enough to cast an eye over the manuscript, looking for infelicities.

Almost every week, a familiar buff-colored envelope would arrive from my editor, Sam Vaughan, whose leads, suggestions, and questions I grew to rely on, and whose friendship I’ve come to cherish.

Parade
magazine first published four excerpts from “Touch,” “Vision,” and “Smell.”

“Courting the Muse” appeared in
The New York Times Book Review
. Part of “Why Leaves Turn Color in the Fall” appeared in a different form in
Condé Nast Traveler
.

“How to Watch the Sky” was initially prepared for the National Geographic Society’s book
The Curious Naturalist
and is reproduced here with my gratitude for their understanding.

CONTENTS
BOOK: A Natural History of the Senses
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