On the Scent: a fascinating exploration of how losing our sense of smell can shape our world to Elliott & Thompson

February 21, 2022

Elliott & Thompson is delighted to announce its forthcoming publication of On The Scent: Unlocking the mysteries of smell – and how its loss can change your world by husband and wife team Paola Totaro and Robert Wainwright.

When award-winning reporter Paola Totaro lost her sense of smell to Covid in March 2020, her world changed and dulled in an instant. Trapped in a sensory vacuum without fragrance or flavour, she embarked on a journey of discovery to unravel the mysteries – and eccentricities – of the fifth sense.

Our sense of smell shapes our everyday experiences in ways we often don’t even notice. Its loss can affect our emotional wellbeing, our relationships, our ability to interpret the world around us – and yet it has long been regarded as the least important of our senses. But almost overnight, Covid changed everything. As it became clear that loss of smell was a key symptom and the number of sufferers exploded, olfactory researchers suddenly found themselves thrust into the spotlight, with more attention, subjects and funding than ever before.

On the Scent is the story of a quest for answers, from the theories of ancient philosophers to the cutting-edge laboratories of 21st century neuroscience. It looks at the extraordinary experiences of patients and scientists alike, offering a unique glimpse into the world of those born without smell as well as those who lose it; exploring how smell can be a key indicator of declining physical health; and showing how new research may offer hope to the millions of people worldwide who have suffered sensory loss.

Director Olivia Bays acquired UK & Commonwealth rights from Doug Young at Pew Literary. She said: ‘We are so pleased to be publishing this vitally important scientific detective story, in which the authors intertwine Paola’s personal story with the race to identify Covid symptoms as a key defence against the pandemic, and a wider cultural history of smell and its uses. Fascinating and illuminating, On The Scent brings science alive in showing us how complex the fifth sense is – and what losing it can do to us. It will be essential reading for fans of popular science books about the body, such as Vaxxers, Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain, and Why We Sleep.’

The authors commented: ‘Documenting this unique moment in human scientific history has been both a challenge and a privilege. We hope our book adds to  understanding of our endlessly complex, precious fifth sense and its valuable, if little known role, as a sentinel of health.’

PAOLA TOTARO is an award-winning news reporter, editor and former President of the Foreign Press Association in London. She has written for the Guardian, Independent, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and The New York Times.

ROBERT WAINWRIGHT is a prize-winning Australian author and journalist. His non-fiction titles include the international bestseller Sheila (Allen & Unwin, 2014) and The Maverick Mountaineer, which won the Times Biography of the Year at the 2017 British Sports Book Awards.