It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between. It might read as a quaint quote now, but the last sentence of Diane Ackerman’s book, A Natural History of the Senses, is the farewell wave of a too briefly known lover.
A three hundred page book is generally a quick read, taking maybe a handful of days to fully digest, but Ackerman’s work is not simply a three hundred page book. It is simultaneously a dissertation, a poetic journey and a love letter to/for the reader. Ackerman moves through the five known senses, dissecting and reveling each in turn. She advances fearlessly in an exploration that is at times dizzying and blinding, yet ever mindful of itself. Each passage is arresting and as intellectually stimulating as any scientific textbook in print, but Ackerman does it better. I found myself rereading passages four and five times over out of simple bliss for her imagery, and then quickly being torn by the insatiable appetite for the next.
Expect to spend weeks devouring this text. This isn’t just a book, but an expedition that will educate you, enlighten you, surprise and titillate you, and as you turn the final pages, you will be ready to read it again. Don’t just borrow this book. Buy it, because you will come back to it again and again.