Virtual Event: Harold McGee


Nose Dive:
A Field Guide to the World's Smells

in conversation with DAVID WEITZ


February 23, 2023
6:00 PM ET


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Free - $5 contribution suggested at registration

Harvard Book Store, the Harvard University Division of Science, and the Harvard Library welcome HAROLD MCGEE—noted food writer and author of On Food and Cooking—for a discussion of his new book Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World's Smells. He will be joined in conversation by DAVID WEITZ—Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and of Applied Physics at Harvard University.

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About Nose Dive

From Harold McGee, James Beard Award-winning author and leading expert on the science of food and cooking, comes an extensive exploration of the long-overlooked world of smell. In Nose Dive, McGee takes us on a sensory adventure, from the sulfurous nascent earth more than four billion years ago, to the fruit-filled Tian Shan mountain range north of the Himalayas, to the keyboard of your laptop, where trace notes of phenol and formaldehyde escape between the keys. We'll sniff the ordinary (wet pavement and cut grass) and the extraordinary (ambergris and truffles), the delightful (roses and vanilla) and the challenging (swamplands and durians). We'll smell one another. We'll smell ourselves.

Through it all, McGee familiarizes us with the actual bits of matter that we breathe in—the molecules that trigger our perceptions, that prompt the citrusy smells of coriander and beer and the medicinal smells of daffodils and sea urchins. And like everything in the physical world, molecules have histories. Many of the molecules that we smell every day existed long before any creature was around to smell them—before there was even a planet for those creatures to live on. Beginning with the origins of those molecules in interstellar space, McGee moves onward through the smells of our planet, the air and the oceans, the forest and the meadows and the city, all the way to the smells of incense, perfume, wine, and food.

Here is a story of the world, of every smell under our collective nose. A work of astounding scholarship and originality, Nose Dive distills the science behind the smells and translates it, as only McGee can, into an accessible and entertaining guide. Incorporating the latest insights of biology and chemistry, and interweaving them with personal observations, he reveals how our sense of smell has the power to expose invisible, intangible details of our material world and trigger in us feelings that are the very essence of being alive.

Praise for Nose Dive

“A deeply researched guide to the world’s smells, down to their volatile molecules.” —Tejal Rao, New York Times

“A book for the ages, which examines but also transcends food and drink through smell.” —Andre Simon Fund Food and Drink Book Awards, Special Commendation

“Every page of ‘Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World’s Smells’ is crammed with the olfactory equivalent of onomatopoeia…Fans of Mr. McGee’s culinary writing won’t be disappointed—there are several hundred pages devoted to scrumptious foods, both raw and cooked. He articulates the secrets of truffles and peaty whisky. He seems especially obsessed with the echoes and slant rhymes of food—why pineapples can smell like Parmesan, oysters like cucumbers, sherry like soy sauce, even “the prized ‘kerosene’ note of well-aged Rieslings.”… Like an analytical chemist, he catalogs the exact molecules that each food or substance emits, and how they combine like musical notes to produce a scent chord. He offers some general rules for correlating molecular structure with aromatic sensation—that sulfur is generally pungent, and large molecules are more pleasant than small ones. It’s fascinating stuff… [McGee’s] enthusiasm is contagious.” —Sam Kean, Wall Street Journal
David Weitz
David Weitz

David Weitz

DAVID WEITZ received his PhD in physics from Harvard University and then joined Exxon Research and Engineering Company, where he worked for nearly 18 years. He then became a professor of physics at the University of Pennsylvania and moved to Harvard at the end of the last millennium as professor of physics and applied physics. He leads a group studying soft matter science with a focus on materials science, biophysics and microfluidics. He co-developed and co-teaches the popular Harvard science course, Science of Cooking: From Soft Matter Science to Haute Cuisine. 

Harold McGee
Harold McGee

Harold McGee

Harold McGee studied at Caltech and Yale, and since 1980 has been writing about the science of food and cooking. He’s the author of the award-winning book On Food and Cooking, a visiting lecturer in Harvard University’s course “From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science,” and a former columnist for the New York Times. He’s been named food writer of the year by Bon Appétit magazine and to the TIME 100, an annual list of the world’s most influential people. His latest book is Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World’s Smells. It began as a project about the flavors of food and drink, but expanded over the course of a decade to encompass the smells of the material world at large, which flavors often echo.

Photo Credit: Karl Petzke


Join our online event (or pre-register) via the link in the event description.
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