The New York Times perfume critic yes, you read that right follows the creation of two industry-defining perfumes. While Burr (The Emperor of Scent, 2003, etc.) approaches his beat with healthy skepticism, he s also capable of flowery language, describing a perfume as smelling like early evening on an island where it is always summer. It s this mixture of hard-nosed business writing and flights of olfactory fancy that makes the text improbably exhilarating. Split between the twin capitals of fashion, and therefore of the perfume industry, Burr s account tracks the development of two new scents, each a high-stakes crapshoot. The New York fragrance was celebrity-driven. To create Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely, the actress spent an impressive amount of time with beauty-product manufacturer Coty s corporate perfumers trying to create a scent that would not only capture her essence (don t laugh: they actually seem to have done it) but would survive in an increasingly volatile $31-billion market. Un Jardin sur le Nil, the more traditionally designed Parisian fragrance, was revolutionary in its own way. Seeking a higher profile in the lucrative perfume market, Herm s hired Jean-Claude Ellena, one of the professional ghosts who actually make the scents sold under designers names, to be its first-ever in-house perfumer. The astoundingly complex struggle to define and refine Nil, first reported by Burr in a 2005 New Yorker article, centered on an ephemeral conceit of green mangoes on the Nile. Lovely comes across here as a far more personal scent, though that might be a subjective judgment the author seems a little star-struck by SJP. Nonetheless, Burr sharply evokes the intoxicating, often infuriating mix of precise science and artistic vision necessary to create a perfume, aided by his impressively calibrated BS detector and ability to unearth the industry s many dirty little secrets. An unusually grounded depiction of a business built largely on artifice.