David Profumo

Moby Yuck

Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris


University of Chicago Press 187pp £14.50 order from our bookshop

Folk used to think it was whale vomit, dragon’s spittle, a mushroom, tree sap, a submarine pear, or something meteoritic. Charles II liked to put it on his eggs, the Chinese swore by it as a medicine, and Casanova used it to pep up his chocolate mousse. It can retain its peculiar aroma – tobacco? violets? cow pat? – for 300 years, and for many centuries has been prized by apothecaries, perfume makers and aficionados of rarity. These days it’s valued by traders at $1,000 a pound, but you have to be prepared to pick up a lot of noisome detritus if you want to be a serious collector. Welcome to the world according to ambergris.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Hart sets out to unsettle, startle and disturb. In this strange, disconcerting, radical version of a strange, disc… ,
    • Here is @MannJessica's June crime fiction round-up, discussing books by Georges Simenon, Jack Grimwood,… ,
    • John Stubbs reviews Stephen Greenblatt's latest, 'Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power' ,
    • RT : What happened when US military strategist Herman Kahn - one of Kubrick’s three models for Dr Strangelove - took LSD… ,
    • 'Pollan has no doubt that the use of psychedelics could have a powerfully beneficial effect on a range of condition… ,
    • A memoir about an Untouchable family and the 'formation of modern India': 'Ants among Elephants' by @gidla_sujatha… ,
    • RT : First founded in Edinburgh in 1979, is considered a trusted independent source for reviews of new book… ,