Beat the Heat with a Cool Book
August 06, 2010
In case you haven't noticed, it's HOT out there. Missouri in August is usually so hot that we consider a dip in a bathwater-warm swimming pool to be "refreshing". We hunker down and long for the coming cool weather of autumn.
When I read, I often feel as if I'm in the book. So, I thought, why not beat the heat with a cool book? And by a cool book, I mean a book about cold: the phenomenon, the weather, the places.
Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places by Bill Streever is part memoir, part popular science, and part travelogue. Streever seeks to understand the true meaning of cold: not just the scientific facts but the feel of real cold, -40°F and below, when the snow creaks underfoot and the very act of breathing risks freezing the lungs.
Over the space of a year, Streever searches out cold and its effects on man, nature, and history around the world: swimming in 35 °F water on a summer day in the Alaskan arctic, visiting Westminster Abbey (which in 1620 became the world's first artificially air-conditioned building, if only for a day), conducting hibernation experiments with caterpillars in his freezer, poring over the accounts of polar explorers who barely survived their encounters with cold, and pondering the meaning of cold in the age of global warming.
What is cold? It's simply the absence of heat.
How cold can it possibly get? The race to get as close as possible to absolute zero (0 ° K, -273.15 °C, -459.67°F), an unreachable goal like the speed of light, has inspired scientists to develop ever more inventive ways of cooling things down.
What is cold good for? On an August day in Missouri, do you really even have to ask? Air-conditioning, popsicles, and ice cream wouldn't be possible without artificial refrigeration.
How has cold shaped human history and the natural world? An 1815 volcanic eruption in Indonesia created a "Year Without Summer", with drastic consequences for agriculture.
If global warming goes unchecked, will we look back nostalgically on times when it was actually cold? Will we have lost more than just the glaciers and the polar bears?
So did my mental vacation to cooler climes work? Let's just say that while reading Streever's account of his swim in the Beaufort Sea, I found myself reaching for the blanket at the end of the couch.
Some other recommended "cool" books:
North to the Night: a Spiritual Odyssey in the Arctic by Alvah Simon. How a four month long polar "dark night of the soul" changed one man's life for the better.
The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Gerard. A first-hand account of Scott's ill-fated attempt to reach the South Pole.
Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in Northern Landscapes by Barry Lopez. A masterpiece of travel and nature writing.
The Terror by Dan Simmons. Simmons takes the story of the historic (and doomed) Franklin Northwest Passage expedition and adds mythical horror elements.
Tags: summer, cool, cold, Books, book review