An unexpectedly fascinating look into a seemingly banal subject.
Alaska-based biologist Streever spent a year documenting the nature and science of cold. “Cold is a part of day-to-day life,” he writes, “but we often isolate ourselves from it, hiding in overheated houses and retreating to overheated climates, all without understanding what we so eagerly avoid.” With simple prose and a strikingly immediate present tense, the author carves landscapes, scientific processes and neat anthropological factoids out of the ice, a style guaranteed to transport readers into the unfamiliar—indeed, otherworldly—dimensions he describes. Streever, who uses science as a launching point for discussions of some of history’s most memorable events, renders complicated biological theories eminently understandable. His treatment of 1815, “The Year without Summer,” pieces together the seemingly unrelated events of an Indonesian volcano eruption, the origins of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the founding of the Mormon Church in a passage that will leave readers wholly impressed by the scope of the author’s grasp on his subject. There’s humor, too, in deftly crafted witticisms that pop up throughout the text: “When one reads past the stoicism and heroics, the history of polar exploration becomes one long accident report mixed with one long obituary”; “Cold, really, is like malaria. If it does not kill you, it will help you lose weight.” With aplomb, Streever charts a meandering course of the land around him, providing an enthralling tour through haunting arctic tundra, permafrost tunnels of 40,000-year-old ice and the winter dens of hibernating beasts.
A seamless blend of travelogue, history and scientific treatise.