From the author of Cold (2009), another engaging, easy-to-read, free-ranging exploration of a natural phenomenon.
Streever mingles his personal adventures with heat and hot places with tidbits about early mistaken notions about heat, current events and research involving it, and narratives of those who have lived through its toughest challenges. Opening with a scene in which he tests his endurance by holding his hand over an open flame, the author then recounts his own experiences in the blistering, dry heat of the American Southwest. From natural heat, Streever moves on to unmanaged heat (wild fires and their disastrous effects), controlled fires, cooking, peat mining and Iron Age smelting. The author also humorously recounts his own hapless attempts to master the art of starting a fire. To give a sense of Streever’s scope and technique, his chapter on petroleum features a brief history of oil drilling in the United States, a visit to a museum on the site of Drake Well in Pennsylvania, a taste of oil, a canoe trip down a nearby creek and an interview with a refinery engineer in Alaska; his treatment of volcanoes includes not only the mechanisms underlying eruptions and Pliny’s description of the eruption of Vesuvius, but an extensive account of his own trip to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, where he attempted to make popcorn on freshly hardened lava. At the end, the author recounts his pleasant chat with a physicist and his impressions of the pipes inside the supercollider at Brookhaven, where temperatures of trillions of degrees are produced.
Although not aimed at the young, this funny and factual blend of science, history and adventure would make an ideal gift for an inquisitive adolescent.