A MATTER OF DEGREE: Heat, Life, and Death by Lucy Kavaler

A MATTER OF DEGREE: Heat, Life, and Death

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Freezing Point (1970) was well-received, but this, evidently intended as its counterpart, is a superficial, amorphous, patchy collection of yarns and observations. Leading off with the effects of hot weather on (mostly western) physiology and psychology, Kavaler dusts off the notorious ""Black Hole of Calcutta"" story, now recognized by most historians as a figment of British propaganda. The chapter on desert survival offers endless variations on the tale of ""a Swedish explorer who in 1848 was forced to go without water for some days and then found a water hole"" (""He drank six pints on the spot""), while there's no discussion of cultures indigenous to hot lands and how they've adapted. Next comes information on the effects of heat on growth and reproduction, and on animals ""in heat"" (i.e., sexually receptive), much of which is barely relevant. Then--on to tropical plants, the sun and skin cancer, bacteria in volcanic pools, and the physiological benefits of fever and heat therapy. Meanwhile the many implications of desertification are ignored; Kavaler, indeed, avoids drawing conclusions throughout. And in the last chapter, on fire, only the most obstinate Ardrey-ites would agree that ""when the heavy jaws and sharp teeth essential to rending raw animal flesh ceased to be an evolutionary advantage, they disappeared and were replaced by the face we see in the mirror."" In all, a disappointing sequel.

Pub Date: July 29th, 1981
Publisher: Harper & Row