There’s much to wonder at in Jackson’s captivating book.



The lively history of refrigeration from British science writer Jackson (Mathematics: An Illustrated History of Numbers, 2012, etc.).

In this brightly illuminating narrative about keeping things cold, the author begins with Egyptians and Syrians and their sweating amphorae, as well as the ice pits of the ancient Persians. Humans have conjured and commanded heat and light for 100 millennia, but to have true control over cold, especially its creation, has been a matter of the past 100 years or so. Jackson builds the story brick by brick, from those early cooling systems through the rogues, wizards, alchemists, and scientists who dedicated their work to the cooling trade. It is a marvelous, inventive lot, makers of poisonous iced drinks and supercooled water baths. The author also looks into those who first combined gases to make water and those who oversaw the design of icehouses and their miniaturization into iceboxes. The cast of important personages is huge. On one page, chosen at random, readers encounter Robert Boyle, Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, Pierre Gassendi, Plutarch, and Descartes, all engaged in a lively discourse about the cause of cold. Jackson is aware of the need for entertainment—“As all good mysteries should, the story of how cold came under the purview of science begins with a poisoning”—and his graceful way with hard science is impressive. In his hands, such thorny questions as, “Does squeezing a gas into a smaller volume make it hotter or only raise its pressure?” become truly engrossing. Throughout, the author explores a host of fascinating particulars, including the role of cooling in the Higgs boson cloud chamber, quantum computing, and Clarence Birdseye’s fateful trip to Labrador, where he learned flash freezing from the Inuits. And today’s “cold chain,” the “temperature-controlled network that transports perishable foods”—is simply a wonder.

There’s much to wonder at in Jackson’s captivating book.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4729-1143-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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