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.