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Need to take the heat off this summer? We certainly did, as the sultry Dog Days of 2012 seem to march endlessly on. Fortunately, we found a “cool read” (last bad pun, I swear) in the form of Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places by Bill Streever. We were happy to find this gem up for library loan on our Kindle Fire, and would heartily recommend this look at the frozen places on our planet to anyone in any season.
Cold starts off as a sort of personal journey by the author from his home near Anchorage, Alaska. We can sort of relate, having grown up in northern Maine and having spent a good chunk of our Air Force career at Eielson AFB near Fairbanks. We know all too well the joys of keeping vehicles and humanoids functioning in sub-zero temperatures. In fact, we hereby propose that Alaskans would make the best Martian colonists for this very reason.
Cold is divided off into 12 chapters representing the months of the year as the author traces the lore surrounding early Arctic explorers and the horrors that they faced in weathering the harshest climates in the world under brutal conditions with primitive equipment. Thankfully, no explorers were killed in the making of these tales via consumption of polar bear liver as occurred in The Violinist’s Thumb, but plenty more tales of woe awaited them.
The author also takes a look at the science behind hibernation and the various evolutionary tactics that creatures have evolved to combat the winter. Would you crawl into a bear den with a slumbering grizzly to see what occurs? Some researchers have done just that. And for a handsome sum, you can have your body (or just your head, if you’re on a budget) frozen after death by the Alcor foundation in hopes of a revival via the super-science of the future. Which Rip Van Winkle science fiction future do you prefer, Buck Rodgers, Futurama, Solis, or Niven’s A World Out of Time?
The author also makes note of the evolving climate, the disappearance of habitat for several arctic and Antarctic species such as polar bears and penguins, and the consequences for preserving those coastal-loving creatures, homo sapiens. The author also notes a media trend that we’ve seen in recent years… as we break record temps each summer, the media trumpets the arrival of global warming, but as winter sets across North America, the naysayers resurface. The reality of weather versus climate is much more insidious, and may actually result in snowier winters and colder climates for some areas such as Europe, while traditional farm lands get hit by long cycles of drought (sound familiar?)
The author also peers into the fascinating history of the quest for absolute zero and the wacky world of low temperature physics. The Arctic and the world of the sub-zero is a fascinating one, a realm that encompasses much of the planet but is paradoxically tucked away from view. One Alaskan resident asked him why he didn’t title the book “heat” so the research could instead be carried out on a tropical isle… if you can’t journey to the realm above the Arctic Circle, reading Cold may be the next best thing!