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Bookmarks Issue: 
43-Nov-Dec-2009
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Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places

A-ColdA biologist who runs an applied research program in the North Slope oil fields of Alaska, Bill Streever is the author of four works of nonfiction, including Green Seduction: Money, Business, and the Environment (2006).

The Topic: In this almanac of all things frigid, Streever travels to some of the remotest places on earth, reveling in their icy splendor and reflecting on the extraordinary achievements—and spectacular failures—of the scientists and explorers who advanced our understanding of the cold. He describes the Pleistocene Ice Age (in which we are still living), the Children’s Blizzard of 1888, and the fantastic eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora in 1815, which led to global cooling, famine, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. From the incredible survival systems of wild animals to the invention of the refrigerator, the physics of skiing, and the popularity in recent years of hotels made of ice, Streever takes readers on an entertaining tour of the driving force of cold.
Little, Brown. 292 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 9780316042918

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"The book is science and lyricism and anecdotes randomly glued together. … I skimmed some of the science of Cold, but marked many cool facts that might make me the center of attention at any sweltering picnic in mid-August." Susan Ager

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Alaska biologist Bill Streever has collected these and many other incredible facts in his fascinating new book. … For readers facing rolling blackouts, scorching weather and violent storms, Streever’s affection for cold offers intellectual air conditioning." Irene Wanner

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Streever’s book … is an unusual and welcome addition to the literature of cold weather and the great north, a canon that includes work by writers as disparate as Apsley Cherry-Garrard, John Muir, Farley Mowat, Jon Krakauer and Bernd Heinrich. … [His] writing style feels original and organic: it is flinty and tough-minded, with just enough humor glowing around the edges to keep you toasty and dry." Dwight Garner

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"I’ve probably read some of this elsewhere, but Streever explains in a way that makes things stick. He doesn’t just tell you small birds need to keep eating. He says, ‘A crossbill needs to find a spruce seed every seven seconds.’" Mary Roach

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"A resident of Alaska, he focuses almost exclusively on the north; Antarctica’s fabulous history gets a fairly short shrift. … Streever’s writing is clear, concise and poetic, even when illuminating such mysteries as the chemistry of nylon fibers in PrimaLoft jackets." Alexandra Witze

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Like many niche histories, Cold is fact-filled and the type of book you can open to any page and find something interesting. … While well-written and easy to read, Cold confounded me in one respect. Streever seems to play down the greatest threat to his passion for low temperatures: climate change." David B. Williams

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"His attention span may be somewhat limited—he prefers skimming along crystalline surfaces to probing gelid depths—but his voice is so engaging and his writing so crisp that I was usually happy to keep him company wherever he zigzagged." David Laskin

Critical Summary

Cold, filled with obscure facts and fascinating anecdotes, is both entertaining and enlightening, and Streever’s crisp, articulate writing style and easy-to-understand scientific explanations yield a compulsively readable book. However, Streever’s loosely organized chapters and stream-of-consciousness, bloglike narrative keep him from dwelling for long on any single topic, and the Dallas Morning News took issue with his single-minded focus on the northern hemisphere. Some critics also objected to his views on climate change, but these complaints stemmed from differences of opinion. Streever’s breezy, captivating romp through the frozen North reminds readers "that cold shapes continents, wins and loses wars, fuels madmen, inspires Nobel Prize–winning work, challenges us, curses us and blesses us" (Cleveland Plain Dealer).

Supplementary Reading

Winter World The Ingenuity of Animal Survival | Bernd Heinrich (2003): A biology professor at the University of Vermont, Heinrich braves the woods of New England in subzero temperatures to uncover the many resourceful ways that animals survive the winter months.

Ice The Nature, the History, and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance | Mariana Gosnell (2005): From the frozen pond in your backyard to the ice-covered oceans of Europa, Jupiter’s sixth moon, science writer Mariana Gosnell takes readers on an enchanting, wonder-filled tour of this ubiquitous substance.