In a sweeping yet marvelously concise science adventure story, rich with historical characters, including Galileo, Newton, and Einstein, ABSOLUTE ZERO AND THE CONQUEST OF COLD takes the reader on a journey in which the extraordinary secrets of cold are teased apart and mastered, bringing advances in civilization and comfort. Starting in the 1600s with an alchemist’s attempt to air-condition Westminster Abbey, the story unfolds over several centuries, as early nineteenth-century merchants sell Walden Pond ice to tropical countries, and late nineteenth-century competing scientists pursue absolute zero with as much fervor as the contemporary races toward the North and South Poles. Today, as the final part of the book shows, ultracold remains one of sciences most important frontiers.
“A lovely, fascinating book which brings science to life.” — Alan Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams.
“Analyzes the social impact of the chill factor, explains the science of cold and tells the curious tales behind inventions like the thermometer, the fridge and the thermos flask …. Excellent use of analogies … [an] astonishing observation … a fascinating finale …. Recounts the history of cold with passion and clarity.” –- New York Times Book Review
“Intriguing … a disarming portrait of an exquisite, ferocious, world-ending extreme.” — Kirkus “An absorbing account to chill out with.” –- Booklist
“The pursuit of absolute zero may not, at first, seem important or exciting … But Shachtman –- who has a gift for telling scientific adventure stories –- has done a wonderful job of conveying the excitement …. This is a truly wonderful book: purchase this before it becomes an episode of Nova. –- Library Journal (starred review)
“Shachtman … holds the reader’s attention with the skill of a novelist as he relates the 400-year effort to fill out what scientists have called ‘the map of Frigor.’” –- Scientific American
“This esoteric scientific adventure story –- as keenly pursued as the simultaneous quest for the arctic regions –- is masterfully told …. In many ways an absolute delight, chock-full of quirky characters questing for ever-lower temperatures and discovering fundamental properties of matter along the way …. Shachtman has achieved an enormous feat, combining science, biography and analysis into a compelling narrative full of explosions, obsessed experimentalists and unexpected revelations.” – Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“For a subject bound to leave many readers, well, cold, [Shachtman] has compiled here a surprisingly fascinating account of what cold is and the role it has played and plays in our lives and nature.” — Copley News Service
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